Addressing an Envelope When the Recipient's Name is Unknown to You?
April 14, 2013 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Hi everyone. I recently visited an online map where people who share a very unusual niche hobby place a pin where they live, voluntarily including an address or name if they'd like, and I found to my pleasant shock that a fellow enthusiast lives only a few blocks from me. He/she left a contact address but not a name, and I'd really love to write to this person, but I have no idea what the normal etiquette is for addressing a personal envelope to an unnamed recipient (to be clear, I don't mean the letter itself, but the envelope).

I'd hate to have to use something as dispassionately impersonal as "Occupant." I could live with "Resident", but another consideration is any possible regulatory guideline that might get something without a clearly indicated recipient thrown into the United States Postal System's La-La Land.

Any suggestions for a way to come across effectively and *cordially* without making the envelope too vague to be deliverable would be helpful, as would any clarification on the law surrounding the finer points of addressing personal correspondence by snail mail. Thanks in advance, and have a good day!
posted by Buddy-Rey to Writing & Language (16 answers total)
Just use the address, but handwrite it so the recipient knows it's not junk. USPS doesn't care if there's a name or not.
posted by acidic at 9:21 PM on April 14, 2013

"Fellow [XYZ] Enthusiast"?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2013 [18 favorites]

Could you give a site-specific hint to the recipient? For example, if the map were marking MeFites, could you say, "To the MeFite at 42 Wallaby Way"?
posted by Madamina at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2013

If they are only a couple of blocks away, why not just hand deliver it? Then you don't have to worry about USPS.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd address it to 'site user', where site is the name of the source of the address, or something similar ("Fellow x enthusiast" works too!) This way you avoid confusion if there are multiple occupants.

I'd do this whether I were posting or hand-delivering the item.
posted by pompomtom at 9:24 PM on April 14, 2013

'The Occupant' is pretty standard.
posted by unSane at 9:25 PM on April 14, 2013

I'd probably write:

123 Oak Street
Town, Nebraska 12345

And maybe make the envelope look creative and human and not like some weird spam. Hopefully the postal service and your neighbor will get the idea.

Another idea:

Why not just go knock on the guy's door? Might be awkward if you live in a dense urban area, but in my more suburban neighborhood I wouldn't find it that weird at all. Neighbors tend to talk to each other anyway, and people stop me around the neighborhood and ask me random things all the time.
posted by Sara C. at 9:30 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

123 Oak Street
Town, Nebraska 12345

And maybe make the envelope look creative and human and not like some weird spam. Hopefully the postal service and your neighbor will get the idea.

I like this.

I'd have the return address prominent, and include

123 Oak Street
Town, Nebraska 12345
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:50 PM on April 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Historically there has been no problem with delivering mail that doesn't specify a recipient, though I suppose there could be some new rule I'm not aware of.

I would just handwrite it, put no name for the recipient, and include your full info in the return address area. That way the recipient can see it's from a human, and will open it, and if USPS has a problem they'll just bring it back to you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:51 PM on April 14, 2013

I think you should mail it instead of hand-delivering (or god forbid, knocking on their door). I know they posted their address on this website, and they will probably be excited to hear from you, but People From The Internet coming to your door (even to drop something off) could be a little disconcerting.
posted by amaire at 10:42 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think that identifying yourself in the return address as a "fellow [trekkie, birder, etc.]" is an excellent suggestion.
posted by scratch at 10:48 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

The other suggestions are good if you are a birdwatcher or some such, but if your hobby is something it would be inappropriate to describe on an envelope, you could just write "To A Fellow Enthusiast". Presumably, if they posted their address on the internet, they won't be overly shocked to be contacted that way, and will surely be curious enough to at least look inside.
posted by sumiami at 11:21 PM on April 14, 2013

Please please do not knock on their door or hand deliver it. All my creep meters would go off that way.

According to 600 Basic Standards for All Mailing Services:

1.3 Address Elements

All mail not bearing a simplified address must bear a delivery address that contains at least the following elements in this order from the top line:

a. Intended recipient’s name or other identification.

So I wouldn't just put the address in case you get a stickler at the Post Office (clearly that has never happened ever).

I would say "Fellow X Hobbyist."
posted by twiggy32 at 11:45 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't hand-deliver it. It's highly practical, but a little creepy.

But you can put almost anything on the envelope and it will get delivered - maybe use the person's screen name, if available?

I remember one summer where I was corresponding with the other officers in a university club I belonged to (via snail mail, because this was long ago and we didn't all have internet at home) and we after the first couple of letters we started addressing them to "Il Directore," "El Presidente," etc., and eventually we started just cutting out small images of dictators and military strongmen from magazines and newspapers using those instead of names. As far as I know, they all got delivered.
posted by mskyle at 6:31 AM on April 15, 2013

Are you certain they gave their address? On some online maps, if you drop a pin, google will find a nearby address and display it, but it may not be the address intended by the pin-dropper, if any.
posted by moonmilk at 3:39 PM on April 15, 2013

I wouldn't put "Fellow [XYZ] Enthusiast" either. Not your job to alert other people as to what their hobby is - and maybe "Collecting French stamps from 1800 to 1850" isn't something you think would be a secret, you can't make that assumption for strangers.

Personally I'd leave it blank.

But you could try:
if you felt the need.
posted by Xhris at 6:06 PM on April 16, 2013

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