Understanding Maiden and Married Names: Do your students know the difference?

One thing I love about teaching ESL is that my students around the world remind me that you can’t always make assumptions, especially about cultural issues. Take names, for example. In quite a number of countries, the name you’re born with is the name you die with. The lyrics to “An English Teacher” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie (1963) would sound quite strange to those from a culture where names don’t don’t change. Where’s the humor in Rosie singing, “I could have been Mrs. Peterson, Mrs. Albert Peterson, Mrs. Phi Beta Kappa Peterson”?

A student asked me to explain maiden names, and I realized that my response should really go beyond a short answer. I recently posted a video lesson on maiden and married names. I called for reinforcements (an expression taught in the video, by the way), and I got Rachel of Rachel’s English and Vanessa of Speak English with Vanessa to help me explain all the options a married woman is faced with today in the U.S.

This lesson is not unrelated to another I made on titles and forms of address. Let’s face it. Even for those of us born and raised in the U.S., it may not be easy to decide whether to use Mrs. or Ms. for a married woman. We might also make a mistake in assuming that a spouse has the same last name.

1. Talk about maiden names and married names with your students. Be sure your students understand the difference.
2. Consider the insights shared in my video lesson and see if students can list the different options a married couple has in the U.S.
3. Broaden the conversation and compare practices in different countries. Whenever cultural differences come into play, the key is not to talk about what’s “right” or “better.” The key is awareness of those differences.

1. Do married women in the U.S. always take the husband’s last name? Why might they want to do this? Why might they not want to do this?
2. If a woman keeps her maiden name, what options might the married couple consider when naming their children?
3. If a person grows up with a hyphenated name, do you think they are more likely or less likely to take the spouse’s last name?
4. Can you name other countries that also have the tradition where the wife takes the husband’s name? Why do you think these countries share this practice?
5. Can you name countries that do not have that tradition of changing one’s name after marriage? Why do you think these countries do not have this practice?
6. Did you ever wish you could have changed either your first or last name? How much is your name a part of your identity?
7. Do you know any history about your family name? Do you know the meaning or origin?
8. How often do you meet people with the same last name? Have you ever met someone who shares your first and last name?

February 14th is coming up! A topic related to marriage can tie into a Valentine’s Day themed lesson. If you have the opportunity to work in other holiday activities, consider past activities I suggested. (See older post.) From song lyrics to dialogs with terms of endearment, you’re bound to find something appropriate for your learners.

Photo credit: Heart, Love, Two Hearts by PIRO4D. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-heart-love-two-hearts-1721592/.

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