Before you raise your eyebrows, I am not here for a debate. I am just here to lay down the options available for women in accordance with the law. Keeping your surname or changing it to your husband’s surname is a woman’s right and a personal choice. For me, it should not necessarily reflect the woman’s Christian and family values, traditions and her respect and love for her husband. Okay?
I thought of writing this because a number of my women-friends told me that they actually don’t want to use their husband’s surname. They also asked if they can revert back to using their own surnames. Before answering their question, let us see what the law says.
Republic Act No. 386 or most commonly known as The Civil Code of the Philippines, Article 370 thereof provides that a married woman may use:
- Her maiden first name and surname and add her husband’s name, or
- Her maiden first name and her husband’s surname, or
- Her husband’s full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as “Mrs.”
The law uses the word “may”
I would like to emphasize the use of the word “may”. In the legal world, the use of the words “may” or “shall” is more than just about English grammar. Oftentimes, it’s a make or break deal. The Supreme Court consistently held that the term “shall” is a word of command, and one which has always or which must be given compulsory meaning; as denoting obligation. While the word “may” is permissive that denotes discretion and cannot be construed as having a mandatory effect. Therefore, looking at Article 370, it uses the word “may” which simply means that the options enumerated are permissive and not obligatory. This brings us to a fourth option that is, for a woman to retain her maiden surname upon marriage.
The Supreme Court said
The Supreme Court held that clearly, a married woman has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband in any of the ways provided by Article 370 of the Civil Code. She is therefore allowed to use not only any of the three names provided in Article 370, but also her maiden name upon marriage. She is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married because when a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status. Further, this interpretation is in consonance with the principle that surnames indicate descent.
“When a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status.”
But I tell you, it may be an easy choice but it entails a difficult process. In the Philippines, several government institutions including private companies do not recognize this right. In reality, you need to have some guts and confidence to face some disgruntled and unaccommodating employees who don’t care at all. You will need patience to explain the law to them in the most respectful manner.
“Surnames indicate descent.”
After explaining to them the law, tell them further that in 2016, the Philippine Women’s Commission, a government agency under the Office of the President, issued a Memorandum Circular directing all government departments including attached agencies, bureaus, and offices to align their policies, procedures, guidelines, practices, systems and records in accordance with the law. If they still insist that there’s no such thing, talk to their legal department or ask your lawyer to talk to them. Hehe.
In fact, on one occasion, we had to write a long letter to one of the hospitals in the city because it consistently refused to recognize this right. Luckily, they responded positively.
After all that, you might want to ask how would you do it then. There’s no how. Just keep it as it is. When you fill up forms and records for the purpose of updating your personal information, write your name like how you used to do it only that in the Civil Status section, change “Single” to “Married”. In all your personal and business transactions onwards, be consistent in using your surname.
Under the same vein and this is my personal view, I do not see any prohibition on the act of dropping a husband’s surname after initially choosing to use the husband’s surname except of course by reason of the provisions of some laws that say otherwise. For example is Republic Act No. 8239 or the Philippine Passport Act of 1996. A woman who has already opted to use her husbands’ surname in her Philippine Passport can no longer revert back to using her maiden surname. Unless the husband died or the marriage has been annulled. This is because the acquisition of a Philippine Passport is a privilege. One cannot change her surname in her passport as long as she wants because it might tamper the integrity and credibility of her passport.
Other than the law on Philippine Passports, I am not familiar with any other law that says dropping the husband’s surname after choosing to use it is prohibited. If you found one, comment it below!
So there you go ladies and gentlemen!
The Backpacking Lawyer is a practicing lawyer and a nurse by profession in the Philippines. While she enjoys her day job, she loves traveling and sharing her adventures and misadventures with you.