Why would a husband take his wife's surname? #lithuania #unitedkingdom #general

Denise Fletcher

It seems that one of my grandfather's sisters, Leah Fleiser / Fleser, married a Samuel Lazarus.  As far as we know, Leah was born in Prienai, Lithuania in 1879, and Samuel was born in 1868.  We don't know where or when they got married. 

Leah had siblings who left Prienai around the turn of the 20th century for the UK, where the name was anglicised to Fletcher.  She, possibly already married to Samuel, followed suit at around the same time.

Leah and Samuel lived in Cardiff from at least 1912, and for some reason, Samuel apparently took Fletcher as his surname.  All 3 of his sons had Lazarus as their middle name, though, and on HIS tombstone, his given names are Samuel Eliezer, in other words, Samuel Lazarus, but his surname is Fletcher.

Can anyone shed any light on why this might have happened? 

Please reply directly to me at dfletcheroz@...

Many thanks in anticipation!
Denise Fletcher, Sydney Australia


One reason I can think of for the husband to take his wife's last name in the UK is because Fletcher may have made it easier when dealing with other people or the authorities, compared to the foreign Lazarus. Considering common intolerance to strangers/immigrants/Jews, using a less "foreign" name might have helped.
In my family I have the opposite reason for choosing a wife's last name.  I have a cousin in Israel who's last name was originally Cohen. He adopted his wife's last name so he could have a less common name and less confusion when dealing with officials.  His first name is pretty common Israeli name and Cohen is the most common last name for Jews in Israel. Think of being named John Smith and having to explain to the police each time that you are not the John Smith they are looking for.

Dan Efrat
Cherry Hill, NJ, USA (originally from Israel)

Christine Hills

It doubt if this is the reason in this instance, but I know two men (unrelated), who in the last century took their wife's name at marriage because they were in business partnership with the wife's father and it was of benefit to have the same name, for financial and inheritance reasons. Both were in U.K.
Christine Hills  Dublin, Ireland (Previously London, England)


Family lore has my ggfather (Przeworski) taking his wife's surname (Roth) due to the children being teased being called 'Sewer'.  (NYC, about 1900)
John Segedy, NH

Herman Salmenson

I believe that when a man married into a prominent family for example a famous rabbinical family, the husband if he was a rabbi, would take on the father-in-laws surname so that he could continue the dynasty.
Herman Salmenson

Paul Silverstone

My grandfather changed his name to his wife's maiden name after he
arrived in America. His name was Chrzan difficult to pronounce and
when someone asked him to spell it he gave his wife's name instead,
Silberstein. So they kept her name, and when his brothers arrived they
took that name too. My father's uncles on both sides had the same last
name, including two Benjamins.
Paul Silverstone
West Vancouver, BC

see: www.paulsilverstone.com

Yonatan Ben-Ari

A supposed distant relative of mine was a well known Rabbi in
Novarodok in the 19th cent. His family name is unknown to me (if he
actually had one) and reportedly the son adopted his father-in-law's
family name HOROWITZ which considered a prominent Rabbinical lineage.

Yoni Ben-Ari, Jerusalem

Sarah L Meyer

My husband considered taking my name when we married, but decided against it, because it would have dishonored his parents.  It might have really helped our children however who had to cope with a situation that they had no control over:  namely being Jewish and a surname of Christiansen.   Our daughter solved the problem by marrying ( and being very frum), while our son has almost nothing to do with Judaism - and would not marry a Jewish woman. We both understood and accepted the conflict.  They had no choice.
Sarah L Meyer
Georgetown TX
BIRGARDOVSKY, EDELBERG, HITE (CHAIT), PERCHIK Russia (southern Ukraine) and some Latvia or Lithuania

Michael Sharp

In the UK there is no legal requirement to adopt a spouse's surname on marriage - it is just tradition - and if anyone changes their surname it does not have to be the bride

Answering your question depends on when and where the name change took place.

  • if the name change took place in Poland/Lithuania/Russia it could have been in an attempt to avoid military service in the Tsar's army
  • if the name change took place in the UK it may have been either because of problems with largely illiterate customs officials are due to poor guttural English on the part of the immigrant

I have relatives whose mother's first name on the birth certificates was variously Dora, Chaya or Sara (all the same person) and whose surname was either Goodman or Lederman. The real name of the mother was Chaya Goodman nee Lederman. We suspect that the registrar or didn't understand a guttural Chaya and wrote it down as Sara, and that the husband sometimes gave his wife's married surname and sometimes her maiden name to the registrar
Michael Sharp
Manchester UK

Jill Whitehead

Lazarus could have been a patronymic name (e.g. Samuel son of Lazarus) hence the continuation in the next generation. My great grand aunt married a Solomon Berkowitz Karobelnik in Hull in the 1880's. He quickly dropped the last name (which meant a peddlar, and was probably given him by the authorities) in favour of Berkowitz which then became Birks.

Members of my family who had the first name Lazarus were usually known as Lewis or Louis. 

During WW1 (1914-18) many families in Britain changed their surnames to appear more English - my Guttenberg family became Graham in 1915, and some of their in laws the Goldblums, also became Graham. Some of the other Goldblums became Blair-Gould. Surnames were fluid.

It was not unknown for families to take the woman's name in Eastern Europe when surnames were adopted in early 19th century e.g. Malka is both a woman's first name and surname.

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK
nee Servian formally Serwianski - other variants were Server and Sirvan, Max and Maxwell (latter after patronymic Mordecai).