Women not taking husband's surname

Started by Alex Moes © on Friday, May 4, 2012


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Showing 1-30 of 205 posts
5/4/2012 at 4:59 AM

I've seen a few articles now explaining now Dutch women did not usually take on their husband's surname.
What i haven't seen any refer to is when that custom started to change, certainly my living relatives do not practice that custom nor did my grandmother. So when did it fade out?

5/4/2012 at 6:02 AM

Alex, in most European countries, the wife does not take the husband's name from a legal/administrative perspective. I think your close relatives have simply adhered to the law of their new country. I think that, if they'd move to Holland, the Dutch authorities would ask for a birth certificate, and you would see that ladies would again have their maiden name (except if they'd expressly want a legal name change). My 2 cents :-)

5/4/2012 at 7:41 AM

George, my father is the only family that left Europe, the rest are all there. To tell the truth i have never assked to see any of their passports, perhaps i am wrong?
Certainly you Europeans are a strange lot, perhaps all the snow freezes the mind? ;)

Private User
5/4/2012 at 9:04 AM

The snow keeps the mind fresh Alex:-). Well you know women always had their birthnames as their legal names. They are registred as for example when I was married to an Homs(another one lol) it was: First name: Jennie; birthname aka maidenname: Schouten,married to:Homs. But when I opened a bank account I could write J.Homs-Schouten. The generations for me it was custome they called theirselfwith the name of their husband, but you had the legalright to call yourself with your maiden name. Many women did not do that, I think because they liked to call themselves with their husband surnames,toexpress you are a family,all (man,wife and children) sharing the same surname. Than it changed and women started to think (maybe it was the snow that made them think that) wait a minute I am who I am, I dont "belong"to my husband and started to name themself by their birthname. And than they realised it had always been possible,only the custome was to do like for ages married women did. When I married at 18 everyone told me I had to call myself Homs. I liked my own surname much more (Homs is not that easy in Holland, most hear you say Hond (what is "dog"in english) but I did not know better. Now for I think last 25 years women know better and they chooset hemself what they liked to be called. But for law and offical administrations it always was as I said at the beginning of this boring story: Jennie Schouten,wife of Homs.
Now I want to know: are we Europeans still very strange orven more ???? lol

Private User
5/4/2012 at 10:33 AM

Alex, it gets worse. With hyphenated names, there is no consistency with which name comes first. There may be a convention in The Netherlands, but following the Dutch family lines elsewhere certainly keeps the genealogist head-scratching.

5/4/2012 at 4:18 PM

Culturally in Australia married women are almost always known by their husbands name, it's not amazing when a woman keeps her own name, just unusual. Some women keep their own name in business but in the rest of their lives have the other name.
Hyphenation happens sometimes also.
This was not an issue i thought of when i started on Geni, which i suppose is natural for a beginner to just use what they are familiar with.
So we have opinions from Northern Europe and the Far South, what of other cultures? Japan, Nigeria, Egypt, what other options are there?
I am certainly no expert on Iceland but my understanding is that no one has surnames there, only patronyms , and that marriage is rare, any Icelanders actively building trees on Geni? Obviously being Iceland there is a lot of snow! ;)

Honestly it seems easiest to me from a genealogical view point to keep a woman's birth name BUT if that does not represent how a woman lived her life well then it is less than respectful to her memory to be using a different name. Of course it is much harder to know how a particular woman referred to herself 400 years ago!

It seems to me that Geni is set up to record a woman's birth name and display it after the married name in (brackets), is that a result of the fact that Geni is American and that is their cultural norm or did someone at the start of Geni make a conscious decision?
I've read your document George on the Dutch Portal which is clear, concise and easy to follow. The only problem with it is that it is the opposite to Geni's official policy.
I have the situation at the moment where one half of my tree is set up in one manner and the other side is the opposite.
Is Geni supposed to be consistent across all nations and cultures to facilitate cooperation or are we supposed to be displaying cultural respect and end up with a muddle of pacts and grey areas?

The more i consider the situation the less of a clear opinion i have.
There is a saying in english "two wrongs do not make a right.", this seems to me to be a situation where "two rights are making a wrong".
Also with literally millions of profiles on Geni what is the chance that if a consensus is reached by us that all the "wrong" profiles would ever be fixed?

@Jennie: I fully support a woman's choice to whatever name she wants to use in her life, my questions only reflect how we should be recording people's names here on Geni.

5/4/2012 at 6:02 PM

Yes rvk, i suspect you are 100% correct.

5/4/2012 at 6:12 PM

Actually every member of Geni can set "display options" for your own viewing preference. The only difficulty if you do it this way is you might need to ensure birth surnames are also populated for men.

As I have immigrant ancestors whose names were anglicized at naturalization (or informally), this is a "best practice" for my own tree.

5/4/2012 at 6:30 PM

What I am discussing is a consistent approach to all profiles (and if a consistent approach is even desirable), you can make and view your tree in any way you wish, as you say. But when sharing trees with family members (distant or near) or working on trees outside your family group or the World Tree it would make more sense to me if everyone followed the same system. I suppose "sense" isn't very common in the real world, so why on Geni?

5/5/2012 at 9:29 AM

I think this that women taking their husband ´s surname came during the 19th century in Central and North Europe. In the Prague Conscriptions the married women have their husband´s surname but often their maiden names are also mentioned i. e. geboren....

Surnames is a modern thing. Aristocrats and rich people had surnames. Common had not and most Jews in Central Europe had no surnames before 1780s.
Thomas Fürth

5/5/2012 at 9:46 AM

Was used in the "middle class" in England by the 16th century.  Here's an example notation from court records, 1579:

Inquisition taken at the Guildhall, 29 July, 21 Eliz. [1579], before Richard Pype, Knight, Mayor and escheator, after the death of Richard Pelter, citizen and brewer of London

Richard Pelter died 23rd November last past; Blanch Richardes now the wife of Morgan Richardes of London, skinner, is his only daughter and next heir and is now aged 30 years and more.


5/5/2012 at 10:21 AM

This is a genealogical tree and as such the birth names should be entered. It does not help to disentangle lines when people put it women under married names either of a current husband or of previous ones!! Nicknames should be put in quotes or in background notes not used in the main tree construction either. For example. David Jones and Mary Buttersmith are easier to agree on and more revealing than David and Mary Jones and what about David Jones and Mary Little (widow of Horatio Little) when her maiden name Buttersmith can be found and easily connect several trees..as the partner each of her husbands separately, with her descendants by each! This is particularly important when generations get tangled because of similar names occuring in children named for parents or when sons marry wives with a common first name as say, their mother . David Jones and Mary Jones might have a daughter Mary Jones and a son David Jones jr who marrys a Mary Signut who would be also listed as Mary Jones wife of David Jones so one would have three Mary Jones instead of two with maiden names to distinguish them and a Mary maiden-name Jones so maiden names have to be the listed name in the tree. Obviously if Mary B. Jones liked a nickname " Mims" one can have that in notes but not replace Mary on the tree. Not everyone might recognize it as the same Mary Jones as in another tree.

5/5/2012 at 10:40 AM

The cultural differences are very significant, and in an environment like Geni we're sensing this more than anywhere else.
From a pure practical view, I can only agree with Wendy. Even if some countries do have the legal practice where women automatically get the husband's name, it is an absolute nightmare on Geni, and the cause of so many merge errors. Personally, when I touch upon American trees, I run away because my brain can't cope with the notion of couple having the same surname ;-) Very hard to work with.
But yes, please, let's all respect each other's cultural differences.
On a side note, if you happen to touch upon New Amsterdam profiles in the 17th century, please respect the Dutch customs and don't forcefully change the ladies' surnames! :-)
I'm currently working a lot around Austrian, German, Eastern European profiles between 1700-1900, and there again it would be so nice if we could just have ladies keep their surnames. It's a huge puzzle to find people's origins, and the only way to discover their origins is through their name at birth :-)

5/5/2012 at 11:10 AM

Ah cultural differences again George! You forget that in Colonial America and the United States, there often enough are no birth records and never were. There is however a much better body of evidence for death records.

The Master Profile tool is assisting in keeping persons of similar names, dates and locations disambiguated and distinct.

5/5/2012 at 11:14 AM

Wendy I enter names according to source data and in every case I know the birth surname it is entered in that field. If that's the name you'd rather see in your tree in all cases - which ignores our Angicized name immigrant male ancestors - go to:


Select "name preferences" and choose your display options.

5/5/2012 at 11:32 AM

Please notice the the field is "Last Name" not married name.

Names change from the bith name to the last name sometimes by marrage, sometimes by legal action and sometimes to hide themselves.

A person who left europe under the name Schwartz duing 1941 and spoke good english might change his name to jones and pretend he is anything other than german. The same applies to all the years leading up to the states forming. A English man in french teritory might change his name to sound french.

Using both fields links these changes.. If a name does not change both fields will be the same.. if they do change then the correct name needs to be input into the field so a correct match can br found.

5/5/2012 at 1:18 PM

A lot is to be said which is apparent in ths discussion. Probarbly it's because the traditions have not been stable. Therer has been local traditions, different fashion, personal wishes and different rules or even laws.

The first Name Law in Sweden came in the beginning of 1900:s. In all languages we use different words to show our values of people and things. Women has formally always in some kind been treated either as a daughter to a man or a sister, if there is no father (or grandfather), to a male sibbling or if married as a kind of belonging to the husband. That's the economic perspective and shows from the foundation human values.

At the same time men among themselves have had to deal with the problem hos to value each other. One way is to show the importance of oneself by choosing an, in that language, impressive 'name'. Or a title. The noble people did not like that common people started to take names and build families with family-names. "People could think they have values they don't deserve/earn and give a wrong impression compared to me/us who are a Real King, Duke, Sir, Baron ..." The noble people opposed to changing the traditions. And then we had the Name Law in Sweden.

In the same era the western world had Queen Victoria and women hade to be treated less important (since they had said they are even as important as men) and on the invitation ticket it was written 'Mrs Gustaf Larsson" if she was invited herself. If she and the husband was invited together it said "Mr/Sir/Herr/Dr/Col/Sgt/Rev Gustaf Larsson with wife". It said what dress should be worn by telling "Taxedo" or something else and all the females knew exactly what to were when it was told what the husband should wear. If he changed wife one did not need to learn the new wifes name.

Among women the values was made up between the women depending on the husbands value. She used his name and that was the name that was used by others.

These name discussions here on Geni do have to include these facts as well as criminals in Sweden do get help to change name by the governement. A convicted man has one name when i walks into the prison and within the first year or so he has a new name. It's aloud in Sweden to change name three times. It's not necessary that women "take" the husbands name any more. He can take hers.

But the biggest problem on Geni I think is that we have statesments that people "don't have names". There could easliy be some more "name"-boxes made, each and everyone able to be in the search result. A minor problem, but a problem, is all the professions or titles in the namefields. Noone is baptised "Rev., Sir, Baron, Count, King ..." It's like putting Miss or Mrs in front of every female name.

Naming is a dynamic thing to do.

5/5/2012 at 5:00 PM

The many and varied posts describing various cultural norms are very interesting to read but only serve to highlight the fact that there is no single solution that will be acceptable to all cultures.
I received a personal message that suggested the solution is dependent on the nature of Geni, is Geni a genealogical tool or a family history site?
Despite the high quality and professionalism of many of the users i think the evidence supports the opinion that Geni is a family history site, or at least that was the original intent when it was set up.
Consider how a user first interacts with the Geni site, they are asked for their name and DOB, then their parents names and DOBs and grandparents, etc. New users are introduced via their own family and it's traditions, there is no Mission Statement, there is no explanation that the site is configured to match some particular set of Rules of Genealogy. Such an introduction would potentially alienate far too many new customers and at the end of the day Geni is a commercial endeavour.
So if Geni is a family history site we must accept all cultural variations as valid, where this causes conflict due to overlapping trees in different formats... too bad.

Private User
5/5/2012 at 5:12 PM

Alex, this is the best summary I have heard so far

5/5/2012 at 5:23 PM

Alex, your right. Just because I say the name should be this and you say the name is that.. it does not mean one of us is wrong and the other right. It is very possile that we're both right and we just have to allow for the dif. Just stick to what is in a good source and if you clash with someone, work it out for that profille.
Remember, one rule will never cover all cases, something will alway "break" the rule.

5/5/2012 at 5:31 PM

Okay, i'm going to unfollow this discussion before anyone disagrees with me! : )

Maybe rvk was wrong yesterday:
"I have a suspicion it never occurred to them that other cultures might have other customs..."
Perhaps Geni did realise the issue but perhaps they also realised there is no real solution?

Private User
5/5/2012 at 5:44 PM

I know I'm late to the party but I think the standardization of names is important. If a person doing their own tree does not care to join the world tree or they are only interested in the "family history" aspect, they can do it however they want. But if they want to merge with the rest of the site, there should be some form of guidance as to how to fill out records. This would be more of an advanced process, maybe after enough people in the tree or after being active for a period of time. The way I have been "correcting" merges and conflicts is one First name, the rest in the middle name and last name being their married or current last name. The birth surname being their last name at birth, which should be the father's last name or combo of mother and father's last name. The way I've always understood genealogy to work is that females are listed by birth name regardless of number of marriages to keep that person's identity intact. Nicknames should be included in the "Also known as" space since that name only means something to the immediate family that used it.

Private User
5/5/2012 at 6:02 PM

why not only two different places to put names in: one for your biological father's and one for the names of the owner of the whomb you are constructed in? And one maybe in case you don't know the names of one or both your parents and need a way to documentate you adopting parents? Or does that make it even more complicated? I am glad I only have DNA from two different lines, so I would like to know names of both inputs immediatedly and the parents'names of my husbands are only of importances to the mix of DNA we might have made...

5/5/2012 at 6:18 PM

We do have suggested naming guidelines for many areas in the tree and welcome more, discussed in this project


Note the front page comments from Geni.

We also have a community wiki:


5/5/2012 at 6:26 PM

But jMu what is the name of the "owner of the womb"?
is it her name when she was born, or when you were born or when she died? For some people the name of the owner of the womb never changes, others think that it changes if she gets married, more than once if she remarries. That was my original question but the question evolves to include men who change names, also there are famous people known to more than one culture.

5/5/2012 at 6:54 PM

There are many cultures where naming is dynamic through life - and also again to history. What is Shakespeare's name? He wrote it many different ways himself and sometimes varying on the same page. Yet historians "normalized" the name spelling to a more modern "just call me Will" Shakespeare.

We are fortunate that we have so many more naming fields available in a database, and perhaps more to come. So it's agreeing, in a part of the tree, on the convention and logic to use.

I think we're actually not far apart from each other at all. To be honest it's the spelling variations that make me crazy.:)

5/6/2012 at 2:00 AM

The "European geneaological standard" differs in the north and south of Europe. These standards were taken to America I belive.

As for the "feministic view" we are closer to southern european traditions than tho the north, as every child in Spain had both the fathers and the mothers last name. The names change by that in most every generation.

The name is extreamaly close to identity for the person. Many feministic active persons say today "it's wrong to change your birthname", so in Sweden we today have a new Name Law. When, if, married the couple tell the gouvernement what name or names they will use after the marriage. When, if, children are born the parents tell the governement which of these names the children will carry on as its family name. If the parents are not married the gouvernemnt will give the child the mothers name if the parents don't tell the governement that the fathers name will be the name given to the child.

This is a big change to genealogy whit a "standard" qutie far from the "routine" to be able to read from the fathers and the husbands names and thereby follow women.

It's a surprise to me that e.g. in the Geni project about Mormones the naming of the wifes are so far from the traditional and biblical way. It's said in the book of Moses that when a man marry he leaves his childhood family and build a new family. There a nothing special said about the wife, but she leaves her parents and become a "part of" the man/husband. If she keeps her birthname from her father she will be the only person in the new family not carrying the new family name. She will not , as in Spain, give anything else but DNA maybe?

I've now seen that many Geni-users put in the mothers birthfamily's Surname as a middlename. Has that ever been in use in USA??

I belive Erica's earlier statement about that in USA anglosaxian/english Law and traditions was the case. And also I belive that the spelling problems are more serious to Geni. (Beside all these titles!)

5/6/2012 at 3:17 AM

Dutch law allows one of the partners in a marriage to take the name of the other. This holds for the man and the woman in a heterosexual marriage as in any other marriage (man-man, woman-woman).
This is optional, not mandatory.
The term "maiden name" is changed to "birth name".
For children in a marriage or legal partnership the same choices can be made: the name of any of the two partners can be used as the birth name.

Private User
5/6/2012 at 4:00 AM

To all,
I know this is a topic that has been running, debating, caused very ill feelings between curators, friends and family. In South Africa, you normally take on the husbands surname, but you can also make a double surname, like in my case Marais-Meyer. Woman can even keep there own surnames and sometimes the male takes on the female surname - family matters,
Since the start of civilisation in SA - white and coloured - the woman was know by her husband's name but on all her childrens baptism records she is written down by het maiden name. Even so late as in 2009 my granddaughters mom is shown as Krugel and not Meyer.
Main sources I would say is that as this is a genealogical site, we should all try and stay as close as the rules of the countries genealogical patern is concerned. In SA and I am sure in a lot of countries, I only know of USA and UK it is the same.
But the start this debate again I would rather state my problems that I have when giving a woman a merried name other than in the aslo known as colomn. Due to the name given way it is certainly better to correctly identify a Anna Susanna Marais X to Johannes du Plessis, as there are 100% of them and not the same person.
I do hope you understand my dilemma. I am battling for the 1000 time to correct my Marais tree when trying to add my husbands sister in law, who is also a Marais, but not family of mine, because of the simple fact that a wrong merge were done and now I can't add the correct parents - the father was married twice and only 1 of his 13 children had the second wife as a mother.
And the reason for battling is also again the same problem- locked and persanal tree -"Contact the manager" who never comes back.

Private User
5/6/2012 at 5:48 AM

In a genealogical family tree, Mother's names are supposed to be listed by their birth name, it is assumed that they took the husband's name (the man they are linked to for children). If they didn't take husband's name, it doesn't matter for a family tree or genealogy. Geni has made the basic means for tracking ancestors more difficult by putting the current last name as the listed name. If I'm looking for a great grandmother in your tree by her birth name and you have her listed by her married name, a connection is not made. Geni does a good job in making suggestions based on surrounding family members but I think a standard should be promoted to put everyone on the same path. Everybody from my mother's side is from either Curacao or Aruba and I have 100's of cousins down there so I have links all over geni, the names get up to 5 and 6 long, so it's a little confusing as to how the names are constructed sometimes.

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