Why Do Women Typically Take Their Husband's Last Name?


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Jun 01, 2021

Although the concept of taking a husband’s last name seems to be ingrained in our culture and thought to be historically the way things are done everywhere, this is not entirely accurate.  Taking on a husband’s name was not always the case and in fact in medieval England, surnames didn’t even exist.  Also, in some European cultures, taking the surname has not been a tradition.  In fact, in some circumstances, like my relatives in Europe, keeping both surnames was how it was done.

This article gives a nice history of how women taking their husbands name has existed in our traditions and patriarchal society.  Interestingly enough, it has its roots in laws that date back to the 11th Century.  Most attorneys have seen this word utilized in law, but many don’t even know what it means.  The idea of “coverture” goes back to the idea that a woman’s identity was “covered by her husband’s”.  Again, almost reducing women to that of property.  In fact, the utilization of this law in reality erased the identity of the woman, from a legal standpoint.  I think if more women looked at it from this perspective, they would be less likely to take on a husband’s surname.

The coverture laws did not expire, but in essence became out of favor and were no longer utilized in the law.  Both the Suffragette movement of the 19th Century as well as current day feminism have both fought back on this traditional subrogation of women.  Most people are not aware that not too long ago, just prior to the 1970’s, women could not get passports, driver’s license or register to vote unless they adopted their husband’s last name.  How archaic!  A little known fact, while white women earned the right to vote in 1920, most people are not aware that the fine print read at that time that they could only do so using their husband’s last name.  It wasn’t until over a half century later that a Tennessee Court upheld a woman’s right to use her maiden name, courtesy of Dunn v. Palermo

Although taking on a husband’s last name may be customary, do woman really give it much thought of what it truly encompasses and delineates, both legally and personally, when one chooses to do so?

This article is definitely an interesting read. 

I would also suggest that people look to their names and heritage when thinking of what name their children will carry.  Many times there are strong feelings about the lineage of a family name.  Most feel a male’s name is the only way to carry on a family name.  Well, if women kept their family name that might not be the case.  However, it still raises the issue of what name a couple’s children will carry.  An interesting place to start a conversation? 

I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.  What are your thoughts about it?

Selected excerpt(s) and linked article courtesy of Sharobn Brandwein,
Royalty-free photo courtesy of UnSplash