Has no one ever told this site that in medieval Scotland a woman retained her name and did NOT take her husband's name?

+15 votes
Her name was Mary Guelders, NOT Mary Stewart. Adopting her husband's name was contrary to medieval Scottish custom.
WikiTree profile: James II King of Scots
in Genealogy Help by
retagged by John Atkinson
Interesting, I did not know that.  I have heard of it being applied to women of royalty.  But not all woman.  


4 Answers

+12 votes
Best answer
Like everything name-wise, this is way too broad a brush to paint on Scottish names. Mary of Guelders is a particularly terrible example -  she has a Dutch Toponymic surname but I assume was French-speaking (Burgundian) marrying the King of Scotland and as the Queen consort she had totally different naming scheme at the time and even today. Also the LNAB is a construct for Wikitree which we complain about frequently regarding the names for nobility - she was never "Mrs. James Stewart" and there's no way her children were ever going to be "of Guelders".

I think what anonymous caller was trying to point out is that in the Highland clan system, you had a clan name which we use as a surname but it didn't have the same rules as today or match English customs. Women who married didn't change clans, but her children had a choice of clan and it was pretty uncommon for them to take their mother's clan name but it happened. We can also point to females being able to inherit noble titles as another example how Scottish society viewed inherittance. Also the aristocracy of Scotland was very highly influenced by France and England - the whole Stuart vs. Stewart business, plus there were Scottish nobles with both English and French titles with totally different succession and naming depending on the context.
by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 6 (65.1k points)
selected by Patricia Roche
P.S. By the way, the use of maiden names was not exclusively a Highland custom, and perhaps did not even originate with the clans. The women in my Lynn research using their maiden names, and their husbands, were all Lowland families.
Kirk I agree with your main points but for the record the Scottish habit of women keeping their maiden name (not relevant to Mary of Guelders I presume) was not a highland one, and not a medieval one but actually the norm until the 19th century, in English speaking areas. Highland habits were more complicated.

Thanks Andrew - I was wondering if this was something to do with Scottish law rather than tradition since inheritance was agnatic in Scotland not cognatic like in England. Apparently the particular common laws that required women to relinquish their property to their husbands were called Coverture, which wasn't the case in Scotland. The custom of taking the husbands name was related but symbolic not a legal requirement.

+11 votes
Thanks for this question!  While I'm obviously descended from people in the medieval period (and Scotland particularly), your question made me read a LOT about the naming customs.  So Mary Guelders, who would have retained her name, could have had an alias of "Stewart" but that wasn't even likely in this time period (in general, aliases came later).  The surnames (or bynames) are really complicated through the ages.
by Kathy Zipperer G2G6 Pilot (414k points)
+12 votes
The custom of married women retaining their maiden or birth names actually continued into the 19th century and was gradually followed less and less. Kathy is right, though, that aliases "came later"; i.e., the 18th century. For my paternal surname, Lynn, I found in 35+ years of research only five records of alias being used, and the earliest was on a grave stone dated 1798.

By contrast, I found numerous 15th- to 18th-century records in which both husband and wife were named and in which - with the exception of the 1798 grave stone - the wife was recorded with her maiden name and no alias. At the same time, however, I found a few dozen couples with early 19th-century marriage records who appeared together in the 1841 census with the wife listed by her maiden name.
by Loretta Layman G2G6 Mach 3 (37.7k points)
+10 votes
The topic emphasizes the importance of doing research rather than simply making assumptions.  If research reveals that Mary Guelders referred to herself as Mary Stewart in some document, then by all means, you know she used that as her name.  Otherwise she did not.  

In Colonial Maryland, where I focus a lot of attention, women did in fact change their names and with multiple marriages one can learn in what years she was married to which husbands by seeing which name she used in documents.

You can tell when you are looking at a particularly silly GEDCOM import when you see that Henry VIII has a wife "Mrs. Henry VIII."  (No, I made that up, you don't have to go search to see if we actually have that profile.  But you'll find similar ones scattered here and there still!)
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (405k points)
I have been doing genealogy research for more than 40 years and in all that time the practice of recording women by their birth or baptised name has been followed by genealogists particularly with reference to Scottish women. To my mind and that of most genealogists this is the sensible approach to identifying a female individual. That is until Wikitree came along. Many genealogists will not use Wikitree because of their policy of using married names for women. I myself have fought a losing battle against well meaning folk who try to change the names of my married female ancestors, despite me pointing out that the Scottish practice until fairly recently was to use the baptised name even on the gravestone.
What do you mean by "policy of using married names for women"? Surely you can just use the maiden name as Current Last Name?
Yes, you can easily use Last Name at Birth also as Current Name. In fact, this is the default: when you create people you only need to fill in LNAB, this automatically goes into Current name if this is left blank.

Of course there is a need for a Current Name field, for people who do change their name.

But perhaps the dissatisfaction is with the way names are displayed when there IS a maiden name and a married name. I guess wikitree is a bit one-size-fits-all in that respect.

I still think wikitree treats this better than some other large genealogy sites, from where GEDCOMs are imported - because there is a tendency to have a married name automatically filled in when a woman is linked to a husband, unless the user makes a differentc choice in settings that are well hidden away. This is particularly annoying for women in the patronymic system who should be -dotter of their fathers for their entire lives, but are given the same "surname" ending in -son as their brothers, and then get their husband's "surname" when they marry. As if they would then have become the sons of another father.

PS: I guess I have struggled enough with data doctoring error 912 for today. Getting a bit tired.

For all of us who are unclear on the policy can you please explain again. I was under the assumption that on wikitree we were suppose to add women by birth last name. Do we all who have used that name and not the married name technically need to change a profile? What about women who have been married 2-4 times for example? Hmmm. Guessing confusing for MANY everyday users of wikitree. Thanks in advance.
Women should always have their birth name as LNAB. Do NOT change
EVERYBODY should have their birth name as Last Name at Birth.

In the parts of the tree where I move I see this flaunted by a fair lot of GEDCOM imports, because persons are more known on the genealogical Internet by some name they acquired later in life, when they were ennobled or took up studies and latinized their name or were allotted a soldier's name.
George, I, too have been doing genealogy all my life and was quite put off by WikiTree's use of a woman's "married name".  In fact, I stayed off WikiTree for a whole year out of aversion to seeing woman's "married names" displayed.  Finally I bit the bullet because despite that, there is no site equivalent to WikiTree and, as others have pointed out, at least the computer doesn't make entry of a "married name" automatic.  

The fact is, it was pretty automatic in colonial Maryland, it is NOT automatic today -- in fact it was a court case in Maryland that established a woman's common-law right to use any name she wished as long as there is no intent to defraud -- and we do have to look at each situation individually and not make assumptions.  

As WikiTree becomes more global, we will run into more and more situations where naming conventions are different.  And we will need to respect them.
@Jack. Ah, so it IS the display you are objecting to. I guess I'm habituated not to react to it, because when I grew up this was just the way it was: all the housewife mothers in my Swedish world of the fifties had their husband's names.

And then this practice was only enforced by law in Sweden in 1920! although, I think, in response to the increasing numbers of common folk adopting the practice (which was working its way down the social pyramid).

Then it was made optional again in the sixties, only 40 years later - and now it is not at all uncommon for the husband to take the surname of the wife instead.
This is not an issue of women not having their own identity but of people being able to find their ancestors on WikiTree. If you've entered your data correctly, you will get (using my mother as an example) "Mary Elizabeth (Keever) Lynn", which means that Keever was her maiden name and Lynn her married name. The reason this is best in my view is this ...
Suppose a greatgrandchild looks for her at WikiTree and only knows her by her married name. He or she would never know what last name to look for other than her married name, but they can search for Mary Lynn with 1910 as her year of birth (as I just did) and voila! The first result is Mary Elizabeth (Keever) Lynn with places and full dates of birth and death.
As an aside, this is just one more reason why uploading ged.coms to WikiTree is very risky.
Eva, yes it is the display.  And I no longer object to it, though as a genealogist who is accustomed to thinking of women primarily by their birth name, it is confusing and annoying when in some of the WikiTree functions to be told I am merging or doing something else to Mary Smith when I know and think of her as Mary Beall.  

But historical truth has to prevail.  If Mary is addressed in documents as Mary Smith, then that must be recognized.  Certainly in historic US Censuses, the man is presumed to be the head of the household and the whole household is presumed to carry his last name, so if you are doing a search, as described above, all you know is that her name was mary and she is married to John Smith, so you're going to look for Mary Smith.  What I do object to is what happened in this conversation -- someone assumed that since a woman was married, she took her husband's name.  We cannot make that assumption, and we should not make other assumptions without identifying them as assumptions.
Thank You Jack for conveying my feeling on this topic. We should never change a persons last name unless there is a source for that change, to change anything without a source is not improving anything and will make the profile even more prone to errors.
This is still the case
Of you read the pom charters you will see women regerred to as wife of husband's name or mother of son's name.  These aore official documents and show that the idea that Scottisj women always retained their maiden names.  When it came to land often the wife used the husband's name.

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