V is for Visman; or changing your name at marriage

April 25, 2014 at 10:35 am | Posted in Family, Family History, History, Society, Ways of Living | 11 Comments
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]



What’s in a name? An identity; belonging; family; commitment; esteem; shame; pride; ties to others; security; status?

Any or all of these, as well as many other attributes can reside in one’s name, especially one’s surname.

wedding bells clip artIn our Western tradition, it has always been common for the woman to change her maiden, or birth name, to that family name of her spouse. However, it is a tradition that is now being followed less often, often because the woman wishes to retain her name for professional reasons. Another reason is associated with a view that taking the man’s name is, in a way, granting the man a greater power than is given to the woman.


I have been known by three surnames in my life – all of them legal. My birth name, Thompson, came from my father, and most children still do take the father’s family name even when their mother does not. When I first married (it’s scary how long ago that was) I took my then husband’s family name. It was the accepted practice, and I saw no reason to do anything different.wedding rings

Sixteen years later we divorced. At that time, I did serious consider returning to my birth name, as was my legal right. However, my children didn’t want me to have a different surname to them – they, of course, carried their father’s family name – so, to please them, I retained it.

When I married again, some twenty years later, I faced another decision. Should I retain the name I’d had for almost forty years, revert to my birth name, or change it to my new husband’s? He said the choice was mine to make. I considered it carefully and, in the end, I decided to take his family name, Visman. I have no regrets.

As anyone who has been reading my blog will know, I have been interested for many years in my family’s history. During my research, one of the biggest problems I have come across has been following the female lines.

My grandparents' marriage certificate, 1920

My grandparents’ marriage certificate, 1920

Because the women invariably took their husband’s name, they could easily get lost in the records. This was especially the case when only basic facts were recorded, without the names of the woman’s parents. The use of restricted number of given names didn’t help any in trying to sort out who was whom.

In every case, I have been able to follow the paternal line further back in time than I have the maternal. That means a great deal of my ancestry may never be known. Even the paternal line may be inaccurate, as it is always possible that, in some cases, the recorded father was not the actual father.


Nowadays, if we choose, we women can easily retain our birth name, and even give our children our birth name instead of the father’s – that is also happening more.

As for me, it was so long since I was known by my maiden name, that it didn’t mean a great deal to revert to it on my second marriage. My sons were adults themselves, and their wives had taken on their name when they married, so they were also happy for me to change mine.

I am happy to have taken on the name of a good man who came from a good family and is father to great adult children. I don’t feel that I have reduced my status by taking on his name, nor do I feel I have turned my back on my birth family.

We are all who we are, no matter what name we go by and I, for one, don’t need a name to affirm myself as a human being.


What do you think of the practice of the woman taking the man’s name at marriage? Have you seen a change in that custom, and do you agree with that change?


© Linda Visman  25.04.2014  (654 words)







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  1. As a male I always feel a little hesitant in offering opinion on something like this as I have just not had that kind of experience. For me names do play a role within the context of our identity. There’s something sad about your words about women being lost in the records. I wonder to what extent this kind of identity loss translates in to the inner structure of being for women. From what you say, Linda, it hasn’t had that kind of influence on you and that’s good to know. I’m for women keeping their names. Personally I think it’s important. I know there are all sorts of implications for this, but I do believe they can be worked out in ways that are constructive and meaningful for all. Great post Linda.

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful and appreciative comment, Don.
      Yes, it can be destructive for some to lose what you consider to be your identity – your name. I think that, nowadays, many women are no longer willing to do that.
      I always love to read your comments. Thanks again.

  2. I have had a similar experience with the trail ending nowhere for a female ancestor, Linda. We have so much in common yet we are so different, being human makes us unique. I couldn’t wait to change my name at marriage. My maiden name came with experiences I would rather not be reminded of; sad but true. For me taking my husband’s last name helped me forge a new identity separate from anything previous. It allowed me to draw a line under the past and get on with the future. For me it was a therapeutic and wonderful release.

    Good post 🙂

    • Obviously, Linda, changing your name is a good thing. I’m just glad it wasn’t that way for me. You certainly have a great life with a great husband, and who wouldn’t change their name for that! 🙂

  3. Wow, Linda. You have been doing stacks of writing. How does it feel?

    • It has been a great stimulus to my writing to take on the challenge, and has got me into a wrining habit and routine. Feeling very positive 🙂

      • You have been going great guns. I’m still in the process of reading your posts but you’ve obviously put a lot of time into them – writing, researching and finding photos as well. Well done you! We must catch up for coffee sometime. Maybe later in May?

      • Glad you are enjoying the posts, Debbie. 🙂
        Yes, we do need to catch up, and I still haven’t returned your book! I hope to get time this month.

      • Sounds good!

      • Are you tied up this weekend?

      • Not sure yet! I might be babysitting. Can I let you know closer to the weekend.

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