the origin of marriage & should women still change their surname?

We consider marriage as a celebration of love, it's a memorable and beautiful occasion, but interestingly, that is not how marriage has always been viewed.

We recently did a poll on our Instagram story, asking our female followers if they would rather keep their own surname or change to their husbands surname when they get married. 49% voted to keep their surname, 51% voted to change it.

The results are so interesting, firstly because so many women are able to voice what they want, which is incredible in itself, but also because so many women are actually challenging the tradition of changing to their husbands surname.

So, I thought I'd research the origin of marriage and how the tradition of a woman taking the man's surname started.


When was marriage first introduced?

Evidence suggests that marriage is around 4,350 years old and the first recorded marriage was in 2350 B.C. Marriage became a popular institution across ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans.

Why did people get married back then?

Unfortunately, marriage wasn't based on love. Its purpose was for a man to 'own' a woman and to guarantee that children were the husbands biological heirs.

The father would give his daughter away saying 'I pledge my daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring'. 

The ancient Hebrews were allowed to have several wives. Married Greeks and Romans were allowed to satisfy their sexual urges with prostitutes and teenage male lovers, whilst the wives had to stay at home and look after the household.

If wives were unable to get pregnant, the men were allowed to give the wife back and marry someone else.

Religion got involved and things changed...

The Roman Catholic Church became a powerful institution in Europe and marriages had to be legalised with a priest present. 

This was great for women, because men were taught to show greater respect for their wives, were not allowed to divorce them and had to be sexually faithful to their wives. However, the church still said that men were the head of the family and that wives had to fulfil their wishes.

When did love marriages happen?

Love marriages started in the Middle Ages. It's believed that the concept was introduced by the French. 12th Century literature told men to woo a woman by complimenting her eyes, lips and hair.

Why did the wife take the husbands surname?

Even though love marriages meant that women no longer existed to serve men, the idea of men owning the woman stuck around for centuries. When colonists first came to America, a legal doctrine called a 'coverture' was introduced which recognised the husband as the dominant figure in a marriage.

The wife would take her husbands name to symbolise surrendering her identity, therefore making the husband more important and allowing the husband to be a public representative of 2 people. If an American woman married a foreigner, she would lose her citizenship.

Things started to change...

Women won the right to vote and in 1920, marriage now consisted of 2 citizens. 

In 1960, the law no longer forbid birth control.

In 1970, the law recognised the concept of marital rape, which previously was ignored as the husband owned the wife's sexuality.


Marriage has changed more in the past 40 years than it has in the past 5,000 years! (What a time to be alive!)
Whether you decide to get married or not, or change your surname to your partners' is totally up to you. The fact that women even get a choice is a huge thing in itself!

Lots of love,

[Founder of Rani & Co.]

1 comment

  • Emm

    This was an excellent simple guide to the history of marriage. It’s important to know the facts shared here.

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