The decision to change one’s name upon marriage is a foregone conclusion for many people. However, the reasons for taking the family name of one’s spouse don’t seem to have a lot of weigh in today’s world. In our contemporary social media-driven consumer culture, a person’s name appears to take on a kind of “brand value.”
Professionals, social media influences, Youtube stars, might be using their legal name. Many professionals who prioritize their career aspirations have probably built a decent amount of goodwill behind their name. So, for them, changing your name because of marriage isn’t something they would casually accept.
This may seem like an unnecessary decision, but a legal name change affects a wide range of things in a person’s life. So, how did this predicament start?
What’s In a Name?
In English tradition, surnames were less of a person’s identity than their “Christian name” or “first name.” Surnames were a way to distinguish like-named individuals from each other. Such names often signaled to people a person’s lineage, class, or occupation. Many English surnames today come from this tradition, such as Smith, Baker, Fisher, Cooper, Mason, Shepherd and more.
We can thank the English common law doctrine known as “coverture” for such marital names. Under the doctrine of coverture, husband and wife were considered to be a single legal entity. Wives, having merged with their husbands, would then assume his surname as theirs.
The doctrine of coverture fell by the wayside as women fought for more civil rights. Although the notion that marriage unifies the parties as one entity is undoubtedly romantic, the doctrine of coverture was a source of oppression for women, preventing them from transacting business through contracts, engaging in litigation, and owning real estate. Coverture was also the basis for not recognizing interspousal rape, since it would be legally impossible for someone to rape themselves.
Virginia Law on Maiden Name Use
Virginia Code § 8.01-217 governs legal name changes. A person can effect a legal name change if they submit a name change application to the Circuit Court to determine if good cause exists to grant the request under the circumstances.
When it comes to the use of maiden names during the marriage, Virginia courts have interpreted state law to allow such use if:
- No fraud is being perpetrated
- The husband consents
- Minor children will use the husband’s family name
Courts impose these criteria to minimize any disruptive effect on the family. This reasoning has been applied to restrict a parent’s decision to change their children’s surnames as well. Divorcees are not authorized to change their children’s names to match their new spouse’s surname. Virginia courts have held that the children have an interest in maintaining a strong relationship with their divorced father.
Given the somewhat arcane history behind the tradition of changing one’s name upon marriage, it can be hard for some contemporary adults to see any practical benefit to propagating the tradition. In fact, more and more people are breaking from that tradition, as more women are keeping their family names, and husbands are gradually assuming their wives’ surnames. The gender-centric aspect of this issue doesn’t provide any meaningful guidance to same-sex couples as well.
Ultimately, there aren’t many legal obstacles against breaking from tradition. The best you can do is make the decision that is most sensible to your circumstances. If keeping your family name makes good business sense, then marriage shouldn’t have to negatively impact your business goodwill. A couple could decide to use a completely different surname altogether. Culture, career, or your personal sense of romance can all play a part in the decision.
Consult Malinowski Hubbard for Legal Advice
If you have a legal concern regarding marriage, divorce, or another family law issue, you should contact an experienced attorney from Malinowski Hubbard for legal counsel. Our legal team has more than half a century’s worth of collective legal experience regarding family law issues, including name changes. You can count on us to protect and preserve you and your family’s legal rights and interests.
Call Malinowski Hubbard at (703) 935-4222 or contact us online today.