Before the Wedding

The surname dilemma for Maltese brides

To change or not to change? OurWedding looks at the surname-switch dilemma a bride faces after she becomes a Mrs.

“I took my husband’s surname after I got married because my dad killed someone and went to prison and I wanted to distance myself from him,” says Eliza*, a management consultant who has been married for seven years.

The story behind Eliza’s decision is unusual, but the choice for a Maltese bride to take on her husband’s name after marriage is not. The most recent Public Registry figures, quoted by the Sunday Times of Malta in 2013, said that out of the 3,537 women who married in the previous year, only 391 kept their surname, while the rest – more than 3,000 women – took their husband’s family surname.

Most women decide to take on a new surname not only because it’s the most commonly-done thing, but because it allows them to share a surname with their children. “I wouldn’t want to have a different surname to my son,” says Karen. “It leads to a lot of awkward questions – from teachers, from acquaintances. Most of the time, it’s easier just to switch, unless your husband has a really dreadful surname.”

Another option is to double-barrel your surname, adding a new surname to the one you already have. While it’s still a popular choice, it’s falling out of favour – a lot of Maltese women have double-barrelled surnames to begin with and adding another one to it turns a name into a runaway train. “I would never add another surname to the two I have already,” says Mariana*. “I would either keep my name or take his. I guess it depends on how ordinary and boring it is. Can you picture me as Mariana Borg? Um, no.” Susan*, whose maiden name was Borg, decided to change to her husband’s slightly less common surname after she got married precisely for that reason.

Keeping a rare or double-barrelled surname seems to be a more socially acceptable reason in Malta to stick to your maiden name, but in some circles, taking on a double-barrelled surname smacks slightly of indecision. “A few years ago it was all about double-barrelling,” says Diane, who works in publishing. “Now many women are deciding – as empowered women – that if they want to take their husband’s name they can. Personally, I think many women are still too scared to keep their own surname because they don’t want to rock the boat.”

Men in Malta face no such crisis. It is unusual for a man to take on his wife’s surname to begin with, but in many countries, a man can choose to take on his wife’s surname along with his, or even forego his and adopt only hers. A proposal tabled by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) in front of the Equal Opportunities’ Ministry early this year to give men the same option has not yet been ratified, and the NCPE is informed that the Government will be focusing on the necessary amendments next year.

*Some names have been changed

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