Using Your Maiden Name

by Diane and Linda from Womankind (1971). Explains the everyday legal and financial hassles faced by women who chose to use their own names. by Diane and Linda from Womankind (1971)

(Editors Note: Women who chose to use their own names ran into all kinds of legal hassles. This article explained how to cope with them.)

A woman's right to continue using her maiden name after marriage is not clearly defined under present Illinois law. There is no state statute which specifically requires that a woman change her name when she marries. However, case law indicates that based on common law principles and "immemorial custom", a woman abandons her maiden name and takes her husband's surname, which then becomes her legal name. The general common law rule that a person may legally assume any name she or he wishes without resort to the legal process apparently does not apply to married women. After a divorce decree, a woman may resume her maiden name without permission of court.

As a result of the ambiguity in current Illinois law, a married woman who chooses to retain her maiden name may face inconvenience and possibly serious legal consequences. For example, a woman who fails to change her voter registration after marriage loses her right to vote. A woman is technically in violation of state law if she fails to notify the Secretary of State of a name change on her driver's license after she is married. In Illinois it is unlawful to conduct any business under a name other than one's legal name without filing a notice in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks. If you don't follow these procedures you can be fined or imprisoned. Married women using their maiden name may be denied contract or other rights or absolved of legal responsibility.

Women who use their maiden names may not face legal problems such as these, but they are certain to face inconvenience and harassment. Marshall Field's, for instance, insists that women turn in their credit cards after marriage and have them reissued in their husband's name. If a woman can prove she has an independent source of income, the store may allow her to have her own card issued to her first name and her husband's surname. Under no circumstances will she be allowed to maintain an account under her maiden name. As a man in Field's Credit Department explained, "She no longer exists as a person under her maiden name.' Married women who for personal or professional reasons chose to retain their maiden names may also meet resistance in entering into contracts, buying insurance or purchasing items such as a car or furniture. Many companies refuse to permit a woman to use anything but her "legal" name when entering into an agreement.

Recognizing the need for legal clarification and modernization on this issue, State Congresswoman Eugenia S. Chapman introduced a bill in the state legislature which would have allowed a married woman to choose her surname for legal purposes.

The bill was defeated by a vote of 45 (yes) to 58 (no), with 74 not voting (89 votes are needed for passage). Those against the bill expressed concern as to what name children would have if such a bill passed, while others worried that state motel owners would be unable to safeguard "public morals" if married guests were allowed to register as Miss Jane Doe and Mr. Joe Schmoe. Ms. Chapman intends to reintroduce the bill in the next session of the Legislature. Those interested in testifying before a committee on the need for such a bill should contact Ms. Chapman through her office.