Why Are Mothers’ Names Not Given on English & Welsh Marriage Certificates? Let’s Make Waves

Wedding by Bjearwicke Stock XcgheAlmost two years ago (2012) my son married a very lovely woman and we had a wonderful, joyous wedding in Bath’s beautiful Assembly Rooms. My husband and I accompanied our son to see the registrar pre the service when all details for the marriage certificate were finalised. My husband was asked for his full names and occupation. I mentally began preparing myself (always hard to know the right words to describe what I do and I was fully aware of the fact that this was an important document) but question came there none.

“Don’t you want my name and profession?” I asked.

“No”, replied the registrar, “Unfortunately we don’t.”

For a few seconds I felt totally invisible and unimportant, and it’s not often I say that…but of course the joy of the day overshadowed it.

However, should my daughter choose to marry it will not be an issue as she lives in Scotland. I’m pleased to say the Scots are way ahead of us on this one, and both her parents’ names details would be on her marriage certificate.

It is a ridiculous anomaly and may seem insignificant. But it is important and it does matter. It matters historically because historians and genealogists can get plenty of details about men but few about women, and that skews history. And it matters on the macro scale of women being *’second-bested’ in society. It is blatant unequal treatment.

So I was very pleased when I opened my paper this morning and saw that Caroline Criado-Perez was lending her support to a campaign to have the rule changed. A few Tweets later I learned that the woman behind the campaign was Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler who had begun to realise just how married women got airbrushed out of the picture when they took on their husband’s name, often even being addressed by their husband’s surname. I’m with her on that one too. I married in 1977 and didn’t change my name. It was slightly unusual back then but, to be honest, I assumed it would be common practice by now. It isn’t.

I contacted Ailsa to ask her a little more about her campaign.

Jane: Ailsa, what prompted you to start this campaign?
Ailsa: Well, a few years ago I saw a series of programmes on BBC 3 about feminism, and I was amazed that I didn’t know some of the history; it was a real consciousness raising for me. I thought ‘ I must have been sleep walking to miss all of this’. Of course, I knew about feminism but I hadn’t really thought deeply about it.

Part of my feminist awakening centred on my name. I hadn’t wanted to change mine when I married in 2001 but didn’t know anyone else who had kept their name, so succumbed to the pressure to conform.  I decided to change my name back but as we have a 6 year old son, I didn’t want it to be completely different. I chose to have two surnames and change by deed poll for which I needed to produce my marriage certificate. It was then I saw, to my horror, that none of the women in the family were recorded, neither my Mother or my Mother-in-law had a mention, just the fathers.

In a burst of feminist enthusiasm in the summer 2013, I set up the petition.

It ran along gathering quite a few signatures and I started blogging on the topic too, but it wasn’t until The Telegraph wrote about it in January 2014 that it really gained momentum. Some people in the church, too, had been aware of the inherent  unfairness of always wanted to see change, such as the BBC’s Rev Richard Coles, who tweeted it out to his many followers.  Caroline (Criado-Perez) also picked it up and offered her support, which led to the article appearing in The Independent, which is how you found me.

Jane: What is the aim of the petition?
Ailsa: Well, we want the rules changed to match Scotland and Northern Ireland. We want women to be equally represented and, when possible, for both parents to sign the marriage certificate. So far over 24,700 people have signed which shows the level of support.

Jane: And when you’re not campaigning for equality, what do you do?
Ailsa: I’m a freelance Chartered Accountant and I also lecture part time at University on Accountancy.

Jane: Ailsa, I know you’ve had a lot of interest after today’s press story and are really busy, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It’s a brilliant campaign and I sincerely hope that you succeed.

If you’d like to add your name to Ailsa’s petition you can do so at www.change.org/nameequality or by simply clicking this link. Please do share it amongst your friends. It would be so good to see this old fashioned custom written out of history.

And if you’d like to take part in my one day RenewYou course for women, click here.

*I also think both parents should walk their child down the aisle, if that is what is wanted and appropriate, as it’s so beautifully symbolic. Not ‘giving away’ but happily extending the family. We happily both escorted our son as he walked into the room for one of the most important days of his life; it just seemed fitting.


Posted on May 2nd, 2014 by

10 Responses to “Why Are Mothers’ Names Not Given on English & Welsh Marriage Certificates? Let’s Make Waves”

  1. Susan Tyson says:

    I am doing research into my French ancestors and the woman keeps her maiden name on all official documents, including census records and all marriage and birth records. Unfortunately I don’t know if this practice has been maintained since 1936 as I have not studied any French records after this time. On the marriage and birth details the profession of the bride is noted even when she is ‘sans profession along with that of her mother and any godmothers’. The earliest records I have seen date back to the early 1700s. For a genealogist this is wonderful and I have often reflected on how much more enlightened the French must have been, at least in this area. Accordingly I have a much clearer sense of my French women ancestors than I have of their equivalent English women. Good luck with the campaign.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Susan. I know in the overall scheme of things it seem pretty small but there are so many ‘small’ slights which add up to something a lot larger. Good comment, thank you. Jane

  2. Penny says:

    I saw this campaign in passing but reading your article has highlighted the issue and the one allied to it of keeping your name after marriage. Like you I have kept mine, it seemed the logical thing to do. I also do not routinely identify whether I am married; but I am seen as odd. The everyday sexism does not appear to have changed as much since the 70s as I had expected that it would. Men’s marital status is not implied in how they are addressed, they are just plain mister, but Ms excites questions. Probably what surprises me most is that these issues are no longer discussed and have gone under the radar. Reclaim herstory and value diversity.

  3. Michele Winter says:

    I just wanted to add my experience to this issue of mothers names on marriage certificates as I got married last week….

    1. I made a personal stand against this by choosing to omit my father’s details on my marriage certificate. I felt this equalised things a bit, if my mum can’ t be on there neither can my dad.
    2. On a Civil Partnership certificate you are asked for BOTH PARENTS details. When the Marriage Act came in recently this was not transferred over….a massive lost opportunity to move into the 21st century in my opinion. This will mean that when anyone with a Civil Partnership wishes to ‘upgrade’ to a Marriage they will move from an equal certificate to a non-equal one. So they move from a non-equal legal relationship (CP) to an equal one but from paperwork that is equal to paperwork that isn’t. What a pickle! This should have been sorted out as the Marriage Act went through but it wasn’t.

    Also….we keep getting asked and it keeps getting assumed that we are now Mrs and Mrs. We have to keep pointing out that we are staying as Ms and Ms…ie the equivalent titles that men have whether they are married or not. When oh when will Ms stop being purely associated with divorced women and lesbians?! Ironic that I am both, but neither is the reason I choose to be a Ms. My daughter is a Ms and when she has corrected people on this they have said…oh we’re sorry you looked too young to be divorced. She of course puts them right with a few polite feminist statements.

    By the way, we’ve both kept our own names. I was previously married to a man and simply took his name with no thought (pre my feminist awakening). After my divorce I reverted back to my others maiden name to keep some of my history but not return to another ‘male name’ despite this meaning me and my daughter have different surnames.

    Anyway, I just needed to share that!

    • Jane says:

      I’m so glad you did. Thank you.

    • Michele – congratulations on your recent wedding!

      I find the fact that although the appearance of mothers names was thought about for civil partnerships this did not strike anyone in the Home Office as requiring review for marriage and this equal marriage!

      How extraordinary that people think you will now by Mrs and Mrs! Mind you I never assume names/titles.

      You raise a very interesting point about the conversion of civil partnerships into marriages which would at the moment result in a deletion of the mothers details.

      Thanks for story. Please share the link change.org/nameequality

  4. Dorcas says:

    I got married in 1995 and discovered that neither mother would be on the certificate so to get round this we chose to have both mothers as witnesses. They are not recognised as mothers but they are at least there and because they both have the same surnames as their husbands it could probably be deduced and is at least a sort if solution for those getting married now.
    Hopefully the petition will succeed in getting a permanent change.
    I also chose not to change my name and use the Ms prefix, I really didn’t see why I should half way through a career in which my name was important and since there are not brothers or male cousins with my name I wanted to perpetuate it. I actually got tutted by a bank manger when I explained I had got married but not changed my name, he looked dumbfounded when i said I wasn’t intending to. I would have used both names if Walker Walters hadn’t sounded so silly!
    When our son was born I also wanted my surname to live on so we gave it to him as a middle name. Now we have to deal with the fact that he and I have different surnames but it hasn’t yet caused any big problems.

    • Jane says:

      Wow, you still got tutted at in 1995! My bank manager was a very surprised and disparaging in 1977 but you hope things change….We had the name issue too. Both my children, born 1981 and 1986, had my name as one of their given names. My daughter decided to go double barrelled at 16 and my son uses both names for his stage career. My sister in law in Scandinavia had no such problems. She naturally kept her name. Girls keep their mothers name and boys their fathers.

    • I have always been Ms even before the whole name changing thing!

      I love the idea of daughters taking the mothers name and sons the fathers – this is what Harriet Harman did,

      I also wish I had given my son my name as a middle name. I won’t change his name now though as I my motto (adopted from Lucy Stone – look her up on Wikipedia) is “my name is my identity and must not be lost”.

  5. Karen says:

    I too succumbed to the pressure of changing my surname when I first married. However, I have never referred to myself as Mrs. It smacks of ownership and identification through something (marriage) that has nothing to do with how I work, organise my finances, vote – indeed anything. On separating, I reverted to my own surname and it made such a difference to my sense of ‘me’. I have re-married and kept my own name. My new husband did not take kindly to the idea of adopting my surname. And I’m still a Ms, something I’ve been since my teens.

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