Social Etiquette and Good Manners/obituary etiquette


My brother wrote our father's obituary. He chose to break with family tradition which is to list surviving family generally (as in, "He is survived by his wife and four children"), and instead listed everyone by name. I was not expecting to be named, and was further surprised that my brother listed my name incorrectly. Even though he had been told on other occasions that I continued to use my maiden name after marrying, he used my husband's last name as mine in the obituary. He didn't even reference my maiden name in parentheses, as he did my sisters who use their maiden name professionally and husband's name socially. I use my maiden name both professionally and socially. To make matters worse, I was separated and planning to divorce at the time, which my brother also knew.

I feel my brother should have let us know he planned to name names, and let us decide how we wanted our names to appear. A friend of mine thinks my brother's actions are fine because he followed social traditions. If he had treated my sisters similarly it would be easier to accept. What can I do to deal with what he did and try to prevent a repeat when our mother passes away?

Dear Jane:

I assume that the obituary has already been printed in the newspaper so there is nothing you can do at this time other than pay for a second announcement with the names the way you want them to be listed.  Since I know how expensive this can be, it may not be an option.  Instead, let it go.  There is nothing to be gained by making a big deal out of it.  When your mother passes, why don't you volunteer to write the obituary?  While some families do list the minimum without naming names, it is also perfectly acceptable and actually a kindness to family's friends to have their names listed so that condolences can be offered to each of the survivors when recognized by their own friends.
When a woman does not change her name after marriage as you have chosen, others should respect that and not use the husband's name to refer to her.  I don't know whether your brother remembered your wishes and if he did know, he might have forgotten this detail.  Remember that he was mourning his father's loss and that sometimes makes people less focused.

Please don't let this oversight cloud your relationship with your brother.  I am sure he did not make the mistake with malice.  Remind him gently of the facts and then offer to handle the task when the time comes for your mother.

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Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

Past/Present Clients
World Bank, United Nations,US Dept. of State, US. Dept. of the Army, Pentagon, Barclays Global Investors,Accenture,Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The White House, Dept. of State, AT&T,Bank of America,American Association of Clinical Pharmacies,Ritz Carlton Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels,Starwood Hotels,and many more.

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