I have a little international business contact, and sometimes, some people write me a mail and address me as "Dear (my surname)", no "Mr", no nothing. Where is this common and how so? I never knew this. I only know "Dear (first name)" (American) and of course "Dear Mr (surname)", as well as "Dear (first name) (last name)". But this new variation, I can't quite grasp yet. Your input would be appreciated.

  • Do these salutations come from people from specific countries? "International" is a wide definition, and it'd be hard to pinpoint without knowing more details. Apr 30, 2014 at 7:45
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    Going out on a limb here, but might it be that your international contacts mix up your first and last name? It can be hard sometimes to be sure which is which, and it doesn't help that the order in which people write their own family and given names differs from culture to culture and situation to situation.
    – oerkelens
    Apr 30, 2014 at 7:47
  • Not sure how to answer comments, so I'll write a new one. These come from different countries, last examples were Asia and Africa, can't say exactly which country. I had signed with "(first name) (last name)", and assumed it would be obvious to see, which is which. Didn't know there may be differences, as well. Then, how do I adress this situation politely? Maybe I will sign my next mail with only (first name), and hope they get the clue? But how do I adress them, now? Also with their last name? Switching to the first name? Feels weird. My last mail started "Dear Mr (first nam) (last name)"...
    – Kebap
    Apr 30, 2014 at 8:00
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    Some cultures write their surnames first followed by their first name, so writing both your names is not foolproof system. It could very well be that people are confusing your surname (AmEng last name) with your first as suggested by @oerkelens.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 30, 2014 at 8:07
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    The foolproof way to indicate which is which is to write the surname in all capitals. Take a close look, that is what Olympic Games actually do, and FIFA World Cups, and so on. It is also what absolutely everyone does in France. Still, a foolproof way to indicate is only a foolproof way to indicate. It does not guarantee the indication won't get ignored. So I am not sure how your original question is answerable. The only way to be sure why those particular people did it is to flat-out ask those particular people. They know for a fact. We can only guess. And any guess is as good as any other.
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 30, 2014 at 10:12

4 Answers 4


I see two possibilities: the first is that your correspondents come from one of the few social circles where Smith is a common form of address, and hence Dear Smith a common salutation. I haven't been in one such since my schooldays, but cultures vary.

Or it may be that the only information available to them is your surname, since somebody in the hierarchy is frightened of seeming sexist by providing gender. In such a case, Dear Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms Smith would be even less friendly than the correct Dear Sir or Madam, so Dear Smith may seem a reasonable compromise.

See also How should I address someone with a known name and unknown gender?.

  • The only places I know of where one is still routinely addressed by one’s surname alone (and no honorific) are in school physical education classes and sometimes intramural sports teams and events, in the armed services, and in jail or prison. How may places those actually are depends on how much you see them as overlapping categories. :)
    – tchrist
    Apr 30, 2014 at 14:11

Some countries will put their surname first then their first name (e.g. Smith, John) or they give an indication of heritage for example Smith; son of John; both of which would infer that the first name is Smith and not John. The person writing to you probably thinks that they are calling you by your first name and not your surname.

Alternatively if the correspondence has been automatically generated and populated from a database someone could have filled in the database incorrectly.

  • Or, email software is set up to put surname first and the recipient is mistaking it. My manager often gets emails addressed "Dear James" (her surname) and she hates it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 30, 2014 at 15:06

I have never used 'Dear Smith'in a letter, as I've never needed to (as far as I can tell). I have received such a letter, from the Deputy Secretary of the UK Government Department where I was working - I was 22 at the time. The D/Sec was the second to top man overall, so he was like God. He invited me to a drinks party, and I felt privileged to be addressed in that way as much as for the invitation itself. As far as I can tell, this form of address is semi-formal, i.e. formal because we hadn't yet met, while the occasion (or subject matter in the letter) was an informal one.


Dear (surname) is more respectful and it is mostly used in email and letters which is more formal.

Dear Mr/Ms (first name) (last name) is less respectful and it is also used in informal situation.

Hi (first name) is not respectful way of calling someone and it is used in informal situation.

  • I don't know your origin, but in both American and British English, Dear (surname) is not used and would not be considered respectful. Furthermore, Mr/Ms (given name)(surname) is not used either. The more formal, respectful version is "Dear Mr/Ms/Miss (surname)". Less formal would be "Dear (given name)".and least formal would be "Dear (nickname)." May 6, 2016 at 18:02
  • @WhatRoughBeast What about - Dear Mrs/Ms (first name) ?
    – Beqa
    Apr 9, 2019 at 11:34
  • @Beqa - Nope. Honorifics (such as Mr/Mrs/Dr, etc) are always applied to the surname. Apr 9, 2019 at 22:06

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