What happens to my surname if I live abroad and get married?

Posted by Rachel Giles on
In a recent blog I covered the issues on changing your name after marriage. It appears that whilst the situation in England is very fluid, and open to interpretation, on the continent, there can be much more rigid rules.

It is impossible to set out the rules and customs in every country, there are so many variations. However, I have set out below what I think are the most interesting and unusual from our closest neighbours.

In some continental countries, marriage has no effect on the surnames of the spouses. This is the case in France, where the law states that no one may be known by a name other than that on their birth certificate, and in Belgium, where even if a Belgian national changed their name in the UK, this would not be recognised in Belgium. This is also the case in Italy.

In Spain however, there is another system entirely, and it is perhaps the most confusing for other nationalities! Everyone in Spain has two surnames, one from their father and one from their mother. When married, a woman does not change her name, however, her children will take their first last name from their father and their second last name from their mother. The result of this is that the mother's surname will be lost, but it takes one further generation to do so!

Germany, on the other hand, is similar to the rules and traditions in England. There is a certain degree of choice afforded to marrying couples, and the issue of a family name can be decided on by both. It is possible for a man or a woman to change their name to that of their spouse, or for a new name altogether to be taken. This new name, or the chosen one, will then be taken by any children of the marriage.

What is apparent is that there are many variations in a relatively small geographical area. Personally, I am glad that I live in a country that allows me to choose what I will do with my surname (in due course). However, if there were no options, it would certainly make the process easier!

About the Author

Photograph of Rachel Giles

Rachel is a Senior Solicitor in the Family team and is based in the Southampton office.

Rachel Giles
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023 8085 7222

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