The maiden name debate: in which countries do women not take their husband's name?

While it is custom in many parts of the world for them to take their spouse's name, in some nations, brides are prohibited from doing so by law

In 2015, a Google survey showed that roughly 30 per cent of women in the US were no longer opting to take their husband’s last names. Unsplash
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“I don’t really fully understand the whole idea that when people get married the woman loses her name,” Lewis Hamilton told crowds at Expo 2020 Dubai on Monday, where he announced that he would be changing his name to include his mother’s surname.

The seven-time Formula One world champion said he would be adding Larbalestier to his name, in order to reflect his pride in his family.

“I really want her name to continue on with the Hamilton name,” he said.

Hamilton is joining a growing movement to scrap the custom of taking only the paternal surname, as is custom in much of the world.

In 2015, a Google survey showed that roughly 30 per cent of women in the US were no longer opting to take their husband’s last names, while a UK survey carried out in 2016 found that about 10 per cent of women kept their maiden name.

However, in some parts of the world, it has long been tradition for women to keep their family names when they marry, and in some cases, there are even laws prohibiting them from taking their husband’s name.

Here is a look at some of the different customs around the world.

Islamic world

It is customary in the Islamic world for a woman to keep her own surname after marriage. Muslims keep their family name in order to pay homage to and trace back their family roots, even after marriage.

Greece

In 1983, Greece passed a new law as part of a wave of feminist legislation that required all women to keep their maiden names once married, which remains in place today.

France

France has a long-standing tradition of ensuring no other name but the one listed on a birth certificate is legally accepted, thanks to a law dating back to 1789. However, a new law passed in 2013 allows both men and women to choose to take each other’s name for social or colloquial purposes, but they still cannot legally change the name they were given at birth.

Italy

In Italy, a women cannot legally change her maiden name once married under the Italian Civil Code. However, if she wishes, she can include her husband’s family name as a second surname following hers.

The Netherlands

Women in the Netherlands are required by law to keep their surname when marrying. They can take their husband’s surname under special circumstances, but they will always be identified in documents by their maiden name.

Spanish-speaking countries

It is custom in the Spanish-speaking world for women to keep their name, which will already be made up of two surnames — one from their mother and one from their father. When a couple marry, they usually take the first of each of their surnames to give to their child.

In 1981, Spain announced that, on turning 18, children could decide whether they wanted their mother or father’s surname to come first in their own.

Japan

Under Japanese law, a marriage is only accepted if the couple share the same surname, which has led 96 per cent of married women to take their husband’s surname. Attempts were made to overturn the law in 2015, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, it was ruled that women could informally choose to use their maiden names if they wished.

South Korea

It is tradition in South Korea for women to keep their maiden names, and while there is no law to prevent them from taking their husband’s name after marriage, it is a relatively unheard of custom.

Quebec

In the Canadian state of Quebec, provincial law forbids a woman from taking her husband’s surname after marriage, thanks to a rule instated in 1976. Created by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rule was implemented as an extension of the charter’s statement on gender equality in names.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 6:45 AM
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