The Maiden Name Debate

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A soon-to-be-married woman has difficulties with the idea of changing her last name. Or perhaps, her soon-to-be husband has difficulties, or maybe his mother has problems (often because she doesn't like any daughter-in-law taking the same name she changed her own to). Hilarity Ensues. This tropes usually starts with the woman in question writing out her maiden name along with her married time to try it out, or try saying it in front of a mirror for practice. Usually, the lady is an established career woman (or wants to be). Less often, there is the issue of the aesthetics of the name: should Rhea Mills have to be saddled with ridicule for the rest of her life for having married Robert Peer? Truth in Television, obviously, and a potentially contentious issue.[1]

A traditional solution was for a married woman to take her maiden name as a middle name. It's still done today, as in the case of Robin Wright Penn. Note that this is different from the more modern solution of a hyphenated name. Robin Wright Penn is not the same as Robin Wright-Penn, and this can cause quite a bit of annoyance as hyphenated names gain more prominence over time, while the "maiden name as middle name" falls out of favor.

Particularly applies if you're a media personality. This is partly due to working in an industry where your name is your brand, and partly due to the typical brevity of celebrity marriages.

Not a completely Universal Trope, as many cultures do not expect a woman to change her name (Korea, Vietnam, China, Quebec, Muslim countries, the majority of Latin America), and some do not use surnames at all (Iceland, Indonesia). In the former Soviet Union, the choice to change one's name is part of the (civil and very bureaucratic) ceremony, and the man changing his name is not unheard-of (though less common than the woman changing her name or there being no name change at all). In Japan, if a woman's name is from a family that is extremely high on the social ladder, then it is possible for the husband to take her last name. This is not common.

Almost always, if an Only One Name person marries a Two-Named person, regardless of gender, he or she will take the Two-Named person's last name.

Whether the married woman goes back to their Maiden name when the marriage ends usually depends on how it ends. If it's through death, they'll usually keep the married name. If not, things are different.

See also Meaningful Rename.


Examples of The Maiden Name Debate include:

Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Gendo Rokubungi from Neon Genesis Evangelion became Gendo Ikari when he took his wife's last name, though the reasons why aren't explicitly clear. If the ambiguously canon information that Yui is the daughter of a SEELE member is to be believed, it may have been to gain a foothold in the organization. Within the show itself, though, it seems Gendo did it because he really did love Yui, and wanted to prove that he was utterly devoted to her. Note that even Fuyutsuki found his name change odd.
    • Maybe he just wanted to lose the 'Rokubungi.' Even in Japan, that doesn't make the cool name index.
    • There's some implication that Gendo had a dark past he wanted to get away from as well. Getting a new name would be a symbolic way of starting over.
  • Fate Testarossa from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha became Fate Testarossa-Harlaown (or T. Harlaown) after being adopted by Lindy Harlaown in order to respect both. She is later integrated into the "Takamachi Family" but just keeps her previous hyphenated last name. Both because it would be too obvious and a tad wordy.[2] In the second Megami Sound Stage, she apologizes for how long "Testarossa-Harlaown" is, noting that "both Testarossa and Harlaown are (her) real last names".
  • Itoshiki Rin from Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei looks forward to the day she can get married and change her Unfortunate Name. Sadly, the Itoshiki family is very high-ranking, so she has trouble finding an acceptably prominent suitor. In fact, her brother's friend who is in love with all things old tries to marry her in order to acquire an old name.
  • When Kaoru and Aoi finally get together in Ai Yori Aoshi, Aoi takes Kaoru's family name, but his mother's maiden name "Honjo" instead of "Hanabishi," as Kaoru has left the Hanabishi family (due to the abuse from his grandfather) and has taken to using that name.
  • In some Ronin Warriors side-materials, Shin Mouri (Cye of the Torrent) is troubled because his Ronin duties conflict with him becoming the heir of his family's traditional pottery business. To solve this, his older sister and her boyfriend agree on him marrying into the Mouri family and taking up the surname.
  • In Kimagure Orange Road, Kyousuke and the twins's Kasuga surname is actually their mother Akemi's maiden name. Their dad Takashi married into the Kasuga clan since Akemi was the only daughter... which certainly explains why he's the only Kasuga without Psychic Powers.
  • If there's a rich Big Screwed-Up Family in Detective Conan, it's almost a sure thing that one of the daughters will be married to a man who has taken up the family name. Said man is very, very likely to become either a murder victim or a suspect.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Superman comics, Lois Lane changed it to Lois Lane-Kent and kept her maiden name as a pen name. Occasionally Planet staff sarcastically call Clark "Mr. Lane."
  • Supporting X-Men character Moira MacTaggart (formerly Moira Kinross) kept her late husband's name. Strange, considering the fact that he was horribly abusive and that Moira's son Proteus was implied to be the result of marital rape. Partially justified seeing as her husband refused to divorce her, leading to her running away and pretending she was widowed... but when he actually died, there was no reason to keep using the name.
  • Spoofed in one New Avengers issue where Luke Cage (aka "Power Man") tried to convince his wife to go by "Power Woman."

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • In the Red Jewel Diaries chapter "For Better or Worse" of MGLN Crisis, Fate wonders where "Scrya" and "Takamachi" would fit into her name when she marries Nanoha and Yuuno.

Fate: If I took both your names, would that make me Fate Testarossa Harlaown Scrya Takamachi? Or perhaps Fate Testarossa Harlaown Takamachi Scrya? Fate Scrya Takamachi? Fate Takamachi Scrya? Hmm, I need to think about this...

  • For the same reason, this trope also comes up for Fate in Relationships Series.
  • This is constantly a question for writers of The X-Files fanfiction that feature Mulder and Scully as a married couple. While a large question is whether or not Scully would change her name, the larger question is: since they're on a Last-Name Basis and they got married, would he still call her Scully?

Film[edit | hide]

  • It's a Wonderful Life shows George getting a phone call (on his wedding day) from "Mrs. Bailey." "I don't want to talk to Mrs. Bailey! I want to talk to my wife!". Apparently it takes him some time to get used to the idea, too.
  • In Woman of the Year, career woman Tess Harding ruins her marriage to Sam Craig by neglecting her personal life in favor of her public life and then fails when she tries to make up for it by playing the traditional domestic wife. In the end, Sam suggests she doesn't have to pick one role or the other: she can be Tess Harding Craig.
  • Parodied in Meet the Parents, Pamela chooses to take Greg's surname and keep her middle name the same. This results in her new name being Pamela Martha Focker.
  • In The Wedding Singer, Julia Sullivan bursts into tears when she realizes that after she marries Glenn she'll be "Mrs. Julia Guglia".
  • Inverted in the film Whipped. The main character, a hen-pecked boyfriend, briefly considers changing his last name to his fiance's. They split up before the marriage.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Going Postal, Moist's initial impression of Saccharissa Cripslock (who was last seen in a sort-of-relationship with William de Worde) is "Wedding ring, but still 'Miss'. Probably has Views. Do not attempt to kiss hand."
    • In Lancre meanwhile, there's a sort of tradition of matrilinearity, at least amongst witches. So when Miss Gytha Ogg got married, she became Mrs Gytha Ogg and her husband became Mr. Ogg (as did her subsequent husbands—well, the ones that were actually hers). Her married sons, however, are still Oggs, because none of her daughters-in-law are brave enough to explain to Nanny that they shouldn't be.
  • A Love for All Time by Bertrice Small begins in Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth commands one of her courtiers, Conn O'Malley, who is a troublesome Irishman, to marry Aidan St. Michael, who is a titled Englishwoman, and to take her name along with the title that went with it. He agreed, mainly because of the title. One of the queen's advisors pointed out that this would effectively make Conn an Englishman.
  • The Bruce Coville book Monster of the Year has Michael McGraw, whose mother (Elsa Adams) changed her name to her husband's when she got married, changed back after they divorced, and said she'd stay with her maiden name for the rest of her life. Michael, on the other hand, had his name changed to match his stepfather's. As he puts it, "This confuses outsiders, since they can't figure out who I really belong to, but it suits the three of us just fine."
  • In Harry Potter, it's never said if Nymphadora Tonks changes her last name after marrying Lupin, but most of the other characters continue to call her Tonks.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Turk and Carla in Scrubs faced this problem. Turk's classic response to Carla wanting to keep her name: "Okay baby, I guess we'll be one of those New Age couples that don't love each other!" They eventually compromise: Carla keeps her name, and Turk keeps his mole.
    • She does use it for "official" things. Including letting him call her "Mrs. Turk" in the bedroom.
    • Off-camera, J.D. and Elliot apparently also went through this. She still goes by "Dr. Reid."
  • On Lois and Clark, Perry gives Lois a new nameplate for her desk that says "Lois Kent." She is later seen sliding her previous plate and new one together to see how she likes "Lois Lane Kent". In the end she's still not sure.
    • Earlier, there was also a Tear Jerker scene just before Lois was to be married to Lex Luthor, where she stands in front of a mirror in her wedding dress, trying out names: "Lois Luthor. Lois Lane Luthor. Lois Luthor Lane... Lois Lane... Kent..."
  • Star Trek:
    • In Voyager, B'Elanna and Tom debate about whether she'll be B'Elanna Paris or if he'll be Tom Torres. Neither one undergoes a name change.
    • In Nemesis, Captain Picard jokingly calls the newlywed Riker "Mr. Troi."
  • On Friends, Monica didn't change her last name when she got married, feeling that Bing was a weird name. At first Chandler agreed and suggested that they "name the kids Geller and let Bing die with me," but in the end they stick with Bing. At one point, Phoebe refers to her as "Monica Geller Hyphen Bing."
    • After Phoebe got married, she had a similar dilemma. After marrying Mike (Paul Rudd), Phoebe does change her name but instead of changing her last name to her husband's, she instead has her full name legally changed to Princess Consuela Bananahammock (not realizing that "Bananahammock" is actually a pseudonym for the skintight appearance a Speedo gives to a man's, er... private area, until Mike tells her later on in the episode); in retaliation, Mike chooses to change his name to of all things... Crap Bag ("just think of a bag of crap"). Luckily, both change their names back by the end of the episode.
    • Also, when Courteney Cox married David Arquette and became Courteney Cox Arquette, the first episode after that happened all the other actors took the second surname Arquette for the opening credits: Jennifer Aniston Arquette, David Schwimmer Arquette, etc.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Lily keeps her last name after marrying Marshall, though they do consider both adopting a brand new last name (with candidates "Skywalker," "Hasselhoff," and "Awesome").

"Have you met the Awesomes, Marshall and Lily, their son Totally, and their daughter Frickin'?"

  • On Murphy Brown, Corky Sherwood marries Will Forrest. She chooses to keep her maiden name as a middle name, until she realizes that she will then be Corky Sherwood Forrest.
  • On My Hero (TV) when George and Janet finally married:

George: Arnie says you can have my name now. How'd you like to be "George"?

  • A variant from My Family, with the parents going into a therapy session:

Susan: I'd like to be known as Susan Ryman.
Ben: Your maiden name was Riggs!
Susan: Maiden name? (To shrink) Harper is my husband's name, Riggs was my father's name, but Ryman was my grandmother's name. She chose it herself, no men involved.
Ben: She was reared by wolves.

  • On the American version of The Office, Pam almost marries Roy Anderson and indicates that she would have begrudgingly taken his name if they had gone through with it.

Pam: That's as close as I ever want to get to being Pamela Anderson.

    • On the flipside, she's more than excited to change it when marrying Jim. Squeeing Ensues when Kevin hands her a check made out to "Mrs. Pam Halpert."
  • On A Different World: Whitley and Dwayne argue about this because Whitley wanted her name to be Whitley Gilbert-Wayne as opposed to just Whitley Wayne.
  • Inverted in Mork and Mindy: Mork takes Mindy's last name (McConnell). This is because Mork has no last name.
  • Sara Sidle in CSI has not changed her surname despite marrying Gil Grissom.
  • Lindsay from CSI New York switched her name from Monroe to Messer on marrying Danny.
  • Given a nod in The Closer, when one of the first things Brenda says when Fritz proposes to her is that she's keeping her maiden name, which he immediately agrees to.
  • On Wings, Fay goes by the last name Cochran, the name of her third husband. When the others find out that her name was previously Dumbley, after her first husband, the others express surprise. (Brian: "You married a man named Dumbley and took his name?") Of course, her maiden name was Schlob, so she wasn't exactly trading down.
    • Her second husband's name was De Vay, leading to the pun "Old soldiers never die, they just Fay De Vay."
    • She kept them all, her legal name in the series is Fay Evelyn Schlob Dumbly De Vay Cochran.
  • Doctor Who: When Rory Williams and Amy Pond get married.

The Doctor: Amelia, from now on I shall be leaving the kissing duties to the brand new Mr Pond.
Rory: No, I'm not Mr Pond. that's not how it works.
The Doctor: Yes. it is.
Rory: ...yeah it is.

    • And then, after the birth of their daughter:

The Doctor: Hello. Hello...ehh... baby.
Amy: Melody.
The Doctor: Melody! Hello Melody Pond.
Rory: Melody Williams...
Amy: ...is a geography teacher. Melody Pond is a superhero!

    • While it is never revealed how (if at all) their legal names change, they call each other "Mrs. Williams" and "Mr. Pond" as terms of endearment, shown respectively in "A Good Man Goes To War" and "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe".
    • Although not seen on screen, when Martha and Mickey tie the knot, the former becomes Martha Smith-Jones. And when Donna gets engaged to Shaun Temple, the Doctor gets worried because Donna Noble-Temple would sound stupid. Wilfred assures him she's going for 'Temple-Noble' instead.
  • Gwen Cooper kept her name when marrying Rhys Williams in Torchwood, at the request of Gwen's actress Eve Myles.
  • In That '70s Show, when Eric and Donna get engaged, he says that "some day, you're going to be Mrs. Forman". Donna doesn't like it, and squicks Eric out, reminding him that Mrs. Forman is his mother. "Mrs. Forman is feeling dirty..."

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • In the comic strip Stone Soup, when the soon-to-be-hubby asked the soon-to-be-wife why she had any reservations about changing her name, she responded, "Why don't you change your name?" He began listing all the legal, financial and professional hassles that would entail for someone as established in life as he was (it was the second marriage for both), then stopped and said, "Oh, yeah."
  • In Peanuts, Sally decides to write to Mrs. Claus instead of Santa. At one point Charlie Brown mentions that he had heard she was called "Mary Christmas," and Sally congratulates her on deciding to keep her own name.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In The Sims 2, the couple takes the name of whomever initiates the marriage action. A lot of player challenges place restrictions on this (legacy heirs must keep the legacy family name and such) and there are mods to choose the name or to enforce a "traditional" marriage. So, quite a few male Sims end up taking their wives' last names.
    • In the third game, the two adopt the surname of the house.
  • In Escape from Monkey Island, Elaine is far better known than her new husband Guybrush so everyone keeps calling him "Mr. Marley". Officially they're both "Threepwood" now. Guybrush occasionally introduces himself as Marley-Threepwood.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Pv P had some back and forth over Jade changing her name. Lampshading on the issue’s resolution, they deliberately decided to ignore it until the last minute. She eventually becomes Jade Sienna.
  • In Something*Positive, Jason takes Aubrey's surname when they marry. In this case it had more to do with his crummy relationship with his father than anything.
  • In Order of the Stick, Daigo hasn't taken his wife's last name (Kato), but they've used it for the name of their newly-established noble house. Daigo is saving his own last name for an emergency.
  • When Kevin married Kell, he changed his (and his adopted daughter's) last name to his wife's, mainly because he had been disowned by his family. Considering he's a rabbit and Kell's a wolf, the name change was the least of people's concerns.
    • Lindesfarne keeps the name Dewclaw after she marries Fenton, likely because she's already a published scientist. Nothing was really made of it besides an offhand comment from Fiona to the effect of 'huh, she's keeping her name'.
    • According to the FAQ, Kell convinced Rudy to change his surname from Foxglove (his father's last name) to Dewclaw after his father's death.
  • Ki in General Protection Fault ponders the issue as her wedding to Nick nears, but decides to take Wellington as her surname after getting married, since it's easier to spell.
  • Amy Chilton from Scary Go Round is Amy Beckwith-Chilton in the Spin-Off webcomic Bad Machinery, due to her marriage to Ryan Beckwith. (She is quite successful with her antiques shop she has set up back in SGR, so this may probably be for the bussiness-stratetical reason of name recognition.)

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Marge Simpson's sister, Selma Bouvier-Terwilliger-Hutz-McClure-Stu from The Simpsons probably should have considered this debate a bit more.[3]
    • She eventually used this as a reason not to marry Apu, saying adding "Nahasapeemapetilon" to it would just be too much.
    • They never showed Selma married to Hutz.
    • Also, Mrs. Krabappel still keeps her husband's surname even after he ran off with their marriage counselor.
    • Referenced in "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy", during the production of the Lisa Lionheart doll.

Lisa: (recording her voice for the doll) "When I get married, I'm keeping my own name." Oh, no, that should probably be "If I choose to get married."

  • On Phineas and Ferb, Word of God says that Linda's current surname, Flynn, is her maiden name despite her two marriages. Characters have been known to call her "Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher" on occasion, though. Also, Isabella's mom seems to have hyphenated (Garcia-Shapiro) while Charlene kept her ex-husband's name, Doofenshmirtz, after their divorce.
  • On Total Drama World Tour, the contestants fake getting married for a challenge, with Alejandro and Heather paired up. After he refers to her as "Mr. Alejandro," she sarcastically calls him "Mr. Heather."
    • Later, when Sierra thinks that she's really trapped Cody in an Accidental Marriage, she tells Chris that her name is now "Sierra-Cody. It's hyphenated." Apparently none of these kids know how last names are supposed to work.
  • South Park had an episode where the Broflovskis moved to San Francisco, where all the couples had different surnames and gave hyphenated names to their kids. In one case the parents both had hyphenated names already and their kid had four strung together.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Real life inversions are discussed in this blog post.
  • Cheryl Cole of pop group Girls Aloud and judge on The X Factor was originally Cheryl Tweedy. She changed her surname, including for professional use, when she married Ashley Cole in 2006. She kept the name after their divorce in 2009 as she was already more famous as Cole than Tweedy.
  • By the time Hillary married Bill Clinton, she had already established herself as a successful lawyer and writer as Hillary Rodham. In the early years she kept that name, but when her hubby ran for governor of Arkansas, it was seen as Straw Feminist in the Deep South state for a woman to keep her maiden name and actually hurt his chances of winning the election. She compromised, using "Hillary Rodham Clinton" for publishing and law-practicing purposes and so has she been known ever since. Now that she's become secretary of state, however, she's often called Hillary Clinton, and her 2008 campaign website was Hillary Clinton.com.
    • It is still a tradition in certain parts of the Deep South to not assign middle names to girls, with the expectation that she will keep her maiden name as a middle name after she marries. Therefore, it wasn't even seen as a compromise in the eyes of many voters, just, well, expected (note that Hillary Rodham, being from Chicago, was given a middle name: Diane).
  • Annie Mae "Tina" Turner kept her married name after divorcing Ike, enduring the bad memories attached to it, for business purposes. It worked, however, as she brought far more good to that name than Ike ever did.
  • In some jurisdictions, while there is no particular administrative fee for changing one's name when being married (the name change being incorporated into the whole marriage bit), there is a separate fee to change one's name when one divorces. Further (in some jurisdictions), for the woman to change her last name and middle name when getting married is trivial, but if she also wants to change her first name, you suddenly need to get a judge's approval, etc. Like that's more likely to have a nefarious plot behind it.
  • There was (and still is, in many places) a significant Double Standard about this. For women to change their names after marriage was a simple procedure, while for the man to take his wife's name required moving hell and earth. The most famous person to do this is probably the NFL's London Fletcher-Baker, who adopted the Baker to honor his father-in-law.
    • Legal issues aside, you can hear any number of stories from women who decided not to change their names getting "Ohohoho, well, we know who'll wear the pants in THIS marriage!" from friends and family, as if keeping her own name was somehow a display of dominance over her husband-to-be instead of the clearly neutral option. And if he changes his name, well, they're obviously a Lorena Bobbit story waiting to happen.
  • J. K. Rowling is actually named Joanne Murray since marrying in late 2001. She just didn't bother to change her pen name (which technically was a pseudonym anyway, since she never had a middle name). All three of her children have "Rowling" as a middle name, however.
  • Similarly, Agatha Christie was Agatha Mallowan from 1930, but she kept Christie as her pen name.
  • An interesting case with Jon Stewart. His birth name was Leibowitz, and he chose Stewart as his professional name. About a year after he married Tracy McShane, they both changed their legal last names to Stewart.
  • Jack and Meg White (i.e. The White Stripes) invert this: John Anthony "Jack" Gillis married Megan Martha White in 1996 and divorced her in 2000, taking (and keeping) her last name of White and remaining on good enough terms to keep going in a band with her.
  • Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, uses Cherie Booth (she's the daughter of actor Anthony Booth) for her legal work. A confusing situation in that she had already been a barrister for four years when she married Tony Blair, and for the fact that she accepts being called "Cherie Blair" or even "Mrs. Tony Blair" outside of being a barrister.
  • During the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign, Senator Barry Goldwater insisted on referring to vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro as "Mrs. Zacarro."
  • This is also an issue for same-sex couples since obviously there either isn't a wife or there isn't a husband in the picture. Therefore, there's no tradition to go by. Some take just one of their names. Some hyphenate. Some even pick out an entirely new name for themselves. Lately, there's also been a discussion brewing about how male couples who change one or both of their names are supposed to refer to their old name(s) since "maiden name" obviously doesn't work.
    • I vote for "bachelor name"
    • Of course, "maiden name" also makes less sense for women these days, given that they're no longer assumed to be "maidens" before they're married.
    • Dan Savage wrote an interesting piece about trying to figure out what last name to give their son when he and his husband (then boyfriend) adopted him. They compromised by giving him his birthmother's last name, which seemed like a sweet gesture at the time, but wound up leading to a lot of trouble later on - it was hard enough to convince workers at airports and national borders that they weren't two strangers kidnapping a baby even *without* having to explain why the baby didn't share either of their last names.
  • When John Lennon married Yoko Ono, she became Yoko Ono Lennon. And he became John Ono Lennon, legally changing his middle name from Winston to Ono.
  • A contestant on Win Ben Stein's Money told the story of his marriage to a woman surnamed "Wolfe". His own surname was "Dark", so they decided to both change to the hyphenate "Dark-Wolfe."
  • It was and is fairly common for British aristocratic families to adopt a hyphenated 'double-barreled' surname when two of their scions marry. More oddly, the mother's maiden name is sometimes used as the first name of a child from such a union.
  • Pulitzer Prize-winner Connie Schultz wrote a column about a reader who consistently criticizes her for not taking her husband's surname and insists on using it in lieu of her chosen maiden name.
  • For some reason, the current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel still uses the name of her first husband, even though they divorced back in 1982, and she's currently married to Joachim Sauer.
  • Averted by BBC Radio 2 newsreader Fenella Haddingham, who has exactly the accent you'd expect a woman with a name like that to have, when she became known as Fenella Fudge after getting married. Listeners are still wondering why.
  • Another inversion: Paul Landers of Rammstein was born Heiko Paul Hiersche (he later dropped his first name), but when he married Nikki Landers, he took her surname and still kept it after they divorced.
  • Some cultures avoid this. In Korea, for instance, the wife never changes her name (the children retain their fathers' names).
    • Something similar happens in Spanish naming customs. Maiden names don't exist and children have two surnames, one from the father and other from the mother.
  • It used to be traditional in Hispanic cultures for the wife to take their husbands name with the preposition "de" meaning "of". Thus when María García married Juan Pérez she'd be known as "María de Pérez (María of Pérez). The custom has fallen out of practice (for the rather unfortunate implication that the wife is her husband's property)
  1. To all men, the correct answer when your betrothed ask you this is always: "What do you want?"
  2. or invoke this trope over whether she would take the name Takamachi, Nanoha would take the name Testarossa-Harlaown, or go with the triple name
  3. Sequential addition of names, not simultaneous