William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


This article will investigate current state laws regarding the change of a husband’s name to his wife’s upon marriage. Given that tradition, and often law itself, discourage that practice, the lingering gendered norms that perpetuate the historical tradition will be explored. Components of this article will include a brief historical analysis of the origin of surnames and the law as it has developed on that issue, including an examination of the place of tradition in the law both empirically and normatively. A discussion of the psychological importance of names in the identities of men versus women will be addressed, as will possible justifications for the distinction between the rights of men and women in this regard. Finally, this article will discuss the application of gender discrimination laws and constitutional equal protection doctrine to current laws that provide differing rights and privileges based solely on one’s status as a wife versus a husband.

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