Stop Calling It My Maiden Name

11 Nov

In my former life, back before I had a kid and became a yoga teacher and started a cuss-filled feminist blog, I worked in the financing department of a large international bank. A few months after I started working there (and, coincidentally, a few months after I got married), one of the higher-ups was chatting me and my coworkers up when, out of nowhere, he said:

“Anne, is Thériault your married name or your maiden name?”

Flustered, I replied, “It’s just my regular name.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, totally nonplussed.

“I mean… it’s the name I was born with? I didn’t change my name when I got married, if that’s what you want to know.”

“So it’s your maiden name,” he said, his tone landing somewhere between condescending and wink-wink-I-get-it-you’re-making-a-joke.

But I wasn’t making a joke – I actually do really hate the term “maiden name” and will use all kinds of verbal gymnastics in order to avoid using it. Not only do I think it’s a gross term to use (more on that later), but it’s also wildly inaccurate. The term “maiden” is an archaic term meaning an unmarried girl or young woman, and is synonymous with “female virgin.” I know that this may come as a surprise, but – I am literally none of those things. I’m actually a mean old hag who gets laid on the regular, so referring to my last name as my “maiden name” does not make any sense. I am not a maiden in any sense of the word; you may as well call it my slutty old crone name*.

From the Oxford English Dictionary

From the Oxford English Dictionary

So why is the term maiden name not just incorrect but also totally problematic? Well, because it’s based on several outdated assumptions. First of all, there’s the idea that a woman is not an autonomous person but rather a thing belongs to a man, and her last name signifies which man she belongs to; until she marries, she belongs to her father, and then after she marries, she belongs to her husband. Referring to a last name as a “maiden name” reinforces the idea that it’s a transitory type of name – not a woman’s real last name, but rather just the name she keeps until she finally fulfills her lady-destiny and lands a man. Second of all, there’s all kinds of weird purity bullshit happening here. We’re basically referring to the last name a woman is given at birth as her virgin name, the implication being that she won’t have sex until she’s married, at which point she will take her husband’s name.

I mean, I haven’t done any studies and I don’t have a lot of firm data to back this up, but I’m going to guess that only 0.1% of the women over the age of 20 who still go by their maiden names are people who have never been sexually active. Like, don’t quote me on that or anything, but seriously. Come on. Other than the unmarried adult faction of the Duggar clan, how many grownups out there have never had sex? While there are for sure lots of people out there who aren’t regularly engaging in sexual activity, most of them have tried it at least once. Even the majority of the asexual people I know wouldn’t describe themselves as “virgins,” and most of them have experimented with sex at some point or another (which is often how they know it’s not for them).

It’s pretty telling that there’s no male equivalent to the term maiden name. This is because men have always been considered people, and therefore have always been entitled to their last names – unlike women, who traditionally only ever get to borrow a last name from whichever man she has the closest relationship to. People often don’t want to admit that last names are a form of showing ownership, and while I get that we don’t legally use them in this way anymore, there are still a lot of weird vestiges from the time when women were considered to be less than human. Like, if everyone’s so equal and not-patriarchal now, how come dudes almost never want to take their wives’ names when they get married? Whenever I have the should-women-change-their-name-when-they-get-married debate, one reason I often hear is that a married couple with the same last name somehow represents a stronger, more unified front than a couple with different last names. Both women and men tell me that it feels more like a family when a husband and wife both have the same last name – it makes them feel like they’re both on the same team. If this is true, then why is still almost always only women who are expected to change their names in order to show what team they’re on? If all these dudes are so fucking into showing unity, how come they’re never willing to give up their last names?

Let’s stop using the term maiden name; It’s outdated, it’s sexist, it’s weird and it’s gross. Let’s start referring to women’s last names the same way we refer to men’s last names – as their names, full stop, no qualifiers needed. And for heaven’s sake let’s stop asking women what kind of last name they have. Why is it anybody’s business whether a woman changed her name when she married or not? Why do people care? And if we really need a term to refer to the last name a woman had before she was married, why not “birth name”? It’s a well-known term, and it’s widely understood to describe exactly the thing we’re trying to describe: a name that a person was assigned at birth which they no longer use. If we can use the term “birth name” to describe, say, the former name of a performer who who took a stage name, or the former name of an author who took a non-de-plume, or really just about any other adult who for whatever reason decided to change their name, then surely we can also apply it to the instances when women take their husbands’ names when they get married. That doesn’t seem like it would be terribly complicated.

*Sluttiness is a social construct! So is virginity, for that matter.

97 Responses to “Stop Calling It My Maiden Name”

  1. mybodymystory November 11, 2014 at 4:05 am #

    I have a friend whose last name fits in perfectly with her first name. (She tries to be anonymous online due to stalkers so I won’t print it here, but let’s pretend it’s Jasmine Bush — it’s literally that perfect.) Her last name was actually from her ex-husband but she liked the name so she kept it even when she divorced him. I like her sense that it’s her name now and so she will keep it because she likes it, and he is irrelevant in the picture. Her maiden name wasn’t a name to “go back to” when she got divorced, it was just a name she had previously that she no longer has.

  2. Dương Thị Sinh November 11, 2014 at 4:09 am #


  3. smartypants196 November 11, 2014 at 4:14 am #

    ha, you are every ounce a woman who knows her own mind.

  4. runningnekkid November 11, 2014 at 4:20 am #

    OMG Anne let’s start a band called Fulfill My Lady Business.

  5. Wilson November 11, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    I mean, youre sort of intelligent and you have a huge audience, complaining about maiden names?

    • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 11, 2014 at 4:33 am #

      It’s not a complaint. She’s addressing a social issue. If you have not been challenged because you have not wanted to change you last name, you can’t know how it feels. It’s dehumanizing.

      • Wilson November 11, 2014 at 4:47 am #

        Changing your last name is dehumanizing. Im gonna just move on from this one

      • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 12:10 am #

        Have you been pressured or scoffed at due to any topic regarding your last name? No? Exactly.

      • Wilson November 12, 2014 at 12:36 am #

        Who scoffs at people over their last name? ?

      • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 12:38 am #

        Almost anyone. Parents, family, coworkers, friends. If you’re a woman. 😦

      • Wilson November 12, 2014 at 12:59 am #

        I have never even thought about a woman’s last name beyond an introduction. You must hang out with some real assholes.

      • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 1:31 am #

        Lol yes I tend to attract those… Though it’s hard to get away from them when they’re family. And sadly, a lot of people like to stick with convention.

      • Wilson November 12, 2014 at 1:38 am #

        Convention doesn’t have to be sad anymore than tradition. I say if you dont like convention or tradition start your own.

      • welliswan November 11, 2014 at 5:46 am #

        No, Wilson, nothing about changing one’s name is dehumanizing. The dehumanizing part is the cultural obligation to literally shed identity when getting married for purposes of “cohesion”, which is to say, a legacy of treatment as chattel that has informed the institution of marriage and is being excused rather than discarded.

        You don’t have to feel dehumanized, if you’re married and have changed your name; there is no obligation for everyone to feel the same. But you *should* understand the history of marriage and the meanings of the words we use, and allow that this is something that may be worth exploring as a part of the larger discussion about patriarchy and feminism.

    • mgpcoe November 11, 2014 at 4:39 am #

      Oooh! Looks like we’re negging again. Can I try?

      • Wilson November 11, 2014 at 4:44 am #

        I guess if your feelin groggy.

      • Wilson November 11, 2014 at 5:08 am #

        I mean honestly I’ve agreed with her in the past, but maiden names being some sort of way of a patriarchal society to control women? Dude come on.

      • mgpcoe November 11, 2014 at 7:57 am #

        Well, that actually literally was the purpose of a woman taking her husband’s name, and being evermore referred to as “Mrs. John Smith”. Up until the last 150 years or so, a man’s wife was a chattel–she could neither vote nor own property in her own name.

        Also, it was the purpose of a dowry: the girl’s parents literally bought her husband-to-be’s good graces and preference.

        So… yeah. The tradition of a woman changing her family name to her husband’s is deeply rooted in a fundamentally patriarchal society and served to indicate whose authority she was under. Her “maiden name” was the name she had as a maiden, i.e. until she lost her virginity on her wedding night.

    • karenbreckon November 11, 2014 at 4:39 am #

      I notice that ‘wilson’ above, also left a negative comment on my own blog, on a post about rape culture. I don’t get these botherers. Thanks for the ideas in this post – I’ve been round in circles with my own ‘birth name.’

      • Wilson November 11, 2014 at 4:45 am #

        Wilson is my maiden name and I would hope you would respect that.

      • karenbreckon November 11, 2014 at 8:18 am #

        Now that comment I like:-)

    • raschelmiette November 11, 2014 at 5:48 am #

      Oh fucking hells yes! To all of that. I changed my last name (legally) so I had my own name and when my daughter was born she got a typically female first name for her last name so she can be her own person right from go.

    • raschelmiette November 11, 2014 at 5:49 am #

      I don’t think he read it

  6. Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 11, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    I think it’s silly that women would give up their last names at marriage. Silly indeed. Why, they pop out kids for the man, maybe a man could give up his name to honour that? Hm.

    • Britt November 11, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      I love Anne’s. And while I almost never fully agree with her, it’s the discussion that blows my hair back. But this comment, dear Flower… ugh.


      A Silly Woman who now has to write five paragraphs about the joy of shedding my “birth” name, and why that can be a fun choice.

      • Very Bangled November 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

        Why shed? I kept them all. The more names the better in my book.

      • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 12:09 am #

        If we lived in a world where it wasn’t scoffed at for a woman to keep her name, I would believe you 100%. I had no joy in giving in to the pressure of changing my last name after a year of marriage. I was bullied. Thankfully, I’m single and free again now. 🙂

  7. dbp49 November 11, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    Do you feel better now? C’mon, I’m actually sort of on your side here. You see, my whole name is David Brian P….., but for reasons known only to her I guess (she died when I was 8-9 or something like that), my mother liked to call me by both names at once. So when people ask me my name nowadays, I sometimes say Brian, sometimes David, and still quite often, I’ll say David Brian. This, of course, always serves to invite questions for which I really have no answers, and I can’t help but wish they would just take my word for the fact that I do know my own name, and let it rest at that. But I guess like you, I’m stuck with putting up with the world the way it is, and just accepting that there’s nothing I can do about it. If you ever figure something out, please let me know. You’ll be my heroine forever.

    • amonsn November 12, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      There are indeed many ways in which names can be confusing and even painful as markers that point to an individual self as well as the ways that individual is socially embedded. However, the point of this post is that there is a history of using “maiden names” in a way that systematizes inequality. While the ambiguity of your first name(s) may present difficulty that I don’t mean to disrespect, please note that the nomenclature of gender inequality is not exactly equal to the quirk of complicated personal first names. When we refer to “the way the world is,” it can be useful to consider that.

      Also, not having a personal identification or agreement with the content of this post is not a reason to begin your comment with belligerence. Asking if Anne Theriault “feels better now” is a patronizing way of telling her and everyone reading the comments that this is not an issue fit for public discussion. I struggle to understand the utility of that comment outside of a brutish effort to silence feminist debate. But thanks for shoehorning your random personal issue into this comment thread: I think what everyone reading The Belle Jar really wants is to read about the random problems of some man, and furthermore to see those problems equated with the entrenched denigration of women’s personhood.

  8. Divine Debris November 11, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    This is a great example of how sexist and troubling our language still is, not to mention further proof that word choice really does matter.
    Another good one Anne, you never disappoint.

  9. Bonnie McDaniel November 11, 2014 at 5:04 am #

    I’ve always thought that when anyone gets married, be it man/woman, man/man or woman/woman, they should select an entirely new name to signify forming a new family. So if my last name is McDaniel and my spouse’s last name is Anderson, our new family name would be McAnders. Or something like that.

    But it’s just bullshit to insist that the woman give up her name. Do you know how much of a pain in the ass that is, changing bank records, drivers’ licenses, etc etc? And why should I, as the wife, have to do it, while the husband does not?

    There is no logical reason. It’s just an old hoary patriarchal custom, and it should be stomped into the ground.

  10. Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup) November 11, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    Reblogged this on Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup).

  11. Beth Caplin November 11, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    I’m getting married next month and never gave much thought to the term “maiden name” until people started asking me about it. I agree; it’s not just the unpleasant history behind it, but it even sounds dated and just…ugh. “Maiden” also makes me think of ships.

    At any rate, after thinking about it for a long time, I decided to go ahead and take my husband’s name because I think it’s funny that my first and last name will be made of two words: Sarahbeth Stoneburner :-p

  12. anachips November 11, 2014 at 6:02 am #

    Amen. My mom has had the same name her whole life, yet so many standard security questions for password retrieval are “your mother’s maiden name”. It’s the same as my name, so how’s that supposed to be any secret? (And we are DEFINITELY NOT handing down a legacy of maidenship with the name, that’s for sure).

  13. Alex P November 11, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Is it quite fair to say that men get to have “their own name”, though? Speaking as a man, I know that my surname was given to me while I was still much too young to have any say in the matter – in that regard, I wasn’t given *my* name, but my father’s. A son being given his father’s name feels like an attempt to secure a patrilineal legacy on the father’s part… which, I suppose, was kind of the intended purpose of surnames to begin with.

    • TabletopAndStitches November 13, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

      But the patrilineal legacy given to male children really is intended as a gift – that of the influence, property, and station of the patriarch. It’s a representation of securing power among men by handing it down from father to son. It’s not at all comparable to the complete lack of matrilineal naming conventions in Western society.

  14. Ann K. November 11, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    Matronymic naming as a choice
    The vast majority of Icelandic surnames carry the name of the father, but occasionally the mother’s name is used: e.g., in cases where the child or mother wishes to end social ties with the biological father. Some women use it as a social statement while others simply choose it as a matter of style.

    In all of these cases, the convention is the same: Ólafur, the son of Bryndís, will have the full name of Ólafur Bryndísarson (“the son of Bryndís”). One well-known Icelander with a matronymic name is football player Heiðar Helguson (“Helga’s son”), another is novelist Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir (“Minerva’s daughter”). One medieval example is the poet Eilífr Goðrúnarson (“Goðrún’s son”).

    In the Icelandic film Bjarnfreðarson the title character’s name is the subject of some mockery for his having a woman’s name – as Bjarnfreður’s son – not his father’s. In the film this is connected to her radical feminism and shame over his paternity, which form part of the film’s plot.[5] Some people have both a matronymic and a patronymic: for example, Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson (“the son of Bergþóra and Eggert”), the current mayor of Reykjavík.

  15. drydammit November 11, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    I too always found it gross more than anything.. and a bit childish, as if I had some more growing up to do until I fell into my “real” name.

  16. Aranna November 11, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    In France it is legally “a birth name” for man can change their name after marriage too. However this is just the law : in facts many people still call it “maiden name” for women and totally forget the case of the man who could change it too.
    I recently had an argument with my notary for he didn’t use my name, basing on the custom and didn’t even mention the fact my ID doesn’t show any mention of the name he took. I had the question “but it’s just the tradition, you shouldn’t so angry for this.” Grrrr.

  17. tendernessontheblock November 11, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    It’s an anachronism that’s highly irritating.

  18. Britt November 11, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Your posts are thoughtful and funny and interesting and I almost never, ever fully agree with anything you write. Like, never. I have an overwhelming groan/sigh reaction to being ruffled about The Maiden Name. But you write beautifully and that’s what keeps me reading… keeps us all coming back and joining The Discussion. And that’s the good stuff.

    Calling it a “maiden name” is weird, outdated, and gross. But, for me, not problematic because doesn’t everyone know it’s weird, and outdated, and gross? But when the argument goes one step further (via lovely Flower up above) to say Women are Silly to change their names to honor a bond, a covenant, and love… well, that is problematic.

    • guessingatnormal November 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

      I agree that calling women who change their names when they marry “silly” is problematic. It’s problematic because it’s judgmental and downright insulting!

      I will out myself right now as a woman who changed her name when I got married. I really thought about keeping my birth name but decided against it. Why? Among other things, I learned that sharing a name was something that was important to my husband. If I’d decided to keep my name, my DH would have respected that choice, for sure, but when I really thought about it, I came to the realization that I didn’t really give any f***ks about keeping my name. I had a painful childhood, filled with emotional disruptions and intermittent (not constant but often enough to keep a kid off balance) chaos. To me, my surname was part of that, and taking a different name symbolized leaving all that behind. It meant a new beginning, a fresh start. So I happily changed it.

      I guess one point I’m trying to make is that there a lot of different reasons for choosing to keep or change one’s name, and some of them are very serious. But I also feel that NO ONE has the right to call another person’s choice of name or their reasons for making the choice “silly.” That’s just childish. And now I’m calling names, so I guess I’d better stop here! 😀

      • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 2:05 am #

        Well, silly is a rather tame name compared to being called a man hater and a crazy feminist for keeping my last name..
        Again, the process itself seems silly if you view yourself as an equal person. My comment did not call the women silly… I would not do that.
        Thanks for being another conservative type to demean me though. I totally needed that…

    • Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 12, 2014 at 2:01 am #

      Apparently clarification is needed. The women are not silly, but the idea behind it is…

  19. Patsy Gardiner November 11, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Once again you have nailed it – I’m not sure how old you are, your picture looks young. BUT, you have made so many right on calls and your insight into the patriarchial stranglehold still on women have made me a regular reader of yours. I’m a 65 year old hag, and proud to take on any damn man who thinks we have a problem about anything having to do with our gender. From early on, age 5 or so, I had a huge problem with what boys could do but girls couldn’t. I started in the late sixties working for male attorneys until I retired a few years ago, and believe me, it’s just like Mad Men portrays. Assholes.

    So, you are my heroine and keep on nailing all these crappy asses with your words. it’s important – and you definitely have a pair of ovaries – thank you for standing up for the rest of us.

  20. kristinmh November 11, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    I went down kind of an internet rabbit hole after reading this. I was wondering how entrenched the custom of women adopting their husbands’ names after marriage actually is. Turns out “very”, – it’s been going on about as long as last names became common in the English-speaking world – though apparently Mrs/Miss usage is pretty new. Up until Victorian times “Mrs” was any adult woman or a woman who ran a business, and the custom of women being called Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname is also a Victorian innovation.

    Maybe that’s why Mrs/Ms doesn’t seem to raise many hackles anymore, but keeping/changing/combining your last name does, and calling yourself by your husband’s first name seems positively odd.

    Me and my husband both hyphenated our names, to a lot of eye-rolling from our family and my mother’s complete inability to get it – for a while she addressed mail to us as “Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin MH” which was like, A for effort Mom, but no. All perfectly nice and egalitarian, no? But of course, people don’t read it that way. Since it’s so unusual for men to change their names on marriage, until we started having kids a lot of people thought we were brother and sister, which was weird, or that I had taken his improbable German-Irish double-barrelled name.

  21. briana1010 November 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    I can’t like this post enough. All of my girl friends who recently got married have changed their names and I just don’t get it.

  22. Nanani November 11, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Re: Adults who have never had sex
    All the asexuals, all the queer people who cannot act on it (think of the closeted!), all the people who just plain don’t want to?

    Good article but please, do we have to erase asexuality in the name of feminism? No we do not.

  23. manatee November 11, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    “Other than the unmarried adult faction of the Duggar clan, how many grownups out there have never had sex?” I get your message here, but I don’t see the need to equate adulthood with sex. Doesn’t that just play into the construction that “losing your virginity” is a rite of passage into adulthood? If a woman hasn’t had sex by the age of 20 she is somehow stunted or immature? A couple of months ago you had a post about virginity where you talked about how you felt as a 22-year-old virgin that really resonated with me. You said it “made me feel like a freak…whenever I told people that I’d never had sex, they gave me the once-over, like, what is wrong with you.” Why would you want to make other people feel the same way?

    I don’t mean to be negative here and I support your overall message, I just don’t see the name to shame women who ARE technically “maidens” before marriage. I think the point should be that even if you ARE a virgin right up until your wedding night, your sexual status shouldn’t have to publicly define you to the extent that your name is your “MAIDEN name.” It’s not about women having the right to be not-maidens before they’re married — it’s about women having the right to control their own sexualities (whether that means having sex or not having sex) before and after marriage, without it being anyone’s damn business what they’ve chosen.

    I hope you read this, I’m a big fan of your blog and it really makes me think, thanks for writing it!

    • bellejarblog November 11, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      I totally get what you’re saying! But I also think that most adults don’t identify as virgins? I’m not trying to shame virgins, just saying that the term “maiden name” is seriously inaccurate for most of the population. There’s for sure nothing wrong with identifying as a virgin! I was one for a really long time.

      But you’re right, we definitely shouldn’t use the term “maiden name” no matter what someone’s sexual status.

  24. Very Bangled November 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    “Slutty old crone name” is the best.

  25. Lise Berghagen November 11, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Language is often the language of the oppressor.

  26. Lyla Michaels November 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had.

  27. Naptimewriting November 11, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    My partner and I both changed our names when we got married. Because I wanted the same name as my future children, if I chose to have any, and because I wanted to test my fiancé. If he was willing to claim me with a last name, was he willing to be owned, too? The “yes” was awesome both for confirmation of equal status, and ease of mutual divorce. Now separated, we’re both keeping our married name because it’s a family name. And his maiden name isolates him from kids just as mine does.
    Being mutually bound in a new last name is less trapping than when it’s one-sided, I feel.

    • Lysa November 17, 2014 at 1:54 am #

      that is wonderful. I live in Quebec, Canada. Even married you do not legally take your spouse’s name. If you want to change your name, you fill out the paperwork, pay the fee and change your name that way anyone would for any reason. Sometimes, I think about paying that fee so I can have the same last name as my children. We gave them my spouse’s name only. My last name has no meaning to me and had no urge to pass it on to anyone. My spouse’s last name means everything to him and his family so it did not bother me at the time. Sometimes though I wish I did something to connect our children by their name to me. That would be cool.

  28. Samantha November 11, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Ultimately, it should be up to the woman, is really the point. We’re not property, so we should be able to make our own decision on our own last name. I think if you’re marrying someone and they freak out about the very idea of taking your name, run far away.

  29. Kelly November 11, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    I was happy to give up my birth name because of its association with an abusive parent, but I love and very much agree with the discussion.

    I know a couple who made up their own last name together which I think is the coolest thing ever.

    I just appreciate that for my daughter it will be an informed choice rather than an assumption – and hopefully the maiden name terminology will be out by the time she gets to that point.

  30. J. Theriault November 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    I’m proud to report that I have several friends who didn’t bother to change a thing, and I have a beautiful couple who hyphenated their last names and they both go by that name now. (as in, she took his and he took hers). No reason not to, really!

    Good thing I didn’t want to change mine anyway, lest we no longer had the same last name, Ms. Thériault! 🙂

  31. thebearpelt November 12, 2014 at 5:26 am #

    This was fascinating to me cuz I always wanted to keep my last name. It’s got a z in it, it sounds cool, there are only like a dozen of us in my country, I’m almost definitely the only person with my full name in the world (maybe EVER). I love my last name.

    I decided when I was a kid that I wanted to keep my last name.

    I also specifically really want my spouse to take my last name.

    At bare minimum, any kids I have will have my last name.

    It didn’t occur to me until I was older that men might think me wanting them to take my last name was unfair or something. To which I immediately resolved to be just as firm as these fictional men in my mind were being about keeping their last name.

  32. brickbybook November 12, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    My ‘maiden’ name isn’t my birth name. The term birth name is a can of worms for people who are adopted.

  33. AngelfromMontgomery November 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Thanks for this – really great. By the way do you know Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams? She writes with a similar clarity.

  34. mindthestep November 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm #


    I married at 21 and took/ was given my husband’s name. I toyed with the idea of keeping my name but was pressured as ‘his grandparents wouldn’t understand’.

    The day after we divorced, in my mid-30s, I went through the rigmarole of reverting to my (not maiden) name… So much legal entanglement!

    What complicated it further in this age of greater security is MY name isn’t even my birth name, which ‘belonged’ to my mum’s shit of a first husband, it is the surname of my ‘stepdad’, the man who raised me since I was two and, whilst this is probably still anachronistic, I am proud to have HIS name, our FAMILY name. Funnily enough, my mid-thirties was the first time I had ever legally had this surname (even though I used it from 2-21).

    I have remarried and, having had someone else’s surname for most of my adult life, I am still me, with my surname. New husband’s parents don’t really get it but haven’t asked/ pushed the (non) issue.

    I have also had work colleagues quiz me on it and tell me they ‘don’t get it. Frankly, that’s their tough luck and sweet F.A. to do with them! I have told them “I didn’t do it for you” which promptly shuts them up.

  35. Joanie November 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Here’s a whole thread on Mumsnet about women’s titles.

  36. Athena November 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    It’s always amusing when an individual declares an aspect of language to be ‘wildly inaccurate’. Tautology and emergence are rather difficult to argue with. But please, pound some more sand.

  37. MrsBarcelona November 12, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    Could not agree more!

    I am Spanish and in Spain nobody, ever, changes their surnames. We all have 2 surnames; traditionally the first one from the father and the second one from the mother- although that can be reversed nowadays.

    I have lived in the UK than 12 years, several of those married to an Englishman- when I got married (and still now) I had to give hundreds of explanations as to why I wouldn’t want to change my surnames. I have named my daughter with two surnames and I get more than one raised eyebrow with the fact that we have different surnames ( we don’t – she has my first surname as her second surname). Which in this day and age, I just don’t get.

  38. Elena Hogg November 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Well said! Even more offensive is the custom whereby women are addressed almost entirely by their husband’s name, for example: Mrs John Smith. This irks me indescribably. I kept my own name when I married (in non-virginal blue and not “given away” either) and also, if forced to, use the title Ms rather than Mrs. I used Ms before I was married too. I don’t see why women should use a title that denotes her married status when men are just Mr all the way through. Why should deciding to marry mean changing one’s name? Like the author said, men don’t even consider doing so. That’s not parity, equality or unity.

  39. Stumpweasel pip November 13, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Oh this blog post resonated hugely with me. When I got married in my early 20s I refused to be known by my married name and my husband did not approve. But I was known by my given name and saw no reason to smother my existing identity with a new name. When the marriage broke up I then didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of reclaiming my name.

    I know my colleagues don’t agree with my “strident” feminist views – I objected when a colleague said her daughter’s boyfriend had asked the father for her hand in marriage (I objected when I found out my ex-husband did this too). The whole idea of women as chattels persists in so many ways.

    I appalled them recently when the trainee made a joke about settling in and getting us women under control and I got really angry and told him to eff off out of my office (sorry off topic but need to get it off my chest) and to never, ever joke about controlling women again. They were appalled that I got so angry not that he could joke about controlling women.

    If I get married again, I’m keeping my given name (patriarchal lineage tho it may be), meantime I’m a cohabiting slutty hag and proud of it.

  40. Sadie November 13, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    Very intesting post, I was never bothered about the whole maiden name, I didn’t know my father growing up so don’t have any attachment to my surname.

    My mother re married and I didn’t like my step dad so kept my birth surname then, when I got married I don’t like my mother in law (I do like some people – probably not painting a good picture of myself) and hated giving up my last name to be ‘part of her clan’ so to speak.

    I found it really difficult changing my passport as I felt I was losing my identity to my husband, if we didn’t have children with his surname I would probably then have kept it.

    I took his name through tradition and had no sentiment to my old name but when it came down to it after agreeing I really found it hard.

    Words like ‘maiden name’ are thrown about from tradition without anyone stopping to consider the real meaning and if it fits in todays society.

    Without changing our language we cannot hope to change the deep rooted misogyny and sexism in our society. Just as it is no longer right to use the ‘N word’ for black people why do we stick to an archaic language for women.

  41. Kerry November 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    I have kept both my birth name and also use my stage name as I am a performer. Another name seems too much of a complication. However I am constantly judged in having a different name from my children as they took their father’s name. It has even led to us not getting a place at our preferred c of e school (unofficially but very clear in the attitude of the appeal panel). I’m still not sure whose name the children should have taken – any thoughts on this?

  42. TabletopAndStitches November 13, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    I was adopted, so I never felt a “genetic link” to my own birth name. My first name came from my paternal grandfather who died when I was an infant, my last name was also patrilineal, and my middle name was an obscure Biblical prophet (and I think I may have been the last male in America to be given that name, as it has lately become exclusively a girl’s name).

    When I married my partner, I was more than happy to take her name, but she also wanted to divest herself of her patrilineal last name. In the end, we chose a new name together and kept our old last names as second middle names. Since then, I’ve simply used that new surname as my name of address. Only family who knew me before our marriage still refer to me by my middle name. Because this name is our family name, not belonging to any male line on either side, we’re encouraging our daughters to keep it (or a least keep it prominently incorporated) if they choose to marry.

  43. maddyckays November 15, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    I love my last name and I fully plan on keeping it after I get married. I love this post and your blog, you are wonderful.

  44. Anami Blog November 16, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Loved this post. Got married a month ago, and I never really wanted to change my name. When people started to ask me about whether I was going to or not, it started to be actually awkward stating my very simple reason – this is my name, I was born with that name, let’s just keep it that way, but somehow it didn’t seem to be a good enough reason. Most of the people were and still is expecting to change my name eventually. When my mother in law expressed her very interest on the matter I said I might add her sons name to mine in the future, so she opened a bottle of champagne, and was congratulating like I would be only accepted into the family if I took their precious name. Anyway, my partner has never ever pushed me to do so, and he is a wonderful person.

  45. izzy82 November 16, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

    Word! I had long thought I wouldn’t change my name when I got married and then when I started doing domestic violence work, I was like “Oh hell no!” Misogyny and patriarchy are at the root of domestic violence and the idea that women were property still shapes so much of our culture, even if legally we’ve moved on. It’s just what is comfortable for me. A lot of my friends, including very progressive friends have gotten defensive and said hurtful things when I talked about my decision. They did change their names and I am not trying to judge. As women, we don’t have an “ideal” choice (b/c the last name I got at birth (my dad’s) is still b/c of patriarchy) so we pick the one that’s right for us, and this is what was right for me.

  46. Lysa November 17, 2014 at 1:59 am #

    Ugh…I have never thought of the term maiden name as anything except a way to describe someone’s name at birth. I use the term every day at work, I kid you not, everyday and now have to rethink it all for I will never use the term maiden name without thinking of this blog and all the comments. Bah, growth can suck as work was hard enough…lol

  47. oneoftwomumstotwo November 17, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    This is very thought-provoking. We are two women who blended our surnames to create a shared (and seemingly unique) surname. Our children have it too. Is it bad to secretly hope it will be passed down the generations to create many more with the same surname long after we are gone?

  48. womennewdefinitions November 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Have always used my “birth name.” When asked what is my maiden name, I just smile and say, “My birth name is _______.” If they don’t get it, that’s where they’re at, and I go on with my life with my birth name. Thank you for an excellent post….I hear ya!

  49. alessandravita November 19, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Needed this today. Not taking my fiance’s name and I just…needed this


  1. Stop Calling It My Maiden Name | Mitherings from Morningside - November 11, 2014

    […] Stop Calling It My Maiden Name. […]

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