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Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married?

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married?


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Haven't seen anything online, even after googling. Wikipedia seems to only list the countries that support the practice, but offers no history.

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married? Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

I'm actually pretty curious as to why the woman would drop the maiden name.


Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

In general, it is a relatively new trend of the last few centuries, and many old cultures have/had no such concept or tradition.

Keep in mind that surnames in many cultures are a relatively new trend. There was no name to drop upon marriage if you didn't have a surname. The Nordic cultures, for instance, historically used patronymic "surnames". These generally would not change. Emma Jonsdóttir does not cease to be Emma, Daughter of Jon upon marrying Erik Eriksson.

Similar practices existed among other peoples such as the Welsh, for example, well into the Early Modern Era. On the other hand, some cultures like Greek would have referred to the married woman as "wife of Erik".

In cultures with longer histories of using surnames, many did not historically expect women drop their surnames at all. In the far east, examples include the Koreans, Japanese or Vietnamese. While some Chinese women added their husbands' surname on top of their own, it is a social use and not a surname change. Most women in recorded Chinese history are in fact identified by their birth surnames only (i.e.my honourable mother from Kiangnan).

The same is also true in the Near East, among Iranians and Arabs. Even in Western Europe, up until the the Early Modern Era, Scottish women of the lowlands did not customarily drop their maiden names. There are also the well known examples of Romance cultures such as the Spanish. Further back, Ancient Roman women did not change their nomen upon marriage, either.

In the English speaking world, dropping the maiden name became standard after surnames became common among the English people; sometime in the 13th and 14th centuries. So no, it did not predate civilisation. In fact, this whole practice is not nearly as common or "traditional" as it might seem. The main cultures to have such a tradition seem to be Anglophone, (Germanic) Western Europe and Slavic ones.

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married?

This is a lot more murky. In the English tradition, it is often said to be rooted in women being quasi-properties of their husbands without a separate legal existence; and that therefore they take their husbands name to mark themselves as extensions of the man of the family. It is difficult to determine the veracity of this claim.

Generally speaking, however, I'm more inclined to argue that the practice of dropping maiden names occur in two situations:

  1. In societies that did not have strong, blood-oriented views of family. So upon marriage, women are seen to have joined a different family, and the husbands' names are adopted in recognition of their new family. In contrast, culture that valued blood lines (e.g. Japanese clans) held on to their own clan names.
  2. Societies that did not have surnames until relatively recent, which overlaps with point 1. Cultures with strong views of family tend to adopt a collective representative name. In those without, surnames tend to come about for identifying otherwise similarly named individuals. It would have been convenient, and would indeed make sense, to identify a wife by her husband's name ("Agnes who married John the smith; not Agnes who married John the carpenter"). Then as surnames became more established, dropping maiden names turned into an ingrained traditional custom.

(I assume this question relates to the traditions of Great Britain and its former colonies such as the Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.)

The woman does not "drop" her maiden name. If she is a Christian or a Jew, she assumes the name of her husband because in both beliefs the act of marriage joins the two inseparably as one. By ancient law, such as the old Scottish Civil Law, the maiden name is subsumed by name of the house, which is normally the name of the man who owns the house, but in theory BOTH the name of the man and the woman could change, if by the marriage a new house were created. Under old (non-Christian) English law, children and wives and any other dependents assume the name of man because he possesses them and also because he takes responsibility for their actions. For example, if Mistress Neville commits a crime than it is Lord Neville that will be held accountable. Thus, the name creates a legal obligation.

[Laws Relating to Wives] When a Woman marries, she gives her self over, what she brings with her, to her H U S B A N D's Power. She parts with her very Surname, and assumes her Husbands. If she has any Tenure, it is all in Capite, that is, she holds it of, and by her Husband, who is the Head of his Wife. She can make no Contract, nor give away, or alienate any Thing, without her Husband's Consent. In short, a marry'd Woman can call nothing her own, unless it be otherwise settled before Marriage.

- The Present State of Great Britain and Ireland by Guy Miege (1715)

Note also that under English common law only a legal wife can attain the name of man, so a concubine (a woman without license from bishop) by law has to keep her maiden name. Therefore, in the old days, if a woman had a different name than her husband then it was assumed she was a concubine, not legally married. Since most married women did not want to be mistaken for a concubine, they customarily were rigorous in using their husband's name.


[Note: I took the thrust of the original question to be about the origin of patrilineal naming conventions, but that is a step removed from what is actually asked. I leave the answer anyway, as I don't feel it is entirely without merit.]

Since you ask the "why", it's worth pointing out that, similar to the wheat and chessboard problem, if neither partner dropped their name, then after fewer than 30 generations it would be impossible for a person to state their full name even once, even if they made it their life's work. 30 generations is about 600-700 years, which is, coincidentally, roughly as long as surnames have been common in Britain. It would only take 10 generations or so for a name to take over an hour to recite.

To avoid this, one or both partners must necessarily reduce the complexity of their own name if they are to incorporate a component of their partner's name, and still produce a heritable surname. Even in cultures that ostensibly keep both names, there must be some trimming of older or less significant ancestors. For example, although Spanish convention retains both surnames, the two grand-maternal surnames are discarded in the following generation, and the maternal grandfather's surname is lost the generation after that.

This leaves only the question of which name to cull and, with some notable exceptions aside, this follows the wider societal pattern.


Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married? Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

Inheritable family names may be considered a relatively new trend, only dating back to the dawn of the Renaissance in Europe, that is, their use on a large scale (say, 1500s). In some parts of Europe, they only were forced on the populace in the 1800s, or the 1920s, and Iceland still doesn't use them. On the other hand, in Asia they date back for thousands of years in some cases, like China, and still aren't used yet, as in Myanmar.

This is entirely a cultural trend, and each little culture group works it out for themselves. It isn't religious, or it would be largely the same throughout Christendom, and it wasn't. The Spanish notably didn't.

The Italians in the 1500's didn't. Negri's lists of participants in Nuove Inventioni di Balli lets us see that single women are known by personal name or two and family name (Antonia Viale) but married women by that plus "and" and the husband's family name in feminine form: Anna Sfondrata & Visconte is one of the Sfondrati who married a Visconte, while Anna Visconte & Arconata is a Visconte who married one of the Arconati. Lucia Visconte & Visconte was a Visconte who married a cousin.

So changing the maiden name to the husband's family name is not only relatively recent (depending on getting family names) but a minority habit. It's a cultural choice. Some, like the Italians or the Chinese append Mrs. Hisname like a title. Others, like the English and the Japanese, change the name of the woman.

Unless, of course, they change the name of the man. In Japan, it was pretty normal that a man with just daughters would adopt her husband so the children would continue his family line, even if, technically, this made the happy couple brother and sister. They knew what was going on, and ignored that level of technicality.

In other cases, in England husbands would be convinced, usually by financial incentive, to append the wife's father's name to theirs, which is how you got hyphenated names. Not that they always used hyphens. Lord Byron was born George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, but later became George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, as taking the name Noel was the requirement to inherit a bunch of money from his wife's mother, whose maiden name it was.

LSS: It's only used by some cultures, especially the Anglophone, not by most. It is a Modern habit in Europe, and is disappearing on the legal front, though the whole Mrs. business is often retained socially.

SOURCE: Ingraham, People's Names, McFarland, 1997


5 Reasons Women Are Keeping Their Maiden Names

More and more women are keeping their maiden names these days, which doesn't seem surprising until you learn that this number has been on the decline for a while. According to an analysis by The Upshot based on a Google Consumer Survey, 17 percent of women kept their last names in the '70s, compared to 14 percent in the '80s and 18 percent in the '90s. According to another analysis by The New York Times based on its wedding announcements, the number hit a low of 16.2 percent in 1990 but has been on the rise since, with 26 percent of women in 2000 and 29.5 percent last year keeping their last names. The Upshot's study, which covers a broader range of demographics, found 19 percent of women in the 2000s and 22 percent in the 2010s keeping their last names.

The New York Times describes some modern women's reasons for keeping their birth-given last names as "practical, not political," but also acknowledges that "from the time that the equal rights activist Lucy Stone became famous for keeping her name when she married in 1855, maiden names have been politically charged." So perhaps, taking inspiration from the second-wave feminist mantra "the personal is political," we should acknowledge that the practical is political, too — because it took a long political struggle for women to have the practical option of keeping their last names.

Here are a few practical reasons the women who told their stories to The Times, plus some commenters, gave for keeping their last names and why they are feminist, even if not obviously so.

1. "It's just my name for 33 years of my life."

“It’s not necessarily a feminist reason," Donna Suh told The Times, adding that keeping her name helps people find her on social media and prevents the confusion of seeing an Asian woman with a white name. Preserving your individual and racial identity sounds pretty feminist to me, though, and wouldn't be possible without feminism. As Amy Poehler points out in the quote above, even when feminism is not directly impacting our decisions, it provided our ability to make them.

2. "They’ve already lived in a household with two names, so maybe it seems normal to them.”

Sociologist Laurie Scheuble told The Times that, despite the huge social stigma of women keeping their own last names, the practice is becoming less uncomfortable now that many children see it modeled in their own households. She also cited an increase in women's education (women with advanced degrees are five to 10 times more likely to keep their maiden names), the upsurge of couples living together before marriage (perhaps the fact that more unmarried couples have kids also contributes), and the example set by celebrities who keep their last names (and even pass them on to their husbands, thanks to Zoe and Marco Saldana). Like interracial and same-sex couples, the more commonplace couples with different last names become, the less outrageous they'll seem.

3. More women have "made a name" for themselves before marriage.

A Harvard study demonstrated that the likelihood of keeping one's maiden name increases by one percent for each year a marriage is delayed. Claudia Goldin, an author of the study, told The Times that this is because older women have literally "made a name" for themselves and want to keep the name that's tied to their professional accomplishments. So, perhaps we can owe the increase in maiden names in part to the trend of Americans getting married at older ages than ever. And we definitely owe this ability for women to identify with their own careers', rather than their husbands', to feminism.

4. "Gay marriage adds another wrinkle."

A commenter under the name Judge Q pointed out that, with gay marriage now legal across the U.S., it is no longer obvious who should take who's name, which may lead less traditional arrangements to become more commonplace. Michael Hollan of YourTango makes the broader point that gay marriage may help dismantle a lot of assumptions about marriage, including that it's a time when "men get jobs" and "women cook and clean and get pregnant."

5. "We were not going to have children so neither of us thought it crucial that I change my name."

Women who don't want children are still met with skepticism and assurance that their good old "material instinct" will kick in. But thanks to feminism, more people understand that a woman can derive meaning from accomplishments other than motherhood. Perhaps in part for this reason, fewer couples are planning to have children, so fewer are dealing with the confusion of whose last name the kids will take if the parents' names are different. The commenter Doc Martin, who brought up this explanation, also said she keeps her last name to retain a sense of independence.

At the same time, many women have reasons for changing their last names that they find meaningful and empowering rather than mere affirmations of a patriarchal institution. “It’s like you’re a unit if you have the same last name,” Sarah Marino, who is the breadwinner in her marriage but took her husband's name, told The Times. "I don’t tie my personal success and me trying to be a successful woman lawyer to keeping my original name.” She makes a great point that this decision should not be used as a metric of how feminist a woman or a relationship is. History and family studies professor Stephanie Coontz echoed this sentiment:

But if I get married, I plan on keeping my last name because I want to be addressed in a way that feels familiar to me, recognizable on Google search (though, now that I think about it, it would be nice to have certain traces of my online presence unsearchable), and acknowledged consistently throughout my career. And all those reasons are feminist.


Why Women Change Their Last Names After Marriage

As The Feminist Bride this topic is the most distressing to me. After researching all wedding traditions there are three that earn the top obsolete, sexist and promoting inequality – engagement rings, bridal showers and name change. Now, women are starting to understand that third-wave feminism is about choice, but I have to say that when it comes to name change it isn’t an educated one.

There are three reasons why the tradition of women adopting their spouses names exists.

1. The first is that upon marrying Abraham, his new wife no longer existed as herself but as the “wife of Abraham.” So if you’re not religious, this name-change reasoning doesn’t really float.

2. The second reasons exist because before paternity testing existed, the only way to prove a child was the rightful heir to a man was through name. Without the fathers name, the kid was considered a bastard. The only way to get his name was for the mother to be married to the father. Marriage being the only option for a secure life for women. None of these reasons exist anymore.

3. The third reason name change exist was for inheritance reasons. The legal, non-bastard kid had to have his fathers name to legally claim his inheritance, title and property. The mother for a long time, even with the husbands name, had no rights to inheriting any of her dowry or family estate, it all passed to her son who also shared the family name. This reason also no longer exist.

Here are the modern reasons why women chose to take their husbands name:

2. It’s make us feel like a family.

4. It’s what my husband wants.

Where do I begin with these reasons.

It’s romantic. This might be one of the worst reasons behind changing it. People only perceive it as romantic because of societal marketing. We all grew up with media and stories and people who talked about how romantic it is to assimilate into someone else, that it means the ultimate form of love and sacrifice. It’s only a perception, not a tangible fact. Everyone has a 40-50% chance of getting divorce, it won’t seem so romantic of a name if you decide to keep it or have to change back to your original name that never divorced you.

Yes it is tradition, but as I pointed out they are not traditions. The tradition exists because it comes from a time when women were not allowed autonomy, a job, an independent life. Not all traditions are good ones.

Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors and sexes now. The nuclear family is dead. Families consist of half brother, step sisters, two moms, two dads, adopted or fostered children and the chances are a lot of them come with different backgrounds and names. This pro-name change argument implies that these families are less than because they don’t share one unifying name. Excuse me, but I hardly think this is the case. No one can argue that because I share a different name than my spouse that we feel and look like less of a family than one with a shared last name. A name does not unite a family, the people within it do.

Those who change their names because it’s what their husband wants need to recognize that we still live in a time where paternal name dominance is still the rival culture. Women are raised to be prepared to abandon their name, to put less value behind it, to put his first before yourself. Some women would disagree with me arguing that they love their surname, but our freewill is often tainted with lessons learnt from a lifetime. My best counter argument to just following the man or husband in the relationship, is that if you reversed the roles – asking him to consider changing his name, hyphenating it or creating a new one, you will often find men considerable less willing to do so. That indicates taught double standards in our society. Believe you have a relationship built on equality and practices equality? This is a great test to see if you really do.


Why are Women Still Changing Their Last Names?

Names matter to us. A lot. Think about how offended you are when the Starbucks barista misspells your name. Or back in highschool when Mr. Wilson read roll call and of course screwed up pronouncing your name.

There's a visceral sense of identity tied to our names. It's a link to our cultural lineage. This is especially true in the United States, given that we are an immigrant collective that grasps for any sort of pre-1776 heritage.

So then if names are so important to us -- why are women so quick to change their last names upon marriage?

There used to be legal reasons. Women were forbade to keep their last names a short handful of decades ago, under the premise that the wedded couple were viewed as "one person" by the law. That one person was the husband, whose identity superseded the wife's. He was the sole person who could vote, hold property, go to law, etc. In fact, it was only in 1972 that every United State legally allowed a woman to use her maiden name as she pleased.

The fact that a woman's maiden name is even called a "maiden name" is evidence that this practice is antiquated at best. Unfortunately, a woman not taking her husband's last name is still viewed as abnormal, deviant behavior in the US. This is supported by the fact that around 90% of American women still take their husband's last name at marriage, and a staggering 50% of Americans think it should be illegal for a woman not to take his surname.

Regardless of whether you do or don't change your last name, there are fiery opinions on what you decide to do -- if you're a woman. While I'm not here to judge whatever choice is made on marital moniker, I am saying there are reasons why a woman changing her surname could be a mistake.

I Regretted Taking My Husband's Last Name

The reason I took my husband's name when I wed at 22 was, well, I didn't think about it. My mother took my father's last name. She did it, so I did it, and that was that. I thought I was showing love to my husband by abandoning my last name. Plus I was mad at my Dad at the time and wanted to piss him off.

But when everything became official and I was a bonafide "McClain," a part of me suddenly felt lost. I no longer shared the name of my brothers. People couldn't identify that my parents, nephews, and blood family were even remotely related, given that our last names were entirely different.

That bothered me a little - then it bothered me a lot.

Losing an Identity

Part of why it was so bothersome was because losing a name is losing a piece of identity.

When I changed my name, I lost the German "Erdmann" and turned into a "McClain." I was suddenly Irish. It felt strange that others were no longer able to identify with my German heritage by looking at my name. I was instead barraged with questions around my Irish upbringing, especially around St Patrick's Day. Although there's everything right with green beer, I felt like an imposter.

We have an innate connection to our names, and after some time being a McClain, I started to feel disconnected from everything. This of course speaks in part to the marriage itself, but I felt lost walking around with a name that didn't represent me in any way other than my affiliation with a man. I felt as though I had vanished behind my husband and his endeavors -- which was the reason this practice was created in the first place.

Why We Started Changing Women's Names

This isn't to say every couple who chooses to assume the man's last name in a heterosexual marriage intends to delete the woman's identity. But looking at American and English history, (two of only a few countries that exercise this practice, by the way) identity deletion was the original intention.

The idea came to England around the time of the Norman Conquest, as the French brought with them the idea of coverture -- that "her legal existence as an individual was suspended under 'marital unity,' a legal fiction in which the husband and wife were considered a single entity: the husband." As such, when married the wife would assume her husband's name to become Mrs. his name. According to one court document in 1340, "when a woman took a husband, she lost every surname except 'wife of'". She was known only in relation to her husband, and that was in fact her only identity.

What to Do With Naming Upon Marriage, Then?

It's time for both men and women to stop being so offended at the question of choosing an alternative practice, given that most of us agree with the idea of women having identities. If we're offended by a woman not taking a man's last name, why is it not offensive for a man not to take a woman's name? Just think about that. Further still, even this conversation pisses people off, to the degree that it's become a bit of a hobby of mine to ask these questions and watch the feathers ruffle. One recent encounter, in fact, I asked a bride if she would be changing her name after her wedding, and she quite literally screamed in retort, "What am I, some sort of f*cking liberal?!"

Although I got a solid laugh out of that, let's just calm down here a minute, folks.

Your name is your identity. It was one of the first things you wrote when you learned how to write. Your achievements, your failures, and your collective history are all filed under the name you were given at birth. These are all things you should proudly stand by and sign for. It is a fundamental marker of who you are, and to sacrifice it due to wedlock is a notion not to be taken lightly, especially given the practice's oppressive heritage.

This is not to say that it is necessarily anti-feminist to change your last name, no. The goal here is to erase the heteronormative assumption that a woman should take her husband's surname, and the absurd notion that she's a crappy wife if she doesn't. Understand the reasoning behind why this practice ever happened in the first place, and accept the fact that perpetuating this practice is reinforcing patriarchy, which is frankly more offensive than anything else.

I changed my name once, but have since changed it back because it was a mistake. I have to own up to that, and do regrettably so. This is why I write to you, assuming you are putting more thought into this than my 22-year-old-dodobird-self did. And while you're thinking about it, you should know some women who change their names really do get hurt by it (I being one of them).

Regardless of the choice you choose, consider breaking open the restrictive box the majority of Americans continue to tighten over couples. A marriage should be a marker of an egalitarian partnership, not a succession of one party behind the other. Your name should reflect that. Find a way to represent yourselves that is unique to you, and at the end of the day, make a decision that is truly empowering to both of you.


The Maiden Name Debate

It was an interesting moment in the history of nomenclature when Hillary’s “Rodham” slipped into the position of a middle name after her husband lost his bid for re-election as governor in 1980. In the decades that followed, political wives have been pressured to tack their husband’s names onto their own (n.b. Judith Steinberg Dean and Teresa Heinz Kerry). In a way, it is an ingenious political solution: By shunting their old names into a prominent middle-name status, aspiring first ladies can signal to red states that they defer to their husbands while winking at the blue states that they still have their own names. (Or in Teresa Heinz Kerry’s case, their other husband’s name.) Of course, the entire debate over keeping one’s name is only an issue for a small portion of the country, since roughly 90 percent of American women automatically assume their husband’s names upon getting married. But for this educated, vocal segment of the population, the thorny question of what to do with one’s maiden name persists.

The movement to keep maiden names began in the 1850s in Massachusetts, when a suffragette named Lucy Stone decided to keep her name when she married an abolitionist named Henry Blackwell at the age of 37. In 1921 the Lucy Stone League was founded in New York, and a circle of forward-thinking women devoted themselves to the preservation of women’s names. In 1925, a journalist wrote snidely “some of its resulting confusions are indelicate and therefore may merely be hinted at. Many moral hotel clerks are troubled at the assignment of rooms to the traveling Lucy Stoners and their husbands.” But until the feminism of the 1970s brought a resurgence of interest to the issue, almost all women, including highly educated career women, changed their names to their husband’s when they married. Of course, the majority of these women were married before they were 23. Now that women marry later, and live more of their adult life with their maiden names, it can feel unnatural to assume another name, even for women who do not consider themselves feminists. Once you have “made a name for yourself” in the world it becomes more complicated, and even professionally damaging, to change it.

Having children, however, presents a conundrum: If you change your name to your husband’s, how are you connected to your ancestors in the shtetl, or the potato famine, or the decks of the Mayflower? If you don’t change your name, how are you connected to the future, to your children and grandchildren, who will use your name as a secret password for bank accounts until eventually it is forgotten? (There is a nice blue-blood tradition in this country of the mother’s maiden name becoming a recurring motif through the generations, as in the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But this is not entirely satisfying for the contemporary mother, as most people today do not use their middle names in any meaningful way.)

In the late ‘70s and ‘80s people began to make what seems to be an enlightened compromise: hyphenating their names. By using both last names, they appear to have created an equitable and serviceable solution for their families. But hyphenating is socially irresponsible as well as aesthetically disastrous: What happens when Julian Hesser-Friend marries Tessa Rosenfeld-Cassidy? Their grandchildren could end up with great, long, loopy strings of names, their signatures spilling off the blanks of any form. If they sensibly lop off part and end up as “Hesser-Cassidys” then they find themselves in the same quandary as we are.

Even more impractical is the recent rise of fiercely egalitarian couples inventing a third name out of the components of their last names. In most cases the new, fake-sounding name obliterates all ethnic resonance: When O’Connor and Rosenblatt turn into Rosecons, the verbal cadences of two cultures are lost. Mr. O’Connor and Ms. Rosenblatt somehow manage to simultaneously defeat the main functions of the surname: They are severing all ties with the past and the future, leaving the immediate family an island of Rosecons, with no nomenclatural relation to any of their cousins, grandparents, or future grandchildren. Not to mention that from a purely logistical standpoint it has become much more difficult to change one’s name since 9/11, due to security concerns. For anything other than the assumption of a husband’s name upon walking down the aisle, one faces added bureaucratic hurdles like court orders, fees, and long waiting periods, as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2003.

To this day, there is a group of “Lucy Stoners” who fervently believe that we will not be free until naming practices are “equal.” But how can they be? In a way the confusion and unwieldiness of the issue is a perfect metaphor for feminism’s limitations: We might prefer equal naming practices, but how in a practical sense could they be implemented? How can both people preserve the longevity and tradition of their surnames? The truth is there is something unsatisfying about either the bride or groom giving up their name. There is in the creation of a family a kind of uncomfortable and thrilling blending of identity, a difficult obliteration of the distinct self in short, it’s one of those nuanced, emotional moments that rarely fit into the categories rigidly set out by the purest forms of feminist ideology.

Interestingly, over the past 10 years fewer and fewer women have kept their maiden names. According to a recent study by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, based on Massachusetts birth records, the number of college-educated women in their 30s keeping their name has dropped from 23 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2000. * Goldin suggests that this may be because we are moving toward a more conservative view of marriage. Perhaps. But it may also be that the maiden name is no longer a fraught political issue. These days, no one is shocked when an independent-minded woman takes her husband’s name, any more than one is shocked when she announces that she is staying at home with her kids. Today, the decision is one of convenience, of a kind of luxury—which name do you like the sound of? What do you feel like doing? The politics are almost incidental. Our fundamental independence is not so imperiled that we need to keep our names. The statement has, thanks to a more dogmatic generation, been made. Now we dabble in the traditional. We cobble together names. At this point—apologies to Lucy Stone, and her pioneering work in name keeping—our attitude is: Whatever works.

In the end, many mothers I’ve encountered since becoming one myself have decided to change their names in line at the passport office, or in the post office, or in a doctor’s waiting room. They are not inspired to do it out of a nostalgic affection for tradition, or some cozy idea of family, or anything so charged or esoteric they do it because giving in to bureaucratic pressures is easier than clinging to their old identity. In a mundane way, having the same name as your children is easier.

And then, of course, the beauty of the contemporary name change is that you don’t have to formally decide. You can keep your name professionally and socially, change your name for the purposes of school lists, or airline tickets, or your husband’s presidential run—in short, you can maintain an extremely confusing relation to your own name (or names). There is, at least for me, an element of play to the whole thing. There’s something romantic and pleasantly old-fashioned about giving up your name, a kind of frisson in seeing yourself represented as Mrs. John Doe in the calligraphy of a wedding invitation on occasion. At the same time it’s reassuring to see your own name in a byline or a contract. Like much of today’s shallow, satisfying, lipstick feminism: One can, in the end, have it both ways.

Correction, March 24, 2004: As originally written, this piece incorrectly cited research from Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin as saying that the number of college-educated women keeping their name has dropped from 27 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2004. Return to the corrected sentence.


The History and Meaning of Women Taking Their Husband’s Last Name

The practice of assuming your husband’s name was birthed in a deeply patriarchal society, and centuries later, the tradition still stands. Believe it or not, the practice of a woman taking her husband’s last name is a vestige of a law that dates back to the 11th century. Sometime after the Norman Conquest, the Normans introduced the idea of coverture to the English, and the seeds of a long-standing tradition were planted.

Under English common law, coverture asserted that once married, a woman’s identity was “covered” by her husband. From the moment of her marriage, a woman was known as a “feme covert” or covered woman she and her husband essentially became one. With her identity essentially erased under the law of coverture, women could not own property or enter into contracts on their own. Husbands had complete control over their wives, legally and financially. More alarmingly, the law limited a woman’s recourse in rape and domestic violence cases, and they had no legal rights over their children.

There was no expiration date of coverture laws per se. Instead, the laws just sort of fell out of favor and faded away. No doubt, the suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th century helped contribute to its demise. Feminists (both then and now) were quick to point out that a woman’s name change was an irrefutable act of submission. Many argued that when women take their husband’s last name, it simply laid bare their perceived inferiority to men.

While the practice of women taking their husband’s last name is not on any lawbook, common practices still forced their hands. Prior to the 1970s, women could not get passports, driver’s licenses, or register to vote unless they adopted their husband’s last name. While women earned the right to vote in 1920, the fine print read that they can only do so using their husband’s last name. It wasn’t until over a half-century later that a Tennessee court upheld women’s right to vote using their maiden name, courtesy of Dunn v. Palermo.


Why should a baby get the father's last name?

By Carol Lloyd
Published January 20, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

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"I never really thought about it." "I didn't care and he cared." "Hyphenated names are so cumbersome." "It was important to his father that we pass on the family name." "I didn't really like my last name anyway." "I gave my children my last name as a middle name."

On and on it goes -- the rationalization of unconventional women who choose to do a very conventional thing: to give the child that emerges from their womb their husband's last name.

In 1994, American Demographics magazine reported that in marriage, 90 percent of women still adopt their husbands' last names. The remaining 10 percent choose some alternative -- from creating hyphenated names to making middle names out of their maiden names. But only 2 percent choose to retain their maiden names as their sole surnames.

Given the numbers, one might assume that choosing a child's surname is not exactly a hot button issue in the domestic arena. But it is. Modern couples do sit down and hash out what to call their babies. It's one of the many emotional calisthenics performed in the name of intentional parenting.

As soon as I became pregnant, I became entangled in the surname debate. After queries about morning sickness, weight gain, C-sections and the baby's gender, people asked the inevitable question: What are you doing for a last name? If my interrogator was a mother, she'd usually reply to my answer with her own creation tale of her child's surname.

These stories swerved radically from accounts of misogynist medical and legal practices to marital conflicts to the "it just seemed easier" riffs. Often there were aesthetic critiques of various phonemes. The endings of these diverse tales were almost always the same: The children got the father's last name.

Of course, patrilineal naming assuages both marital conventions and male egos. But there would seem to be plenty in our recent history to make women less likely to bow to such societal pressures. We've had three decades of skyscraping divorce rates and a growing contingent of dead-beat dads. Meanwhile, happily married women increasingly work double shifts as the primary parents and breadwinners of their families.

Yet the patrilineal torch has hardly flickered. Rarely do women give their children their last names -- even after divorce leaves them as sole providers and caretakers. (Though they often pay the several hundred dollars it takes to erase the taint of an estranged spouse from their own identity.)

So why is it that so many women appear not to care about the names they give their offspring while their husbands do? Why is it that so many women just happen to have an aesthetic preference for their husband's name? Why do so many women choose to abdicate a symbolic connection to their children to avoid disapproval of conservative family members, even when they are willing to buck family tradition on other issues? Why is it that when the woman wants everyone in the family to have the same last name, she immediately assumes that it is she who must change her name? Why do so many career women go through the rigmarole of maintaining two last names -- one for their work and one for their family?

Are women just self-hating wimps and men old-fashioned swine? The diversity of women's explanations suggests that something else is at work quite beyond feminist politics or personal choice.

Unsatisfied by ham-fisted stereotypes, I went in search of political scientists, historians, legal scholars, biologists and psychologists who might cast more light on why most women make their first public act as mothers an etymological suicide, obliterating the most visible identifying link between their children and themselves.

Political theorist Jackie Stevens, author of "Reproducing the State" (Princeton, 1999), looks at how last names were originally an invention of political societies seeking to make nationality seem natural rather than man-made.

"One of the ways we think of our national identities as natural is that we can tell what people's nationality is from their last names," she explains. "Governments have put a lot of effort into deciding what we're named. For example, there's an official list of first names in Switzerland and you have to choose one for your child."

Stevens maintains that in the 11th century, minions of William the Conqueror created surnames in the midst of a census to codify inheritance rules and thereby bolster tax revenue. Later in Europe, surnames were used to control and homogenize various ethnic groups.

"Jews wouldn't take last names because Moses didn't have a last name," she explains. "But when they rebelled, the government assigned them really gross last names like -- Grossman -- which means fat man. If you wanted a pretty name, you had to a pay a bribe."

But how do the nation-building origins of the surname shed light on the personal choices made by modern couples?

"Inheritance laws, political bodies, surnames -- it's all about compensating for men's inability to give birth," Stevens contends. "The surname remains the only way of showing legitimacy. Without it, there's no certainty that the kid has a legal father."

She also hazards a psychological hunch that women still want to demonstrate that they've nabbed a man. "That's especially important if women are keeping their own last names. It's ironic because keeping one's maiden name is supposed to be feminist -- but it may ignite that old anxiety about legitimacy."

But if it's all about legitimacy, why didn't any of the women I spoke to offer that as an explanation? And why did so many of the stories seem so different?

"It is interesting when you get many explanations for the same choice," muses psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow, author of the ground breaking "Reproduction of Mothering" (UC Press). "One begins to wonder what's going on unconsciously." In her current book, "The Power of Feelings" (Yale University Press), Chodorow addresses this conundrum: How many so-called "personal choices" often have internal and unconscious meanings.

Like Stevens she feels that patrineal surnaming is about a woman giving her child and its father a definite connection. But she casts the choice in a more positive light. "[Giving the man's last name to the child] can be a way of having a sense of two parents," she explains. "It's also a way of trusting in the marriage -- saying, 'This is someone I can count on.' It's about enjoying the good parts of being part of a family, of feeling somehow that this man is making a commitment."

Yet it's interesting that traditionally, the man shows his commitment to the child by giving his name, while the woman shows that same commitment by giving up her own. Why are so many men still so attached to their last names?

"Identification with the father," says Chodorow. "I don't think it's any mystery. It's the classic "in the name of the father" -- in Lacanian psychoanalysis. The mother has the baby in utero but the name is how men get tied to their babies. The tie has to happen somehow that 'This is my baby too.' If she's feeling generous, then this is a way to show it."

Choderow also notes that many young feminists are choosing their battles more carefully. "Women are making choices about where they think it's important [to change] -- maybe they're focused on getting men more interested in child care. They're also learning that every time you do something that's traditional, it doesn't mean that you're not a feminist."

Evolutionary biologist Helen Fisher doesn't dispute Chodorow's notion of patrilineal naming as a linguistic umbilical cord, but she casts the idea in biological terms. "It's tremendously advantageous to think that the father belongs to [the mother and the child] for Darwinian evolutionary reasons. The main reason for marriage is for women to get a man to not only sire her children but to help raise them.

"Even in the age when women can be economically powerful, any way they can build that connection with their husbands [means] they will win VCRs and bicycles and college educations for their DNA."

She notes that studies have shown that mothers and their kin comment more often that a baby resembles its father. "Evolutionary psychologists ended up thinking that this habit is more than just chance it is a way of building that connection [between father and child]," she explains.

Even with the high rate of divorce, the increasing economic power of working women and the decline in marriage, Fisher doubts that the prevalence of patrilineal naming will change any time soon. Why? Because illegitimacy is not just a paranoid male fantasy.

"Studies of blood types in the 1940s revealed by accident that as much as 10 percent of children were not the children of the man they called father," she says. "They were not genetically related."

Paraphrasing from her recent book "The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women," she adds: "That's a huge percentage and women are deeply driven to have their husbands think that a child is theirs because if it isn't, he may not give resources or he may abuse the child."

That women have a choice of surnames at all is only a relatively recent development in legal history. Originally, patrilineal names were part of the British and American common law called "coverture," in which a woman lost her legal right to own property, to enter into contracts or sue another party as soon as she got married.

Sexist property laws began being dismantled 150 years ago, but even in the 1970s, many state bureaucracies still prohibited women from keeping their own names after marriage and giving their children their surnames.

Interestingly, the last legal battles of patrilineage were not fought over love or tradition or civil rights, but the true blood of our society: money. According to Hendrik Hartog, Princeton legal historian and author of the forthcoming "Man and Wife in America" (Harvard University Press, May 2000), it only became truly irrelevant whether a woman wanted to keep her own name after it was established that women did indeed have the right to have their own credit cards. Before that, a married woman could only obtain a credit line if she had her husband's surname.

I could find no current laws prohibiting women from keeping their surnames after marriage or giving their names to their children. The state-by-state battles of the 1970s are all over. So why haven't our naming rituals also changed? Hartog maintains that despite the societal campaign that began in the 1900s to "reinvent marriage," much of what people do in marriage continues to be done out of habit -- even when the tradition has no legal or financial roots.

"People find it very difficult to imagine being married and not doing what their parents did," he explains. "There's a powerful pull toward the reproduction of tradition. Of course, there's enormous divorce and people having children outside of marriage but still, when people get married, they're doing something that's historically grounded."

And as Stevens, Chodorow and Fisher have observed, even the most arbitrary traditions remain remarkably resilient when they have a biological seed.

Names flutter abstractly on bureaucratic forms and even a feminist woman, filled to the brim with a child of her own blood and bone, may see the symbolism of giving her last name as a trifle compared to the visceral bond she already shares with their baby. Even as our legal system evolves to accept the notion that families are essentially cultural-political institutions in which each parent must have equal influence, the body stealthily intrudes.

But just because women are blessed and cursed with the vital umbilical connection, it doesn't mean that we have to relent on every symbolic front. Long after my husband hacks through that bloody rope, long after my breast milk has dried up and my pregnancy leave is but a sleep-deprived memory, we will both be parents, working equally, I hope, inside and outside the home.

My husband won't need to brand our daughter to compensate for the fact that she is in his care less often than she is in mine. He won't need any exterior sign to remind him of his responsibility, his connection, his importance.

Yesterday I felt the tiny kicks and stretches of our first collaboration in reproductive love. After much discussion, we decided: She's getting both our last names (no hyphen) -- with mine as the last, last name.

Biological motherhood is an awesome process but its powers won't last as long as the symbolic gift to my daughter of her mother's last name. And when she is old enough to ask me why she has the name she has, I won't need to come up with some justification that I don't even believe myself.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.


Southern Weddings

First, of course, I must address this column’s new name and look. I’m sure many of you can guess what necessitated the change, and, in deference to our topic (good manners, in case you forgot), I will leave it at that!

Moving on! I have a very, very Southern etiquette puzzle for you today. Cameron, a loyal reader, asked me a few questions regarding monograms. She writes:
&ldquoI love love love monogrammed things therefore, most of the items on my registry will be monogrammed. Before registering I read online (but not from credible sources) that the traditional way to monogram items as a couple is to never separate the groom&rsquos first name from his last name. So our married couple monogram as Tom and Cameron Littlehale would be TLC. Since all of the monogrammed items, like bed linens, bath linens, barware, and even our fine china on our registry are for the both of us, I used our &lsquoTLC&rsquo monogram.

I was under the assumption that I should use our monogram until I read the &ldquo10 Ways to get Southern Style&rdquo in the September 2010 Southern Living. The article states:
‘The most important piece of advice here? “Always use the woman’s monogram,” sayd Phoebe. “Period. End of story. People ask me about this all the time, and I don’t think it’s proper to combine monograms or to use the husband’s monogram. Think of it this way: Everything in the house belongs to her, and that’s all there is to it,” she says with a laugh. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.”‘

Luckily, my wedding isn&rsquot until next May so I can still edit my registry, but 60% of it is monogrammed and I don&rsquot want to use the wrong monogram on all of those items! I had never heard of this before, and I don&rsquot want to have the wrong monogram on all of my wedding gifts, but I also don&rsquot want to change it because of what one woman said in her interview with Southern Living (although Southern Living is the gospel). I&rsquom so torn, and to make matters worse, Emily Post has nothing to say on monograms. Ahhh. What do you think?

This leads me to my next question. Do I drop my middle name or my maiden name? Right now I&rsquom Cameron Baxter Morehouse, but after I marry Tom will I be Cameron Baxter Morehouse or Cameron Morehouse Littlehale? Which do I use as my monogram?&rdquo

All lovely examples of monogrammed registry options, courtesy of Pottery Barn

I apologize for the length, but I just couldn&rsquot cut any of that out, now could I? Cameron had me stumped a bit, as well, so I turned to my right-hand lady and expert on all things tradition, Miss Katharine Waterman. Take it away, KTW&hellip

“Thank you, thank you very much. Here are my professional opinions:

Right vs. Wrong: There is no &ldquoright&rdquo or &ldquowrong&rdquo way to monogram. Brides changing their names typically DO use the joint monogram. (And for the record, I am a firm believer that the groom&rsquos initial should come first in a shared monogram after all, it IS his last name.) It is easier to share a single monogram, plus I actually don&rsquot like the idea &ldquowhat&rsquos mine is mine, and everything in the house is mine.&rdquo Is that really how anyone would want to start her marriage?

Female vs. Male Territory: Now, where Southern Living seems to get confused is traditionally female vs. male territory. As you and I have discussed (Editor&rsquos note: I, Emily, asked her this in an email, so she&rsquos referring to previous office conversations we shared!), linens, china, etc. are typically regarded as the property of the wife. The catch? She would typically use her GIVEN initials, as though this were part of her dowry. Barware, glasses, silver, etc. is the man&rsquos property. Figures he would get the nice stuff! In Cameron&rsquos case, I would recommend using the joint monogram, since she is taking his name. Plus, it&rsquos more egalitarian and not staking out &ldquowhat&rsquos mine is mine&rdquo turf.

Middle vs. Maiden Name: There is no right answer here, either. Traditionally, a woman was not given a middle name with the expectation that her maiden name would, by default, become her middle name once she married. Personally, I would identify most strongly with my surname, but as we&rsquove also discussed, some people like their middle names more and so that carries more weight. (You, for instance, like Armstrong!) So this is just a personal choice. Which name does she identify with more? What sounds better with her new last name? If she is a traditionalist, she should use her maiden name as her middle name.

Thank you, Katharine! Now tell me: what do you think about monograms? Middle names? Who&rsquos right? Phoebe? Katharine? Someone else?

EDITOR’S UPDATE: We thought we’d clear up a few points that have popped up in the comment section. The tradition is “do not separate a man’s given initial from his last initial,” not “do not separate a man’s first name from his last name” as if you were reading the monogram aloud. (Clearly, by virtue of the awkward and counterintuitive first, middle, and last placement of initials, monograms are not intended to be read aloud.) Traditionally, the male’s initial is listed first (left) to show ownership both over the last name and the wife. It’s the same with all other formal titles of address for married couples. For instance: Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Smith. It’s not Mrs. and Mr. Jane and John Smith. Putting the wife’s initial first suggests the opposite.

It’s only recently that people have informally adopted the new arrangement, but for our generation it is the norm.

One additional source of confusion is that certain references have adopted the more egalitarian “ladies first” motto, whereby the place they bride’s initial before that of her groom in a concerted effort to show he does not own her. But again, this is modern, not tradition.

Now if we’re talking ULTRA-old school, traditionally, there was no joint monogram! Men had theirs given from birth, and women got theirs upon marriage. They stamped the various “his” and “hers” items in the house with their monogram or initial. (For instance, my great-grandmother, KTW I, was not given a middle name, so stamped all the silver with her birth initial “T” for Tillinghast after marriage.

And a last point: it now has become a matter of personal preference, so perhaps saying who is right and wrong is wrong in and of itself, as there are plenty of references for both sides!

Our friends at Aisle Dash also do an excellent job of differentiating between modern and traditional monograms here.

Ok so I have another curve ball to throw in to the mix. When I get married my husband and I's initials will be the exact same, CAD, so technically our single monograms would be the same. But our joint monogram would then be CDC. Can we technically use our CDA monogram and it just stand for both of us or is that too confusing and go with the joint monogram? I always thought it would be cute that we had the same initials but now it just confuses things! Oh and our initials will be the same since I plan on keeping my given middle name since my maiden last name, Smith, is so darn boring. I'm not too worried about dropping it. (No offense Dad!)

I'm inclined to disagree with the new Mrs. Waterman. I'm a Southern gal, with a Southern mom who has a little business making personalized purses, linens, and other fun items that are monogrammed. Her standard with the married monogram is bride's initial on the left, groom's on the right. I do agree with Katherine, though, that most things in the home should have a shared monogram.I guess, though, it could really come down to what the couple likes best. I'm afraid of marrying a man where our combined monogram would spell something undesirable. In that case, I would definitely break any and all the "rules" of monogramming!

I agree with Rachel. I have always been taught that the man's first name should not be seperated from his last name. So the monogram for Emily and John Smith would be ESJ.

As a girl from an old Virginny family, I have seen my share of monograms! I have always been taught that the woman's monogram is on the china, and from there there is more leeway – so using the couple's monogram is fine. I was taught that the couple monogram should be wife on the left, husband on the right "just like they stand at the altar" – I mean, it's now is now both your names, right? so someone's would be separated – plus, I say ladies first. And as far as the maiden name goes, I have not known many southern girls to not keep their maiden name as their new middle ("so you know who your people are" as my grandmother might say…). Then again, I agree that everything can go out the window if there is an undesirable new monogram!

I agree that the bride's initial should come first. Like when you write a couple's names out, you would write the bride's name first. I think that personal choice is what's most important when deciding what your new name should be. I personally relate to my maiden name more than my middle and intend to make it my middle name when getting [email protected]: I would probably use CDC, but that's just my opinion!

I also agree the the bride's initial comes first. I work in a store in Columbia, South Carolina that has TONS of monogrammable (made up word?) items and that is how we recommend brides format their married monogram. I just got married last month myself and the hubs and I used LBJ on pretty much anything that could be monogrammed. Also, I am using my maiden name as my middle name and, like Elizabeth, I don't know anyone who has kept their original middle name. I guess that's more of a personal choice, but I don't like the idea of losing that connection with my family – to me, getting married was about two families becoming one and I like that my name is now a reflection of that.

I also agree…the bride's name comes first in a couples monogram. This is how I registered for all of my linens and other things. Funny thing is….our new couples monogram is the same as my NEW monogram. I guess in our house it really is whats mine is mine and what is ours is mine (at least thats the way it looks!)

I'm no monogram expert, but like most of the commenters above, I think in a joint monogram the lady is on the left. Anybody know what to do with a 4-initial monogram? I couldn't part with either my middle or my maiden name, so now I've legally got four names. I love my middle name and I definitely want people who see my family name to "know who my people are," so that seemed to be the easiest solution. I also figured it would give me leeway to use the names however I saw fit (as in, I'm still using my maiden name at work — didn't want the IT hassle since I don't see it as a long-term gig). Also, my maiden name makes a terrible middle name for me!

And yet I have another curve ball. What about girls with double names? My full name is Anna Louise Dixon, but I have been called Anna Louise my entire life. What would my new monogram be when I marry? A C D (C is just a made up letter) or A C L. I love by my double name, but also my last name, too. Would it be appropriate to legally drop my middle name but still have things monogrammed with my double name, since people would still call me by that? I think I have seen older friends do that.

I love monogram stuff…hey we're from the South, right?! When reading this post, I was hoping you would answer the monogram question "man v women' what/how do you monogram. It was an interesting education to find that you do indeed just put the womens monogram on the china…I think it's a beautiful idea and a special touch, just a little odd…since it's both of yours. Also, I find it strange sometimes to walk into someones den/tv room and they have monogram pillows with just the womens monogram, it's a shared space, right. When do the rules apply? I love monogramming…and would monogram EVERYTHING…if my husband would let me…thanks for the education!

Anna Louise, I am with you girl! My future mother in law just asked me this question yesterday…I feel like I will end up going with dropping my "middle" name on the monogram, if only for symmetry's sake (my first name and my maiden name are both L, so I will be LGL). But I feel like I am abandoning my double name-ness:) Anyone have any advice for us on monograms??

To Anna Louise and Leigh Ellen: I am also a double-name gal and following my wedding last March I dropped my maiden name in order to keep both my first names. I felt that it was enough work to explain two first names to everyone without having to explain two last names as well. My biggest considerations for this decision were two-fold: I want to have the same surname that my children will have thus I did not want to keep my maiden name as my last name, and I am still relatively young in my career which made the transition a smooth one from a professional point of view. In accordance with tradition my husband and I have established our household items with either my monogram or his, and any casual items that we both use (ie: towels in the master bath) have only our shared last initial.

Have any of you registered for monogrammed china? Have you done it through a local shop or are there any department stores that sell monogrammed china? Thanks!

Hi Stephanie! One of my favorite patterns of monogrammed china is Pickard's Signature line, sold through independent retailers. Classic and beautiful, though pricey! Here's the link: http://www.pickardchina.com/info.cfm?action=monogrammed_chinaEmily @ SW

I am registered for Pickard's Signature Collection with the gold rim through Williams-Sonoma. Williams-Sonoma seems to be the best option when registering for the china because they have so many stores and they offer an online registry too!

i was always taught the "ladies first" style, which i love now, as our monogram is also MY new monogram, leading me to want to monogram everything in our home! and since i spent my life up until marriage with a hyphenated last name, making monogramming almost impossible except from specialty shops, i'm loving having only 3 initials!

In my family it's traditional to keep all your names… perhaps not legally but in documents your whole birth name plus your married name is used. My great grandmother had a tradition of giving sterling silver to my aunt with her maiden name monogram during her childhood. So her silver reads gSl instead of bMg or gMs.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this information, so helpful. My mom actually never had a middle name and when she was married she took her maiden name as her middle. I always wondered why she never had a middle name, but I guess it’s a very old tradition. As for myself, I kept my middle name since I really like the sound of it and it sounded weird with my maiden. Layla Michelle Mayville is what it is but if I had taken my maiden it would be Layla Cady Mayville. Here is another side note, I have heard of a lot of people now giving their children’s 1st name as what their maiden name was. In this case, I had thought about if we had a girl I would name her Cady. I do have a brother so the Cady name will continue though.

what would Ernest M. Van Derhaff”s monogram be?

I know this is an older article, but I’ll be in the same position as commenter Kathleen and am curious how to handle 4-initial monograms when the maiden name and married name aren’t hyphenated. I plan to keep my maiden name and add on his last name (like Mary Higgins Clark, for example). I have no problem omitting my middle initial for my own monogram and using my maiden in its place, but it’s the couple’s monogram that’s tripping me up. If my name is Norah E(middle) C(maiden) H(his last name) and his is Robbie L(middle) H(his last name), then what I’ve seen for women keeping their maiden (nCHr) isn’t appropriate because I would also have his initial. But simply nHr isn’t quite right either. Thoughts?

I’m late to this discussion as well but I have a conundrum that’s not officially been answered yet. I go by my middle name (Afton) and therefore don’t know what to do for a 3 letter monogram upon getting married next year.
I legally don’t want or plan on dropping my first name (Natalie) but don’t know what is actually appropriate. I also don’t want to have 4 names to monogram! My new last name will start with an S so I could be aSb or nSa. Help is appreciated!

What are y’all’s thoughts on the whopping four name monograms. I am a Mary Catherine, but I was worried about which name to use. I don’t want to go by Mary + Maiden + Married names and I didn’t want to do Mary Catherine N______ J______. MCNJ?

Help! Folks are asking what monogram to use for gifts. I was thinking about either using his as ours: AJM (Which unfortunately our married monogram is the same as His name + Last Name + My First Name!) <<This is such a mess, I know.

Thoughts? (Frankly, I love my double name, but I also don't want to lose my maiden name.)

Is it appropriate for a widow to have items monogrammed with her husband’s initials or does she now use her own? I have been widowed four years I have no intention of remarrying. The linens I currently have display only my husband’s initials with the surname in the middle in a larger letter than those flanking it. (rFe) Should I continue to use this form?

The middle initial I use is from my maiden name. Should I now put my current surname in the middle with my first and middle initials on either side? (pFm)

A very trivial question in such an unhappy world, but monogramming is a special luxury I, and my widowed friends, enjoy.

Thank you. Pamela M. Fraites

I was very interested in the different thoughts on monograms. My newly engaged daughter and I have been wondering about timing? When is it appropriate to give a “bride to be” a gift with her married monogram? (engagement, shower or wait until the wedding) Is it bad luck to give a monogramed item too early? Can the future bride and groom use their married monogram on save the dates and invitations?? So many questions…
Please help!

I became a widow three years ago, I am 55. Most of my monogrammed item are a combination of mine using my maiden name as the middle initial since I technically have no “real” middle name. My full first name is Sue Anne(two words, one name), talk to my parents about that issue.
My concern is as I purchase items to be monogrammed and my husband is deceased, do I just revert to the initials I used prior to marriage?
My main question is about a serving tray that has only one initial that I plan to place on a ottoman and use for coasters, tv remote and magazines. Do I purchase the one with the initial of my first name or my last name which is my married initial even though I am not married, but widowed.

Thank you so much for all the advice! For my new monogram I’m not sure what to put for my husbands name? His first and middle name of Charles Hinter but he goes by hunter. Do I put in a C or an H for his initial? Thank you!

I’ve got a big monogramming question for you – I’m marrying a man with a hyphenated last name. I’m a North Carolina girl and love to monogram everything, but how does my monogram work?

My current full name: Brooke Elizabeth Kavit
My future hubby’s name: Samuel Bust-Webber

I will be legally changing my name to Brooke Bust-Webber.

I’m totally stumped though, please help me!

well, throughout my home i have monogram items used both ways! and why not! it seems nothing is either ‘right’ OR “wrong” any longer and that’s generally ok in my opinion. I guess it depends on your personal preference and/or if you tend toward the modern, or more formal traditions. If you want to mix it up you could monogram linens with brides initials first and glasses/silverware with grooms first (which is based on the very old tradition of what types of possessions are either ‘his’ or ‘hers’. I personally would not do silverware with three initials but only one (the last name obviously) but that’s just me. Things like ice buckets, barware could certainly have the grooms first initial first, so maybe base on what it is you’re putting the monogram on. I say anything goes! just my two cents!!

You never separate the mans name from his last name. Therefore, the woman’s initial has to be first.

Here’s another stumper for you. My husband is a junior and goes by his middle name. His given initials are LDL. Would our joint monogram be lDl as my name is Lynn?

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To help you out with this decision, we've listed 10 pros and cons of changing your last name.

Here are 10 pros in favor of changing your name after marriage:

1. It's an opportunity to drop a maiden name you dislike.

You can be rid of the unpronounceable, clunky, difficult-to-spell moniker at last.

You might also consider adopting your husband's surname if you want to distance yourself from your family of origin or a negative reputation associated with your family name.

2. Change can be fun.

When you take his last name after your wedding, you get a whole new name. You sign a new name, you introduce yourself differently. It's fun!

Of course, change, like marriage, can be the good kind of scary. Taking on his surname not only signifies the new direction you've taken, but it also represents the new identity you'll have as a wife and, perhaps, a mother.

Of course, being married doesn't make you any less of an individual or any less "you," but there is nothing wrong with choosing to identify yourself as part of a unit.

3. Having one family name can band a family together.

Speaking of units, a shared last name can help create a sense of family identity, should you decide to have children.

At the risk of being cheesy, haven't you ever wanted to yell, "We Joneses stick together!" during a family pep talk? At the very least, you'll have an easier time deciding on the children's surnames.

4. Sharing a last name makes monogramming is easier.

Sure, Mr. and Mrs. towels aren't such a big deal in the long run, but if you've ever fantasized about having a doormat imprinted with your new family surname, you might want to consider taking a married name.

5. People will already address you by your husband's last name, by default — so you may as well just take that name.

Whether we like it or not, people do expect you to change your name after you get married. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal Gender Issues showed that more than 70% of Americans said that brides should take their husbands' name after marriage.

Since the vast majority of people you meet will call you a Mrs. Husband's Last Name by habit, it may be less of a hassle to change your name than it is to correct them every time.

Here are 5 cons to changing your name after you get married.

Why you shouldn't take his last name.

1. You may get stuck with a last name you dislike.

Remember how Drew Barrymore's character in The Wedding Singer was almost called Julia Gulia? Yuck!

A good man will excuse you from adopting his surname if it either sounds awkward with your first name, or if it's just an awkward surname, period.

2. You may lose a maiden name you truly love.

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On that note, maybe your last name sounds poetic, exotic, or is alliterative with your first name.

Plus, plenty of women keep their maiden name because of its sentimental value: it indicates their ethnicity, it has an epic story behind it, or it's associated with a famous family member.

3. You will have to modify your professional identity.

If you're a bestselling author, an expert in your field, or have a business named after you, it might be easier career-wise to just stick with your maiden name, at least in the workplace.

Think about all the people who see your new name in their inbox and assume it's spam or the disconnected Google searches. Maybe it's not worth it?

4. You may be the last descendant of a long family line.

If it would break your father's heart to see the line end with you, you might want to consider keeping your name.

Or, if your guy has an open mind, coax him into taking yours. If anything, you can use your maiden name as your children's middle names.

5. Changing your name requires paperwork and sometimes a long line at a government office.

People do it everyday, and it's not horribly hard (here's our guide for how to change your name after marriage, for a sneak peak).

However, if you would rather not deal with changing the name associated with your Social Security, driver's license, and credit cards — among other things — you can save yourself a lot of time by just sticking with your maiden name.

Denise Ngo is a freelance web writer/editor who specializes in pop culture, fashion, science, faith and relationships. Follow her on Twitter at @ngodenise.


38 Comments

First-congrats on the being married for 100 days!

He will get used to it. I doubt it will ever really get used, and just kinda..be there.

I'm keeping my middle-dropping my last name (and taking his).

My FH is THRILLED! He was married once before and his ex REFUSED to take his name (something about her identity..blah..blah..blah. ). I have no real attachment to my last name so it was no big deal for me.

When we went to get our license a couple of months ago (officially putting it on the record that I was changing it) he was grinning from ear to ear. It makes me happy that he actually cares about that stuff.

For me, it was very important to DH that I take his last name. I didn't really give a hoot (as bad as that sounds!) because I have never been attached to my last name. I guess I always just assumed I would change my last name when I got married. So for me, the choice was easy. I got rid of my maiden name and and took DH's last name. It made him so happy when I officially changed it.

DH didn't want me to hyphenate or move it to my middle name WITH my other middle name but supported me and understood it was my decision.

I bumped my maiden name to my middle name . so now I have 2 middle names.

It was very difficult for me to loose my maiden name. partly b/c I own a business that I started, before I met my husband, in my maiden name. I'm thankful I did that b/c there have been a couple times where it came in handy to have my maiden name right there on my DL.

Actually, I had never heard of making your maiden name your middle name and then taking his last name before I joined WW. Everyone I've known to get married just loses their maiden name and takes his. I wonder if it's a cultural/regional thing.

What I've learned is that its a regional thing. From what I can tell, in the south, most women drop their middle names and take their maiden name as their middle name. When I speak to people up North, this is not the case.

I think I'm more attached to my maiden name than I thought. 3 reasons: 1. its a really uncommon name, 2. my father just died, and 3. he (nor any of his brothers) had any natural born sons.

Where I live thats not generally what happens. Here you take your husbands last name plain and simple. My FH would look at me weird if I read him posts about name changes. I do agree Its up to you and Im not saying anyone is wrong for it! Its just trandition here to take FH name.

Hey Farmers wife, where do you live? 90% of the women I know dropped middle names and took maiden as middle. I was shocked when I learned everyone didn't do this.

@Cavan. the only reason I did that was b/c of my business AND my mom had done the same thing when she married my dad. her maiden name is now her middle name.

My mother is 82 years old, treats "feminist" like it was a dirty word, and kept her maiden name as her middle name when she got married. I'd never known until WW that there were women who didn't keep their maiden names at least as a middle name.

Of course, my own view is that if you don't get to choose his name, he doesn't get to choose yours.

I thought it was at least a common practice, if not standard, to keep the maiden name as a middle name and take his last name. At least half the married women I know who changed their names did that. The rest *myself included* just took his last name instead of our own.

As someone who has lived in both the North and the South, I think it is very much a regional thing! Obviously there are exceptions in both places, but I have seen it much more common in the South to keep the maiden name as a middle name. That being said, I am dropping mine. I love my middle name - it has been passed down on my mother's side for a long time - and I have no real feelings on my last name. So I will be completely dropping my last name.

I dropped my maiden name since its long. to long to keep as a middle name

I had never heard of moving your maiden to your middle until I met a friend a work who did this. Kinda thought it was odd. Everyone I've known has always dropped their last name for his and kept their birth middle name.

That is what I am doing. I am proud of my family and background but I love my middle name and do not wish to part with it. So my middle name will stay the same and I will be getting a new last name!

I have only heard of a very few times where a woman has changed her middle name to her maiden name. Most of the time the women change it completely or hypenate it. Im changing my last name. My parents did not get married until I was 7 so I had my moms last name. She hypenated hers. I was given the choice when I became old enough to make my own decision about which parents last name I would take. I kept my mom's because I had it all that time and knew I would be changing it when I got married. I feel that your last name is not really your "identity" especially when you are getting married. At that point you are becoming "One" family. Your not loosing ownership of yourself, your are gaining your very own family to live and grow with. I love my family and respect where I came from but I love my FH and cannot wait to have our "own" family.

I struggled with this as well. Some ladies gave me a lot of grief for not wanting to change my name. In the end I am changing my last name but still keeping my other names.

There has to be a middle ground and a little compromise. On both ends.

I was never too attached to my last name but I still wanted to keep it and then I told FH about hyphenating it and he was not happy with that at all so chances are I will just drop it and take his last name - not a big deal to me!


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