The concept, framework and mission of marriage are transforming. Thus nowadays, the norms established a few decades ago may be considered inappropriate or even discriminatory. At the same time, some traditions continue to hold their ground in the worldview of men and women all over the world. And one of them is the practice of changing one’s surname after marriage.

A recent Pew Research Center survey examined American attitudes toward changing their last name after marriage. The majority of women in opposite-sex marriages (79%) say they took their husband’s surname when they got married. Another 14% kept their surname, and 5% chose the option of a double surname, where the surname of the husband and wife is hyphenated.

Among men in opposite-sex marriages, the vast majority (92%) said they kept their surname. Only 5% took the surname of their spouse and less than 1% kept both surnames, hyphenated.

Almost four out of five women who marry men seek to follow tradition and change their surnames. The practice of taking the husband’s surname after marriage has a long historical tradition, primarily related to discriminatory norms when women were limited in a number of rights, for example, they could not hold property.

Researchers say that in the future, the number of women who will keep their maiden surname may increase. After all, among unmarried people of all sexual orientations who have never been married, the attitude towards changing their surname is somewhat different.

73% of unmarried men would like to keep their surname in marriage, compared to 23% of women

Women who have never been married have mixed opinions about changing their surname: 33% said they would take their husband’s surname, 23% would keep theirs, 17% would register both surnames hyphenated, and 24% have not made up their minds.

Among men, 73% said they would keep their surname, while 20% were not sure, only 4% would keep both surnames hyphenated, and 2% would agree to take their spouse’s surname.

It is noteworthy that according to analysts, some women in opposite-sex marriages are more prone than others to say that they kept their surname after marriage. These are predominantly young women aged 18 to 49 who have completed graduate school and are sympathetic to the Democrats. And yet another thing to mention is Latin American women: 30% of them say they kept their last name, compared to 10% of white women and 9% of black women.

Patriarchy on the march

According to Deborah Anthony, a law professor at the University of Illinois, English surnames began to be passed down from parents to children around the fifteenth century.

Back then, women sometimes kept their maiden surname, and men sometimes took their wife’s surname. “Surnames became closely linked to the concept of property, so that the person who owned property was the bearer and creator of the surname. Most often it was a man, but not always. As women’s ownership of property became more tightly restricted over time, these various surname practices eventually disappeared,” Anthony writes. Once women were virtually deprived of property rights, they had no alternative but to take their husband’s surname upon marriage.

“A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost,” wrote Lucy Stone in a letter to her future husband.

The feminist Lucy Stone is considered the first American woman to keep her surname after her marriage in 1855. At the same time, by not taking the surname, Stone was deprived of the right to vote.

As recently as 50 years ago, some state laws required a woman to use her husband’s name to vote or obtain a passport. In Hawaii, a law requiring a woman to take her husband’s surname after marriage was in effect until 1976.

Simon Duncan, a professor in family life at the University of Bradford, told the BBC that the name-changing tradition is “quite dangerous” because “it perpetuates the idea that the husband’s in authority…reproducing the tradition that the man is the head of the household.”

Her mother’s daughter

In Ukraine, there is a tradition of appropriating the father’s name as an integral part of the name. Thus, in addition to a name and surname, every Ukrainian national has a patronymic, being actually a possessive form of the father’s name. So, conventionally, an Ivan’s son or daughter is given a patronymic at birth – Ivanovych or Ivanivna.

16-year-old Stanislava Lytvynenko challenged the established norms and replaced her patronymic in her passport with a so-called matronymic, a kind of maternal name formed from the name of her mother, Lesia. So now the Ukrainian’s full name is Stanislava Lesiivna Lytvynenko. The girl’s action became the first documented case of changing a patronymic to a matronymic, which gained wide resonance.

“Our upbringing influenced her choice to bear my name as a matronymic, showing deep respect for her mother. Perhaps our discussions about biblical inequality influenced her worldview. In the Bible, women were commodities, and personally I have always been outraged by this, especially in the context of genealogy.” – Lesia Lytvynenko, the girl’s mother, wrote on her Facebook page, emphasizing that the tradition of a child bearing the name given to her by her father, his surname and patronymic, emphasizes the “sacrificial” role for women.

“My Stasia is a feminist. She is still a child, she doesn’t understand a lot of things, and we have to constantly explain that “women’s rights” are not about “peeing while standing,” but about the right to be equal in social life and to choose her own life path and be responsible for her choices,” says Lytvynenko.

Stanislava herself says that the idea to use the matronymic emerged when she was 14 years old and that her main motivation was pride in her mother and the desire for the name to carry the message “yes, I am my mother’s daughter.”

Japanese subtleties

Survey results from the Stanford Japan Barometer, launched by the Japan Program at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), show that approximately 70% of the Japanese public support a change to accommodate women who do not want to use their husband’s surname.

Joint surnames of married couples have become a symbol of gender inequality in Japan

In this country, married couples are required by law to have the same surname. Although the law does not specifically oblige women to take their husbands’ surnames after marriage, in practice, more than 95% of married women do so.

Changing the surname creates obstacles for women to advance in their careers and obliges them to change their surname upon marriage and after divorce.

Japan, one of the world’s most developed economies, is somewhat behind in terms of gender equality. Experts say that allowing each spouse to keep their own surname “would facilitate a movement toward gender parity as a symbolic sign of support for women’s autonomy in public spaces and a means of practical support for them to advance their career.”

Prohibiting couples from having different surnames after marriage, according to the UN committee, openly discriminates against women.

Although numerous high-profile lawsuits aimed at changing the rules in the country have failed, they have shaped a broad public debate centered on human rights, not women’s rights or feminism.


Previous studies have shown that women mostly keep their surname because they consider it part of their identity. Others consider it necessary to keep the name for career reasons, trying not to lose their reputation capital and professional reputation. Women who take their husbands’ surnames say they want to show love and devotion to their husbands, to become a family, and because they feel pressured to follow tradition.

Societies around the world are looking for their own answers to this debate. Some regions have banned women from taking their husbands’ surnames, and thus, since 1981, Quebec law has prohibited women from taking their husbands’ surnames after marriage. Greece passed a similar law in 1983. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have laws prohibiting the change of surnames. Some countries, such as Korea, Malaysia, and Spain, do not have legal requirements, but follow the tradition that women tend to keep their surname after marriage.

Despite the laws and standard practices in other countries, the trend is clear – a New York Times NYT analysis found that about 17% of women married in the 1970s kept their surnames, with some 22% keeping their surnames in the 2010s.

Source: The Gaze