How do you write the salutation for a formal or formal-ish letter or email to someone whose gender is very much not apparent and has no gender-neutral title (Dr., President, etc.) to defer to?
You need to send an email to Schnudoodlie Brown.
Dear Ms./Mr. Brown, ? That seems very weird.
Dear Schnudoodlie Brown, ? This seems better but very stiff.
What’s the straight dope?
“Dear Schnudoodlie Brown” with whatever punctuation is appropriate for a more formal correspondence. It is less awkward that the alternatives (“Dear Sir or Madam:” “To Whom it May Concern:”). I get professional correspondence like this all the time from my colleagues in other countries who are not sure of my gender because they don’t have the name “Schnudoodlie” in their culture.
Policy at my workplace is to use the person’s first name only, and without the “Dear”. It seemed odd at first, but I like it now.
If the addressee is in a high position or scientific field, I use ‘Dr.’, as an acceptable professional title for a person with a PhD. Some people without PhD’s are threatened by this; others are vaguely flattered.
I like ‘Dear Given Familyname’ for emails; it’s not strictly ‘correct’, but emails are by nature a bit informal, so the usage is fine.
For hard copy actual letters, I call (or email) a receptionist, admin, or (as a last resort) assistant and ask. “What title does Given Familyname prefer in written correspondence?” [Sometimes I get a suspicious “Why do you want to know?” People are weird.]
No, they’re just used to fending off salesmen and your question is a standard salesmen’s gambit to confirm an address & gather info used to enhance the odds of their missive slipping past the addressee’s defenses (ie past the screening provided by the person you’re asking.)