In the United States, when women marry, they have a few options regarding their last name. We’ve received a couple of questions from listeners about this issue so I thought I would explain it here.
When we talk about a last name, we are referring to the family name or surname, not the given name of a child when he or she is born. In the U.S., we almost always use the term “last name,” and only rarely use “family name” or “surname,” and when we talk about our given name, we use the term “first name.” When you fill out forms in the U.S., there is usually a space for your “first name,” “last name,” and “middle name” or “middle initial (first letter of the middle name).” Both the first name and the middle name are given to a child when he or she is born, but the last name is usually taken from the father, although there are a number of exceptions.
In terms of a woman’s last name after she marries, she has several options. The tradition (something done for a long time in the same way) is for the wife to change her last name to the man’s. One reason for this is that people in the past kept track of (followed; recorded) family relations through the father’s family name. This is still the most common choice today in the U.S.
Example: If Annie Lang got married to Sven Ramirez, her name would be Annie Ramirez.
Another option is for women to keep the last name they were given at birth. In this case, she is keeping her maiden name, the name that she had before she got married. She may do this because in her job, her last name is already well known (like with famous actors or singers, or professionals), because she doesn’t believe in a male-dominated (men in charge; men making the rules) society, or because she simply prefers it that way. This means she has a different last name than her husband.
Example: If Annie Lang and Sven Ramirez married, she would still be Annie Lang.
Some women keep their last name, but add their husband’s last name to it. The new last name can come before the old one or after it, with a hyphen or without. You may see any of these and it is not uncommon in the U.S.
Example: So with our old friend Annie Lang, she could become Annie Lang Ramirez, Annie Ramirez Lang, Annie Ramirez-Lang, or Annie Lang-Ramirez.
Finally, some men and women who get married decide to create a new last name from combining their two last names, or by using a completely new last name that they both agree on. Doing either of these things is not very common, but you do see it now and then. One example is the last name of the current mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. When he married his wife, his name was Antonio Villar and his wife’s name was Corina Raigosa. They decided to combine their names and created the new last name Villaraigosa. (He has since divorced, but has kept this last name.)
These are just a few of the most common options, and we won’t get into (begin discussing) how children are named or what happens in same-sex marriages (when a man marries a man, or a woman marries a woman). We need another blog post for these issues!
One final word on this topic: What happens if a woman divorces? There are a couple of common options and the choice is the woman’s. Some women change their name back to their previous name (maiden name). Some women choose to keep their husband’s last name after a divorce.
Now, aren’t you glad you’re a man?
Do people change their names after they marry in other countries? What do you think of these traditions?
Hi Lucy, in italy it’s the same of US.
Women decide to change or not her last name.
I am from Lebanon, but i live in the US. I want to send my appreciations for your wonderful work 🙂
In Lebanon, the tradition is to add the husband’s last name to her last name, but at the same time she could decide to change, keep, or combine.
In Spain now and before to change the last names is really very difficult as we all have two last names, one from our father and the other from our mother.
Every one have at least three names: The given first (one, two or more), and after two more. So the children are called and registered by the two second names of their father and mother.
Some times is possible that the second names would be the same: garcia garcia, or perez perez…, but one is from the father and the
other is from the mother.
Many years before I use to think that just everywhere there was the same rule, two second names, a big mistake of course.
What is possible and often some people do is just to call the married woman as “Señora de Garcia” being garcia the first second name of her husband, but it is a social way of treat, as in fact her papers or identity card is made with her two real names from father and mother, never from the husband.
My choose?, I prefer the Spanish way. Every one has their names when being born and that´s for ever, single or married.
Of course I respect other customs that seems more simple giving all the family the same second name as long as the woman is married and the daughters are single.
If they may choose, that´s even better than here as we are more strict than in your country.
But why not to choose the mother´s second name for the children?, I think that would be a nice thing to do also making the same
level to fathers and mothers if they wanted to act that way.
Thank you Lucy.
Yeah, the same is in Russia. However, I’ve never heard of combined last names (like that in case of the mayor of LA). As for me, I’m always for traditional way when wife takes her husband’s last name, which certainly prevails over other possible ways in our country. Moreover, I believe some man, let’s say, would be a kinda sad if their future wives told them she wanted to keep her maiden name without any good reason. Needless to say, this reason is very personal for a particular woman or man. I’ll try to show it. For example, I do understand when a woman doesn’t decide to change her name if she became popular before marriage as in case of author of a book, revolutionary scientist, singer and so forth. Another example is a buisness woman who signs many different documents every day and makes sure all of them are valid even in case of her marriage, i.e. the change of the name brings her unnecessary troubles. On the ohter hand, men-women equality or independce sort of views are a bit doubtful. It may tell that your wife doesn’t respect you to the extent you want or merely doesn’t love you (by the way, the woman may feel the same if you disagree with her and still insist she to change her maiden name). In the last situation, combined name might be a very good solution as well as very funny one;)
Hi everybody !
I’m from Vietnam.
In Vietnam, we used to talk to each other by calling the first name and never use the last name to identify a definite (specific) person.
A woman in my country never change her name when she’s married. There are many things related to the name or a person, not only woman.
I think it’s complicated to change the name of someone. He or she must change many important papers such as identity card, birth certificate, driver licence,…
Thank you Dr. Lucy. Your articles are really easy-to-understand and very helpful. I almost don’t need to use a dictionary and I’d like to read these such things.
Have a great day!
Traditionally, in Taiwan, when woman married, she have to “add” her husband’s family name before her family name.
But, now we don’t have to do it.
here in china, wowen don’t change their last name when they get married.
thank you lucy for providing such an interesting topic!
Austria has more or less the same rules as the US. Additionally a man can take on the name of his wife. But what if the daughter of Annie Lang-Ramirez marries the son of John Villa-Raigosa ? Would their family name be Villa-Raigosa-Lang-Ramirez ? And what about the next generation……
I am Chinese, but I’ve been living in Japan for about 6 years.
In my country, China, women haven’t to change their last name to husband’s.
So, in my family, my mother has a different last name than my father’s.
However, in Japan, people have to change their name when they get married.
Legally, each family should keep only one last name.
The most common choice is that women change their name to their husband’s,
but a few men change their last name to their wife’s because their wife want to keep the last name.
It’s very interesting, isn’t it?
However, the Japanese government is talking about this and maybe Japanese can have two last name like China in future.
In my country, Iran, after marriage men and women don’t change their names and last names. I think our tradition is proper because changing names would make difficulty for your identification, certificates, and the like. You are unique and your name and your last name are unique too. Your name and last name tell who you are in your country and every where, no matter you are man or woman, so they shouldn’t be changed.
some men and women who get married decide to create a new last name from combining their two last names
good idea! It seems by this way husband and wife have the same last name and more equal position in the family, if I am a native english speaker,or other language composed by the letters. I will try it when I get married, however, it really a difficult thing to combine two characters into one, to creat a new character, at least, you couldn’t type it out by the computer, so we can’t register it on certificates
Here in Spain is sometimes so important the second name from our mother that lots of persons are called just for it.
As an example we have now the Spanish President Mr. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Everybody here call him Zapatero or Mr. Zapatero, being this his mother second name, and nearly nobody call him Mr. Rodriguez being it his father second name.
So for us it has been always very important our father and our mother second names, and we may use them in the way of Mr. Zapatero did.
For me along several years I have been using Perdiz in the same way that our President, just because my father has same first and sencond name than me and frequently we don´t know if it was me or him the person to whom the mail letters where sent when I was at my family home.
When I saw that some letters were opened by him I have to change the second name and started to use my mother´s.
Now I am acustomed to use it and in many websites I was called like emiliano perdiz instead of arribas, my father´s second name.
Well I think that having two second names is quite useful and people may be perfectly well identified.
Also we may use first of the two seconds or just the second-second instead as Mr. Zapatero our Spanish President did always.
What I think about this matter is that Mr. Zapatero dislikes his father second name because his grandfather was situated at the
right political side participating in some of the repressions against worker strikes in Asturias as he was military captain, that was in 1934 when lots of social work movements (ugt / psoe /cnt) were taking place in Europe, and his mother was placed at the left side instead.
Now he prefers to forget all subjects about the right politics ideas and actions, his Rodriguez grandfather, and have in mind only the Zapatero
grandfather ideas and the fact that for them his grandfather was killed in the last spanish civil war as the President has said and remebered
in public several times.
That´s life, we may choose all what we prefer to remember and forgetting the things we don´t like to have in mind as these events in fact never have existed.
Here in Brazil we have almost the same tradition. Normally the woman keep her last name and add the last name of her husband. Like Annie Lang Ramirez.
Other constructions are less common. But is crescent the number of woman that keep her maiden name.
Hugs from Brazil.
In Brazil, it is the same rules as the USA.
I am from Albania, actually living in Canada. In my country people call each other using their first name and generally don’t use last names. Women when they get married, they can chose to keep their last name or take her husband last name, but they can not keep both last names whereas regarding men, they also can chose to take the last name of his wife, but this is not common due to a strong tradition of a male-dominated society.
Thanks for the post. I am from Iran living in US. In Iran women don’t change their last name after marriage.
I was wondering how would be for children’s last name in US. they should have father’s last name or parents can choose for them too.
Women do not change their name when they got married, here in Korea. We do not have concept of middle name. First name is family or surname, and last name is given name when we are born. Women in here are using their name forever, from born to die. But we have a system called HOJUK which is family register, woman who married has to get rid of her name from the HOJUK and goes in to her husband’s register.
Thank you very much. I’m enjoying your class.
In my country, Korea, we never change women’s name even though they get married.
I think that’s very reasonable meothod. Women’s right is stronger than any other countries because they have their own name.
Thanks. Have a Great weekend.
It’s is very interesting article…Thanks to you that you explained me this topic…In Russia,The Ukraine and other ex-USSR countries we have almost the same traditions…But I’ve never heard combined surnames…
”These are just a few of the most common options, and we won’t get into (begin discussing) how children are named or what happens in same-sex marriages (when a man marries a man, or a woman marries a woman). We need another blog post for these issues!”
I’m really sorry that you don’t want to tell us about this topic…It’s very important for me to know…
From Stanislav with appreciation.
Hi, Lucy and all the members of this interesting podcast.
I’m from Mexico and in our country, women acquire the husband’s last name as ” de”. For example “Annie Lang de Ramírez”, meaning that she is the wife of Mr. Ramírez. Men conserve his original last name which come from both parents and in no case one could change or combine our last names.
Lucy and Jeff, thank you for your interest in teaching english to foreign learners, I’M REALLY LEARNING A LOT!!!
hello every body,
Thanks Lucy ,it was an informative article, I am from Iran. here when women get married they would not change their last name or add theirs to their husbands. in other word every partner keeps his/her last name, but the child will get exactly the same last name as his/her fathers. to be honest this is big question for me why in some countries like US, AUS, Canada, European countries women forget their maiden last name in the expense of their partners’ , it could be a sign of sexual discrimination?! or male domination , of course the situation in Iran as I already mentioned is not appealing but the best and sex neutral aspect could be the combination of two last names or choosing a new last name which already has its drawbacks such as coming to an odd and strange last names.
Hi, Lucy, there is no such custom in China.
Woman will keep their last name. But the last name of children will use the father’s.
I’m not sure if you understand this tradition.
I really do not know why people in the US and Europe countries calle by their family name but I rarely see same names. For example, there only one football player named Beckham, Owen, Rooney,… Is there only one person has the family name? In my country, Vietnam, if people called by their family name, then we can see almost people have same names. For example, a high percentage of all Vietnamese family name is Nguyen. If you call them by that rule, then many football players named Nguyen.
In my country, we call people by there first name (given name). When a woman get married with a man, she does not need to change any part of her name. To do so can cause problems with the legal document (identity card, certificate, degree,..). In the past (50 years ago, my grandmother, for example), woman could be called by her husband’s first name (for example, If the woman Nguyen Thuy Linh got married with the man Do Manh Cuong then she could be called Mrs. Cuong) (note that Cuong was the given name, not the family name). That was only the informal, everyday name, not the legal name (in fact, the name in her identity card was still Mrs. Nguyen Thuy Linh).
Yes, in former USSR we have the same traditions. I know exactly that when I will merry I will take the last name from my dear husband. I’m so tired from mine 🙂 I heard about combining last names (for example my doctor has such one),but it’s very rare. The most of our women take husbands’ last names. And furthermore, our men feel injured if woman don’t want to take his last name. It means for him that his wife doesn’t respect him 🙂