Wife changing surname after marriage.

Q. I am getting married in late December and am having an issue popping up at the last minute. When a husband and wife gets married, does the wife have to take the surname of the husband? If so, can you explain why and if not can you also explain why.

A. According to Islamic traditions, a person’s name is normally connected to the father’s name. For this reason, we see that the names of the Sahabahs were always connected to their fathers’ name. Examples of this are: Umar bin Khattab – Umar the son of Khattab; Abdullah bin Abbas – Abdullah the son of Abbas; Zaid bin Arqam – Zaid the son of Arqam, etc. etc.

In a like manner, the names of women were also connected to their fathers’ name, like Khadijah bint Khuwailid (Khadijah the daughter of Khuwailid, she was the wife of the Prophet S.A.S), Zainab bint Jahsh (Zainab the daughter of Jahsh), Sawdah bint Zaniah (Sawdah the daughter of Zaniah). They were all from among the blessed wives of the noble Messenger of Allah (S.A.S).

What is evident from this, is that even after their marriage, their names continued to be attached and connected to the father’s names, and they were not adjusted or changed to show their marriage with anyone. Instead, in order to show their marriage with a particular person, the words ‘the wife of’ used to be attached to their names, like Zainab bint Jahsh Zawjun Nabi (S.A.S) (Zainab the daughter of Jahsh who was the wife of the Prophet S.A.S).

With respect to their titles, these were given, based on the tribe that a person belonged to. Hence, the name Abu Moosa Al Ash’ari (R.A) meant that he (Abu Moosa) belonged to the Ash’ari tribe, Abu Zar Ghiffari (R.A) meant that he belonged to the Banu Ghiffari tribe, and in this way titles (or surnames) were given. The name of the tribe being attached to the person’s name (as in the above cases) indicated to which family and group he/she belonged to.

This manner of connecting one’s name to the fathers’ name and being connected to a tribe has been established even before the advent of Islam, and has been the way of the Arabs until today. Besides the Arabs, many Muslims may chose to adopt this manner of affixing names for their children, and there is no harm in doing so.

What is evident from the above explanation is that it is not essential (based on that which has been adopted by the Sahabahs and early Muslims) for a wife (upon marriage) to take the surname of the husband. However, although the wife would have carried her original name (i.e. being attached to her father’s name) she would have been referred to as ‘the wife of so and so’. This was also a part of the tradition among the Arabs.

In contrast to this, we find that different countries, culture and people have their own way of identifying the family lineage, one which was the main purpose in the Arabs adopting the said manner as mentioned above.

We find in our country and perhaps many others, that a child’s surname would normally be registered with the surname of the father, which in reality, is a family name coming down from the father’s parents, grand parents and great grand parents etc.

In this manner, the lineage of a person can be easily traced over a period of generations to identify the family roots. In doing so, there is the preservation and identification of the family lineage which is an important one in Islamic teachings.

It is with this view of having a child carry the father’s name, that many countries have adopted the trend of giving the wife the husband’s surname. This occurs automatically, through the register of a marriage and we see that it has become a common trend in the world today. Hence, if the wife’s surname is Mohammed and the husband’s surname is Ali, people will normally refer to the couple as Mr. & Mrs. Ali.

This is something which has been established to a great extent across the globe and there are good reasons for it. For example, when the wife carries the surname of the husband, it becomes easy to identify that a marital relation exists between the two individuals. It also brings about ease in affixing the child’s surname with the father’s surname which then becomes the family surname.

If the wife did not take the surname of the husband, then it means that the child’s surname would be different from that of the mother’s. In this case, a lot of problems can come about, owing to the
difference in surnames, especially when it is connected to having legal documents for the child.

The gist of this entire explanation is that while taking the husband’s surname is not compulsory (for a wife) in Islamic teachings, it cannot be said that it is opposing to Islam. Instead, it is one which has many benefits, and has been established as a norm in many countries of the world, including ours.

At the same time, if a wife chooses not to take the husband’s surname, then she is not blameworthy and sinful, seeing that she has not violated any Islamic teaching.

And Allah knows best.

Mufti Waseem Khan