Haven't seen anything online, even after googling. Wikipedia seems to only list the countries that support the practice, but offers no history.

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married? Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

I'm actually pretty curious as to why the woman would drop the maiden name.

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    Note that keeping your maiden name is keeping your father's family name in Western societies, so it is arguable that keeping your maiden name strikes any blows for maiden-kind.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 24 '14 at 22:46
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    "Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped" - as opposed to their first name? What are you trying to ask?
    – aaa90210
    Jun 25 '14 at 22:00
  • @thinlyveiledquestionmark Maybe English is not your first language, but your sentence construction placed emphasis on "maiden name" not "traditionally dropped". If you said "Why is the maiden name traditionally dropped..." it would have been close to what I think you intended.
    – aaa90210
    Jun 26 '14 at 4:51

Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

In general, it is a relatively new trend of the last few centuries, and many old cultures have/had no such concept or tradition.

Keep in mind that surnames in many cultures are a relatively new trend. There was no name to drop upon marriage if you didn't have a surname. The Nordic cultures, for instance, historically used patronymic "surnames". These generally would not change. Emma Jonsdóttir does not cease to be Emma, Daughter of Jon upon marrying Erik Eriksson.

Similar practices existed among other peoples such as the Welsh, for example, well into the Early Modern Era. On the other hand, some cultures like Greek would have referred to the married woman as "wife of Erik".

In cultures with longer histories of using surnames, many did not historically expect women drop their surnames at all. In the far east, examples include the Koreans, Japanese or Vietnamese. While some Chinese women added their husbands' surname on top of their own, it is a social use and not a surname change. Most women in recorded Chinese history are in fact identified by their birth surnames only (i.e. my honourable mother <Maiden Surname> from Kiangnan).

The same is also true in the Near East, among Iranians and Arabs. Even in Western Europe, up until the the Early Modern Era, Scottish women of the lowlands did not customarily drop their maiden names. There are also the well known examples of Romance cultures such as the Spanish. Further back, Ancient Roman women did not change their nomen upon marriage, either.

In the English speaking world, dropping the maiden name became standard after surnames became common among the English people; sometime in the 13th and 14th centuries. So no, it did not predate civilisation. In fact, this whole practice is not nearly as common or "traditional" as it might seem. The main cultures to have such a tradition seem to be Anglophone, (Germanic) Western Europe and Slavic ones.

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married?

This is a lot more murky. In the English tradition, it is often said to be rooted in women being quasi-properties of their husbands without a separate legal existence; and that therefore they take their husbands name to mark themselves as extensions of the man of the family. It is difficult to determine the veracity of this claim.

Generally speaking, however, I'm more inclined to argue that the practice of dropping maiden names occur in two situations:

  1. In societies that did not have strong, blood-oriented views of family. So upon marriage, women are seen to have joined a different family, and the husbands' names are adopted in recognition of their new family. In contrast, culture that valued blood lines (e.g. Japanese clans) held on to their own clan names.
  2. Societies that did not have surnames until relatively recent, which overlaps with point 1. Cultures with strong views of family tend to adopt a collective representative name. In those without, surnames tend to come about for identifying otherwise similarly named individuals. It would have been convenient, and would indeed make sense, to identify a wife by her husband's name ("Agnes who married John the smith; not Agnes who married John the carpenter"). Then as surnames became more established, dropping maiden names turned into an ingrained traditional custom.
  • 4
    In Rome, the given names for daughters were the father's clan name, feminized. Thus Julia is "the girl from the Julian clan". If you have more than one daughter, they all get the same name, the successors being "little Julia - Julilla" or little third Julia - Julia Tertia". Of course men had it a better, but only a little. A clan branch would have about three given names, and would use them all in the same order, so fathers, grandfather, uncles, grand uncles would have three different names among them all.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 24 '14 at 22:56
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    @Oldcat But don't forget the cognomen. Jun 25 '14 at 5:59
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    Note that the Nordic countries introduced laws requiring inheritable surnames rather than patronymics for everyone very recently -- Denmark in 1828, Sweden in 1901 and Norway in 1923. The nobility and upper classes were using surnames earlier, from 1500s on in Denmark. Jun 25 '14 at 15:11
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    @FelixGoldberg - The cognomen helped some, but unless you got your own (or a recent relative did) you had the same effect, as it modified the family name, not the personal name. The Julii Caesares had been around for hundreds of years by the end of the Republic and thus had their repetitions of Gaius, say, in that branch.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 25 '14 at 17:35
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    Not so. Gaius Marius had no cognomen. Cicero and his brother and their children were all Ciceros. The Julii Caesares were several families over 4-5 centuries. You had to do something notable to earn a new cognomen, so that descendants wanted to bask in reflected glory.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 1 '14 at 20:18

(I assume this question relates to the traditions of Great Britain and its former colonies such as the Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.)

The woman does not "drop" her maiden name. If she is a Christian or a Jew, she assumes the name of her husband because in both beliefs the act of marriage joins the two inseparably as one. By ancient law, such as the old Scottish Civil Law, the maiden name is subsumed by name of the house, which is normally the name of the man who owns the house, but in theory BOTH the name of the man and the woman could change, if by the marriage a new house were created. Under old (non-Christian) English law, children and wives and any other dependents assume the name of man because he possesses them and also because he takes responsibility for their actions. For example, if Mistress Neville commits a crime than it is Lord Neville that will be held accountable. Thus, the name creates a legal obligation.

[Laws Relating to Wives] When a Woman marries, she gives her self over, what she brings with her, to her H U S B A N D's Power. She parts with her very Surname, and assumes her Husbands. If she has any Tenure, it is all in Capite, that is, she holds it of, and by her Husband, who is the Head of his Wife. She can make no Contract, nor give away, or alienate any Thing, without her Husband's Consent. In short, a marry'd Woman can call nothing her own, unless it be otherwise settled before Marriage.

- The Present State of Great Britain and Ireland by Guy Miege (1715)

Note also that under English common law only a legal wife can attain the name of man, so a concubine (a woman without license from bishop) by law has to keep her maiden name. Therefore, in the old days, if a woman had a different name than her husband then it was assumed she was a concubine, not legally married. Since most married women did not want to be mistaken for a concubine, they customarily were rigorous in using their husband's name.

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    Marriage is traditionally religious. For example, Christians are normally married in churches by ministers. Jun 24 '14 at 20:29
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    Another reason for assuming a married name was that often this state comes with legal benefits that unmarried women, usually under the aegis of their original family, didn't have.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 24 '14 at 20:47
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    @Oldcat But those benefits derive from the marriage, not the name. Jun 25 '14 at 11:21
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    @SteveJessop In pre-conquest times (before 1066) there were 3 main types of law in barbarian england: the Saxon Law, the Mercian Law and the Dane Law. The Mercian and Dane Laws were non-Christian legal customs and codes I was referring to. In both of these codes, women and children were effectively possessions of a man. Jun 25 '14 at 15:25
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    @DavidRicherby - that's true, but it is easier to avoid hassle by using any method to broadcast your qualifications for the benefits. It is also common for married women to use distinct hairstyles/headcoverings/clothes.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 25 '14 at 17:39

[Note: I took the thrust of the original question to be about the origin of patrilineal naming conventions, but that is a step removed from what is actually asked. I leave the answer anyway, as I don't feel it is entirely without merit.]

Since you ask the "why", it's worth pointing out that, similar to the wheat and chessboard problem, if neither partner dropped their name, then after fewer than 30 generations it would be impossible for a person to state their full name even once, even if they made it their life's work. 30 generations is about 600-700 years, which is, coincidentally, roughly as long as surnames have been common in Britain. It would only take 10 generations or so for a name to take over an hour to recite.

To avoid this, one or both partners must necessarily reduce the complexity of their own name if they are to incorporate a component of their partner's name, and still produce a heritable surname. Even in cultures that ostensibly keep both names, there must be some trimming of older or less significant ancestors. For example, although Spanish convention retains both surnames, the two grand-maternal surnames are discarded in the following generation, and the maternal grandfather's surname is lost the generation after that.

This leaves only the question of which name to cull and, with some notable exceptions aside, this follows the wider societal pattern.

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    The problem you speak of only appears if the children retain both parents' surnames. That is not directly related to whether the parent kept their original name. In fact, there are many cultures where neither spouse drop their original surname and they have no need for "trimming".
    – Semaphore
    Jun 25 '14 at 6:45
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    Of course, but I would consider the child's choice of names to represent the same fundamental issue. If the child takes no part of either parent's name then there is no true surname anyway. Jun 25 '14 at 6:57
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    Well, children's surnames are an issue of patrilineality or matrilinealiity. Whether to keep maiden name OTOH seems like a distinct issue; various patrilineal cultures have no concept of dropping maiden names even though children definitely take their fathers' surnames.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 25 '14 at 7:39
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    Fair enough. I took the thrust of the original question to be about the origin of patrilineal naming conventions, but that is perhaps a step removed from what is actually asked. Jun 25 '14 at 7:47
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    You seem to be assuming that either both partners in the marriage take a name made by combining their unmarried surnames and this combined name is inherited by the children, or that the parents don't combine their names but the children's names are combinations of the parents' surnames. These are not the only options. For example, when Mr A-B marries Ms C-D, they could become Mr and Mrs A-C (or any other combination of two names). Or, when Mr X marries Ms Y, they could become Mr and Mrs X-Y but the children inherit one of the names X and Y. Jun 25 '14 at 11:19

Why is it that the maiden name is traditionally dropped when a woman is getting married? Is this something that predates back many civilizations ago? Or is this a relatively newfound trend?

Inheritable family names may be considered a relatively new trend, only dating back to the dawn of the Renaissance in Europe, that is, their use on a large scale (say, 1500s). In some parts of Europe, they only were forced on the populace in the 1800s, or the 1920s, and Iceland still doesn't use them. On the other hand, in Asia they date back for thousands of years in some cases, like China, and still aren't used yet, as in Myanmar.

This is entirely a cultural trend, and each little culture group works it out for themselves. It isn't religious, or it would be largely the same throughout Christendom, and it wasn't. The Spanish notably didn't.

The Italians in the 1500's didn't. Negri's lists of participants in Nuove Inventioni di Balli lets us see that single women are known by personal name or two and family name (Antonia Viale) but married women by that plus "and" and the husband's family name in feminine form: Anna Sfondrata & Visconte is one of the Sfondrati who married a Visconte, while Anna Visconte & Arconata is a Visconte who married one of the Arconati. Lucia Visconte & Visconte was a Visconte who married a cousin.

So changing the maiden name to the husband's family name is not only relatively recent (depending on getting family names) but a minority habit. It's a cultural choice. Some, like the Italians or the Chinese append Mrs. Hisname like a title. Others, like the English and the Japanese, change the name of the woman.

Unless, of course, they change the name of the man. In Japan, it was pretty normal that a man with just daughters would adopt her husband so the children would continue his family line, even if, technically, this made the happy couple brother and sister. They knew what was going on, and ignored that level of technicality.

In other cases, in England husbands would be convinced, usually by financial incentive, to append the wife's father's name to theirs, which is how you got hyphenated names. Not that they always used hyphens. Lord Byron was born George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, but later became George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, as taking the name Noel was the requirement to inherit a bunch of money from his wife's mother, whose maiden name it was.

LSS: It's only used by some cultures, especially the Anglophone, not by most. It is a Modern habit in Europe, and is disappearing on the legal front, though the whole Mrs. business is often retained socially.

SOURCE: Ingraham, People's Names, McFarland, 1997

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