Adam M. Costello : Soap Box

Proposed Surname Convention

I propose a new convention for surnames (last names, family names) in English-speaking cultures. I'm not familiar with the conventions in most other languages.

Current Practice

The modern English tradition is for a woman, when she marries, to change her surname to match her husband's, and for children to inherit their surnames from their fathers. This tradition has advantages:

The tradition also has disadvantages:

In recent times, many people have tried various ad hoc schemes for overcoming the disadvantages. Perhaps the most common is the use of hyphenated names. I don't like this solution because it does not scale past one generation, does not address the problem of name-changing, and results in longer names, which are a burden on everyone.

Proposed Solution

I propose that neither men nor women change their names when they marry, that sons inherit their surnames from their fathers, and that daughters inherit their surnames from their mothers. I think this is the minimal change to the existing convention that solves both of its disadvantages:

The new proposal preserves the good features of the existing tradition:

I can see a few minor disadvantages of the proposal:

Overall, this proposal is the best modification to the English surname convention that I have been able to think of, and I recommend it.


Anna Diller suggests that sons should inherit their surnames from their mothers, and daughters from their fathers, in order to counteract men's preference for sons. That might be useful, but would make the new convention less backward-compatible with the existing convention and less intuitive, and therefore harder to get people to agree on.

Related conventions

The convention used in Spanish-speaking cultures (or at least in Spain) is similar to the above proposal. Everyone has two surnames. Children take their mother's first surname and their father's first surname, in either order. Neither spouse's name changes when they marry. Nuclear families are referred to by both parents' first surnames.

Here is an example courtesy of Jose Belda: Joaquim Blasco Ibañez marries Nieves Olabola Urtiaga and have a child named Jaime Blasco Olabola or Jaime Olabola Blasco. One might refer to the Blasco-Olabola's home, or the Olabola-Blasco's home.

Notice that if sons were to put their father's surname name first and daughters were to put their mother's surname first, then the first surnames would match the ones from my proposal. However, I suspect that most families use the same ordering for all the children.

[AMC]  Prepared by Adam M. Costello
 Last modified: 2000-Nov-08-Wed 01:28:41 GMT
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