Women Taking Husbands' Names Discussion/April 1998


Women Taking Husbands' Names Discussion/April 1998


[Responses from original query re: Name of Mrs. John Milholland, Now "Women Taking Husbands' Names"]

From Kimberley Weathers kweathers@bmc.tmc.edu 22 April 1998

As a woman who believes that feminism=freedom to make our own choices, I take umbrage at the idea that by taking my husband's name I am erasing myself from history. On an emotional level, I feel that if love him enough to bear his children, I can also bear his name with pride. Professionally, he is intimately involved in my work as I am, and my achievements are as much his as they are mine. Even a suffragette can see this issue the way I do.

From JoAnn Castagna joann-castagna@uiowa..edu 22 April 1998

Re: Heide Campbell-Shoaf's comments:
>It is ironic that a suffragist would opt to use her husband's name... >I find it interesting how many women today...use that method... >not seeming to realize that they are...erasing themselves from >history.

But I am wondering if this is really true, especially historically. It may be that the signal of connection to an "important" man helps to preserve some information, papers, etc. that might have otherwise been discarded or just not noticed. It seems to me undeniable that some sorts of access to power were (even are) eased by the "signal" of one's name. It is pretty clear from any survey of local newspaper wedding announcements that it is still a radical act for a woman to "keep" her original surname after marriage. (Not to mention that marriage itself continues to be a way to establish one's "legitimacy" in the wider world--something I am reminded of often, as a 20-year partner in a non-marriage relationship.)

From Julie A. Charlip charlija@whitman.edu 23 April 1998

Like others who have responded, my husband and I kept our own last names--I was 30 years old, a committed feminist, and a published journalist with a large clip file under my name.

But when our daughter was born, she was given both names--Charlip as a middle name, as a last name. I was intrigued by Catherine & Peter Fosl's choice to combine their names into a new last name. We had actually joked about our options along those lines: Charquist or Bloomlip. The problem, of course, besides some very funny names, is that you lose the family history and ethnicity that is imbedded in a name. I want Delaney to be both a Charlip and a Bloomquist, with all that conveys, despite the problems of constantly setting people straight.

Academically, I am grateful that I do my work in Latin America, where people routinely carry both parents' surnames and women add their husbands names to their own, if they take the name at all.

From Lori Askeland askeland@eagle.cc.ukans.edu 23 April 1998

Just for a little levity here and then my take on this decision in contemporary times: I kept my family name when I got married 10 years ago, since my spouse and I were going to grad school and I knew I wanted to retain my own identity in any professional setting we might end up in, especially possibly teaching together at the same institution. But my family had never heard of such a thing. They asked: "what will you name your children?" I couldn't quite confess to my parents that I wasn't even sure I wanted to have children, so my husband took to answering "we'll let them find their own names." Ironically, that's precisely what happened: we became the guardians of my nieces who, in fact, came with their own names intact, and we had no reason to disrupt the identity that their name signified: their lives had been disrupted; their name symbolized a kind of continuity that was important to them--not to mention that lots of documents also used their names to trace their movements, so changing it would have been complex.

So my mother now avoids writing any last name on letters addressed to our family--and the USPS has no trouble with a list of four first names. And, in terms of schools, although the forms we fill out don't quite address our situation, and I frequently have to write little explanatory notes, in my experience the schools have been used to dealing with families separated by divorce and united by different names, so teachers are rarely bewildered by the hodgepodge of names in our family (I sometimes use one and then the academic convention of "et al." in informal settings); most people take it all pretty much in stride, and I'm not bothered when I'm called Mrs. whatever--I correct it only when it seems appropriate, helpful.

And, finally, while I agree and understand that you're almost certain to end up with a father's name in keeping your "maiden" name, my thinking was (as we drove to the county court house to get the license lo these many years ago and I was reading Simone de Beauvoir's THE SECOND SEX): do I want to mark this marriage as _the_ defining moment of my adult life, or do I want to let something else, like getting a PhD provide that kind of name (or at least title) changing marker? So I chose the latter (although I don't generally sign myself "Dr." or ",PhD"). It was helpful to me not to change the name, because of who I was at that time, and it helped me establish goals, and assert an independence of identity, which the capitulating, conforming, eager-to-please side of my young personality _really_ needed at that point. Maybe not everyone really needs that, but I did. (It also didn't hurt that I liked my name, my dad, and my grandpa, etc).

Anyway, all this naming stuff, and living in a nontraditional family has suggested to me quite strongly that personal history as much as anything determines identity in our identity-driven culture,and at a very profound level it is the most important element to use in making decisions about who you are and what family you "belong" to, and how/whether you want to mark your membership to outsiders, and whether you're willing to pay the price associated with whatever decision you reach in this regard. And they all have a price attached. So I won't presume to tell people what to do!

Well, that's probably more than my $.02 worth . . . P.S. thanks to all those who reminded us just how deep the "Mrs. Joe Blow" convention went, and helping define more exactly its legal/cultural standing.

From Ruby Rohrlich rohrlich@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 23 April 1998

If you have such an egalitarian relationship with your husband, why not have him take your name, as well as your taking his name? Also the word "suffragette" is a diminution of the word "suffragist," which means a woman fighting for women voting. The "ette" ending generally means something smaller, as in the word "kitchenette."

From Elizabeth Ann Pagel eapagel@wam.umd.edu 23 April 1998

Won't you be bearing "your" children, not just his? Isn't it a partnership (marriage, parenthood, etc)? Theoretically, you both should have a name that combines your identities, not favors one or eliminates the other.

From Kif Augustine Adams adamsk@lawgate.byu.edu 23 April 1998

The meaning and impact of women's naming choices, at marriage and = otherwise, is culturally contingent. For those interested in feminism and = women's naming choices, I have an article looking at these issues in = historical context and from various cultural perspectives forthcoming in = the Southern California Review of Law and Women's Studies. See "The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call Things by Their Right Names" in the Fall = 1997 issue(which should finally, finally, finally be out in mid-May).

From Kolleen M. Guy kguy@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu 23 April 1998

It has been interesting to read the varied responses of women on this list to the name issue. I think that discussion participants are correct to point out that naming practices are not the same in Europe as they are in the United States. I study a rural community in northern France where married couples who owned land would hyphenate their last names in order to avoid confusion on land-holding records and during harvests throughout the nineteenth century. Their children, however, would often take only the father's name (although this was not always the case). I wonder to what extent the name issue is not determined by region or class or race in the United States. Did working-class women, for example, call themselves "Mrs. Joe Worker"?

From Peter S. Fosl fosl@diana. hollins.edu 23 April 1998

Dear Friends on the List,

About this name thing: First, I'd like to remind Ms. Weathers that they are your children, too. I'd also like to point out the way in which taking a male spouse's name aligns one with the tradition of coverture--that is the legal covering (indeed in many ways annihilating) of a woman by her "husband" upon entering the legal institution of marriage.

My spouse and I did not--for better or worse--eschew legal marriage. We did, however, take a whack at the name issue by changing our surnames altogether: Hence, Peter Wasel and Catherine Foster became Catherine Fosl and Peter Fosl. This has allowed us to use a common name to help create family unity. The main problem is those who didn't know us before simply assume she took my name. I'd be curious to see what the rest of y'all think about this strategy.

From Max Dashu maxdashu@lanminds.com 23 April 1998

Peter Fosl has hit on the crux of this issue: the long history of couverture, or "woman covered by man." A huge body of patriarchal custom was built upon this concept, including the loss of all personal and property rights of the woman.

To those who ask what the difference is between using the father's name and taking the husband's, there's a difference. Girls grow up with the patronym as their identity, the name they are known by and answer to, but this identity is seen as malleable, unlike male identity. Taking their husband's name renders them unrecognizable and often unfindable to old schoolmates or whoever. The culture teaches women to conflate loving their husband with subsuming their own identity, while few men would dream of proving their love for their wives in this way. (Well done, Peter.)

Meanwhile, the custom of naming after the father persists as the dominant model, anyway. Another alternative to hyphenated names, but one that is not often considered, is naming the children with the mother's last name. This often gets a strong reaction, though, as being unjust to the father. Matrilineage is still unthinkable within the dominant culture. Different standards for goose and gander are very ingrained indeed. It's worth pointing out that even in strongly patrilineal cultures like the Arab or Chinese, women keep their birth names.

From Barb Freeman freeman@ccs.carleton.ca 23 April 1998

Can't resist -- do we take husband's names, or keep our father's names? What might be an interesting research topic for someone is to examine women in history -- even recent "women's lib" history -- who invented new last names for themselves, or just decided to use one name, or used their mother's last names (which were also their maternal grandfather's names....), or named themselves after goddesses. In my time, I have met Moss, Sky, Mountain, Tamarack, Artemis, Kate Nonsuch, Susan Margaret and several others. Is there a tradition that goes back further than recent history among women for renaming themselves, married or not? Aside from writers who invented pen names?

The point is -- what's in a name historically? As someone who studies media coverage of women's issues in history, I was fascinated to see this debate come up in 1968 in Canada -- before "Ms." was invented. One woman suggested at a public federal inquiry into the status of women that women should be called "Mistrix", among other possibilities. The media, of course, thought that was very funny -- but also inadvertently let Canadian women know that in fact there was no law that said they had to take their husband's names in marriage as was commonly thought at the time.

From Sue Marra Byham byham@chesco.com 23 April 1998

When turn of the century concert pianist Jessie Gregg married the young American composer Edgar Stillman Kelley, she not only took his last name, she took his middle name as well, styling herself Jessie Stillman Kelley. Theirs was a unique partnership with many interesting facets. JSK became a respected international figure in her own right. I've been studying her unpublished autobiographical memoir with the idea of annotating it at some point; I've no doubt the manuscript would not have been so carefully preserved had it been the story of "Jessie Gregg" rather than the story of "Jessie Stillman Kelley." JSK loved her husband; she was also a feminist, and a woman ahead of her time in every sense of the phrase.

From Jeanette Keith keith@planetx.bloomu.edu 23 April 1998

On the etiquette of women taking their husband's full or last names: Emily Post's 1945 edition of _Etiquette_ says "a married woman should always sign a letter to a stranger, a bank, business firm, etc., with her baptismal name, and add, in parentheses, her married name. Thus: Very truly yours, Mary Jones Smith (Mrs. John Smith)."
and "NEVER under any circumstances sign a personal letter..."Mrs." The proper signature for a married woman is "Mary Smith"..."

I think that one's NAME was Mary Jones Smith; Mrs. John Smith was, so to speak, one's title. Those who knew Mary Livermore were therefore following the correct form of etiquette by calling her by her own name, and not her husband's. Historical research would be easier if everyone in the past had followed the above etiquette rules... but they didn't.

BTW, I think Post would find equally pernicious the habit some people have of signing their names today by their title (Dr. Whatever, or Prof. Whosis, PhD.)

Having reclaimed my father's name after a first marriage, I am keeping it in this one, but for reasons that have more to do with convenience and age than feminism: I didn't want to change all the documents again, I have publications under this name, I'm not going to be having children by my current husband, and my father wasn't a jerk. But when people call me Mrs. Allen I rarely correct them-- nor does he when people call him Mr. Keith. Who really cares? The answer of course is, the state of Pennsylvania, which requires married couples who do not have the same last name to file separate tax returns.

From Patricia Lorcin plorci19@idt.net 23 April 1998

> Heidi Campbell-Shoaf wrote:
>>It is ironic that a suffragist would opt to use her husband's name and >>not her own. I always find it interesting how many women today still >>use that method of address not seeming to realize that they are, in >>effect, erasing themselves from history.

In response to Heidi Campbell's original posting and JoAnn Castagana's response... :

Leaving aside specific examples and focusing on the general implications of married women's names :

Is it any less ironic to use one's father's name than one's husband's ?

If it is arguable that by taking their husbands' names women today are "erasing themselves from history" it can also be argued that by keeping their fathers' name women never fully develop their own "history".

Adopting a nom-de-plume, keeping one's maiden name or opting for one's husband's name are choices today's women can make without much social or administrative ado ; itself a result of the women's movement. Is not choice one of our significant gains ? It seems retrograde that this choice should be called into question.

In response to JoAnn Castagna's contention that keeping one's maiden name is still construed as a radical act...it would seem to me that newspaper matrimony columns are hardly the most reliable source from which to draw such a conclusion. I cannot speak for Iowa but there are areas in the world (where the women's movement has made inroads), where keeping one's maiden name, far from being radical, is the legal norm. In many European countries women keep their maiden names for legal and civil purposes throughout their lives (whether or not they chose to adopt their married name socially). Furthermore in some European countries "concubinage" (an unfortunate term which encompasses both heterosexual and homosexual liaisons) and "common-law marriages" benefit from the legal, fiscal and social advantages that "proper" marriages do. All this, and heaven too ! We still have far to go but let's not play down our achievements !

From Cindy Hahamovitch cxhaha@mail.wm.edu 23 April 1998

The province of Quebec now mandates that women keep their "maiden" name when they marry. If you want to "take" your husband's name, you have to file paperwork to do so. It's my understanding that this new law was driven, not by feminist concerns, but by the fact that it was hard for the province to calculate women's social insurance benefits as they got lost in the records.

From Belinda Ray womenshistory.guide@miningco.com 23 April 1998

I must wonder along with JoAnn Castagna if this [contemporary women erasing themselves from history]is indeed true.

Currently, my last name remains as it has always been (Ray), but my twin sons have my husband's surname (Smith). (They have Ray as a middle name. We wanted to avoid making our grandchildrens' surnames too long as a result of multiple hyphenations.)

Already I realize that when they start school--five years from now--I will frequently be referred to as Mrs. Smith, and I know that when I call a teacher with questions and give my last name as Ray, the teacher will have no idea which students are my children. Likewise, if years into the future someone were to work backwards to research our family tree, I wonder if they would have difficulty making the connection from my children to me since we do not share a common surname. Perhaps I'm erasing my place in history by not using the same last name. I certainly hope not, since motherhood is the accomplishment of which I am most proud, and definitely the one for which I want to be remembered.

From Kathleen Underwood kunderwo@UTARLG.UTA.EDU 23 April 1998

This is a response to Belinda Ray's post--

My husband and I made the same choice you have--our son has my surname as his middle name and his father's as his surname--and for exactly the same reason. Moreover, since neither of us was willing to have a hyphenated name, we figured it wasn't fair to give him one. He is now eleven and the name thing has undergone an interesting evolution.

I assumed, wrongly, that because of divorce and remarriage, teachers and others be accustomed to children and mothers having different last names. This has not been the case and it has been a steady, and I will say, largely successful issue we face each year. More problematic, however, is the issue faced by my son in explaining that his parents have different last names, and yes they are his parents. I've let this go with the kids--they are, after all trying to be respectful when they call me Mrs.--but not with the adults. What's changed over the past two years or so, is that as my son's friends get older, and as he reminds them that my name is different (which he sometimes does), and as they hear the teachers call my by my name, they too now call me "Mrs. Underwood," which is probably the best description in their eyes. And as my friends with teenagers tell me, I'll be glad for that respect in the coming years.

From Marianne Briggs jlewis2@nycap.rr.com 23 April 1998

Re: The discussion of the perceived irony of early suffragists taking their husbands' names:

I agree with Kimberley Weathers that feminism=freedom to make our own choices.

Still, as an historian who has often engaged in sleuthing out identities in the selective recording of women's lives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (let alone the twentieth), I would appreciate it if women were, at least, left with their own first name (like Kimberley). That gives me a somewhat stouter thread to follow.

From Lisa A Cochran lcochran@uic.edu 23 April 1998

I don't know what the original query was about, but I often ponder the pros and cons of keeping or changing my last name. I kept my maiden name when I got married 8 years ago and have had mixed feelings about it. While I don't like the idea of the husband's name as a sign of proprietorship over the wife, I also don't like maintaining my father's name because he is, well, a jerk. Either way, it seems, I'm named after men.

From Genevieve G McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 23 April 1998

Using ONLY the husband's name HAS erased from the historical record women about whom we would like to know more but cannot without their birth names (surnames) or even FIRST names (i.e., by the rules of etiquette which at least women in past practiced, "Mrs. Jane Smith" would indicate a divorcee, not a wife or a widow, whether or not she had or has a supportive spouse) to trace their lives prior to marriage. This is not a judgment; it is a reality of research.

A great boon to my work was the 19th-century practice of using both birth and marital surnames -- at least, many women preferred it. But many media still do not (Hillary Rodham Clinton is often given as simply Hillary Clinton, for example). This was true in past, too. So the initiator of the query re Mrs. John Milholland's newspaper work might want to be aware that she may have preferred a different form but acquiesced to an editor. I often found woman journalists used different forms in personal correspondence than in newspapers. That is, in mainstream newspapers -- although I also found cases in which a woman would be "Mrs. John Smith" on a news-page byline but "Jane Jones Smith" on a women's-page column. Women's newspapers, such as suffragist journals, clearly went with contributors' wishes. (I don't know about "suffragette" papers, as I didn't look at any from Europe nor at the few in the U.S. which used that diminutive.)

From Val Johnson vmj@escape.com 23 April 1998

Oh my! I certainly meant no slight against women who take their husband's LAST name. It most assuredly is our choice, and even if we don't, many of us have our father's last name!

What I was referring to is a practice which is not commonly seen today, taking the husband's full name, ie. Mrs. John Milholland, so that the only trace of the woman is through the "Mrs." As someone who is researching late 19th and early 20th Century women, it is frustrating to find numerous women who will likely remain utterly invisible to me except through their husband's name with a Mrs. attached. (particularly lesser known ones, unlike Milholland)you cannot, for instance, look up a common last name in a catalogue with a Mrs. attached. if you don't have the woman's birth name it's a game of luck.

I think JoAnn Castagna's comments about women using their husbands' names for access and prestige are very much on point - it is quite evident in the documents I have researched about reform and philanthropic women who often at least in part accessed organization's through their husband's influence.

From Jo Freeman JFRBC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU 23 April 1998

The comments on the tradition of a wife taking her husband's name seem unaware that the social rules required her taking his entire name -- not just his last name. On marriage a woman became Mrs. John F. Doe, not Mrs. Jane R. Doe. On death or divorce (scandalous thing that it was) she would retake her given name, and keep his (their) last name.If she remarried, she became Mrs. Joseph P. Roe.If he remarried, his new wife became Mrs. John F. Doe. Given the high death rate, remarriage was not uncommon.

These rules were so deeply embedded, Lucy Stone notwithstanding, that when women got suffrage, they were cautioned that they would have to register under their own first names, and many resisted doing this. Having read thou sands of pages of feminist writings from the period, I am truly amazed at the total lack of consciousness about what this meant. Even the National Woman's Party regularly referred to their members as Mrs. Man. It does illuminate that a woman's social status was conferred by her husband, not herself, not matter how illustrious might be her achievements. But unless her personal achievements were quite outstanding, the naming practices makes them hard to attribute.

However Mrs. Weathers might feel about her husband's name and her own achievements, the reality is that an historian searching the records under those rules finds it very hard to track a woman's activities or to find out her own family antecedents. I have seen Mrs. Arthur L. Livermore, a promi nent New York Republican woman, referred to as Mary Livermore, who was a Massachusetts suffragist. Women with more than one husband appear to be more than one person, because one can't tell that the totally different names belong to the same person. One never knows whether an index will list a woman as Mrs. Jane or Mrs. John. And it is rarely easy to know all the possible names a woman might have to look them all up.

While the contemporary feminist movement has not changed the social conv ention that wives (most of them ) will adopt their husband's last name, at least they now keep their own first name. Thirty years ago that was most unusual.

[Editor's note: Some subscribers have noted that this discussion has started to resemble the one on Martha Stewart a few months ago. We will continue to post messages that discuss the impact of name changes on historical research, but request that subscribers refrain from continuing to submit messages regarding personal naming choices unless they are relevant to women's history./HMP]

From Sherri Klassen sklassen@YorkU.CA 24 April 1998

In eighteenth-century France, women generally kept their birth names after marriage; they were listed in the records as Marie Bonhomme, wife of Jean Bertrand if they were married, though it appears that some were more known by their surnames and some by their husbands' names. I would not suggest that this reflects early feminism there but rather different property laws etc.

Even in the case of an illegitimate child, the birth name was the father's. I attribute this to a desire to enforce a sense of responsibility on the fathers. Patrimony was important not only for reinforcing patriarchy but also for disciplining cads and keeping young women with children off the charity lists.

Similarly, I have acquaintances working to maintain child support from ex-husbands and the fact that the children bear the father's name operates on the level of language as a reminder both to the father and to the courts. I don't know whether it operates this way successfully

  • that would be an interesting study for a sociologist somewhere. But, this line of thinking has caused me to re-think my earlier views on the merits of matrilineal/patrilineal descent.

From Lisa Krissoff Boehm lboehm@SoftHome.net 24 April 1998

I am interested in the vigorous discussion the initial query on taking husband's names sparked. Names are very important ways of presenting yourself to the world, and carry interesting historical identities--either about one's ethnic legacy or life history (marriage, divorce). Years ago I decided, upon getting married at a rather young age, to take on the burden of two rather hard to spell last names. My husband and I considered taking my last name as our own, but adding his first and my last names together would have formed an odd name (my last and his first being almost the same name.) My husband, too, had virtually made up his last name--it was the name of a brief step-father but my husband had changed the pronunciation.. It was "his" in a fairly unique way. I did not want to give up my own name or identity, and decided to add on to my name. I have been struck over the years however, at people's reluctance (often women) to use both my last names, as I do, and the frequency with which they are hyphenated, although I myself do not hyphenate. As women refashioning the way women present themselves publicly, I think it is very important that we back each other up in our choices.

Names are not our own for other historical reasons. For many descendants of the second wave of immigration to the United States, names become even more complicated as they were changed at Ellis Island and other ports of entry by over-worked immigration officials. Not one side of my family or my husband's has a name which spans more than a few generations. We have lost connection to the past several times over, as descendants of women who dropped their maiden names, and of immigrants who changed their names or had their names changed for them. Other American groups, including slaves who were given the names of their masters, also lost their names upon entering the United States.

From Andrea Peake AKP@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU 24 April 1998

I am fascinated with the many responses to this question....

I too did not take my husband's name when we married, which proved fairly perplexing to my parents....("Well, then, why are you getting married?") and of course to his....

When we decided what to name our baby -- boy or girl -- we went with my last name. So, of course, we had a son, who bears his maternal grandfather's name Michael as his middle name and Peake as his last name. Needless to say, this still freaks my parents out, but I think my Dad is secretly proud. When deciding what to name my son, I even struggled with the idea that I was usurping a right to name him after my Dad from my younger brother who doesn't have kids yet. If I hadn't kept my name, my brother would have been the last "Peake" (in this line) as my sister changed her name. Even after all this, I have an odd feeling that Ethan (my son) has a less than legitimate name. I suppose that feeling will pass in time. He is, after all, only 9 months old!

From Amelia Carr acarr@alleg.edu 24 April 1998

In reading these wonderfully intelligent comments on naming, I am struck at how 20th-century they feel. An individual's name seems to be an "identity" that is ideally fixed and never-changing, an essential part of being. While some names are seen as traces of heritage and ethnicity, more widespread is the fear that names will actually erase identity, or more precisely, "cover" it.

As a medievalist, I have occasion to ponder other concepts of naming that I find more attractive. Most people go by first names and use descriptive epithets to distinguish them from others: Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Hildegard of Bingen. These "last names" are certainly not fixed. While living in Pisa you might be Andrea di Neri (Andrew son of Nero), but outside of town you would Andrea Pisano (of Pisa). Why shouldn't we all be known by our parents--but in the old sense of being Kristin Lavrinsdotter, or one of the Macs, Mcs, or Di's. The names would change every generation. Or, your name might connect you to the saint's day on which you were born (and not your family at all). I like the idea of taking a saint's name at the time of confirmation, too, so that someone at the age of reason might choose a presentation of self. Kings and Popes take on new names at coronations, as part of their new relationship to power and authority. Erasure of older connections to be sure, but hardly a step out of the spotlight of history! A family that might have been named by its occupation has an identity that transcends simple genealogy. It seems to me only recently that a family surname has come to be primarily a patriarchal marker.

The history of developing surnames has a real ugly side, too. As already has been noted, it's convenient for bureaucrats to fix an identity, so it was the tyrannical governments of the 16th century who insisted on trying to standardize first and last names. One hears funny stories about rebellious flemish peasants reporting to the Spanish very strange names, that translated into satiric appellations like "Reuben Kissmyass". Don't you worry when you hear that the government wants women to keep their maiden names so that they can be tracked in the databases?

In our insistence on having some kind of unchanging personal identity represented by a name, we have lost some creativity. Like Oscar Wilde's hero who is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, we might embrace the possibilities of different names for different times and roles. Isn't there a set of circumstances that make Mrs. Smith-mother-of-two a different person from Prof. Jones PhD the Academic and Morning Star Runs-with-Wolves the leader of the drum circle? There are certainly other ways of keeping ourselves in the history books than insisting on reducing ourselves to a single label. I worry more about the essentialism and even authoritarianism that underlies this search for the one true name. Women are lucky in that society at least conceptualizes that they might change their names and roles throughout their lives.

From Candice Dias cdias@emory.edu 24 April 1998

I've enjoyed and appreciated reading the various perspectives on this issue. Recently, I've had a professor who has taken what I consider to be a novel and practical approach to the issue of marriage and a women's last name. She and her husband have hyphenated their last names, and they have *both* adopted this new family name, so that they are both Smith-Jones. I think that this is a particularly equitable way to handle this, since neither of them have their identities eclipsed by the other, yet they have the same last name, and the histories and allegiances attached to the names are kept. For people who fear that hyphenated names will be a burden to children of these unions, I'm inclined to agree with my partner's solution: her son has his father and mother's last name, hyphenated, and she has suggested that if he objects to the long last name, he can always drop it, and use his middle name instead.

From Val Johnson vmj@escape.com 24 April 1998

i just wanted to express my gratitude for the richness and breadth of discussion that has arisen around this whole naming issue. we are so fortunate to have this forum in which to carry on such a civilized (normally i hate that word, but can't think of a better one) dialogue.

it has been fascinating to see many examples of what i know, from my own work on late 19th and early 20th century NYC, to be a complex process - despite the overwhelming impact of the patrilineage that i bemoaned in my initial query, naming was something that could work differently in this socio-historical context for women from different class, racial, ethnic, and generational contexts, not to mention being affected by individual choice.

the fact that the discussion has contained a great deal of feeling indicates how to this day the whole issue remains a deeply meaningful one for both women and men.

From Anne M. Breedlove ABEldredge@aol.com 24 April 1998

To add to the discussion about women's names:

  1. I think many people are missing the point. I don't consider my maiden name to be my father's name. I consider it to be my name. It was the name I grew up with and an integral part of how I identified myself during my formative years and into adulthood. It has nothing to do with whether I like or don't like my father or whether he is or isn't a jerk. It has everything to do with being how I have always identified myself to the world.
  2. It is in the changing of that identity that the message that women are lessor beings, malleable, changeable, modifiable, etc., comes about.
  3. It is a leftover vestige of coverture. And to anyone who would deny that, ask how many men would be willing to change their name, and their children's, for all time to that of their spouse.
  4. Feminism=freedom is a feel-goody attitude, as is that stuff about bearing his children. It's just a noble-sounding cover. Women changing their names is still about being the lessor half of an equation. What kind of message does that send to our daughters?
  5. The best compromise is for daughters to assume the last name of their mothers and for sons to assume the last name of their fathers. And to anyone who claims this is too confusing, the system is plenty confusing now. Plus, it is not dependent upon sending messages that only one half of a family line is worth recording for posterity. FYI, I foolishly changed my name, as a gift to my father-in-law because it was so important to him and I wanted to thank him for so many kindnesses, and even though I was a feminist I was young enough that I hadn't yet thought it out. I regret it every time I think about it and have talked at length about it to my daughter. (I hope she is smarter than I). I suppose I could change it back, and considering the strength of my conviction, I should.

From Connie Reeves lewisree@erols.com 24 April 1998

I think the percentage of women changing their name is about 4 percent, which is much, much smaller than I would have thought before I read that a few years ago.

As one respondent noted, it's been a difficult task to get people to call me Ms. Reeves, particularly my children's friends and their teachers. We gave our son my husband's last name and almost gave my daughter my last name, but in the recovery room, I decided against it on the grounds that it might divide the children, be too confusing, put them at the mercy of cruel taunters, etc.

So, three members of my family have the last name Lewis and I'm a Reeves. I'm Ms. Reeves, but I would have to admit that, technically, the title Mrs. Lewis has to be correct, since Mrs. refers to the "mistress of" and that's what I am, the wife of Mr. Lewis.

The kids and teachers call me Mrs. Lewis or Mrs. Reeves. I'm certainly not a Mrs. Reeves, since I'm not married to a Mr. Reeves, but I've learned to just let it go. When I introduce myself to a group of kids, I tell them they can call me Ms. Reeves or Mrs. Lewis, but they rarely make the Ms. distinction and it usually comes out Mrs.

I have noticed, however, that with two different names in the family, it sets me apart in one respect from my husband and kids. They share the same name. They are all "Lewises." It doesn't bother me, because I wouldn't be a bloodline Lewis even if I had changed my name. But there is a certain banter that exists of "us" versus "Mom".

I've been married 19 years and my kids are 16 and 14. I don't regret for a single moment not having changed my name. Whenever people ask why our last names are different, I reply, "My husband wouldn't change his name." That takes people aback!

I do have a niece that married recently and wrote to say that she hoped she didn't disappoint me, but she was taking her husband's name! I was flattered because my name wasn't something we'd ever discussed.

My daughter plans to keep her own name and, yes, we are keeping our fathers' names, but that's a start. I think the idea of a couple creating a new name is wonderful.

My son is more traditional, but I think that if his wife wants to keep her name, it won't matter to him at all.

At the same time, I do a great deal of genealogical research and changing names is very hard on finding relatives!! I can imagine what it would be like if we were all creating our own name!!!

From Dolores Janiewski dolores.janiewski@vuw.ac.nz 24 April 1998

This discussion hasn't addressed national/cultural differences; I believe the Quebec pattern goes back prior to whatever the recent law may be. My great, great grandmother signed her will with her maiden name despite being then in her 80s and having been married for at least 60 years; apparently family names were quite crucial in relationship to property, land, etc, and women used alternatively maiden and married names; the same occurs, I think, to a greater or lesser extent in Spanish cultures where communal property and familial connections are emphasized rather than the individual partnership.

From David Doughan The Fawcett Library fawcett@lgu.ac.uk 24 April 1998

Also the word
> "suffragette" is a diminution of the word "suffragist," which means a > woman fighting for women voting. The "ette" ending generally means > something smaller, as in the word "kitchenette." The word "suffragette" was indeed invented by the (London) _Daily Mail_ in 1906 as a put-down term for the mainly young militant suffragists; however, these women immediately adopted it as a way of distinguishing themselves from the drab old constitutionalists. In so doing they redefined the word: by 1913 "suffragette" meant a woman who broke windows, set fire to buildings, went to jail, were forcibly fed, and had radical sexual politics.

Back to names: round the turn of the century a lot of progressive couples in Britain combined surnames, whether with or without a hyphen, so Emmeline Pethick and Fred Lawrence became the Pethick Lawrences, Myra Sadd and Ernest Brown became the Sadd Browns, etc. In the latter case at least, the daughters did not maintain the tradition when they married.

And nearer our own time, don't I remember women who took names like ... er ... Kathie Sarachild?

From Gael Graham GRAHAM@wpoff.wcu.edu 24 April 1998

I was intrigued to see that other women academics are often called "Mrs." rather than by their academic title. Are male professors often called "Mr." rather than "Dr." or "Professor?" Is this a feminist issue?

I used to insist that students call me "Dr." or "Professor" if they wanted to be formal but tried to encourage them to call me "Gael." Very few of them ever chose the latter option (is this a Southern thing? An age thing?) but they ignored the first, too, calling me "Mrs. Graham." As I am not married, this annoyed me at first, but now I sort of shrug it off as being their idea of a courtesy title for a woman of a certain age and position.

For a different perspective, my widowed grandmother gets upset when letters to her are addressed to "Mrs. Norma Stevenson" rather than to "Mrs. Marion Stevenson" (using husband's name). She dislikes this not because it violates Emily Post but because she feels that it "erases" her marriage to her husband.

From Melissa Walker melissa.walker@converse.edu 24 April 1998

Gael Graham makes an interesting point about the fact that students tend to call female professors Mrs. instead of Dr. or Professor, while they call my male colleagues Dr. or Professor. I've even heard students call male colleagues without a Ph.D. Dr. while calling women Mrs. I also find that many students do this to me; perhaps it *is* a Southern thing, but I find it annoying. I always make it a point to put the Dr. on my syllabus for this reason. I my women's history classes, when we discuss naming issues, I often use this as an example, and many students behave as if a light bulb has gone off when I mention it. And this is a women's college!

Last semester one of my male graduate students said to me, "You know, Dr. Walker, I've noticed that I do something that is sexist. I call my male professors Dr. and tend to call my female professors Mrs. I was taught it was polite to call all women Mrs., but I guess that's sexist, huh?" I assured him that it was sexist in practice if not in intent, and we had a long discussion about the whole issue of naming and courtesy titles, etc. I don't know what provoked his "click," but it made me feel somewhat hopeful.

From John Weiss john.weiss@virgin.net 24 April 1998

[1]I understand from a German colleague married to a UK citizen that she has had no end of trouble aligning her names (and those of her children) with both German and British requirements - it appears that in Germany a woman retains her name unless she actively takes steps to change it.

[2] In Iceland people are still known principally by their forename plus patronymic - thus Thorunn Bjorgulfsdottir, Thorunn, daughter of Bjorgulf. I don't know if it is invariably son/daughter of the father and not the mother, though.

[3] In going through what personal details I can find of the 4000 black refugees of the War of 1812 I have found higher proportions of slaves having surnames than I expected (46% for Maryland and 36% for Virginia) but the counting is complicated by a variety of attitudes among women stated to be wives of men on adjoining farms - sometimes they are known by their husbands' names, sometimes by their own where they are different from the masters' names. Surnames were evidently felt to be important for dignity but apparently with some flexibility in the choices made by wives. In the case of the "Sisterhood" that I submitted to the list a week or two back, the surname was so important to the younger woman that she abandoned not only her family when she joined up with the older woman but also her own name, her master's name and her husband's name, and specifically took the older woman's surname.

John McNish Weiss (for my historical writing I embody my wife's name in memory of my adoptive ancestors who left Georgia with the British on 4 March 1815; quite apart from having no objection to being called Mr. McNish by her design clients; and people's attempts to align the two sometimes produce McNeisch-Weiss)

From Gerri Gribi gribi@dct.com 24 April 1998

...If you are a married woman and retained your name, you should contact Social Security and request a Personal Earnings & Benefits Estimate Statement (PEBES.) You can do this online at http://www.ssa.gov or by telephone 1-800-772-1213.

Only recently has IRS included a space to list both spouse's last names, so that names and SS# can be matched accurately. Every couple of years, (even though I'd flag my return with a note explaining we had different last names, and indicating which name went with which SS#) I used to receive a notice that my Self-Employment tax couldn't be credited because there was no "Gerri Dignan" listed at the SS# I'd given...then I'd have to write back and explain it was because Gerri Dignan" didn't exist.

In the years when I didn't hear anything, I just assumed they'd figured it out, trusting soul that I am. Then I heard about the PEBES, ordered one, and discovered that 5 years worth of my earnings had gone unreported (and therefore, uncredited) to my account. I had to send copies of my IRS returns to get proper credit...a hassle, but easier than having had to deal with it when I retired!

BTW, I decided to keep my name when I got married 23 years ago, after working as an intern at the Cincinnati Historical Society. I was trying to research local women's history, and was amazed at how easily women "vanished" from the record when they changed their name. I wanted to keep the name by which I had always been known, and I've never regretted doing so.

Besides...it makes it easy to weed out phone solicitors, since I can just hang up as soon as they ask for "Mr. Gribi!"

From Carrie J. Lybecker carriel@earthlink.net 27 April 1998

>From Julie A. Charlip charlija@whitman.edu

> Academically, I am grateful that I do my work in Latin America, where > people routinely carry both parents' surnames and women add their husbands > names to their own, if they take the name at all.

I was wondering about this. In this situation, have you found it much easier then to locate records and references to individual women?

From Cheryl Thurber cthurb@ark.ship.edu 27 April 1998

I have friends who resolved the issue of last name for their children by deciding that a male child would take the mother's last name and a female child the father's. They had two girls and decided that the second child would have the mother's last name. Obviously she had retained her family name. I do agree with the issue of identity. I have been Thurber all my life. When I was married I went by that plus my husband's, and most things I published had both names listed. Therefore when I divorced I dropped the other and retained what had always been mine.

I have done research on a woman who adopted an older name from her family that was several generations earlier. She always went by that name, even during and after a brief marriage. She was born in 1900, and switched her name in the early 1920s as she was trying to establish a singing career. The issue of name does involve where someone belongs in terms of family responsibility. I remember being surprised when I went to Egypt and discovered that women retained their family names. They needed that protection against encounters with husbands. I believe this would also relate to the early Roman marriage practices as well (manos.)

From Ruby Rohrlich rohrlich@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 27 April 1998

Before you close out this topic, I want to remind subscribers that in Canada your birth name is your permanent legal name. Names can be changed for social reasons, but these are not legal changes.

From MRaichyk MRaichyk@aol.com 27 April 1998

IMHO this name thing is a redherring... it wasn't the taking of another surname that erased women's contribution... it only was a convenient way for some later individual to re-assign the credit for a woman's efforts to someone *more credible*...

the cost of retaining your own name is the quandary of what your children's names should be... this is a more important problem since it complicates handling such things as medical emergencies, as well as making day-to-day functioning difficult (whose name is your child's dental records in? yours? their's? your husbands? the insured?)...

and then there's the story of the Canadians deciding in the late 70s that the husband's name had to come first in the hyphenated versions which left one family of four with four different surnames (Kelly, Cohen, Kelly-Cohen, CohenKelly)

besides, is it the woman's surname or her father's or her mother's, her grandfather's...etc ad infinitum

as one who tried the option of hyphenation and finally abandoned it, I would say that this is one headache women don't really profit from... those who ignore women's contributions will not be prevented by changing our naming conventions... Rosalind Franklin being denied credit for her work on DNA happened without complication of naming conventions...

as long as we are aware of this name-ploy it is less likely to be successful just by our being watchful (which we would have to do anyway) and without adding to our already long list of tangles. at least that was my experience.

From Joan Saverino saverino@sas.upenn.edu 27 April 1998

I will add my name and story to the respondees. My story is quite similar to Julie Charlip's. I too was 30 yrs. old when I married (in 1983), a feminist, and a professional with publications under my name. I was an only child and wanted to maintain my given name. We too joked about combining our last names - his is Loeb, mine Saverino - to Loeberino - the best sounding option. We responded to junk mail once with that syncretic surname to see what would happen - sure enough we started receiving plenty of junk mail with that surname. Over the years the biggest headaches in keeping our own names have come from trying to conduct some business. After 15 years of marriage, many of our relatives and not just those of our parents' generation still don't seem to be sure how to address mail to us. Since our son's birth (we too gave him both our last names and decided to hyphenate - although we don't really like that option - we didn't want people to assume that only Loeb was his surname)people are even more confused. But it seems worth living with the problems we encounter rather than giving in to the status quo. We too want our son to be proud of his family histories and his Jewish/Italian ethnicity and since all this is reflected in a name, it is a good way for him to begin his understanding.

From Sugandha Johar sjohar@hkucc.hku.hk 27 April 1998

I have been watching this discussion for a while, and what interested me was that almost all the respondents were (if I may use the term) Eurocentric in their background. No one from say an Asian background has had anything to say so far.

I am an Indian - South Asian to avoid any confusion, and this matter of changing names has had me interested for a while. Historically, in my part of the world, women did not take their husbands last names, nor were they ever addressed as Mrs.... In fact, sir names have been a formulation of the British administrators, and for large parts India - especially peninsular India, even today, ones name starts with the village you come from, then the community, then the name of your father and then your name - for both sexes.

If we go further back, there was a very strong tradition in for centuries around the beginning of the common era for the personal name to be followed by the name of the mother as a signifier. Mind you, we are not talking of matrilineal families here. The throne still passed from the father to the son.

In the case of another celebrated dynasty which ruled from the 4th cen AD to 7th century, the entire dynasty proudly mentioned the lineage of the first queen!!

Coming to more modern times however, taking husband's name is the norm in India, although not sanctioned by law. In India, a Christian woman on marriage HAS to take the husband's name by law, but a Hindu woman has to go through an affidavit to change hers. But, most women do not know this, and change their names. I should know, I changed mine after my first marriage.

Around the time of the divorce, I decided on changing my name. Rather than then reverting to my maiden name I dropped surnames altogether and called my self by my first name only - Sugnadha.

Problems arose when we decided to migrate to Australia. The Australian immigration office could not accept a de facto relationship in India - according to them though sanctioned by law in Australia, such relationships could not exist in conservative countries like India. The Indian passport officials were equally difficult. They could not understand the concept of a single name - according to them such names could not exist, and even though I had the legal sanction, short of fighting a lengthy court battle my only option was to get a second name.

Exhausted of arguing with all such forces, I legally married, and started calling myself Sugandha Johar!!!

>From Judith Schwarz JudSchwarz@juno.com 28 April 1998

Wonderful discussion on naming -- I have struggled personally with this issue all my life, and as a researcher I always wished that all the women from 1900 to 1940 that I was researching would have kept just one name so I could find them more easily.

I was born Judith Allen. My mother and her 2nd husband changed my name to his -- "Schwarz" -- when I was five. She then remarried again when I was fifteen. I kept my new name "Schwarz," but my sister by Mom and Sgt.Schwarz was renamed to Mom's third husband's name. Sigh... Then she remarried again once (I think), but no one but Mom changed their names. Just before she died at age 51, she changed her name legally back to her birth name "Griggs." So when we buried her, my sister Debbie, born Schwarz, who went through all her school years as "Bornscheuer, " and who had never married, was by that time living in a communal group, all of whose women, men and children took the head man's last name "Connelly." I (the last of the "Schwarz" clan), and my grandmother Griggs had a great discussion about all this.

Once just before he died, Dad Schwarz gave me a goblet he had bought on the Home Shoppers Club with the "Schwarz" family name and crest on it. I laughed, "Dad, there are no real Schwarz's in this trailer. You were born Winkler and adopted into the Schwarz family as a boy. Then you adopted me when you married Mom." Now I treasure the goblet for all that it says about our crazy family.

When I ran away at age sixteen and worked in a bar in New Orleans, I took the name "Joy Allen." In the lesbian bars in San Francisco in the 1960s,I identified myself as "Glenda Quackenbush," "Lucetia Matlock," or "Erika." (I had heard of others who were blackmailed if they used their "real" names instead of "bar" names.) When I had to hide my lesbian identity in the mid-70s while living with an elementary schoolteacher who was deep in the closet, I wrote under the pen name "Judy Freewoman" (feeling the least free of any period in my life). In New York, I was one of almost a dozen Judith Schwarz's at my GYN's office and druggist (mostly spelled as "Schwartz"). Someone said, "You know, you pronounce your last name about three different ways." I said, "I know, and so did Dad Schwarz. We never really knew how it was supposed to sound."

Sometimes I think about changing my name to my maternal grandmother's maiden name, a very easy to spell, easy to pronounce "Evans."

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 28 April 1998

It's time to refocus the discussion. What we each individually have chosen to do about surnames is a complex decision that blends ethnic and social customs of differing parts of the world with personal values. H-Women is not really a place for discussion of these values. BUT there are some points worth noting from an historical perspective:

1) Name changes are done for a variety of reasons in different cultures and some of these are gender asymmetrical (i.e. social expectations place pressure on one gender to change not placed upon the other). Others are unrelated to gender. Consider the many cultures where people assume different names at different points in their lives or have "ritual" names and "public" names.

The naming traditions of some American Indian groups comes to mind.Historians who are unaware of these naming traditions can make a mess our of research in a hurry, or come to the wrong conclusions.

2) The tradition in British law that a woman assumed her husband's name has interesting variations. For example, before 1800 married women were not all called "Mrs." since that was a title reserved for "gentlefolk." Thus the idea that a married woman became "Mrs. John Smith" is a 19th century affectation of the middle class. What happens in earlier times, though is that often records don't mention women at all by name, just their status as "wife".

3) The changing of last names has made tracing women in historical records very difficult. When beginning a study of a community a number of years ago I ended up keeping records of men by last name and of women by FIRST name,especially since a woman could have several surnames over her lifetime. Since the death and marriage records were incomplete for the community, it has taken years of work to be reasonably sure that the two women named "Margraet" were really one. Just recently I looked at the proofs for a short biographical dictionary sketch of an eighteenth century Virginia woman who married three times. The editors had to choose what volume alphabetically to put her, and chose her first husband's last name because HIS family was more politically prominent even though her major actions were done in second and third marriages.

4) Even in American history you can't make presumptions about surnames. Immigrants may have continued other naming traditions. I found examples among my 18th century French immigrants to Virginia that some women followed continental custom and did NOT change their names at marriage. JRG

From Chloe Evans O'Hearn chloe_evans@hotmail.com 28 April 1998

My mother, in her love of e-mail and educating her daughters has sent me all of the recent postings on the issue of name changing. Having recently married (a month ago) this was an issue I just faced. I thought seriously about what name to use. The fact that it is a man's name, whichever you choose, was definitely a major point for me. I went with my husband's last name in the end but came to it in an interesting way. It is an irony in my family of mostly women that we all have our fathers' or husbands' names. The only men in my entire family are my father and husband. The rest all died or were never conceived.

And being twenty-two years old made my publishing history not much of an issue, although I do wonder if I am accidentally going to be deleted from my college's records. I actually like the idea that if I ever publish any of my teenage poetry it will be under a different name and, in a sense, identity from who I am now.

We contemplated combining our two names but there was no nice way to combine Evans and O'Hearn. It ended up being Ovens. Neither of us really liked that. When ever we go out to eat he uses Evans for reservations because most people can spell it. I also thought about taking my mother's maiden and now post-divorce name "Thurber" because it had a nice literary feel to it but that would make things even more confusing than picking one of our current names. As a side note, I never had any problems in school with my mother having a different last name as I. Most of my friends also thought it was cool. It also makes it easier to tell when a phone solicitor is calling.

I didn't like the idea of hyphenation because it never really sounds right to say. I'll admit this is a pretty aesthetic way of looking at things but being a poet makes that an issue. I thought about keeping my name, but this brings up the children issue, one we plan to tackle much later, but something to consider. I think that picking one parent's last name over the other for children negates the combination of the two people it takes to have children and be parents. He feels very strongly about his family name and heritage and did not want to change his name. While I am very close with my family, I don't really feel a connection to my family name because not many people in my family where divorce is genetic even have the same last names. His is a position I can understand because I'm sure men feel a stronger connection to their names as a result of the patriarchal history of Anglo-American naming.

After choosing a name and filling out the necessary paper work involved, I ended up as Chloe Evans O'Hearn. I sign my name this way because I can never remember which accounts I have officially changed my name on; it's a long and tedious process. I dropped my middle name because I've always thought of "Thelma" as a curse of a name, even though it was my great-grandmother's name and probably the closest thing I have to a genuine name heritage. I guess I ended up with a double last name by default. I don't have a problem with being Mrs. Chloe O'Hearn, although I am quite certain my first name is not Mike.

Addressing wedding invitations was another name issue. Much to the mortification of my grandmother,I thoroughly despise the Mrs. Man method. While some people sent RSVP's this way, most of them actually young married couples, none of the invitations were addressed as such.

Having no feminist etiquette books to consult, I made up my own method. Married couples with the same last names had both first names listed. Divorced women and unmarried women over age eighteen were Ms. or Dr., whichever the case. Single women under eighteen were Miss and men or boys were all Mr. or Dr. Cohabitating couples or married couples with different last names had were addressed with their own separate names. While these methods may make the process of wedding invitation addressing a little more time consuming and thought provoking, and some older widows might have been offended by the fact that they have their own first names, I felt much better about it all in the end. I hope the first ever feminist wedding ettiquete has been of help to someone.

From Gael Graham graham@wpoff.wcu.edu 29 April 1998

I can't resist one more comment on naming. When it comes to first names, there are cultures that "tie children into" the family through naming (Remember _Roll, Jordan, Roll_ and slave names?) and cultures that never speak the names of the dead, let alone name children after them. I'm also curious about the naming of all the Chinese girls who are adopted by Americans these days. My (adopted Chinese) daughter is named Rose-Helen, for a fictive Jewish "grandmother" of mine and two great-grandmothers. Her middle name is "Xiuqing," the fictitious name her birth mother signed in the hospital in China, and the one the orphanage then used for my daughter. My hope is that giving my daughter all these names, plus the stories that go with them, she will be able to come to grips with and fashion her own identity. Then again, she may rename herself "Spike" when she hits adolescence.

From Lesley Hall Lesley_Hall@classic.msn.com 04 May 1998

>The tradition in British law...has interesting variations. >...before 1800 married women were all called "Mrs."...

My field of expertise is not C18th nomenclature, but surely, in fact, lots of women were known as Mrs (short for 'Mistress') married or single, and it was only in the late C18th that the convention 'Miss' became at all widespread. Thus allusions to 'Mrs' Fanny Burney long before she became Madame D'Arblay.

C19th-C20th social history suggests that women in certain occupations-- largely the higher and more skilled areas of domestic service such as cook--were known honorifically as 'Mrs So-and-so.'

Women do not only change their names on marriage! Women who wrote and used pseudonyms, not always the same one, can be maddeningly elusive to the researcher.

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 05 May 1998

I absolutely agree that Mrs. was used before 1800 for non-married women (Margaret Brent, for example) but only for women of certain class standing. Respectable married women of a ore "yeoman" background were sometimes referred to as "Goody" (short for goodwife), but all this just goes back to my original point - the use of "Mrs." as a nomenclature for all respectable *married* women (and its use as in "Mrs. John Smith") is a recent tradition. This discussion on naming seemed to be treating this as a long settled tradition and as a norm against which other naming traditions were measured. As historians we have to all be careful of reading the recent past into the distant past.

From Glenda Strachan mggs@cc.newcastle.edu.au 05 May 1998

Women in Scotland retained their own names in nineteenth century and even today many post World War II gravestones in Scotland refer to "Mary Harrison, wife of Malcolm McGregor." Likewise the inscriptions on gravestones of men who died refer to their wives original family name.

I am interested to see if this tradition has followed Scottish immigrants into North America and Australia/New Zealand. Has anyone any details on this? Thanks.