Why does the blushing bride give up her maiden name? (1902)
From The Saint Paul Globe (St. Paul, Minn.) August 3, 1902
Why do blushing brides assume their husbands’ names on the wedding day and forfeit their own forever after?
The cynic’s reply that they have little else to lose, and are bound, for decorum’s sake, to make some small sacrifice for the well-meaning man who offers up so much for them on the hymeneal altar, is far too flippant to be considered seriously.
The plain truth is that this time-honored custom is one of the oldest relics of a barbarous epoch, when a woman was a mere appendage. She was an integral portion of the gens or family, now of her father, now of her brother, now of her husband.
She had no independent entity of her own. Hence she took over the surname of her legal protector, giving up that of her father. Names were a label indicating ownership and changed accordingly.
This is so true that whenever woman’s rights were acknowledged — as was the case among many wild tribes — the child received the mother’s name or the appellation of her gens, not that of the male parent, and consequently, in wartime, when the two peoples were laying waste each other’s territory, fathers and sons were generally fighting in opposite camps.
Thus the head of the family has always bestowed his name on the members, and the first outward sign of female emancipation, when it does come, will be the maintenance by young wives of their maiden names, with or without the patronymic of their husbands.
Why should it not be so even now? A wife is said to be her husband’s half, very often his better half. Is it not meet that this religion should appear in the family name?
There is more in a name than is dreamed of by the masses. In olden times, it was believed to be a large extent identical with the personality of the bearer. It was not to be taken in vain. To mention the name of Lohengrin, for example, was to deprive him of his life among mortals — a force, a virtue, a spirit went out of him, and he ceased to be what he had been.
Is it fair that a girl should, on taking to herself a husband, abandon the personality, which is embodied in a man, for the sake of one who possibly would not cut off his mustachios or give up smoking for her pleasure?
“Join names as you join hands,” says a society formed with this object in southern Hungary.
From maiden name to uniting surnames
This proposed dualism of family names is no unheard-of innovation. It has existed for generations, nay, for centuries. In Belgium, man and wife often unite surnames when they bind hands and hearts, and “double-barreled” names are as plentiful as blackberries in autumn. They have usually a distinguished ring about them as if they were titles of nobility.
Sometimes they are alarmingly long; that, however, is not the fault of the system, but only of the country. It was a terrible jaw-breaker, for instance, that was offered to friends of the bride and bridegroom in the invitations issued by the two families, Vandenhoogstraaten and Kinkvervankustdorsprakingatehdren. When those two surnames were welded by a hyphen, bashful ladies and people in a hurry never ventured near the temptation.
In Russia, the lady’s patronymic always differs somewhat from that of her husband. Countess Tolstoy’s name, for example, is Tolstaya in the nominative. If one were addressing an envelope to the married couple, her name would then be Tolstoy, and his Tolstomoo.
At first sight, the Russian ladies seem to have stolen a march on their English sisters, and to have saved some appearances of independence. But this fancy is illusive.
In Russian, the family name, when borne by males, is a substantive, and can stand by itself; when the bearer is a lady, it is a mere adjective which needs a substantive expressed or understood in order to give it vitality and existence.
The maiden name in Spain
But nowhere is the right or women to their own dear maiden names so universally admitted or so strictly enforced as in Spain. When a Spanish don solemnly pledges his troth to a smiling girl at the altar, he adds her appellation to his own, and ever after the two names are linked as indissolubly as the two persons. This blend is often very picturesque, and pleases fanciful foreigners, but it sometimes has its drawbacks. The husband’s patronymic is at the end, in the possessive case, and when it has a meaning of its own may become awkward.
Nowadays names are not as easily changed as they used to be, when every continental gentleman who became an author threw aside his German, Dutch or French patronymic and assumed a Greek or Latin cognomen, as Erasmus, Paracelsus and Melancthon did.
At present, the clumsy machinery of the law has to be set in motion before a surname can be changed in Germany, Austria and Holland, and in many cases, a fee paid besides. If in Austria a man takes a room in a hotel for the weekend, and gives a name which does not legally belong to him, he renders himself liable to imprisonment. And he is sure to get his due if the truth leaks out. Traveling incognito is a luxury reserved for dukes and princes there.
A name in central Europe is an heirloom not to be played with. A girl takes over not only her husband’s surname, but also his title, and by this she is always addressed — Frau Doctor, Frau Professor, Frau Privy Councilor, etc. She must be very poor, indeed, who has not some such handle to her name after marriage. Hence the desire of a wedded lady to retain name and title, even after she has lost him who conferred both upon her — for instance, after she has been divorced.
Germany is interested in this matter just now because a new law on the subject is coming into force this year. Heretofore, a lady, although divorced on the ground of misconduct, could, and generally did, continue to bear her late husband’s name and title. If he objected to this, is was open to him to sue his late spouse for wrongfully appropriating his surname and titles, and if the court saw good grounds for restraining the lady from so doing in future. It was competent to issue such a prohibition, but the costs kept many men from taking advantage of the law.
Now the matter will be much simpler. A divorced wife may use her late husband’s name unless and until he makes a declaration, which costs nothing, to the effect that he withdraws from her the right to bear it. Of course, this declaration can be made only by one whose own behavior was irreproachable. If there were faults on both sides, the lady can call herself by the surname she possessed ever since her marriage.