Something Old, Something New. Will You Change Your Surname Too?
by Kate Reid
February 1, 2019 / Engagement and Weddings
Of all the decisions you make about your wedding, choosing a surname is one of the most significant. Should you take your husband’s name, keep your maiden name, join your names or even pick a whole new name? In generations past, it was a no-brainer with almost all women taking their husband’s name. These days, with more focus on gender equality and less focus on tradition, there’s a lot to consider. And, unlike in some countries, there are no restrictions under Australian law so you’re free to choose whichever name you like. Here, we examine the five most popular.
More than 80 per cent of Aussie women take their husband’s surname after they tie the knot. It’s a trend that carries through most of the English-speaking world and can be traced back to the ninth century. Previously, most people were known by only one name, but as the population grew it became confusing to differentiate between too many Richards and Annes. So, surnames were introduced and couples considered one unit with a shared name.
These days, many women choose to take their husband’s name after marriage to rubber stamp their union and share a surname with future children. Indeed, an estimated 96 per cent of Aussie kids are given their father’s name. It’s also common for women to change their name legally and use their maiden name at work to maintain a consistent professional identity.
Suffragette Lucy Stone is the first known American woman to keep her maiden name after her marriage in 1855, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that choosing not to take your husband’s name became a thing in the English-speaking world.
Some women choose to keep their birth name because they’re proud of it or because it’s uncommon. Others retain their maiden name because it’s their personal or professional ‘brand’ while some women simply prefer their name over their husband’s. And let’s be honest – this option carries the least amount of paperwork!
This trend is nothing new in many countries around the world. Custom dictates that women keep their names in China, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Chile. In Greece, France and parts of Canada, women are prevented by law from taking their husband’s name. Dutch women can only take their husband’s name under special circumstances.
For women keen to keep their name and take their husband’s name, a double-barrelled name is the perfect solution. You can choose to hyphenate a la English aristocracy or go without like Kim Kardashian West and Zoe Foster Blake.
There’s no need to keep up with the Smith-Jones’ and no rules as to whose name goes first. Tradition dictates that the man’s name goes second but these days many couples choose the order that sounds best and looks best on paper. The same goes for whether both members of the couple adopt the double-barrelled name or just one – it’s totally up to you.
Going double-barrell is a popular option for same-sex couples as it gives both members of the couple the opportunity to retain their birth names and acknowledge their new marital status. In countries like Spain and the Philippines, double-barrelling is the norm. Spanish people have two surnames, one from their mother and one from their father, and when women marry they simply add their spouse’s surname to their own.
The internet was shocked when actress Zoe Saldana’s husband did something totally out of the box when they married – he took her surname and became Marco Saldana.
A small number of Aussie men take their wife’s name when they marry for a variety of surprisingly familiar reasons: they don’t like their name, they like their wife’s name better, they want to have the same name as their children, to keep their wife’s name alive or their name is hard to pronounce.
Choose a new name
Some couples choose to literally make a name for themselves by creating a totally new surname to symbolise the newness of their family. Inspiration comes from lots of places like a great-great-grandparent’s name that sparks joy, or a word or place name with special significance.
It’s also becoming increasingly popular for couples to combine their surnames into the last name equivalent of couple monikers. Instead of Brangelina and Kimye, think Jolpitt and Westian. Outside Hollywood, Stephanie McHeigh and Brian Polini become Stephanie and Brian McLini. Marilyn Gaminsky and Oliver Chan become Marilyn and Oliver Chaminsky. Get the idea?