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The Maiden Name Debate
aka: Maiden Name Debate

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A soon-to-be-married woman has difficulties with the idea of changing her last name. Or perhaps, her soon-to-be husband has difficulties, or maybe his mother has problems (often because she doesn't like any daughter-in-law taking the same name she changed her own to). This trope usually starts with the woman in question writing out her maiden name along with her married name to try it out, or try saying it in front of a mirror for practice. Usually, the lady is an established career woman (or wants to be). Less often, there is the issue of the aesthetics of the name: should Rhea Mills have to be saddled with ridicule for the rest of her life for having married Robert Peer? (As a general rule, since you never know who she might marry, it would be wise to avoid naming your daughter "Anita".) Truth in Television, obviously, and a potentially contentious issue.

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A traditional solution was for a married woman to take her maiden name as a middle name (e.g. Laura Ingalls Wilder). It's still done today, as was the case with Robin Wright when she was married to Sean Penn (well... maybe that's not the most relevant case). Note that this is different from the more modern solution of a hyphenated name. Robin Wright Penn is not the same as Robin Wright-Penn, and this can cause quite a bit of annoyance as hyphenated names gain more prominence over time, while the "maiden name as middle name" falls out of favor.

Particularly applies if you're a media personality. This is partly due to working in an industry where your name is your brand, and partly due to the typical brevity of celebrity marriages. Many female performers split the difference by using their maiden name as their stage name while taking their husband's surname for legal purposes. For instance, Sarah Michelle Gellar is officially Sarah Michelle Prinze.

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Naturally, this trope only applies in countries/cultures where the wife traditionally takes her husband's last name upon marriage. Whether a married woman reverts to her maiden name after marriage usually depends on how it ends. If she's widowed, she'll usually keep the married name unless and until she remarries. If she's divorced, she may go back to her maiden name, but she might not if the married name is tied to her career or she still thinks kindly on the marriage while acknowledging it needed to end. One example that comes to mind is Phylicia Rashad, who divorced Ahmad in 2001 but has kept the name, both personally and professionally.

With same-sex marriage becoming legal in many parts of the world these days, the problem with applying this practice to a same-sex couple is obvious. Since there is no traditional protocol to follow, it's up to each couple to choose a solution that works for them. The most common solutions are for the spouses to simply keep their original names or to hyphenate. It's not unheard of for one partner to take the other's name, but it may lead to the unwelcome perception that the one who changed their name is the "wife" in the relationship.

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Between same-sex marriage and the increasing frequency of men taking their wives' names instead of vice versa, there has been the growing question of how a married man should refer to his unmarried name if applicable. The term "bachelor name" has been coined as the Spear Counterpart to a woman's maiden name, but is not in common use.

See also Meaningful Rename. Compare Nom de Mom, where the woman did change her name, and her offspring changed it back. Also see the Mrs. Hypothetical, who's gone through this debate well in advance, and Took the Wife's Name, where the husband changes his name to the wife's instead.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Rukia Kuchiki was tempted to fully change her name to Rukia Abarai after marrying her childhood friend Renji, but ultimately decided to keep her maiden name in the Gotei Soldier register. Rukia and Renji's daughter Ichika was named "Ichika Abarai" when she was born, probably because were she named after the Kuchikis, this could potentially mean the accidental creation of a branch of the clan and would bring up a HUGE mess.

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of Archie Comics has Veronica wanting to keep her maiden name (Lodge) when she and Archie get married, since she's the only child of a rich family. She doesn't want to take Archie's last name and scoffs at a hyphenated one (comparing it to a Scottish hunting lodge). She finally suggests Archie take her name instead, causing her father to balk.
  • Spoofed in one New Avengers issue where Luke Cage (a.k.a. "Power Man") tries to convince his wife to go by "Power Woman."

    Comic Strips 
  • Gender inverted in Jump Start. Ruiz and Crunchy decide to get married after a whirlwind romance, and he is shocked when she wants him to take her last name. They end up deciding to both keep their last names.
  • In the comic strip Stone Soup, when the soon-to-be-hubby asked the soon-to-be-wife why she had any reservations about changing her name, she responded, "Why don't you change your name?" He began listing all the legal, financial and professional hassles that would entail for someone as established in life as he was (it was the second marriage for both), then stopped and said, "Oh, yeah."

    Fan Works 
  • In Altering Course, Elim Garak is willing to become Elim Bashir (as a result of Julian's status as Federation Ambassador to Cardassia giving his family name precedence due to higher status), but not terribly enthusiastic about it, and after actually discussing it, they decide to just keep their original surnames.
  • Bait and Switch (STO): Bajorans in Star Trek generally change their surnames when they marry, but Kanril Eleya still keeps her maiden name after marrying Reshek Gaarra. Their daughter's name is revealed to be Reshek Taryn, and a Distant Finale historical piece set after Eleya's retirement and death from natural causes gives her full name as "Kanril Reshek Eleya".
  • Daphne Greengrass And The Boy Who Lived sees the titular character become part of a triad relationship with Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. The epilogue reveals that once they got married, all three kept their original surnames, Daphne noting that they'll deal with the "hassle" of what name to give their children when the time comes for them to have kids.
  • The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal sees Assassin Johanna Smith-Rhodes pointing out that just because she's getting married doesn't change anything, she is still going to be Doctor Smith-Rhodes to everyone around her. She scorns the compromise of Mrs. Johanna Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons as too unwieldy for everyday use, and anyway she doesn't see her husband becoming Professor Ponder Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons any time soon. Anyone calling her Mrs. Stibbons gets glared at. With the exception of Johanna's mother, who pointedly addresses all correspondence to Mrs. Stibbons. Johanna and Ponder's three daughters, in the fullness of time, all become Miss Smith-Rhodes-Stibbonsesnote 
  • Hermione in Harry Potter fic gets this a lot in general, as you'd expect. Even Emma Watson thinks she'd keep her name. If you accept Pottermore as canon, she does.
    • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry and Hermione have one of these debates... then realize they're having it. It's never really explored, but there must have been an interesting one at some point for Harry to end up with the surname Potter-Evans-Verres.
  • The Ikaris: After Shinji and Asuka got accidentally married, Asuka tells him there is no way that she is taking Shinji's name... but she already changed her name legally when they got married. So, people calls her Asuka Ikari, and in NERV they had changed her name everywhere to Asuka Langley Ikari. The lawyer handling their case jokes about it by mixing his and her surname.
  • Infinity has a different example. Since the story starts off only a week or two after Fate was adopted, she hasn't fully decided what her last name will be. The story just goes with "Fate Who-Had-A-Last-Name-Even-If-She-Wasn't-Sure-What-It-Was".
  • In the Red Jewel Diaries chapter "For Better or Worse" of MGLN Crisis, Fate wonders where "Scrya" and "Takamachi" would fit into her already long name when she marries Nanoha and Yuuno.
    Fate: If I took both your names, would that make me Fate Testarossa Harlaown Scrya Takamachi? Or perhaps Fate Testarossa Harlaown Takamachi Scrya? Fate Scrya Takamachi? Fate Takamachi Scrya? Hmm, I need to think about this...
  • This is constantly a question for writers of The X-Files fanfiction that feature Mulder and Scully as a married couple. While a large question is whether or not Scully would change her name, the larger question is: since they're on a Last-Name Basis and they got married, would he still call her Scully?

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the sequel to Father of the Bride (1991), Annie Banks and her husband discuss which surname their upcoming child should use at the same time that they're discussing first names. They even discuss the possibility of making up a third surname just for the child; father George dreads the possibility of having a granddaughter named "Chloe Zankman".
  • Independence Day: David Levinson mentions that his now ex-wife Constance Spano didn't take his last name during their marriage. While searching the phonebook for her current cellphone number he finds it under Constance Levinson, a hint that she still has feelings for him.
  • It's a Wonderful Life shows George getting a phone call (on his wedding day) from "Mrs. Bailey," and he mistakenly thinks that the caller is his mother. "I don't want to talk to Mrs. Bailey! I want to talk to my wife!" Apparently it takes him some time to get used to the idea, too.
  • In It's Pat!, Pat and Chris are asked at their engagement party if one of them will change their last name (in the hopes of finding out which one's male and which one's female, which they both considered not doing.
  • In The Wedding Singer, Julia Sullivan bursts into tears when she realizes that after she marries Glenn she'll be "Mrs. Julia Guglia".
  • Gender inverted in the film Whipped. The main character, a hen-pecked boyfriend, briefly considers changing his last name to his fiancée's. They split up before the marriage.

    Literature 
  • Chocoholic Mysteries: Regina "Gina" Woodyard, a serial monogamist (her most recent husband as of Jewel Case, a man named Art Atkins, was probably number five) apparently used to change her name to match her husband's, until she got to the point where she stopped because she wasn't staying married to them long enough.
  • Discworld:
    • In Going Postal, Moist's initial impression of Saccharissa Cripslock (who was last seen in a sort-of-relationship with William de Worde) is "Wedding ring, but still 'Miss'. Probably has Views. Do not attempt to kiss hand."
  • In Empire from the Ashes, Dahak wants Earth-born Battle Fleet personnel to follow the naming rules of the Imperium when they marry, creating names like "Tamman-Amcolgiv" and "Amandacollettegivens-Tam". None of the humans find this appealing and Colin puts his foot down about it.
  • Harry Potter: Pottermore reveals that Professor Trelawney's marriage ended "when she refused to adopt the surname 'Higglebottom.'" Aside from the silliness, she's also very proud of her descent from a famous Seer with the "Trelawney" name.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Apparently "bride changes name" is common in Valdemar. In the Collegium Chronicles, Lena points out that now that she's married to Bear, when she gets Scarlets she'll be "Bard Tyrall" instead of "Bard Marchand" (her maiden name). note 
  • Lieutenant Eve Dallas in the In Death series keeps her maiden name after marriage to the multi-billionaire Roarke, a decision which is never really discussed but seems to be illustrative of the fact that she married Roarke in spite of, rather than because of, his wealth and has no intention of assimilating any of his high-class lifestyle. It doesn't keep the clueless from calling her "Lt. Roarke" (or worse, "Mrs. Roarke") and being quickly shut down. Roarke himself has Only One Name, but does not adopt "Dallas" as a surname after marrying Eve.
  • Discussed Trope in Jorōgumo no Kotowari, where Straw Feminist Mrs. Sugiura expresses a desire to divorce her husband and return to her maiden name (and acted militantly antagonistic of males in general). Reijiro Enokizu laughingly points out the obvious—her maiden name came from her father, so if she really were that dedicated to having a name that only belongs to herself she should just come up with a completely new one.
  • In The Sharing Knife, farmers have the wife take the husband's name and Lakewalkers have the husband take the wife's name. This causes a minor issue for interracial couple Dag Redwing and Fawn Bluefield. While they briefly consider splicing their surnames (Redfield, Bluewing) or merging them (Purple-something), Dag eventually takes Fawn's surname.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andi Mack has an episode where Bowie at first assumes the family will be taking his last name, Quinn, when he and Bex get married, but Bex and Andi are unsure about changing their name. They discuss options such as keeping separate names or combining names, and ultimately Bowie decides to change his name to Mack instead.
  • Andre Johnson on black•ish begins arguing with his wife Rainbow after he discovers that she did not take his last name after marriage. He never noticed in twenty years of matrimony because her maiden name is also Johnson, so the argument only matters in theory, but Dre is still furious that she goes by "Rainbow Johnson" and not "Rainbow Johnson."
  • Blue Bloods: Erin Reagan is divorced from Jack Boyle. When he meets up with her in one episode, he observes that she still has her married name "Reagan-Boyle" on her office door—to which she cracks that she keeps it there for the same reason people who have lost weight keep a "before" picture. By the end of the episode, she's had the "Boyle" scraped off.
  • In the final season of Charmed (1998), Paige decides to keep her maiden name of "Matthews" instead of taking her new husband's surname "Mitchell". She also rejects the idea of hyphenating as she thinks "Matthews-Mitchell" sounds "like a law firm".
  • Given a nod in The Closer, when one of the first things Brenda says when Fritz proposes to her is that she's keeping her maiden name, which he immediately agrees to.
  • On Cougar Town, Grayson asks Jules why she hasn't taken his name, especially since she is still using her ex-husband's name.
  • The Crown (2016): After Elizabeth becomes Queen she and Prince Philip assume their children will have his surname of "Mountbatten". Philip's adopted uncle leads a toast at a party that the "House of Mountbatten" will now take the throne. Word of this gets back to the Queen Mother and Parliament who insist that the children will not take the name and that the house of "Windsor" will continue to hold the throne. Philip is outraged and complains about being the "only man" in Britain who can't give his children his name. In Real Life a compromise was made after the Queen Mother's death to let their male-line descendants use "Windsor-Mountbatten".
  • A Different World: Whitley and Dwayne argue about the maiden name change because Whitley wanted her name to be Whitley Gilbert-Wayne as opposed to just Whitley Wayne.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The End of Time": Although not seen on screen, when Martha and Mickey tie the knot, the former becomes Martha Smith-Jones. And when Donna gets engaged to Shaun Temple, the Doctor gets worried because "Donna Noble-Temple" would sound stupid. Wilfred assures him she's going for "Temple-Noble" instead.
    • When Rory Williams and Amy Pond get married:
      The Doctor: Amelia, from now on I shall be leaving the kissing duties to the brand new Mr. Pond.
      Rory: No, I'm not Mr. Pond. that's not how it works.
      The Doctor: Yes. It is.
      Rory: ...yeah it is.
      • And then, after the birth of their daughter:
        The Doctor: Hello. Hello... ehh... baby.
        Amy: Melody.
        The Doctor: Melody! Hello Melody Pond.
        Rory: Melody Williams...
        Amy: ...is a geography teacher. Melody Pond is a superhero!
      • According to the Doctor, this even goes up a generation for Rory:
        The Doctor: Brian Pond, you are delicious.
        Brian Williams: I'm not a Pond.
        The Doctor: Of course you are.
      • While it is never revealed how (if at all) their legal names change, they call each other "Mrs. Williams" and "Mr. Pond" as terms of endearment, shown respectively in "A Good Man Goes to War" and "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe".
      • Amy goes by "Amy Williams" when signing divorce papers (don't worry, they get better) and ends up using "Amelia Williams" on her gravestone. She also used Amelia Williams as a pen name when she wrote Summer Falls.
  • In Downton Abbey, there's a lot of joking and a bit of dread both upstairs and downstairs at the prospect of Mrs. Hughes becoming "Mrs. Carson," to the point that Robert proposes a toast when he learns that she plans to keep using her maiden name professionally.
  • Michaela Quinn and Sully from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman faced this dilemma when they decided to get married. In the end, they agreed that she didn't have to change her last name.
  • Friends:
    • Monica doesn't change her last name when she gets married, feeling that Bing was a weird name. At first Chandler agrees and suggests that they "name the kids Geller and let Bing die with me", but in the end they stick with Bing. At one point, Phoebe refers to her as "Monica Geller Hyphen Bing".
    • After Phoebe gets married, she has a similar dilemma. After marrying Mike (Paul Rudd), Phoebe does change her name - but instead of changing her last name to her husband's, she instead has her full name legally changed to Princess Consuela Bananahammock (not realizing that "Bananahammock" is actually a pseudonym for the skintight appearance a Speedo gives to a man's, er... private area, until Mike tells her later on in the episode); in retaliation, Mike chooses to change his name to, of all things... Crap Bag ("just think of a bag of crap"). Luckily, both change their names back by the end of the episode.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Lily keeps her last name after marrying Marshall, though they do consider both adopting a brand new last name (with candidates including "Skywalker", "Hasselhoff", and "Awesome").
    "Have you met the Awesomes, Marshall and Lily, their son Totally, and their daughter Frickin'?"
  • Last Man Standing: The characters have a conversation about maiden name changes, but also bring up potential problems with hyphenating last names. Their example was a friend who went by "Johnson-Holder." As they laugh about it teenager Eve doesn't get it.
  • Discussed in a funny moment on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when Olivia jokingly toasts Amanda with her married name, then verbally backtracks to ask if she's even doing that. She admits she's considering it, and Olivia makes a pained face and gives a full-body shudder at the thought. Whether she objects to this particular last name or changing her name in general is unclear, but the look on her face is hilarious.
  • On Lois & Clark, Perry gives Lois a new nameplate for her desk that says "Lois Kent". She is later seen sliding her previous plate and new one together to see how she likes "Lois Lane Kent". In the end she's still not sure.
    • Earlier, there was also a Tear Jerker scene just before Lois was to be married to Lex Luthor, where she stands in front of a mirror in her wedding dress, trying out names: "Mrs Lex Luthor. Lois Lane Luthor. Lois Luthor Lane... Lois Lane... Kent..."
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Since the very first episode, Fitz and Simmons have been The Dividual referred to as the singular entity "Fitzsimmons", long before they actually become a romantic couple. After they get married, Simmons suggests hyphenating their last names. Fitz jokes that he's against the idea because "Simmons-Fitz" doesn't roll off the tongue very well.
  • In The Middle, when Sue is contemplating marrying Darren, one consequence that Axl brings up is that her full name would be Sue Sue McGrew. Ironically, her full name in the end ends up being Sue Sue Donahue.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Discussed in "The Potion Notion" when Kimberly (who is under a love spell) can't decide whether to change her surname or hyphenate it to Hart-Skullovitch.
  • Mom: When Bonnie and Adam get married, she originally plans to change her name from Plunkett to Janikowski. However, she keeps putting her plans off and eventually, she realizes she doesn't want to change her name because she's spent her whole life hating the person she is and now that she loves Bonnie Plunkett, she doesn't want to let her go. Adam is disappointed, but understands and Bonnie keeps her maiden name.
  • On Murphy Brown, Corky Sherwood marries Will Forrest. She chooses to keep her maiden name as a middle name, until she realizes that she will then be Corky Sherwood Forrest.note 
  • A variant from My Family, with the parents going into a therapy session:
    Susan: I'd like to be known as Susan Ryman.
    Ben: Your maiden name was Riggs!
    Susan: Maiden name? (To shrink) Harper is my husband's name, Riggs was my father's name, but Ryman was my grandmother's name. She chose it herself, no men involved.
    Ben: She was reared by wolves.
  • On My Hero (2000) when George and Janet finally married:
    George: Arnie says you can have my name now. How'd you like to be "George"?
  • On The Office (US), Pam almost marries Roy Anderson and indicates that she would have begrudgingly taken his name if they had gone through with it.
    Pam: That's as close as I ever want to get to being Pamela Anderson.
    • On the flipside, she's more than excited to change it when marrying Jim. Squeeing Ensues when Kevin hands her a check made out to "Mrs. Pam Halpert".
  • On Parks and Recreation, Leslie's jealousy spirals when she finds Ben flirting with Shauna Malwae-Tweep in End of The World.
    Leslie: I know how Shauna operates. She smiles, and then they fall in love and then they get married, and then she changes her name to Shauna Malwae-Wyatt. Or he's going to be really progressive and changes his name to Ben Wyatt-Malwae-Tweep. God, I am so annoyed that he would hypothetically do that.
    • Also, in "Leslie and Ben," Ben insists that Leslie take his last name so that "Leslie Knope disappears and becomes Leslie Wyatt. Or Councilwoman Mrs. Ben Wyatt." Leslie's face freezes in horror before she realizes Ben is just messing with her.
  • In Saved by the Bell, the core six do a pretend-marriage project in which the following pairs occur: Zack-Kelly, Jessie-Slater and Screech-Lisa. Jessie insists on hyphenating her new last name for feminist reasons and Kelly takes the old-fashioned approach and Zach's name. Screech? Takes Lisa's last name.
  • Turk and Carla in Scrubs faced this problem. Turk's classic response to Carla wanting to keep her name: "Okay baby, I guess we'll be one of those New Age couples that don't love each other!" They eventually compromise: Carla keeps her name, and Turk keeps his mole.
  • Star Trek:
    • In Voyager, B'Elanna and Tom debate about whether she'll be B'Elanna Paris or if he'll be Tom Torres. Neither one undergoes a name change.
  • In That '70s Show, when Eric and Donna get engaged, he says that "some day, you're going to be Mrs. Forman". Donna doesn't like it, and squicks Eric out, reminding him that Mrs. Forman is his mother. "Mrs. Forman is feeling dirty..."

    Theatre 
  • Variation in Bandstand. Donny thinks that Julia Trojan should use her maiden name in the show, as he says that Trojan is a joke and Julia Adams sounds like a star. Julia refuses because it's the only tie she has to her late husband.

    Video Games 
  • A variant of this becomes a matter of international politics in Crusader Kings. While the persons marrying keep their dynasty (and thus their last name), what dynasty the children will belong to is critical. Normally children will belong to their father's dynasty, but there are special matrilineal marriages where the children are of the mother's dynasty. NPCs follow a fairly logical train of thought in this aspect—a baron with five sons won't mind so much giving one of them in a matrilineal marriage assuming their religion/culture allows for that, but a duke with only one or two sons will be carefully weighing the prestige they'll get from the marriage and whether or not they have any heirs of their own dynasty.
  • The Sims:
    • In The Sims 3, the two adopt the surname of the house. Sims can also go to City Hall and pay for a name change. Like the second game, there are mods allowing you to choose a name on marriage or enforce certain expectations for name change.
    • In The Sims 4, both sims keep their surnames and it's up to the player to decide if and how the names change.
    • The Sims Medieval has a unique case; if a hero marries an NPC, the NPC takes the surname of the hero, regardless of gender. If two heroes get married, whichever hero moves houses changes their surname, with the player deciding which house the couple lives in. The sole exception is if another hero marries the monarch, in which case they always move into the castle and take the royal surname. It's a bit of a moot point, of course, since we don't even see the surnames outside of Create-A-Sim.
  • Runefall 2:
    Princess Roslyn: Did anyone happen to catch Vaughn's last name? I'm wondering if I should take his, or perhaps hyphenate.

    Webcomics 

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • On American Dad!, Stan and Francine are about to be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, and Stan consoles himself with the fact that their son Steve can carry on the family name. Then he finds out that Steve is being put to death for a separate crime, and comments that their daughter Hayley, as a "filthy liberal," will probably hyphenate. (Cue Hayley's "Yeah, I'm here too.")
  • In one episode of King of the Hill, Luanne considers marrying a man she's only known for a few days (both of them had taken a chastity pledge and he was eager to sleep with her). She announces she'd be keeping her own name, because she didn't know his last name and thought she wouldn't like it. She rescinds when he tells her his surname and she does like it, but in the end, they don't get married.
  • The Simpsons: This is referenced in "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy", during the production of the Lisa Lionheart doll.
    Lisa: (recording her voice for the doll) "When I get married, I'm keeping my own name." Oh, no, that should probably be "If I choose to get married."

    Real Life 
  • When Geraldine Ferraro, who didn't change her name, was the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee, no one quite knew what to call her on the campaign trail. Senator Barry Goldwater insisted on referring to her as "Mrs. Zacarro". George HW Bush referred to her as "Mrs. Ferraro" in their vice presidential debate. This was before "Ms" really caught on as the marriage neutral honorific for professional women. Fast forward 30 some years and high ranking female politicians like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (the highest ranking woman in the American government's history until 2021). are usually referred to as "Ms." even if they changed their names upon marriage (as she did). Women who didn’t change their names also are referred to as "Ms." In the former case, it just comes down to editorial standards. For example, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post use "Ms." as a blanket term, while The New York Times asks if they want to be referred to as "Mrs." or "Ms." and uses what they prefer.
  • In Russia around 1830, Colonel Zass, having no sons, would allow major Rantsev to marry his daughter only if the newlyweds take the name Zass-Rantsev. And he would not accept Rantsev-Zass, since Zass family was much more noble. Nothing unusual for those days, except that "Zass-Rantsev" sounds like "shitter" in Russian. The groom had to petition the tsar to change the name to Rantsev-Zass. Fortunately, Nikolai I didn't like "discordant" names and encouraged his subjects to change them.
  • Since her marriage to David Mitchell in 2012, Victoria Coren has used all three variations of her name note , in both personal and professional capacities, as chronicled in her The Observer column.

Alternative Title(s): Maiden Name Debate

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