North American Women’s Marital Surname Change: Practices, Law, and Patrilineal Descent Reckoning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


As of time of writing, women’s choice to not undergo marital surname change has been legal for all purposes across the U.S.A. for 30–40 years. The options of surname retention and hyphenation should also have been salient in Canada for this amount of time. This article reviews and contextualizes women’s marital surname retention/change options, practice, and history within these jurisdictions, relating it to children’s receipt of a maternal and/or paternal surname. It also reviews and contextualizes each primary, quantitative finding from all peer-reviewed articles published concerning the topic. The primary goal of this article is to provide evidence that the ultimate purpose of the practice is to enhance patrilineal descent reckoning—the tracing of familial origins predominantly or solely via the male line (Murdock 1949)—in order to, in turn, enhance wives’ recruitment of husbands’ and in-laws’ investment to themselves and to the children of their marriages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-161
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Children
  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Marriage
  • Patrilineal descent reckoning
  • Social trends/social change
  • Surnames

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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