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Choosing a double barrel surname

April 27, 2020

***Please note: if you would like to double barrel your surname by deed poll click here.

What is a double-barrelled surname?

A double-barrelled surname is created by combining the surnames of a married couple by either using a hyphen or by simply adding the second name onto the husband’s or wife’s existing surname. Over the past two decades, double-barrelled surnames have become a lot more popular in the UK. However, they can create some practical issues in terms of how the names are passed down through the family line. Multiple surnames stacked one right after the other can create legal gray areas in terms of things like passports and identification cards. But for couples who both want to pass their surnames to their children, the double-barrelled surname may be the most balanced option.

Though the practice of having women change their surname after marriage has a reputation for being a very old practice, in reality, this habit didn’t emerge until the 15th century and it didn’t become commonplace until the 17th century.  Before this time, married women lost their surname after marriage and simply had no last name! Today, women use their surname in a variety of ways to assert their individual identity and familial lineage as well as to emphasize their identity as a member of a couple.

Can I have a double-barrelled surname?

After marriage, women have a number of options to choose from in terms of how they manage their surnames. The marriage certificate does not indicate what surname the woman will use after the wedding. Surname options for women in the UK include the following:

●       Change your surname to your husband’s surname.

●       Continue to use your maiden name.

●       Change your name to a double-barrelled surname.

●       Make your maiden name into a middle name and take your husband’s surname.

●       Create a new surname by meshing your husband’s name and your surname together.

In the United Kingdom, double-barrelled surnames have become more popular over the past two decades. A recent study by Opinium that was published by the London Mint Office stated that 11% of UK citizens between the ages of 18 and 34 years combined their last names to create a double barreled surname upon getting married. The decision to create a double-barrelled surname, a double surname (without a hyphen), or to go with just a single surname is very personal. Couples must make the decision themselves and these days, the double-barrelled surname is chosen for a variety of reasons that differ from the reasons that once motivated this type of name configuration.

Double-barrelled last names used to be an indicator of land-ownership, social status, and a certain level of riches, but today, the practice no longer denotes membership in the upper class. In fact, many decidedly middle-class individuals don two hyphenated last names. Because the practice has become more common, it now lacks the social benefits it once had. And double-barrelled surnames create certain difficulties in terms of the naming of children. A long surname takes a lot of time to write out by hand when signing documents. And long, cumbersome last names can also be hard to remember and confusing in certain contexts.

Nonetheless, in some cases, women want to keep their surname to maintain the link to their family of origin and pass it on to their children. And in some cases, husband and wife want to display their collective identity through a double-barrelling of their names. A double-barrelled surname with a hyphen is a great way to accomplish these goals, but a double surname that does not include a hyphen is yet another option that allows a woman to pass her last name on to her husband. And the blending of last names is yet another possibility that works in certain cases to pass both parents’ ethnicity, heritage, and familial line onto children.

How does a double-barrel surname work?

Many women today decide to retain their surname rather than giving it up after marriage, however, despite this, the majority of UK women (59%) still want to take their spouse’s surname after marriage. Indeed, 61% of men still want their wives to carry their name. Double-barrelling allows the couple to retain both the wife’s and the husband’s surname.

Double-barrelling, as a rule, entails the joining of the couple’s surnames, but the final results of this melding can follow several different patterns. In some cases, the woman may decide to create a double-barrelled surname while the husband retains his original surname and makes no changes. But in other cases, the husband may opt to double-barrel his surname as well. To hyphenate or not to hyphenate the last name is often carefully considered but in practice, it doesn’t really matter.

If double-barrelling the surnames is a goal, the couple must decide which name will come first. In the UK, the husband’s surname is traditionally placed before the woman’s surname, but these days, couples typically choose the placement of the names on the basis of what sounds better to the ear.

For women who decide that they want to have a double-barrelled surname, a Deed Poll is often necessary. A deed poll is a legal document through which you formally promise to give up an old name in order to use a new name in all areas of your life. A deed poll is accepted by government offices, banks, and other important institutions in the UK. Many government departments, companies, and organizations will alter their records to show a double-barrelled surname when the marriage certificate is presented, but some will not (banks and financial institutions in particular). The only way to guarantee that your double-barrelled surname will be legally accepted in all contexts is through a deed poll. To change to your double-barrelled surname on non-governmental documents or records, you may need to contact the administering institution directly to ask about their policies for making surname changes.

When couples decide that they both want to double-barrel their surnames by Deed Poll, it may be wise for the husband-to-be to make the surname change prior to the wedding to avoid the cost of a secondary Deed Poll. After the wedding, the woman can then take her husband’s new double-barrel surname in the traditional way and use the marriage certificate as evidence of the surname change (because the husband’s double-barrel surname will appear on the marriage certificate). But if you decide to follow this trajectory, be sure you husband-to-be will be able to get all of his most important identification items (passport, travel documents) back before the honeymoon. If this is not possible, it would be best to avoid overseas travel until you have these items in your possession.

Which name goes first in a hyphenated last name?

Although in reality the decision on which name to put first in a hyphenated name is a personal decision that every couple has to make for themselves, there are still some traditions and customs that many couples follow when making this decision. In most cultures where it’s more common to have a hyphenated last name, the husband’s name goes first and the wife’s name second. For example, this is true in Germanic cultures like Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands where double barrel names are the norm.

In Hispanic cultures, the naming customs are slightly more complex, but nonetheless, the husband’s name goes first and the wife’s goes second. Hispanic cultures’ name customs (including some Filipino traditions) vary from those of western cultures but the surnames are not passed on to children in the same way. Children get one name from each parent to indicate descent. For example, if the father’s name is Juan Lopez Gonzalez and the mother’s name is Maria Zaragoza Jiminez, the child’s last name would be Lopez Zaragoza (the last names of both of the child’s grandfathers).

In contrast with traditional western and Hispanic cultures, Turkish hyphenated names customarily go in the reverse, with the wife’s last name being first and the husband’s being last. This is also the case in India, where hyphenated names are comparatively popular among all classes, and the husband’s name comes last as well.

What happens when two double-barrelled surnames marry?

When two people with double barrelled surnames get married, there are a variety of things that can happen in regard to naming customs. However, like always, keep in mind that in the UK, the final decision is up to the couple! There are no set rules or regulations. Of course, it’s possible for one spouse to change his/her last name to match the other person’s name exactly, and it’s also possible for both spouses to simply keep their last names and not make any changes at all. Nonetheless, though, when the couple decides to have children there are some important decisions to make if no name changes are made at the time of marriage.

If the couple wishes to keep both surnames, there is an option to combine the double barrelled surnames to create a quadruple-barreled surname. Although not especially common, there are indeed individuals who choose to combine their children’s names in this way. The UK has the most instances in the world of names like this, but there are other countries and regions that adopt similar practices, specifically in Iberian and Latin American traditions. Traditionally, in the United Kingdom, instances of quadruple (or more) barrelled surnames were indicative of wealth or status. This is because parents wanted to ensure that their children had legal rights to multigenerational family wealth, estates, or titles through carrying on a family name.

Throughout most of English history, a primary reason why a person would have a double barrelled surname had to do with these matters of money or rank. As such, it wasn’t uncommon for families of nobility or of a higher status to pass on more than one name to future generations. Multiple surnames were essential for ensuring the family line. Today the need for surnames to prove lineage or right-to-ownership has diminished, so the reasons why a couple would pass on both double-barrelled surnames (or only one or the other) are changing. 

Can I double-barrel my child's name?

Yes, you can choose to double barrel your child’s name. If you and your spouse don’t share the same last name but you want to make sure that you both share a last name with your child, it’s possible to pass on both names to the child in the form of double barrelled or hyphenated surname. Even after the child has been born, or if you want to change the name later on it’s possible to do so by submitting the appropriate documents and going through the correct procedures. There’s no need to do it immediately after the wedding. In the UK parents can change their child’s name through the Deed Poll. The consent of both parents will be required if the name change is made after birth.

At birth, the child can be given any surname that you choose (just as any given name can be chosen). If you want to double-barrel your child’s name, it’s simplest to do this at birth on the birth certificate if you have the option. There is no requirement that the child must have the surname of either parent, and thus it’s permitted to enter in a double barrel or hyphenated surname on the birth certificate. Either parent is permitted to choose the last name. Consent of both parents is not needed at this time so long as the parents are married.  If the parents are married and can provide a marriage certificate at the time that the name is chosen, it’s possible for only one parent to be present when the birth certificate is filled out.

First generation double-barrelled surnames may seem like the most logical way to pass on the family name on both sides, but things get complicated for children with double-barrels who grow into adults who want to marry and take on their spouse’s name as double-barrelled surnames themselves. It has been suggested that adult women with double-barrelled surnames who wish to marry should drop their names to resolve the problem. So the decision to double-barrel surnames should take future familial ties into consideration to avoid creating conflicts for children as they grow into adults and get married and have children themselves.

Famous People With Double-Barrel Surnames

Double Barrel surnames are common among the rich and famous for the same reasons that middle-class couples decide to combine their names. Below is a list of famous individuals who have double-barrelled surnames:

-        Helena Bonham Carter - Sometimes written as “Bonham-Carter”. The actress says that the hyphen is optional.

-        Joseph Gordon-Levitt - American actor, singer, and film producer

-        Julia Louis Dreyfus - Sometimes the actress’s name is hyphenated. Sometimes it is not.

-        Kim Kardashian West - reality television star

-        Beyonce Knowles-Carter - musician/singer

-        Daniel Day-Lewis - English screen actor

-        Sacha Baron Cohen - The comedian’s cousin, Simon, opts for the hyphenated version of the name.

-        Hilary Rodham Clinton - former First Lady of the United States

-        Jada Pinkett Smith - American actress

-        Andrew Lloyd Weber - musical theater composer

-        Olivia Newton-John - singer, actress, entrepreneur, and activist

-        Catherine Zeta-Jones - actress

Though hyphenated or unhyphenated double-barrelled surnames are the most common way in which couples blend their names together in the UK today, some people also combine last names into entirely new configurations. Instead of creating a double-barrelled last name, these people created blended or meshed last names. Dawn Porter, for example, blended her last name (Porter) with her partner’s last name (O’Dowd) to become Dawn O’Porter. Below are some other famous individuals who have blended last names:

●       Alexa PenaVega - actress (her parents’ surnames were Vega and Pena)

●       Antonio Villaraigosa - Mayor of Los Angeles (parents’ surnames were Villar and Raigosa)

●       Clay Dreslough - game designer (parents’ surnames were McLoughlin and Dresser)

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