How to Use Your Calling Card

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 17, 2010 · 28 comments

in Friendship, Relationships & Family

Maybe you’ve been using calling cards for quite some time. Or perhaps you recently invested in a set when we introduced our line of AoM-designed calling cards. Either way you’ve likely already been putting them to use in the obvious way-handing them to new friends, business contacts, and potential love interests. Calling cards truly do make an excellent networking tool, but there are other ways-both fun and practical-to employ them as well.

During the 19th century, the use of calling cards was surrounded with a great deal of rules and etiquette. You would “call” upon someone by visiting their home and leaving your calling card in a tray by the door. Bending down the different corners of the cards meant various things and messages were also expressed through initials corresponding to French expressions (for example p. f. – pour féliciter for congratulations and p. r. -pour remercier for gratitude). This calling card culture has all but vanished, and trying to continue to use the cards in this way will simply elicit head scratching if not umbrage at what others may perceive as your pomposity. You don’t want your friends and new acquaintances to have to consult an etiquette book to decipher your messages.

But there are some uses of the calling card that survived well into the mid 20th century and can easily be revived by modern gentlemen. Practical and tasteful, using your calling cards in the following ways may still be an unexpected gesture, but it will not be an unwelcome one. Giving and receiving calling cards is so enjoyable that you’ll probably just start a trend.

Here are three ways to use your calling card that you may not have considered, along with some examples of each.

As invitations. If you’re throwing an informal party, use your cards as invitations by writing the occasion, the date, and the time across the top of your cards and mailing them out. The small size of the cards limits how much you can write-making this a painless way to create invites.

If you want an answer, write RSVP in the lower left hand corner. If your card includes only your name without your contact information, write your home address, phone number, or email address under the RSVP to indicate how you’d like to be contacted. If the name on your card says, “Mr. John Smith” it is traditional to cross out the “Mr.,” and to cross out the whole thing if you sign it with your first name. But you don’t have to follow this custom as it may confuse modern recipients.

As replies to invitations. If you hate using the phone as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that you can also use your calling card to accept or decline an invitation from another person. To accept an invitation, write something like, “I’ll be there,” or “Accept with pleasure,” at the top of the card along with the date and time for which you are accepting and send it in the mail. When declining an invitation, write the date but not the hour. You must also write the reason you will not be able to attend. The limited space of the calling card frees you from having to make a belabored, rambling excuse as to why you cannot come, an awkward exercise that leads many men to simply avoid RSVPing at all. Whether you are declining or accepting, it is again traditional to cross out the “Mr.” in your name or your entire name if you and the host/hostess are on a first name basis.

As cards. Except at Christmastime when festive tags are the name of the game, you should enclose your calling card with all gifts and flowers in lieu of a greeting card. Instead of facing the nearly impossible task of filling the yawning expanse of a greeting card, simply write a short message on your calling card and you’re done. “Get well soon” looks barren and desolate swimming on the large blank canvas of a greeting card; written on a calling card, it looks handsome and appropriate.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Luke November 17, 2010 at 3:25 am

Maybe we need a post on the manly art of handwriting. Mine certainly needs improving!

2 Michael November 17, 2010 at 3:55 am

Or use facebook instead :D

3 Christopher Puttock November 17, 2010 at 4:17 am

Great little bit of culture, our writing is strikingly similar

4 Carlo d. November 17, 2010 at 7:02 am

Good post, Brett. I’m glad you made this article. I feel that there are better ways to hand my calling cards out than the way I have been doing it (like giving a business card). I’m sure there many clever ways these cards can be handed to people. Very nice!

5 Mark Nelson November 17, 2010 at 7:57 am

Informative. I hadn’t realized the etiquette behind crossing out the name. I have been writing on my cards, however: all of mine contain nothing but my name, allowing me to choose precisely what level of information I’m extending to someone. Generally I put a note as to why they were interested in contacting me in the first place, i.e., “Help with CSI 201 assignment.” or “History of book death predictions.”

I just wish I had the spare cash to get a letterpress, rather than using my typewriter to put my name on the cards.

6 Kevin FS November 17, 2010 at 9:22 am

Great post ! People are always confused when a write a little note on the cards I give. It makes a good impression, tough, and personalizes contact.

@ Mark : Check out You can get 250 letterpress cards for 95 $, if you are willing to wait a little bit. Quite a good bargain, perfect quality but affordable.

7 JB November 17, 2010 at 9:25 am

This was a great post! I don’t have a business card now, and I have to set them up again. In my previous employment the business cards were glossy and two sided (real fancy) – so this tip applies to regular cards only?

8 JB November 17, 2010 at 9:47 am

Great post. It’s been a while since I handed out business cards. My previous cards were glossy and two-sided, so this tip would work on regular cards only?

9 Jordan Crowder November 17, 2010 at 9:52 am

My calling cards are dark (black with white text), but the backs are blank. Should I just write this info on the back?

10 Guy November 17, 2010 at 10:02 am

Another great suggestion Brett. Thanks.

11 CoffeeZombie November 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

I’m not quite sure how well the calling card in lieu of a Hallmark card would go over today. I think it might come off as a bit…aggressive, perhaps. If you want to avoid the hassle of greeting cards (not only the blank expanse to fill, but just finding a decent and appropriate one in the first place), I think my wife’s tactic of having a set of small blank cards with some nice design printed on them works best. You can avoid the hassles of finding the “right” card, you can write whatever you want, they’re flexible for all sorts of occasions (so probably cheaper than buying a greeting card for each occasion), and they’re smaller, limiting the “blank expanse.”

I do like the idea of using them for invitations and RSVPs, however. I would guess, though, in the case of a formal event (like a wedding), you’d probably still use the provided RSVP card instead?

Finally, I’m going to second Luke’s idea of a post or five on the manly art of handwriting. My wife was reading about handwriting recently, and it’s got me wanting to learn to write properly! First, though, I think I need to fix my writing desk…

12 Jeff Carlsen November 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

While I love the idea of the calling card, I think that most of these uses are a mistake. They’re merely an antiquated form of text messaging, which is a travesty of communication. Instead, communication should be as close to face to face as possible. If you can’t talk to someone in person, use the phone. If you’re going to use the mail, write a letter. Anything else is a small form of cowardice. An understandable one, but not very manly.

The uses you’ve prescribed for calling cards should be reserved for when you’re actually talking to someone face to face and you want them to have the information written down. Then you write what you need on the card and hand it to them.

Though including one with any gift you send it a nice touch.

13 Jeff Carlsen November 17, 2010 at 10:51 am

I also second the post on handwriting. Ever since I started studying calligraphy, my handwriting has been the best of my peer group, and everybody notices. It’s a very real boon in all of my life. If you’re looking for an author, let me know. My email is

14 Chris November 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I hate to poo-poo on things that I don’t understand, but I think the calling card idea is pretty cheesy. I mean, business cards are standard and quite acceptable to me, but to have a personal card that I just whip out to make myself look cool seems to go too far.

There have only been a few posts here that I pass on for certain, and this is one of them. Sorry!

15 Dennard November 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for the tips, Brett. I just ordered a set of the AoM cards today.

16 Sommelier November 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Chris, business cards are for business. Calling cards are for social and personal use. I’ve been using them for about 35 years because they are practical, not because I’m trying to “make myself look cool”.

I occasionally send flowers for various reasons, and including my card with them seems more personal than using one of the printed ones that the florists stock.

17 Hunter November 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

@Chris Actually I have a business card and a personal card. Both have different information and are used for very different things, and I have to say, it is exceptionally nice to be able to just give a person my card with all my info instead of sitting there spelling it all out to them. Take less time than calling them, friending them, or emailing them. Oh and people think it’s pretty cool.

18 Brett McKay November 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm

My cards are two-sided and a tad glossy as well and as you see above, you can still write on them. I guess it depends on just how glossy they are?

I think writing on the back would be fine. I’m of the opinion that there shouldn’t be any hard and fast rules with such things-always feel free to adapt to your circumstances.

Who says every bit of communication has to be as close to face-to-face as possible? People have realized for centuries that sometimes letters and cards (and emails and text messages) are more appropriate choices in certain situations. You say cowardice-I say effectiveness and convenience.

A post on penmanship has been on the to-do list for quite some time-but obviously it’s something I need to work on personally first before I can write with any insight on the subject! And that task is unfortunately on the backburner for now.

19 Dusty November 17, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Informative, though I’ve always heard its impolite to offer a reason/excuse for why you are declining an invitation. I suppose if you are friends it is perfectly expected, but if acquaintances I understand that any given reason (outside of funeral, court appearance, etc) may belittle the event.

Perhaps I’ve picked up strange etiquette, but try a decline without a reason sometime. You may find it suits most situations nicely.

20 Kat November 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Love your site and have recommended it on one of my blogs :
and included your book link, of course. Thumbs up.

21 Brucifer November 17, 2010 at 9:16 pm

@Chris and other nay-sayers -

Yes, business card are for business. But by that same light, they are inappropriate for ‘personal’ use.

I’ve carried calling cards for almost ten years now. They’ve enabled me to score scads of favors and free tickets and hot-deals. They’ve gotten me special-interest information and hobby contacts.

And my-oh-my, have they *ever* been useful in getting me dates with some of the hottest women EVAR! (even one’s that might have first thought they were out-of-my-league — until I handed them my card, …. along with some sophisticated charm and banter, of course)

There is a certain ‘technique’ to using business cards well and wisely. (I’ve frankly, most often seen some really poor ways in which business persons use them.)

Likewise, there are techniques to the proper use of calling cards in interpersonal social interactions. Although a little archaic to the minds of many of we moderns, Brett has outlined a good place to start building those skills.

Calling cards are, at the very least, more manly than today’s ghastly habit of text-messaging

22 Jonathan Sutton November 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

My wife uses a google phone number on her calling card for privacy and safety reasons. Great post. I will look to use your tips on calling cards with my own networking.

23 kowalski November 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm

In order to have a truly professional looking calling card, penmanship should be of greatest importance. Brett, how about an article on “the art of using a writing utensil?”

better? :)

24 Neon Signs November 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Who knew there was such a science behind business cards. If movies taught me anything, it was to just go up to a crowd of people and start randomly handing my cards out.

25 Steven November 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Someone said there should be an article about handwriting. Done and done:

26 Roland November 23, 2010 at 9:48 am

I like the idea of a calling card for personal use. I have hobbies and small side projects that I work on, and it’s not appropriate to have a business card for those OR use my regular business card (which has my work phone and email and was also provided by my employer).

That being said, I think it’s better to keep old traditions that still work and make sure that the old traditions we try to use (or bring back) will fit and work well in modern society.

Crossing out the name might be good etiquette to those in the know, but no one in modern society will get it. Instead, they’ll think you’re an idiot, or using someone else’s card (if they don’t know you, personally). The fact that you’re sending them a card with your name professionally printed on it is already sketchy enough.

Using them in place of a modern traditional greeting card will seem like laziness or “frugality” to many people. Tuck one inside a greeting or thank you card, instead. Alternately, purchase some tiny envelopes that fit the cards and use them in these situations. You can’t mail them, but it makes them more significant. Avoid making it look like you just wrote on whatever you had lying around.

Order your cards with a blank back on non-coated stock, so you can write a note on the back with any old pen. If you want glossy, consider a coating on the face only.

Depending on what else you use them for, consider ordering a standard business card size so you seem like a normal person. You know you’re not, but let them figure it out later.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


27 Adam November 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Good article; however, I don’t think many of my friends/family would get or appreciate the subtleness of a calling card :-/

28 Dave December 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Im thinking of using Calling Cards for my Business. The card would contain just the simple bare info, my name, my company name, phone number, website, ane email.

The reason I’m thinking of leaning towards the calling card is that it will stand out and allow me to write hand written notes to contacts that I meet on the card.

What do you think?


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