May a married woman refuse to use her husband’s surname?

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” rued Juliet in her soliloquy in the immortal play Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. She was ruminating this within the context of their forbidden love brought about by the feud between their families on account of their family names evoking rancor to one another’s.

This article is not about a family feud of the magnitude as that in Romeo and Juliet, but it has something to do with a married woman’s right to use, not use, or disuse her husband’s surname.

Filipino custom and tradition make it automatic (if not sacrosanct) the wife’s use of her husband’s surname right after marriage. It is a sort of practice hardened by time and ripened by culture that the wife co-opts her husband’s surname.

But how many versions can there be of the wife carrying the surname of her husband?

Under Article 370 of the New Civil Code, a married woman may use:

(1) Her maiden first name and surname and add her husband’s surname, or

(2) Her maiden first name and her husband’s surname, or

(3) Her husband’s full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as “Mrs.”

The Supreme Court in MARIA VIRGINIA V. REMO v. THE HONORABLE SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, G.R. No. 169202 March 5, 2010, ruled that “the use of the word “may” in the above provision indicates that the use of the husband’s surname by the wife is permissive rather than obligatory.”

Therefore, if the married woman’s name is Maria Santos, and her husband is Jose Cruz, she can choose among the following as her official name, viz:

  1. Maria Santos Cruz; Maria Cruz;
  2. Mrs. Jose Cruz; or,
  3. Maria Santos

Since these four (4) options are within the married woman’s prerogative, no one -not even her husband- can legally dictate on her which one to adopt as her official name. And as a rule, even if she had already chosen to use her husband’s surname in her records, the married woman can always revert back to her maiden name at any time she so wishes. All she needs to do is execute an Affidavit of Reversion to Maiden Name by invoking Article 370 of the New Civil Code and just like magic she can reuse her maiden name once again as a matter of right.

The only limitation to this seeming free-handed manner by which the wife can choose to use, not use, or disuse her husband’s surname is if the particular record appertains to one where a special law prohibits the amendment without a special change of circumstance or a court order. One such law is Republic Act No. 8239 or “The Philippine Passport Act”. Section 5 of the said law mandates that:

“Sec. 5. Requirements for the Issuance of Passport. — No passport shall be issued to an applicant unless the Secretary or his duly authorized representative is satisfied that the applicant is a Filipino citizen who has complied with the following requirements: x x x

(d) In case of a woman who is married, separated, divorced or widowed or whose marriage has been annulled or declared by court as void, a copy of the certificate of marriage, court decree of separation, divorce or annulment or certificate of death of the deceased spouse duly issued and authenticated by the Office of the Civil Registrar General: Provided, That in case of a divorce decree, annulment or declaration of marriage as void, the woman applicant may revert to the use of her maiden name: Provided, further, That such divorce is recognized under existing laws of the Philippines; x x x” (Emphasis supplied)

Explicating further on the legal implications of the married woman’s choice, it was held that:

“In the case of renewal of passport, a married woman may either adopt her husband’s surname or continuously use her maiden name. If she chooses to adopt her husband’s surname in her new passport, the DFA additionally requires the submission of an authenticated copy of the marriage certificate. Otherwise, if she prefers to continue using her maiden name, she may still do so. The DFA will not prohibit her from continuously using her maiden name”. 


Thus, for one who gets married and will apply or seek to renew her passport, Article 370 of the New Civil Code in tandem with Republic Act No. 8239 or “The Philippine Passport Act”, entitles her to the unbridled choice to retain her maiden name or to carry her husband’s surname by submitting her marriage certificate to the DFA. But the drawback is that once she opts to use her husband’s surname in her passport, she cannot revert back to her maiden name anymore unless her husband dies, or their marriage is annulled or declared void by a court of law.

Of course, the entries in one’s passport are impressed with public interest and policy considerations (and even national and international security repercussions), which the married woman cannot undermine based on a mere whim to disuse her husband’s surname. If she is unsure of carrying her husband’s surname in her passport for the duration of their marriage, then she better register her maiden name in her application or renewal of her passport. Because once the officially entered name in the issued passport uses her husband’s surname, it cannot be amended or revised unless on account of the death of the husband, or annulment or declaration of nullity of their marriage.

But then again, as to any other official record, the wife may use, not use, or disuse her husband’s surname for as long as there is no special law that forbids her to revert back to her maiden name.

Maybe I spoke too soon at the beginning of this article when I said that this has nothing to do with family feuds. I guess I have to rephrase that and say that this has something to do with the possible discord that can be wreaked within the family by the wife’s refusal to use her husband’s surname for which she would be well within her civil rights to do so- albeit it would be repugnant to Filipino conservatism, custom and tradition.

What’s in a name?

Perhaps everything that identifies the wife to her husband.

(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a law book author. His website is