Can a Woman Keep her Surname after Marriage?

Avik Chakravorty
Can a Woman Keep her Surname after Marriage?
The topic of this blog is discussed under two key points; name change through a court order and name change through common usage. The blog starts with the process of adopting a new surname after marriage.

Adopting a new surname

Historically, the expectation and indeed the norm was that a woman would assume the husband’s surname after marriage. Women did not even think twice about assuming her husband’s surname after marriage. As times are changing keeping the maiden name hyphenated with the husband’s surname is apparently a fad.

Both in same-sex and opposite-sex marriages these days there isn’t any hard and fast rule anymore that the wife must assume the surname of her husband. It’s a moot point that modern married women who may be working professionals having to change their surnames by assuming their husband’s surname. Rather keeping their surnames after marriage maybe is a practical and rational choice rather than a compulsion based on custom.

Undeniably assuming the husband’s surname after marriage is indeed a lot of hassle in the sense that married women have to change their surnames on all of their government IDs including Aadhar card, PAN card, Voter ID so on and so forth which women of this day and age intend to avoid. 

Women could not voice their opinion probably until a few decades ago. They were more docile as men played a dominant role in society. They had to submit to the diktats of custom or tradition. With times changing though, these days both opposite-sex and same-sex marriages have several options and they are as follows:

  • Women can assume the last name of their husbands

  • Women can keep their maiden names

  • The maiden name of a wife can be hyphenated along with the surname of the husband

  • A new surname that is a fusion of the surnames of both the spouses could be created and can be used by both spouses

  • Spouses may prefer keeping their own surnames but their children’s surnames can be hyphenated

The run-up to marriage is fraught with making decisions. There are numerous decisions on the anvil namely the color scheme, the food, and the venue. Decisions need to be made after the marriage as well. One of those vital decisions to be made is whether or not the woman would assume the surname of her husband or keep her maiden name after marriage.

Recent reports indicate that a vast majority of brides tend to take the husband’s surname after marriage while the remaining opt to either retain their maiden name or opt to hyphenate which is the case for same-sex couples as well. A survey revealed that female couples more than their male counterparts preferred to assume the name of their male spouse after marriage.

The question invariably is whether a name change is right or wrong. There isn’t a right answer working for everyone and one has to consider several aspects to assume the name of one’s partner.

Name Change through Common Usage

  • It's entirely the discretion of the wife as to whether or not the wife would assume the surname of her husband. However, if the wife decides on changing his/her surname one can through “common usage” fairly easily. The wife historically had this option of adopting her husband’s surname.

Although common usage name changes in instances of same-sex marriages, ought to be valid, however as same-sex marriage adds a relatively new dimension to marital bonding, one may have to get a name change ordered by the court.

  • For legal validation of a name change by applying the common usage method the steps to follow are:
  • A copy of one’s marriage certificate as proof of name change
  • An updated driver’s license against a copy of one’s marriage certificate
  • Get a new Aadhar card/PAN card/Voter ID card with one’s new surname against one’s marriage certificate, and
  • Updating any bank, insurance, passport, or employer records against one’s marriage certificate

This process can be completed relatively easily if the new surname after marriage reflects on one’s marriage certificate. If one already has children or having children is in the works then one might as well change one’s name so as to have a single-family name for all family members. However, if a new surname different from the surname of the other spouse is to be used by a spouse, the spouse intending a name change would have to undergo the official name change ordered by the court. If there is malafide intention of committing fraud or concealing an identity then a name change is undesirable and can be prevented in some jurisdictions.

Name Change through a Court Order

A court-ordered name change in comparison with the common usage name change though is complicated is by far simpler to complete. In the vast majority of cases, a request for a name change has to be submitted along with an order proposal to be reviewed and signed by a judge.

In all likelihood, a judge may set a date for the hearing of one’s case ensuring that one's request for the name change is not, in fact, a malafide intention of committing fraud.  Once the order has been received with one’s request granted, one has to undergo the common usage process for changing one’s name on one’s driver’s license, Aadhar Card, PAN Card and Voter ID card.

?Rather than provide a copy of one’s marriage certificate, submitting the certified copy of the name change court order is the requirement.

If you need any professional advice, speak to an expert lawyer on a name change after marriage at Vidhikarya.


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