While there is no law in Australia that requires you to change your name after you are married, the age-old tradition is still very much a part of modern culture. Approximately 80% of women change their names after marriage in Australia with 20% opting to keep their maiden names due to practicality or professional identity.
The requirement for a wife to take a husband’s surname did not surface until the ninth century when lawmakers began to consider the legalities surrounding families and marriage and the doctrine of coverture emerged – and women were thereafter considered “one” with their husbands and therefore required to assume the husband’s surname as their own.
Under the concept of coverture, which literally means “covered by,” women had no independent legal identity apart from their spouse. Actually, this “coverage” began upon the birth of a female baby – who was given her father’s surname – and thus could only change upon the marriage of that female, at which point her name was automatically changed to that of her new husband.
But coverture laws also prevented women from entering into contracts, engaging in litigation, participating in business, or exercising ownership over real estate or personal property. As succinctly stated by former Justice Abe Fortas of the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Yazell, “[c]overture… rests on the old common-law fiction that the husband and wife are one, [and] the one is the husband.”
Not surprisingly, women in the United States began to take exception to their non-existent legal status, and a much-needed feminist uprising occurred concurrently with the passage of Married Women’s Property Acts in several U.S. states in the mid-1800s. Under these acts, women gained individual legal status for purposes of signing contracts, engaging in business and commerce, and making purchases to acquire property. Accordingly, now that the woman’s name had its own independent legal significance, the number of women opting to retain their birth name began to rise.
So the decision to change your name after marriage is and always will be a personal decision you need to make. Consider discussing it with your new spouse to ensure you consider their feelings, but there is no legal requirement for you to change your name in Australia.