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Marriage and Name Change

The following brief discussion of practices concerning name changes 
resulting from marriage took place on WMST-L in December 2001.  For
additional WMST-L files on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2001 18:11:11 -0500
From: Michal Rom <michal_rom @ HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: women retaining name upon marriage
Dear all,

I'm interested in locating any research that examines the decision of women
to retain their family name upon marriage.
Any work that looks at couples developing their own names as well as women
who choose not to make any changes in their original family name after
marriage is of interest as well. Additionaly, materials regarding naming
conventions of women in any culture, foucusing on family names (or sur-
names), the meaning of family names and their relation to identity etc.

Please respond to me privately and thanks in advance.

michal_rom  @  hotmail.com
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 09:54:24 EST
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage
You might want to explore Islam, a religion that has always encouraged a
woman to retain her maiden name upon marriage. It is my understanding that
Muslim women of previous generations adhered to that practice.  But then
there was a backlash, and many women adopted the western practice of taking
on their husbands' names under the assumption that somehow it made them more
modern.  I think that is beginning to turn around again with Muslim women who
are now exercising their right to retain their maiden name.
wskckcc  @  aol.com
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 14:07:14 -0600
From: "Gerami, Shahin" <shg226f @ SMSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage
I am not sure what you mean by "Muslim women of previous generations"
adopting western practice. In many Muslim Middle Eastern countries, Iran,
Yemen, Jordan, Syria, women do not change their name after marriage. Such an
action requires court action and a justification other than wanting one's
husband name. Even in conversation and convention a women may be called Mrs.
"Husband name of husband," legally she retains her name which is her
father's last name.

Shahin Gerami
Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Southwest Missouri State University
Springfield, MO 65804
Fax  :417-836-6416
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 08:36:40 -0500
From: Susan Cumings <cumings @ MAIL.GCSU.EDU>
Subject: last names
On the subject of last names, I use a short piece by Neil Popovic about
the legal and institutional difficulties he had changing his name at
marriage because he and his spouse decided on a combined name. It puts a
different spin on the question, as he, as a man, encounters institutions
that expect (and facilitate) women changing their names at marriage but
that attempt to prevent him from doing the same. This is a US based
article, appeared in MS. in about 1992 I think. Oh, and I believe his
name is now Neil Friedman-Popovic.:)  (I'm out of town, but e-mail me
privately if you want me to send the exact reference when I get back.)

This year I added to our names discussion copies of Canadian and US
immigration forms (short version, for visitors or returning citizens),
pointing out that Canada considers a "family" up to 5 people living at
the same address, whereas the U.S. doesn't consider a married couple a
family if they don't have the same last name (I have been turned away and
made to fill in separate forms myself on occasion because of this).


Susan Cumings
Assistant Professor of English
Coordinator of Women's Studies
CBX 044
Georgia College & State University
Milledgeville, GA 31061
(478) 445-5554
cumings  @  gcsu.edu
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 10:35:18 -0500
From: Arnold Kahn <kahnas @ JMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: last names
> I use a short piece by Neil Popovic about
> the legal and institutional difficulties he had changing his name at
> marriage because he and his spouse decided on a combined name.

Another good MS article is "A Name of His Own" by Camille Minichino in the
Nov./Dec. issue, 1996


Arnie Kahn   Day 540-568-3963   Night 540-434-0225   Fax 540-568-3322
kahnas  @  jmu.edu
Dept. of Psych.-MSC 7401, James Madison U., Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 10:50:37 -0500
From: Lisa Burke <lburke2 @ NJCU.EDU>
Subject: Re: last names
There is also a piece on salon.com written by Audrey Fisch that offres
thought-provoking perspectives on last names.  I recommend reading it!
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 10:08:51 -0600
From: Elvira Casal <ecasal @ FRANK.MTSU.EDU>
Subject: women retaining name upon marriage
Please let me step in and challenge the use of the word "western" in this
context. Last time I checked, Spain and the countries of Spanish America
were "western" countries and in the Spanish tradition, married women retain
their birth names (and pass them on to their children though not their

A lot of cultures do not take away a woman's birth name when she marries.
Whether this indicates greater respect for the woman's identity or for the
importance of birth families, is another matter altogether.  ;)

Elvira Casal
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 20:14:31 -0500
From: Rosa Maria Pegueros <rpe2836u @ POSTOFFICE.URI.EDU>
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage
As aa Latin American historian, I have pondered how it is that all of Latin
America is in the west but only
western Europe, east of Spain, is considered western when the term is used
in conjunction with "civilization."

Western, in this case, is a misnomer but it reflects the European
understanding of the world; Spain is different because it was occupied by
Muslims for 900 years. From the vantage point of
France/England/Germeny/Italy, they were the west and the east was Asia.

Another common misnomer is "American."  To most U.S. inhabitants, they are
Americans and those to the north of us are Canadians, and those to the
South are Latin Americans.

So we all know this, right?  The problem is how do we rehabilitate these
terms so people know what we're talking about?  About women's retention of
their names in Spanish/Latin cultures: It may reflect the fact that women
had property rights that other European women lacked. Using a term like
"United Statesian" as I did in my dissertation is incredibly cumbersome,
like writing his/her, s/he. It just sounds like you're being politically
correct and only those on your "side" readily understand why you are being
so precise.

I want an easy solution.  Sigh.

Rosa Maria Pegueros, J.D., Ph.D.
Women's Studies Program &       Washburn Hall, 217C
Department of History           E-mail:
University of Rhode Island      <rpe2836u  @  postoffice.uri.edu>
80 Upper College Road, Suite 3  Telephone: (401) 874-4092
Kingston, RI 02881                    Fax: (401) 874-2595

"I have learned from my teachers and from my colleagues. But
I have learned the most from my students." --Rabbi Hanina
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 01:55:55 -0800
From: Kelli Wright <kelli @ NETC.PT>
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage
Let me chime in here with a little bit of information I have
proffered from living on the Iberian Peninsula for lo these past
eleven years:  Although Spanish women retain their "maiden" names,
and continue to use these names after marriage, their children --
while receiving both the mother and father's names -- use the
paternal name, and only pass the paternal name on to future
generations. In Portugal (that often forgotten co-habitator of
Iberia), by contrast, the woman losses her "maiden" name upon
marriage, and any children are only given the paternal name.  Since
Portugal was inhabited by the Moors as long as Spain was, I'm not
sure if their presence would necessary explain the Spanish

Also a few words on the use of the label "American" to describe only
people from the U.S.  I've often wondered if the habit is not more
of a Europeanism that became entrenched in U.S. mainstream culture,
rather than the other way around. I find it interesting that in both
Spanish and Portuguese, it is possible to speak of the people of the
U.S. with a specific label -- "estadounidense" (the same in both
languages) --, and yet almost nobody uses the term.  Once in a rare
while I'll come across it in a newspaper article, but I almost never
hear it used in regular speech.  In fact, during my entire time in
Europe, having met people from all over the world, whenever I am
asked where I'm from I always say "the U.S.", which inevitably gets
the response "an American".

While I do believe very strongly that words have political import,
and certainly the U.S. does a lot of self-promoting at the cost of
other countries, I think that there is -- possibly -- another
linguistic dynamic at play --one that seems to be typical of human
language systems.  Namely, that words and their meanings go through
constant metamorphosis which -- among other possibilities -- can
mean that a word like "America", being applicable to a wide variety
of countries, is narrowed or "degraded" to refer to something quite
specific -- like the U.S. (And this may have to do with the fact
that the very word, "America", makes up part of our country's name. 
Are there other countries of the Americas that also have "America"
in their name?  I can't think of any off hand...?) I offer this not
as an excuse, and understand that such linguistic dynamics still beg
a lot of questions.  But, I think it's an interesting aspect to take
into consideration.

Kelli Wright
kelli  @  netc.pt
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 07:57:22 -0500
From: Mona Lena Krook <mlk22 @ COLUMBIA.EDU>
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage

To add my two cents to this conversation, not all "Western" women have a
tradition of changing their names upon marriage either. In Iceland, people
still follow the custom of patronymic (matronymic?) naming: you are the
son or daughter of one of your parents. Individuals can choose whether to
use their mother's or their father's name, though people typically use
their father's. If no other name is offered, babies are given their
mother's name plus "son" or "dottir." Some parents even hypenate their
own names and then add "son" or "dottir." The end result is that all the
members of the same nuclear family can all have different last names.
Consequently, phone books, library catalogues, etc. are organized by first
names, a system perhaps made easier by the small population of the

The discussion on the list so far has pointed to an interesting diversity
in naming practices which leads me to wonder about the broader political
significance of naming. In the 60s and 70s, many women in Scandinavia (the
region I study) fought laws that did not allow them to retain their maiden
names upon marriage -- a phenomenon not restricted to that region. It
seems to me it would interesting to trace both traditions and changes.

Mona Lena Krook
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science
Columbia University
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 11:06:54 -0700
From: Max Dashu <maxdashu @ LMI.NET>
Subject: Re: women retaining name upon marriage
>  Since Portugal was inhabited by the Moors as long as Spain was,
>I'm not sure if their presence would necessary explain the Spanish tradition.

This is my impression also. The retention of family names by women,
and possibly female inheritance patterns too, may go back to earlier
Iberian custom which was absorbed by later settlers. Traces of this
influence are visible in (pre-Moorish) Visigothic codes, in contrast
to Frankish and other Germanic law of the early middle ages.
Max Dashu   <maxdashu  @  LMI.net>
Global Women's Studies

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