When a person (traditionally the wife in many cultures) assumes the family name of his or her spouse, that name replaces the person's birth surname, which in the case of the wife is called the maiden name. "Birth name" is also used as a gender-neutral or masculine substitute for "maiden name."

A married name is a family name or surname adopted by a person upon marriage.

In some jurisdictions, changing one's name requires a legal procedure. Nevertheless, in some jurisdictions, anyone who either marries or divorces may change his or her name. Due to increasing security and identification needs, even where it is legal, the common law method is rarely accepted anymore except at marriage (especially for women). Traditionally, in the Anglophone West, only women do so, but in rare instances men may change their last names upon marriage as well.[1] In the United States, only eight states have an official name change for a man as part of their marriage process; others may petition a court, or, where not prohibited, use the common law method (though government agencies sometimes do not recognize this procedure for men). Due to the widespread practice of women changing their names at marriage, they encounter little difficulty using the common law method at marriage in those jurisdictions that permit it.[1][2]

Customs relating to maiden names in marriages[]

In the remainder of this article, birth name, family name, surname, married name and maiden name refer to patrilineal surnames unless explicitly described as referring to matrilineal surnames.


In most of Canada, either gender may informally assume the spouse's surname after marriage, so long as it isn't for the purposes of fraud. The same is true for people in common-law relationships, in some provinces. This is not considered a legal name change in most provinces, excluding British Columbia.[3] For federal purposes, such as a Canadian passport, Canadians may also assume their partner's surname if they are in a common-law relationship.[4] In the province of British Columbia, people have to undergo a legal name change if they want to use a combined surname after marriage.[5] Their marriage certificate is considered proof of their new name.[6][7]

The custom in Québec was similar to the one in France until 1981. Women would traditionally go by their husbands' surname in daily life, but their maiden name remained their legal name.[8] Since the passage of a 1981 provincial law intended to promote gender equality as outlined in the Québec Charter of Rights, no change may be made to a person's name without the authorization of the registrar of civil status or the authorization of the court. Newlyweds who wish to change their names upon marriage must therefore go through the same procedure as those changing their names for other reasons. The registrar of civil status may authorize a name change if: 1) the name the person generally uses does not correspond to the name on their birth certificate, 2) the name is of foreign origin or too difficult to pronounce or write in its original form, or 3) the name invites ridicule or has become infamous.[9] This law does not make it legal for a woman to immediately change her name upon marriage, as marriage is not listed among the reasons for a name change.[10]

English-speaking world[]

For many, the decision whether to keep or change their birth name is a difficult one.[11] This process is expedited for newly married persons in that their marriage certificate, in combination with identification using their married name, is usually accepted as evidence of the change, due to the widespread custom, but the process still requires approaching every contact who uses the old name and asking them to use the new. Unless the statutes where the marriage occurred specify that a name change may occur at marriage (in which case the marriage certificate indicates the new name), the courts have officially recognized that such a change is a result of the common law right of a person (man, woman, and sometimes child) to change their name. Men, however, encounter more difficulties in changing their last names.[12] There were some early cases which held that under the common law, a woman was required (in the U.S.) to take her husband's name,[13] but newer cases overturned those.[14] Women do not have to change their names by law.[15]

Common options[]

Use husband's family name
Historically, a woman in England would assume her new husband's family name (or surname) after marriage, usually compelled to do so under coverture laws. This remains common practice in the United Kingdom today as well as in common law countries and countries where English is spoken, including Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ireland, India, Philippines, the English-speaking provinces of Canada, and the United States. In some communities in India, spouses and children taken on the first name or proper name of the father and often present interesting variations to name adoption including family name adoption. In Massachusetts, for instance, a 2004 Harvard study found approximately 87% of married college educated women take their husbands' name, down from a peak before 1975 of over 90% but up from about 80% in 1990. The same study found women with a college degree were "two to four times (depending on age) more likely to retain their surname" relative to those without a college degree.[16]
In the lowlands of Scotland in the 16th century, married women did not change their surnames, but today the practice of changing to the husband's family name is the norm.[17]
Usually, the children of these marriages are given their father's surname. Some families have a custom of using the mother's maiden name as a middle name for one of the children—Franklin Delano Roosevelt received his middle name in this way[18] or even as a first name. Spessard Holland, a former Governor of the U.S. State of Florida, and a former U.S. Senator, whose mother's maiden name was Virginia Spessard, received his first name in this way.
Retain the birth name
Persons who keep their own surname after marriage do so for a number of reasons. Objection to the inequality of the tradition is one major reason.[19] Some people are the last ones in the family with that surname. Others don't want to bother with the paperwork. Common reasons for maintaining their birth name include not wanting to lose their identity, preferring their last name to their spouse's last name, and fear of professional ramifications.[20]
The American suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone (1818–1893), made a national issue of the right to keep one's own surname as part of her efforts for women's rights in the U.S. Because of her, women who choose not to use their husbands' surnames have been called "Lucy Stoners".[21]
Join both names
It is less common for women, especially in the U.S. and Canada, to combine their spouse's name with their own birth name.[1] About 7% of American women hyphenate their name with their spouse's name upon marriage.[22]
Name blending
Although less common than name joining, a growing trend is the blending of two surnames upon marriage.[23] An example is Dawn O'Porter who blended her husband's surname with her own.
Birth name as middle name
Examples include Hillary Rodham Clinton[24] and Kim Kardashian West.


In the United States, some states or areas have laws that restrict what surname a child may have. For example, Tennessee allows a child to be given a surname that does not include that of the father only upon "the concurrent submission of a sworn application to that effect signed by both parents."[25]

Legal status of name changes at marriage[]

In 2007, Michael Buday and Diana Bijon enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the state of California. According to ACLU, the obstacles facing a husband who wishes to adopt his wife's last name violate the equal protection clause provided by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.[26] At the time of the lawsuit, only the states of Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota explicitly allow a man to change his name through marriage with the same ease as a woman. As a result of the lawsuit, the Name Equality Act of 2007 was passed to allow either spouse to change their name, using their marriage license as the means of the change; the law took effect in 2009.[12][27]

In 2013, a Florida man successfully forced the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to accept his decision to take his wife's last name.[28]

Feminism and preserving one's personal name[]

Jane Grant, co-founder of The New Yorker, wrote in 1943 of her efforts to keep her name despite her marriage, as well as other women's experiences with military service, passports, voting, and business. She and others formed the Lucy Stone League, named for Lucy Stone, who had earlier won her fight to keep her name. "We [in the League] . . . made ourselves generally troublesome", with legal cases, mass meetings, signing into hotels openly, and going to Washington, D.C.[29]

Use as security question[]

One's mother's maiden name has been a common security question in American banking since at least the 1980s.[30]


Since the 1789 Revolution, the law stipulates that "no one may use another name than that given on his birth certificate".[31]

From 4 March 2002 to 4 December 2009, children given both parents' names had to have them separated by a double dash (ex: Dupont--Clairemont). On 4 December 2009, the Conseil d'État ruled that a space can be used instead of the double dash. As a result, forms asking for the family name ("nom de famille") do so on 2 lines ("1ère partie: ..... ", "2e partie....")[32]


In Germany, the name law has been ruled by sexual equality since 1977: a woman may adopt her husband's surname or a man may adopt his wife's surname. One of them may use a name combined from both surnames. The remaining single name is the "family name" (Ehename), which will be the surname of the children. If a man and woman decide to keep and use their birth names after the wedding (no combined name), they have to declare one of those names the "family name". A combined name is not possible as a family name, but, since 2005, it has been possible to have a double name as a family name if one already had a double name, and the partner adopts that name. Double names then must be hyphenated. All family members must use that double name.[33][34]


In Austria, since the 1st of April 2013, marriage does not automatically change a woman's name; therefore a name change can only take place upon legal application. Before that date, the situation was the opposite: a married woman's name was changed to that of her husband, unless she legally applied to opt-out of the default situation.[35]


Since 1983, when Greece adopted a new marriage law which guaranteed gender equality between the spouses,[36] women in Greece are required to keep their birth names for their whole life.[37]


Since 2014, women in Turkey are allowed to keep their birth names alone for their whole life instead of using their husbands' names.[38] Prior to this case, the Turkish Code of Civil Law Article 187 required a married woman to compulsorily obtain her husband’s surname after the marriage; or otherwise, to use her birth name in front of her husband’s name by giving a written application to the marriage officer or the civil registry office. In 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that prohibiting married women from retaining only maiden names is a violation of their rights.[39]


Spouses keep their original surnames. According to the Italian Civil Code (article 143 bis), a woman who marries keeps her surname and has the option of adding her husband's surname after hers. Non Italian Citizens getting married in Italy will not have their surname changed in Italy, brides or grooms can request for their surname change in their home country though.[40]


In the Netherlands, persons who have been married in the Netherlands or entered into a registered partnership will remain registered under their birth name. They are, however, permitted to use their partner's last name for social purposes or join both names. Upon marriage or registered partnership, one may also indicate how they would like to be addressed through the registration of their choice in the Municipal Basis Administration (Gemeentelijke Basis Administratie) (although their birth name does not change). One may choose to be called by one's own name, one's partner's name, one's own name followed by one's partner's name (hyphenated) or one's partner's name followed by their own name (hyphenated). Both men and women may make this choice upon registering to get married or entering into a registered partnership. Upon the end of the marriage or registered partnership, one person may continue to use their ex-partner's last surname unless the ex-partner disagrees and requests the court to forbid the use of the ex-partner's surname.[41]

However, while name changes due to marriages performed in the Netherlands cannot be processed, it is certainly possible in the Netherlands to process name changes due to marriages performed outside the Netherlands, provided certain conditions are met.

These conditions are the marriage must be registered abroad, the application for name change abroad must be requested on the same date as the marriage date, the changed name must be recorded abroad on a certificate in accordance with the local rules of the foreign country and the marriage and name change as well as proof of application as of the date of the marriage must be legalized/apostilled and provided to the Dutch consulate or Dutch municipality upon return to the Netherlands.

This stems from the fact that international marriages are not necessarily governed by Dutch Law but by Private International Law which is codified in the Netherlands in the "Commoner's Law Book (Burgerlijke Wetboek)" Book No. 10, Private International Law, Title 2 - The Name, Article 24 which can be found on the internet.[42]

Prior to the birth or adoption of a first child, married parents may choose by which surname the child will go (mother's or father's but not both). If no choice is made, the child automatically obtains the father's surname. Any further children will also go by this name. If the parents of the child are not married, the children will automatically obtain their mother's name unless otherwise indicated.[43]


There is a widespread, though not universal, custom for a newly married wife to adopt the husband's family name. However, as Russia isn't a common law country, any name change requires a formal procedure including an official application to the civil acts registrar. As the same registrar also records marriages, for the convenience sake it is often done during the marriage proceedings, as governed by the Federal Law #143-FZ "On Civil State Acts", and the couple's marriage certificate has an option of having one common family name, or both spouses going by their original surname. However, the law is entirely gender neutral, and the couple may adopt either of their surnames (a husband adopting his wife's family name is uncommon, but by no means unheard of practice, which is generally accepted and carries little to no social stigma), or even a completely different one. The law also recognizes the couple's right to use the combined family name, and for the either of the spouses to reclaim their original surname in the case the marriage is dissolved.

Spanish-speaking world[]

Spouses keep their original surnames. Following Spanish naming customs, a person's name consists of a given name (simple or composite) followed by two family names (surnames), the father's and the mother's (except in Argentina, where only the rich use this as symbol of status). Any children a couple have together take both first-surnames, so if "José Gómez Hevia" and "María Reyes García" had a child named "Andrés", the resulting name would be "Andrés Gómez Reyes". In Spain, a 1995 reform in the law allows the parents to choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children. For instance, the name of the son of the couple in the example above could be settled whether "Andrés Gómez Reyes" or "Andrés Reyes Gómez".[44]

In some Spanish-American countries it is customary for women to unofficially add the husband's first surname after her own, for social purposes such as invitation letters or event announcements. The couple above may introduce themselves as José Gómez Hevia and María Reyes de Gómez.


Taiwanese women generally keep their surnames after marriage while their children inherit the father's. It is, however, legal to take the spouse’s surname.[45] Some older women have the husband's surname added to theirs, as was common in the early to mid-20th century.


A Thai wife that adopted her husband's surname due to the old law requiring it, can also change back to use her original surname.[46]


Japanese law does not recognize married couples who have different surname as lawful husband and wife, which means that 96% of married Japanese women take their husband's surname.[47] In 2015, the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the name-change law, ruling that it was not unconstitutional, noting that women could use informally their maiden names, and stating that it was the parliamentarians who should decide on whether to pass new legislation on separate spousal names.[48]


In modern mainland China, it is the norm that a married woman keeps her name unchanged, without adopting her husband's surname. A child usually inherits his/her father's surname, though the marriage law explicitly states that a child may use either parent's. It is also possible, though far less common, for a child to combine both parents' surnames.[49] In the older generations, it was also common for a married woman to prepend her husband's surname to her own. This practice is now almost extinct in mainland China (no man can take his wife's surname either), though there are a few exceptions such as the name change of Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai (she sometimes went by "Bogu Kailai"), but survives in some Hong Kong, Macau, and older Taiwan families.


Traditionally, Korean women keep their family names after their marriage, but their children take the father's surname. In the premodern, patriarchal Korean society, people were extremely conscious of familial values and their own family identities. Korean women keep their surnames after marriage based on traditional reasoning that it is what they inherited from their parents and ancestors.


Genealogists often also make note of all surnames used by a person during his or her lifetime (such as those acquired from birth parents, those assigned at birth when the father is unknown or not acknowledged, those acquired at marriage, and those acquired at a remarriage). For example, an illegitimate male child abandoned at birth in Italy or in other European countries will receive no surname from either of his birth parents but, instead, will be assigned a surname—often invented from one of the three kingdoms of nature, e.g., mineral ("Pietra"), vegetable ("Rosa") or animal ("Leoni"), or otherwise according to custom within a locality, such as "Esposito" (meaning "abandoned") or "Casa Grande" (referring to the "Domo Magna," e.g., the ospizio [hospital] where abandoned).[50]

See also[]


  1. ^ a b c "More men taking wives' last names". USA Today. 20 March 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 August 2013. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Gleanings from the mails; Maiden names. How an old Québec law annoys married women, lawyers, and tax-collectors, from the Montreal Witness, reprinted by The New York Times, 10 August 1880. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
  9. ^ Civil Code of Québec Archived 9 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, 14 March 2008. Retrieved 3 April 2008.
  10. ^ Québec newlywed furious she can't take her husband's name Archived 2 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine, by Marianne White, CanWest News Service, 8 August 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
  11. ^ The Maiden Name Change Debate
  12. ^ a b "Man files lawsuit to take wife's name". Archived from the original on 2007-01-14. 
  13. ^ Stannard, Una (1977). Mrs Man. GermainBooks, San Francisco. ISBN 0-914142-02-X, pp. 239-277.
  14. ^ Stannard, Una (1977). Mrs Man. GermainBooks, San Francisco. ISBN 0-914142-02-X, pp. 277-282.
  15. ^ Gorence, Patricia (1976). "Women's Name Rights". 
  16. ^ Making a Name: Women's Surnames at Marriage and Beyond by Claudia Goldin and Maria Shim, Journal of Economic Perspectives.
  17. ^ Krossa, Sharon L.. "Early 16th Century Scottish Lowland Names". Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  18. ^ Burns, James MacGregor (1956). 'Roosevelt' (vol. 1). Easton Press. ISBN 978-0-15-678870-0. 
  19. ^ Spender, Dale. Man-Made Language (1980), pp 24-25 of 1985 2nd Ed.
  20. ^ Moss, Gabrielle. "Keeping Your Name After Marriage: 27 Women Talk About Why They Didn't Take Their Husband's Surnames". Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  21. ^ Roiphe, Katie (24 March 2004). "The Maiden Name Debate". Slate. 
  22. ^ "NYT Upshot Maiden Names". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Emma Barnett, "Couples fuse surnames in new trend: ‘I now pronounce you Mr and Mrs Puffin’", The Telegraph (9 November 2012).
  24. ^ Hillary Drops Her Maiden Name, The Brisbane Times, 30 April 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  25. ^ Tennessee State Code. Title 68. Chapter 3. Part 3. 68-3-305. Father's name on birth certificate. -Surname of child. Archived 18 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ ABC News: ABC News Archived 23 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Name Equality Act of 2007, accessed June 2015
  28. ^ "Florida accuses man of fraud for taking wife's name, then backs off". 
  29. ^ Grant, Jane, Confession of a Feminist, in The American Mercury, vol. LVII, no. 240, Dec., 1943 (microfilm), pp. 684–691, esp. pp. 687–688 (quoting p. 687).
  30. ^ Levin, Josh (2008-01-30). "In What City Did You Honeymoon? And other monstrously stupid bank security questions". Slate. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010. 
  31. ^ "Une femme mariée est-elle obligée de remplacer son nom de jeune fille par le nom de son mari à la suite de son mariage ? -". 2010-01-06. Archived from the original on 21 November 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ BGB - Einzelnorm( article in German)
  34. ^ Doppelname als Familienname(article in German)
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Married Women in Turkey may use their maiden name without husband’s surname hereinafter". Birthname usage in Turkey. Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Name change by effect of a marriage in Italy". wedding in Italy. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  41. ^ "Wanneer mag ik de achternaam van mijn partner gebruiken?". 2010-06-01. Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  42. ^ " - Regeling - Burgerlijk Wetboek Boek 10 - BWBR0030068". 
  43. ^ "De keuze van de achternaam". 2009-06-24. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  44. ^ Art. 55 Ley de Registro Civil - Civil Register Law (article in Spanish)
  45. ^ "Laws & Regulations Database and The Republic of China". Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  46. ^ Royal Thai Consulate-General, Frankfurt am Main. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}" (in th). Archived from the original on 26 November 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  47. ^ Koffler, Jacob. "Here Are Places Women Can’t Take Their Husband’s Name When They Get Married". Time Magazine. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  48. ^
  49. ^ People's Daily. "Chinese surname shortage sparks rethink". 19 May 2007. Accessed 16 Mar 2012.
  50. ^ See David I. Kertzer, Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), at pp. 55-56, 113-122.

External links[]

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