While women in the U.S. are increasingly keeping their maiden names, that’s nothing new just across the border. In Quebec, all women have been keeping their maiden names since 1981, whether they want to or not.
Provincial law in Quebec forbids a woman from taking her husband’s surname after marriage. The rule was instated soon after the creation of the Quebec Charter of Rights, which went into effect in 1976, and is intended to extend the charter’s statement on gender equality to names.
And Quebec isn’t the only place. In Greece, a similar law requiring all women keep their maiden name was enacted in 1983 during a wave of feminist legislation.
The tradition goes back even further in France, which has had a law on the books since 1789 requiring that people not use a name besides the one given on their birth certificate. Today, women cannot legally change their surname after marriage, but both men and women can accept the other’s surname for social and colloquial purposes.
Women in the Netherlands are always identified in documents by their maiden name and can only take their husband’s name under special circumstances. Belgian law requires that one’s surname does not change after marriage.
In Malaysia and Korea, it is local custom for women to keep their maiden names, and although there is no law stating that they cannot take their husband’s surname, it is a relatively foreign concept. Custom dictates that women keep their surnames in many Spanish-speaking countries as well, including Spain and Chile.
In contrast, Japan requires that married couples take one of the spouses’ family names, which, unsurprisingly, means that 96% of married Japanese women assume their husband’s last name.
Quebec’s law has caused little controversy over the past three decades, but there have been cases of women expressing frustration that they cannot take their husbands’ names even if they desire to do so.
In the U.S., on the other hand, new analysis from the New York Times found that only 30% of American women in recent years have opted to keep their maiden names, though that number is higher than it has been in the past.
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