Use of Married Names in Britain and on the Continent

Started by Sharon Doubell on Thursday, September 20, 2012
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9/20/2012 at 2:11 AM

June & I are looking for info on dates from which married names apply on British and European profiles.
Can curators from those areas add into this project, the guideline dates you use to decide when/ if married names legally do and do not apply, and should. should not be entered?

9/20/2012 at 3:05 AM


'Haar officiële naam verandert in Nederland echter niet, in officiële registers blijft het dus Julia de Boer, eventueel met de toevoeging e.v. (echtgenote van) Van der Meulen.'


In Belgium, a woman must use her birth name for official purposes and will use her birth name for most private purposes too.


Since the 1789 Revolution, the law stipulates that "no one may use another name than that given on his birth certificate"


Only since the beginning of the 20th century has it been common in Scandinavia for women to take their husband's last name.'

9/20/2012 at 5:20 AM

I don't understand Private User

9/20/2012 at 5:36 AM

Thanks Private, that's helpful - so we're looking for Curators and users who work in those areas in Geni, to confirm the rough date at which you NEVER fill in married names (or you feel it is correct to delete them, to put it another way.)

In France, apparently it is never used Flemming Allan Funch?

In Scandinavia, not before the 20thC - Private User?

In England and the Commonwealth Countries - what cut off date are you using as a rule of thumb, Terry Jackson (Switzer); Erica Howton Justin Swanstrom?

We're not asking for hard and fast rules; we just realised that there is no guideline for outsiders to figure out what rule of thumb is being adhered to by curators/users working regularly in those areas.

Private User
9/20/2012 at 6:06 AM

For the Netherlands I never fill in a married name as per notes from Jansi.

For personal reasons I do not fill them in for Ireland and the United Kingdom either. The women were born with their own name and I like to go by names on birth certificates.

So for me birth surnames only for all profiles

9/20/2012 at 7:16 AM

I don't know what the modern customs are in Europe but I just did a conflict resolve in the USA which gave a woman her married name. This brought up a link to her on Find A Grave which wasn't there before. From this I was able to cut off a wrong set of parents and add data including her grave stone. Of course this doesn't work for multiple marriages unless you use her last married name. It also works for the Mormon pioneers.

9/20/2012 at 7:18 AM

In Hungary order of name
*First in the family (last) name,
**followed by the first name.
We have rumors that the wife takes the husband's last name.
My wife was born as Teleki Zsófia, now her name is Farkasné Teleki Zsófia. (Mrs. Farkas, Zsófia Teleki)
My mother, born as Kuharszky Éva even the more common version used (after my father, Farkas Mihály) the married name she used Farkas Mihályné (Mrs. Michael Farkas). 40-50 years permitted by law, the spouses are free to choose their family name from the marriage (or from any official change of name).
My name could Farkas Teleki Mihály or also Teleki Farkas Mihály.

In my opinion, it will be appropriate to the original maiden (family) name is entered in the Geni
Mihály Farkas

9/20/2012 at 8:16 AM

Thanks guys. I soo badly am not wanting to get into the 'whether we should use married names on Geni', debate. We all know that leads nowhere; and by now we all know what we all think. (I'm with Eldon, for exactly his reasons; but for users from countries where women do not use married names at all it is understandable that there seems little benefit in that.)

9/20/2012 at 8:17 AM


I can't promise that my rule of thumb makes any sense. I operate from two core principles: (1) I want to accomodate married names that can be proved, and (2) I want to accomodate other users who have different opinions about best practices.

What I do, very generally, is leave married names in place but not add them.

A little more specifically, for any profile before about 1600 I delete married names, unless I see real, direct evidence to support them. A caution here: I do not believe that "Mary, wife of Joseph Greene" is proof that she used a married name. Maybe it is, but I reserve judgment.

One pet peeve I have is the medieval profiles that describe women as "Queen Consort of England". To me, that's just tarting up the tree. Just as odd as using married names. But, I don't delete those. Some people just have to have as many titles in their tree as they can pack in.

On British, US and Canadian profiles between about 1600 and 1900, I add married names if the surrounding profiles have them. The law required married women to use a married name, so I don't need any further proof that they complied.

On Scandinavian profiles, I never use a married name, unless they came to America. I delete those before about 1900 (unless I see real evidence). After 1900, it's fact-specific. You have to know whether the particular woman used one or not. Probably about 1900-1970 they did, but most of my living cousins there do not. Since our Scandinavian users are widely agree not to use married names in Geni, I follow their advice -- but I don't delete them if I find them.

9/20/2012 at 8:17 AM

I’m pointing out that,
given the current circumstances of Geni actually providing a “married’’ surname field;
we still don’t have a guideline for common country-by-country practice of WHAT DATE IT BECOMES SIMPLY AN HISTORICAL IMPOSSIBILITY FOR A WOMAN TO HAVE HAD A MARRIED NAME.
(Caps for bold, not shouting :-)

-In France it may never be a possibility
-But in Scandinavia it is a possibility in the 20th Century
-In the Commonwealth – is it as early as the 1600s that some women use married names – or is the cut-off date closer to the 1800s?

Especially in resolving Data Conflicts, this is information that would be useful for everyone to have – especially for countries where we all share ancestors.

9/20/2012 at 8:19 AM

Ah, @Justin, we cross-posted. That is such useful info, thank you.

9/20/2012 at 8:24 AM

FARKAS Mihály László - the situation in SA is similar , but only when it comes to women, who may legally use either surname. Most women legally change their names to their husband's, but some of us - like me - keep our birth surnames.

9/20/2012 at 8:32 AM

Private User, I agree about your preference for the Spanish way. My daughter, who decided to legally use both her mother and her father's birth surnames, is Shay Doubell-Robins. She is planning to marry a Portuguese guy, who is also named from both parents: Nuno Carrapichano Palmeira. The surnames of their children?? :-)

9/20/2012 at 8:45 AM

However, the focus of concern here is the insensitivity and offensiveness of us deleting married names off the profiles of women whose identities may well have been linked to them.

Whether or not you were born with one name, and assumed another when you married at 18 in Britain in the 1700's, if you died at 90, you would have have spent your entire adult life with another surname than your birth surname. That would be who you thought of yourself as, NOT your birth name.

Now for me as a curator or a new joint manager on the profile, to suddenly delete the married name of this woman causes a lot of quite justified offense.

(It's probably just as irritating as it is to me to find someone has 'given' me my husband's surname, to find that someone has deleted your / your great granny's legal surname off their profile.)

I'm trying to get us to put down a reference for when and where married names were simply not used by anyone at all. Because on those profiles it is possible to remove the married name (or preference the profile in the data conflict that doesn't have it) , without being offensive.

9/20/2012 at 8:48 AM

cross posting again, sorry. Yes, good idea for my grandchildren's surname :-)

9/20/2012 at 9:07 AM


For your very specific purposes -- when is it impossible that there was a married name? -- I do not think we can rule out married names in England even from the very beginning of surnames, say 1200.

It's unusual to find a document that names a married woman clearly with a married name (rather than "wife of"), but widows routinely appear with married names from the earliest times. Once in awhile it's not the surname of their most recent husband, but those are oddities.

Also, in Switzerland and France, even Scandinavia, from the 1200s I've often seen widows, and sometimes married women, with married names.

You might end up exploring differences in social class and region, as well as just modern countries. For example, the few cases I've seen in Scandinavia have been noble women whose husbands actually had a hereditary surname, unlike those who had only a patronymic. The cases I've seen in France and Germany have been peasants.

9/20/2012 at 9:09 AM

And cross posting again: @rvk Dunno if that's a good thing or a bad thing?
Deleting people's granny's surnames does tend to offend them - often that's the surname they knew her by; or it's the dynastic link with their own surname. You don't want to be on the other end of a Geni user whose had a legitimate name deleted. It's ugly ;-)

As to my grandchildren - I (jokingly) suggested that if it was a girl it took the two granny's surnames; and if it was a boy, it took the two grandfather's :-) I think they've decided not to have children to avoid thinking about it any further. :-)

9/20/2012 at 9:11 AM

Justin Swanstrom good point - but rules of thumbs that ignore the exceptional cases, are still better than just sucking thumb ;-)

9/20/2012 at 9:11 AM

LOL. Sharon, I'm with you on that one. The women I know are pretty opinionated about their names. I'm not going to be the one to tell them that we've made a rule it's not really their name because it makes the tree untidy ;)

9/20/2012 at 9:18 AM

Sharon, rules of thumb. If you want to ask "when is it impossible?" then you have to allow for the exceptions, at least to a greater extent than if you asking asking "when is it usual?"

I would venture to say that married names are usual in England from the 1200s, and usual among French and German peasants also from the 1200s. I would have to check, but I also think married names were usual among Swedish noblewomen when their husbands had genuine surnames.

(Don't be fooled by the distinction between married women and widows -- that's only relevant because we are more likely to see widows acting on their own.)

Also, I should clarify that Scottish practice was not the same as English. In the Scottish highlands, as opposed to the Lowlands, married women are routinely called by their maiden names in legal documents down to the 19th century and the wider adoption of English practice.

Private User
9/20/2012 at 9:19 AM

I prefer to work with maiden names but will never delete a married name in someone else's profile, only work this way with the profiles I create myself and would even consider adding the married name if requested by someone.
There is NO rule and the married name field is there ,the way I see it both ways are optional for everyone.

Sharon, regarding Israel, that would be an impossible question to answer. The "Israel" you see today is a relatively new entity.

There is NOT even a typical Jewish practice. In Western Europe Jews typically followed the local practice, i.e. surnames in general being introduced following Napoleon's census laws, and these being adopted across Europe. In many countries, especially East Europe, a different set of laws were applied to Jews, who often "didn't exist" officially, so people didn't bother with surnames at all.
Sephardi Jewish families, especially those who can trace themselves all the way back to 11-15th centuries in Spain, Greece or Italy, tended to have family names from that early time, long before most Jews did.

In general, surnames were treated as an exterior imposition, and thus taken much less seriously, so [when mentioned at all] tended to stick with the married name. Seriously, unless they are 20th century or later, more often than not, I won't even KNOW the surname of notable people.

In a few cases the married name was that of the WIFE, if this was of specific importance.

9/20/2012 at 10:59 AM

Such fascinating data here. Thank you for contributing, guys

@Shmuel, what is the 20th Century practice?

Justin Swanstrom - yes, I suppose we will be producing a 'what is usual' guideline, you're right.

9/20/2012 at 2:25 PM

Sharon if I may post my experience?

- On Geni for my ancestry in USA I use "name at birth" and "name at death," and for precisely the reason Eldon illustrated. It is MUCH easier to find and document the lady using this method, particularly now that we have "external record matches.". And it is very difficult to keep similarly named ladies distinct without the two fields.

- for Scotland I leave "as found on Geni" except more "noble" lines, when I follow historian usage. Thank you Justin for the further clarification of Lowlands vs Highlands. Hard to tell that until sourcing - but if it's my line it's Lowlands / Borders.

- for England I leave as found on Geni. When sourcing however, and that's mostly from will data, I have always found the source to use the married name.

9/20/2012 at 2:33 PM

In norwegian genealogy maiden name is always used as standard, no matter what time we are talking about.

The first norwegian naming law came in 1923. Before that there was no law regarding names in Norway. So before 1923 everyone should use their maiden name.

In real life Norway there was a gliding change from using maiden names to using married names from approx. 1880 in the cities (approx. 1900 in the rural areas), but there are also examples of maiden name use into the 1920's.

The law from 1923 has had many revisions up till todays law from 2002. Last revision is from 2007.

Today (by new naming law from 2002) you can basically do allmost everything you want. No rules regarding maiden names.

9/21/2012 at 1:04 AM

No question @Remi & Erica Howton - the Birth Name must ALWAYS be filled in, and never messed with.

But, when choosing between Data Conflict info, or deleting ahistorical married names as a new manager on a profile:
a general rule of thumb for Norway would then be: don't delete the ADDITIONAL info of the married name, if the profile is younger than 1880 - because it may be historically accurate.
If older than 1880, you can remove it (with a message to the managers), because it is likely to be an error.

9/21/2012 at 1:13 AM

How would you handle the case of born in Norway, died in USA?

9/21/2012 at 1:18 AM

No question @Remi & Erica Howton - the Birth Name must ALWAYS be filled in, and never messed with.

But, when choosing between Data Conflict info, or deleting ahistorical married names as a new manager on a profile:
a general rule of thumb for Norway would then be: don't delete the ADDITIONAL info of the married name, if the profile is younger than 1880 - because it may be historically accurate.
If older than 1880, you can remove it (with a message to the managers), because it is likely to be an error.

Private User
9/21/2012 at 1:31 AM

Sharon: If you follow the most important rule: Don't fabricate facts, there should not be any reason to discuss this as a "problem".

If you don't have any sources telling that a married name was used you should not fabricate it even if it is in an area where is was a tradition.

Remember that even in the US immigrants follow(ed) their old traditions, even if you might find official papers forcing another name on the women, - but they never used it them self.

It's opposite as well, - the Norwegian legislation and traditions as Remi refers to can only be used as a guideline when looking for sources. You should never use it to fabricate facts.

I once used the opposite rule of always using the patronymic birth name in the last name field for women born before 1880 until I discovered that my great grandmother Sara Brink Brox already in the 1865 census was listed with her fathers patronymic name Olsen (traditionally meaning the son of Ole) instead of a patronymic name based on her fathers first name, Hansdatter (daughter of Hans), and already in the 1875 census she is listed with a married name, - both traditions that officially started 50 years later.

In the other end my wife's oldest aunt born 1937 is listed in the early sources as Halvorsdotter, a patronymic name based on her fathers first name, a tradition that officially ended in 1923.

Genealogically the birth name should always be used in the main fields, where documented married name(s) should go into an alternative names section with more details like a from-to range,- if just Geni would give us an option for that.

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