The Americas / To change or not to change – that is the question? A woman’s choice to adopt her husband’s surname


Although there is no universal law in today’s society that requires women to change their surnames after marriage, the social norm of doing so persists. The practice of women changing their surnames after marriage to that of their husband’s stems from historical coverture laws.

Coverture laws established that upon marriage, women became one with their husbands and, in practice, married women were seen as their husband’s property. Over the years, however, these practices and ideas were abandoned as laws changed following much effort from varying sources.

Currently, most women still choose to take their husbands’ last name in the name of love and romanticism. Interestingly though, there are some jurisdictions in which feminism movements have gone so far as to illegalize women taking their husbands’ name. In jurisdictions like Quebec, Canada; France; Italy; Belgium and the Netherlands, women cannot legally change their surnames to their husbands’. (Although in some of these jurisdictions, it is acceptable for women to use their husbands’ surname socially). In other jurisdictions like Malaysia and Japan, it is custom for women to keep their maiden name, although it is not legally required.

Increasingly, we are seeing new practices emerge as a way forward from the debate of whether a woman changes her surname upon marriage. Some married women choose to hyphenate their maiden and marriage names to create a new surname. On a smaller scale, there have been some men who made the decision to take their wives’ surname after marriage. Some couples nowadays even choose a completely new surname for the family to share as a symbol of starting a new chapter of life together.

Let us know what the custom is in your jurisdiction. How do you feel about a woman changing her surname to that of her husband after marriage? Moreso, how do you feel about laws in relation to this – should legislation dictate whether a married changes her name or not?

Write to the Editor and share your thoughts on the subject. (Responses may be featured in a future newsletter.)