Changing Names: Italian Women Keep Their Own Upon Marriage

Women in Italy don’t change their names when they marry. In the US this is the norm; most women when they marry change their surname to their husband’s, and there are simple, routine procedures in place for them to do so. It’s so usual that Americans are confused if you don’t do it. Years ago I asked the Adaptec travel service to reserve airline tickets for myself and my family, and ended up with tickets for “Mr. and Mrs. Straughan.”

Some American women don’t change their names, often for professional reasons, sometimes for political ones. Some couples hyphenate their two last names and give that as a last name to the kids. I always wondered what would happen if two such children decided to marry: would they create a quadruple surname?

In Italy, as far as I know, there is no legal procedure by which a woman could change her surname to her husband’s, even if she wanted to. In every context except the family, you’re still known by your own name, which saves headaches and maintains continuity on the professional front. Every doorbell has both names on it. On the other hand, the kids almost always get their father’s name, and it’s perfectly natural and normal to be called “Mrs. So-and-so” in some settings, such as your child’s school (perhaps simply because it’s easier for the teacher to remember).

Enrico and I got married in the US, but I never got around to changing my name, and neither of us gave it much thought. To the extent that I thought about it, I had spent so many hours of my life explaining both my names that I was perversely reluctant to give up the struggle.

I didn’t initially realize that women don’t change their names in Italy. When I began publishing articles in Italian magazines, I thought that my husband’s name might be easier for Italians to deal with. However, his great-grandfather was Swiss, so his name is neither Italian nor entirely easy, and I ended up spending almost as much time explaining that one as Straughan. And I didn’t like the look of it alongside Deirdré in print. So I switched back to Straughan, and have articles published under both names. The book was published under my own name (and Fabrizio’s).

Jan 10, 2004

The above sparked some responses. It seems that American women (and even one man friend of mine) change their names so that the whole family will have the same last name, though this desire is often complicated by multiple marriages with kids from various pairings. One friend told me about a couple she knows who wanted to share a last name in an equitable fashion, so they made one up, combining elements of each of their original surnames.

I’ve also known cases where women were glad upon marriage to give up an unappealing surname, and I had several responses were about that:

Sally: “I can think of lots of English names I would want to change. .. like Bosomworth, Ramsbottom, Drain. One girl I know refused to marry Ted unless he changed his name from Tiplady.”

And Judith: “I would change my name IF I thought my new husband’s surname better than my current one. One English girlfriend gave up ‘Loutit’ on marriage for the much more glamourous French ‘Dubresson’ – she was thrilled!”

23 thoughts on “Changing Names: Italian Women Keep Their Own Upon Marriage

  1. Julia

    A friend of mine was named Fugelhawke, and her fiance’ used the nick-name Hawke in D&D, so they both changed to Hawke upon marrying.

  2. zybix

    Hi, just a question. I am italan, and about to get married to an american guy in las vegas (under US law): can i change my surname to his? id love to…
    cheers and thank u
    z.

  3. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    If you’re marrying under US law I guess you could change your name, but I suspect that wouldn’t apply back in Italy. Or you’d have to go through one hell of a dance with the anagrafe about it…

  4. Jane

    I just married an Italian and didn’t legally change my name. We live in the US and I had always planned to change my name. In fact, all my family assumed I did and sent ‘Happy Wedding’ checks addressed to me with my husband’s surname.

    So here I am… I still want to change it, but we’re moving to Italy this summer. Should I just suck it up and keep my old name because it will cause too much confusion over there? Ack…

  5. mimi

    I have been doing genealogy on my Italian side of the family. All of my Italians aunts changed their names when they married. Also, the documents that I found of my ancestors in Italy all of the women changed their names when they married. Is not changing the name custom only to a certain region? How long has this been custom? My documents go all the way back to early 1800’s and my great great grandmother definitely changed her name. I asked my great aunt who is from Italy and she this was the first she heard of this.

  6. CarryAnne

    I didn’t want to forsake my lyrical Italian name for my husband’s bland Anglo-Saxon name, but I did because of pressure from him. When I divorced I wanted my name back, but my aunt convinced me that it was better professionally to have the white bread name, and then there were the kids. Kids are grown now and I use my maiden name as a middle name professionally, because there are TOO MANY people with my christened-surname combination otherwise. I really wish I had never taken a husband’s name. If I ever remarry, I’ll revert to my Italian maiden name.

  7. Tulla-bell

    Its time to get with the times ladies! (a lot of countries give children the mothers last name this article is wrong)

    You are not property, when you convert under him..you take his name and rid yourself of your family to join his family as your own. This has got to stop. Many baby girls are being aborted for this reason…”she will be a burden on us, she will not carry our name, only a son will get rid of her” attitude exists! Women need to be proud of their birth families…many kids don’t even know their mothers side family name which is their own blood!? In my country i can trace back at least 15 generations both sides because i come from spain..where all CHILDREN TAKE THE MOTHERS LAST NAME! I am shocked at america how old fashioned women are! American women are like from the 1800’s.

    This is how my country works:

    Example:
    Father’s name: John Lopez Mano
    Mother’s Name: Maria Ortiz Silva
    child’s Name: Shelia Mano Silva

    This is the LAW IN MY COUNTRY! Child grows and gets married is:

    Husband: Adam Smith Seize
    Wife: Shelia Mano Silva (never changes name upon marriage)
    Child: Melissa Seize Silva
    2nd Child: Jonny Seize Silva

    So notice that there are always 2 last names…and always Legally ends with the mothers!

    why don’t women ever learn, It seems that there will never be an equality because women don’t want it! Sorry, if you continue to go under a man upon marriage and half these kids are left without fathers, why don’t you put them under your name…Look at spain a european country where children are under their mothers and we know both sides because MOTHERS SIDE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT THIS ALSO PREVENTS INCESTS..I KNOW BOTH SIDES OF THE FAMILY TREE WHICH MAKES THE HOLE SIDE OF THAT CHILD…HAVING ONLY ONE LAST NAME SAYS I DO NOT CLAIM MY MOTHERS SIDE BECAUSE SHE IS NOTHING…AND NOT BLOOD RELATED!

    if the woman makes more money then the husband – he should change his last name to hers, women do all the work with children, men just name and drop off chasing other females 50% of the time. I can’t understand women, it seems the younger the wife the naive child side will do anything to drop her family and join his, even if her mother inlaw hates her. When a woman is married in her 30’s she more open minded and realizes she is also a person and yes, she can give her children her name too! Think of it this way if your husbands last name was Pigs and yours was Flowers, would it not make sense to give your children Flowers (womans name) rather then Pig? One thing Americans seem not to have common sense!

  8. TM

    I was wondering if you know the Italian law regarding giving children the mother’s last name. My husband has personal reasons for not wanting to give our kids his name, but if it’s legally difficult for me to change my name to his, how are people going to react to our idea? This question may be absurd to Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Aussies, but my mum-in-law reacted violently to this idea.

  9. barbara zell

    My sister was married in the Rome city hall about 40 years ago. She changed her name to her Italian husband’s I was told recently that women cannot change their name when they married an Italian. What is the real story here?

  10. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    She changed her name when and how exactly? Her maiden name would appear on the marriage license either way (same as on the US one, which iirc does not make any statement about what name you might use henceforth). As far as I know, there has not in the last 30 years been any easy or automatic mechanism by which a woman could change her name to her husband’s (or any other name) in Italy. I’m guessing your sister is American? It may be that in Italy she still legally carries her maiden name, but she changed it back in the US. Italy would neither know nor care, unless she then tried to do any official paperwork in Italy under her married name.

  11. Barclay

    My wife and I are having a child and she is an Italian American. We hope to soon buy property there and spend our summers and retirement in Sicily. She has not changed her last name and we are planning on naming our child with two last names. Her’s and mine. In hispanic cultures, when a person has two last names, the first of the two last names in the father’s last name (Smith) and the second is the mother’s last name (Jones). So the babies last name would be Smith Jones. But U.S. culture normally has the last name being the father’s. So everyone would think that Jones was the father’s last name. My question to you is, does anyone in Italy have their kids have two last names? In these instances, which name normally comes first, the mother’s or the father’s?

  12. hayley

    I am moving to Italy in 6 weeks and we are in the process of buying a house – I married my husband in the UK last year and was in the process of changing my name, but stopped when we found out that in Italy women do not change their last name. This came from our Italian estate agent, mortgage broker and bank who are helping us to buy a house. The paperwork involved is immense and having paperwork (payslips and bank account) in my married name and passport in maiden name is a logistical nightmare as they think I am two people and I have to get signed declarations to say I am one and the same. The also tend to assume we are brother and sister if we have the same last name on anything. My advice is – don’t change your name if you are moving to Italy soon after marriage! As far as I am aware if you have been Mrs so and so and have had you husbands name for a long time then this won’t matter as you just apply for code fiscale, residency, etc. under that name. My problem is that I am in transition!

  13. Christian Strange

    This post is timely for me. I am doing some family research and came upon a female ancestor from the 1800’s who carries the family name while her husband’s last name is nowhere to be found in our lineage. So her last name went to her children and then down to a couple generations before me. It’s long gone now but I thought it was an interesting twist.

  14. Will Porlem

    Children with two ( sometimes even three ) and UN-hyphenated surnames is the right thing to do . Why naming them after only one side since we all got two parents ? I ´m from Brazil and as everybody may know . we´re named after both sides , and don´t have ( cause we don´t need ) discussions on it all . The very nice is a compound , the overlap of cousins´ , aunts´ , uncles´ , half-siblings´ names from both sides . Only one surname (from your father) is subjection and this custom of first-middle-last name is dumb and outdated . Stop passing on one out of two and proceed passing two or three out of four or five , right now !! Period .

  15. Pingback: “My name is the symbol of my identity” – The Moderate Voice

  16. Aleksandra

    I’m Lithuanian and my partner is Italian, and we both live in Italy, Puglia for a while now. I’m working here and have all documents such as residence etc. If we get married in Italy, I can not take his surname? For me it’s very important and I will do it no matter what it takes. There must be a ways.
    What about if we get married outside Italy, where changing the surname it’s a normal procedure? Let’s say, Lithuania.
    Italy is so strickt with their selfloving women rights…I’m really disappointed 🙂

  17. MrsSurnameTBD

    For those who are Italian women living outside Italy considering a name change PLEASE TAKE MY ADVICE!!!

    I am Italian (I’m actually a dual citizen Canadian/Italian and have 2 passports). I’ve lived and worked in the U.K. for 9 years as an EEA national. I met and married an English man 5 years ago who asked me to take his name which is a simple, traditionally English surname. I liked it and the idea of the new identity as his wife so I was happy to. But I am now in the unfortunate position of trying to renew my Italian passport, the document that allows me to live here, work here and travel in Europe (without issues). Though advised not to change my name by the Italian consulate when notifying my intention to marry I stupidly decided to hyphenate my surname using my Italian maiden name and adding my husbands surname to the end. Putting aside the colossal pain it is to use 2 names (that, despite being completely phonetically accurate, I have to spell), I now no longer have proper supporting documents with only my maiden name. You’d think agencies would apply intelligence and recognise that my unique Italian surname is still there with a hyphen and 5 additional letters added to the end (especially when supported by a U.K. marriage certificate) but no, that isn’t what happens. This has become one hell of a giant mess for me and I have spent many hours in tears when situations have arisen where I need to show my passport. I am considering spending the money to legally change my name BACK by deed poll just to straighten everything out. My alternative is to give up the Italian passport and become British. This is actually something I am also considering because it is actually EASIER (and thats saying a lot considering navigating the Home Office procedures isn’t exactly a walk in the park!) than trying to get a new Italian passport.

    So take heed, if you need that Italian passport, DO NOT CHANGE YOUR NAME ANYWHERE!!!

  18. MrsSurnameTBD

    Forgot to mention that, since its perfectly normal and acceptable to change your name upon marriage in the U.K., the answer I get from British authorities when there is an issue and my names don’t match exactly is to have my name changed on my Italian passport. So there is absolutely no sympathy on either side.

  19. Teresa

    I am US born and dual citizenship with Italy. I recently married and thought I would change my name as I would not have to spell it anymore. I decided not to as I’m older and professionally am know with my name and thought it would be difficult to have 2 passports in 2 different names. Also if using my Italian passport abroad and things like renting cars with a US license in a different name. There is a whole host of things to think about…… So decided to keep my name and find I have another host of issues in the US to always have to provide extra proof that we are married. My work just put me through all kind of required documentation to add my husband to a part of my work insurance plan, to prove we are married. My marriage certificate was not enough for them and made me provide other documents with both our names on it. We don’t have much of this as we are both older and established so had our own homes, cars, etc. Also, none of the items they required (joint property ownership, joint bank account statement, etc.) proves 2 people are actually married. So now I am back to think about changing my name since living in the US is more difficult not having his name….dilema, dilema…..Thank you for your article, and thank you Mrs. Surname TBD. After reading the article and comments, think I’ll just suck it up in the US and give people things that don’t prove anything — or maybe we’ll just move to Italy!

  20. Vivian Ingretolli

    I have just read – yesterday – that there are new regulations.

    There is a group here in Rome (Olive Partners) who have an agreement with the British Embassy (see below) – I am in the same position since living here and it’s a total nightmare.

    “The British Embassy have now provided us with a certificate confirming that Solicitors of this firm are entitled to issue declarations as to British law, for use in Italy. This was used successfully by one of our recently married clients whose application for residence at the Comune of Rome had been blocked on presentation of her British passport showing her married name. This certificate has simplified matters considerably; authorities should now accept a declaration prepared and signed by a Solicitor at Oliver & Partners, which confirms that British law allows a British woman to change her surname upon marriage and that the individual bearing the married surname is the same as the individual bearing the maiden name.will make it possible for a UK Citizen to change their name to the Italian husband’s surname.”

    http://www.oliverpartners.it/registering-with-your-married-name-in-italy/

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