Hastings Women’s Law Journal


Deborah Anthony


Multiple economic and political developments appear to have jointly contributed to the constriction of women’s surnames throughout history, including feudalism, the English common law, capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, and the development of the nation-state and its attendant concept of citizenship. While history generally moves in a positive direction, principles of coverture and female legal impotence appear to have in some ways become increasingly restrictive, with women’s surnames as one indication of that. Viewing the use of women’s surnames in terms of their effects on women, reveals the ways in which surname usage wrought a new formal exclusiveness and subordination of women. This article’s analysis unveils new considerations about women’s status, identity, and progress over the past millennium of English history.