|The following is from 1974.
Same issue, from a 1925 perspective: CLICK HERE
issues of married women
who keep their own names
-by Alice Marie Beard
exists concerning the legal right of a legally married
woman to use her own surname at all times.
Only one of the 50 states (Hawaii) has laws saying that,
after a marriage ceremony recognized by the state, a
woman must use her husband's last name as her last name
on all legal documents. However, most woman routinely
change their last names at the time of a legal marriage,
and most do so thinking that it is a legal requirement.
According to an Indiana attorney willing to talk on the
subject, "There's no statute that says a woman does
or does not have to use her husband's surname. A 'legal
name' is whatever name that person uses and is recognized
by, so long as he or she is not attempting to defraud
The attorney pointed out that an individual may have more
than one "legal" name, as in the case of
performers and actors.
"Actually, it's probably more of a problem for a
woman to change her name," the attorney said,
"but people in this society feel a woman should
change her name."
Recent court cases
Despite the fact that no
law says that a married woman must use her husband's
surname, the custom is so strong that recently there have
been court cases over the issue.
A case arose in St. Joseph County, IN, that was finally
settled in the Indiana Supreme Court: Elizabeth Marie
Howard married Denis J. Hauptly. When they first married,
she began using his last name. She decided to revert to
using her own surname only.
Howard filed a petition in the St. Joseph County Circuit
Court Jan. 17, 1972, asking that her name be changed to
Howard on all legal documents which had listed her as
Elizabeth Hauptly since her marriage.
Joseph W. Nyikos, then the judge of the St. Joseph County
Circuit Court, ruled against the woman. She appealed and
lost in the Indiana Court of Appeals. [Petition of
Hauptly, 294 N.E.2d 833 (1973).]
Howard finally won her appeal June 25, 1974, in the
Indiana Supreme Court when the court ruled against the
lower courts, thus establishing a legal precedent for
that which had always been legal -- the right of a
married woman to use her own name. The Court wrote,
"A woman has a common law right to do
business in a name other than her married name. In fact,
there is no legal requirement that any person go through
the courts to establish a legal change of name." [Petition of Hauptly, 312 N.E.2d 857
When Howard appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, in the
state's case against her the attorney general's brief
called Howard a "sick and confused woman, unhappy
with her marriage." After one of the Indiana Supreme
Court justices said that such comments in the brief were
improper, the attorney general said he was only trying to
inject humor into a dull brief.
Another case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and
in March 1972 the high Court affirmed the decision of a
lower court which held that a state has the authority to
require a wife to assume her husband's surname in
marriage. The case, at the U.S. Supreme Court level, was
a states' rights issue since laws governing marriages are
a power of the state.
The case arose in Alabama when a married woman who had
always used her own name was told her driver's license
would have to be issued with her husband's last name as
her last name. [Forbush v. Wallace, 405
U.S. 970 (1972).]
Although only Hawaii has
laws saying a woman must use her husband's last name,
according to Jane Dubcomb, state chair of the Indiana
Women's Political Caucus, "There are a few states
which require the first two names as they appear on a
married woman's birth certificate and the last name which
appears on her husband's birth certificate for purposes
of a driver's license."
Alabama and Michigan are two of the states that make that
requirement. Indiana has no such requirement.
Custom not world
The practice of a woman
changing her name at the time of marriage is only a
custom and is not a matter of law in almost all states in
the United States. The custom is not world-wide, and it
is not a custom dating from the beginnings of
Most respected sources believe that the modern,
patrilineal, hereditary surname of western Europe and
northern America stems from feudalism. During the Middle
Ages, a noble family would identify the head of household
by appending to his name the name of the family estate.
The estate name eventually became used by younger sons
and came to be considered hereditary. The practice of
surnames grew as the bourgeoisie did what the nobility
did, and as the poor people mimicked both the nobility
and the bourgeoisie.
The change to all people having surnames (and thus the
practice of a woman giving up one surname for another at
the time of marriage) was not complete in England until
after the 16th century. It was not complete in the
outlying parts of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland until
after the 18th century.
Customs that differ from the western European/northern
American custom of the wife taking her husband's last
name and all of their offspring having his last name
include the practice of some wealthy British families of
combining the wife's surname and the husband's surname
into a hyphenated form for a new family name.
A similar practice exists in Spanish-speaking countries
where a person carries both parents' surnames. In some
Mixtec communities (of the native central American
cultures), a man's first name becomes the last name of
In Iceland, a variation of the father's first name
(rather than the family name) is used almost exclusively
in combination with the person's first name. Even after
marriage, a woman retains as a surname that variation of
her father's first name. Thus, within a family, husband,
wife, and children would all have different last names.
When a couple marry in Eastern European countries, for
example in Czechoslovakia, it is not uncommon for each to
retain his/her family name, or for either of the couple
to accept the other's family name as his/her own.
Not all cultures have been patrilineal. Among the native
North Americans, both the Iroquois and the Delaware were
matrilineal, with a person gaining his/her name from the
The first-recorded U.S. woman to retain her name after
legal marriage was Lucy Stone, who married in 1855. Other married women who
have kept their own names include anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978), aviator Amelia
Earhart (1897-1937), novelist Pearl
Buck (1892-1973), U.S. Secretary of
Labor Francis Perkins (1880-1965),
and Folia LaFollette.
What's in a name? -- by Joanna Grossman, law professor, Hofstra
Law School, written 2000 (elsewhere on the internet)
More on Woman and Last
Names, at The Volokh
Dunn v. Palermo, 522 S.W. 2d 679 (Tenn 1975)
NOTE: In 1974, the "Center
for a Woman's Own Name," then located in Barrington,
IL, published a booklet titled, "Women
Who Wish to Determine Their Own Names After
Marriage." ISBN 0-914332-01-5.
This page is linked
with permission at
a page with links
of the 1960s & 1970s.