Traditional Visiting Cards

Visitng cards once played an important role in the social world when 'calling' was part of everyday life. There was a strict etiquette and plenty of ritual surrounding the use of visiting cards; here are some of the more practical traditions.


Made from the finest quality thick card, visiting cards are traditionally engraved from a simple copperplate.

Names are positioned in the middle with the address in the bottom left-hand corner.

A gentleman’s card, usually W3 x H1½ inches (7.6 x 3.8 cm), traditionally gives a title, rank, private or service address (in the bottom left-hand corner or one in each lower corner if two are desired) and club (in the bottom right-hand corner).

A lady’s card is traditionally W3¼ x H2¼ inches (8.3 x 5.7 cm), though W3½ x H2½ inches (8.9 x 6.4 cm) is sometimes used.

Joint cards, or those for families, are the same size as a lady’s card.


The name of a peer or peeress is shown by his or her grade, but with no prefix, not even 'The'. For example, Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Lonsdale.

Courtesy styles derived from a peerage are shown in such form as Lord John Jones, Lady Emily Jones etc., but 'Hon' is not used: those so styled are shown as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss as applicable.

Baronets or Knights

A baronet or knight is shown as Sir John Jones, that is without the suffix Bt or Bart, and his wife as Lady Jones.

other styles

The only other prefixes used on cards are ecclesiastical titles, ranks in the Armed Forces and Doctor or Professor. Untitled men precede their name with Mr, followed by their forename and initials.

A married woman may use her husband's forename or initials, although this rule is no longer an absolute. The senior married woman in a family (i.e. the wife of the eldest survivng son) may style herself Mrs Forsyte, without forename or initials. A widow traditionally uses the same style as during her husband's lifetime. A divorced woman always uses her own forename or initials.

Suffixes are never used on visiting cards, except those that indicate membership of the Armed Forces.

An archbishop, bishop, dean or archdeacon shows his territorial appointment: for example, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Bishop of Wakefield, The Dean of Norwich or The Archdeacon of Lincoln.

Ecclesiastical Rank

A canon or prebendary is usually so styled without appending 'The Reverend', such as Canon John Jones or Prebendary J W H Jones.

A retired bishop is styled by his prefix. That is, The Right Reverend John Jones. The style Bishop Jones is not normally used.

An archdeacon emeritus is styled Archdeacon Jones, with the personal choice of adding forenames or initials. Alternatively, the prefix 'The Venerable' may be used, in which case the use of forenames or initials is obligatory.

Other members of the clergy are styled The Reverend Jane Jones or The Reverend J W Jones. Reverend may be abbreviated to Rev or Revd.

Armed Forces

Officers in the Armed Forces use their rank in full: abbreviations such as Lt-Col should be avoided.

Exceptions are naval officers below the rank of lieutenant, Army and Royal Marines officers below the rank of captain and Royal Air Force officers below the rank of flight lieutenant, all of whom are styled Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss as applicable.

A naval officer below the rank of rear admiral places Royal Navy or Royal Naval Reserve below and slightly to the right of the name.

An Army or Royal Marines officer on the active list below the rank of colonel places his regiment or corps, or its accepted abbreviation, below his name.

A Royal Air Force officer below the rank of air commodore places Royal Air Force, which may be abbreviated to RAF, below and slightly to the right of his name.

Retired officers do not include Retired or Retd, with the exception of the Royal Navy, where Retd is occasionally added below and slightly to the right of the name if there is a special reason for doing so.

A retired army or Royal Marines officer omits his former regiment or corps.



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Explore and celebrate the many British rituals, customs and traditions that punctuate the year.

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