Marital surname change is a striking example of the survival of tradition. A practice emerging from patriarchal history has become embedded in an age of detraditionalisation and women’s emancipation. Is the tradition of women’s marital name change just some sort of inertia or drag, which will slowly disappear as modernity progresses, or does this tradition fulfil more contemporary roles? Are women and men just dupes to tradition, or alternatively do they use tradition to further their aims? We examine how different approaches – individualisation theory, new institutionalism, and bricolage – might tackle these questions. This examination is set within a comparative analysis of marital surname change in Britain and Norway, using small qualitative samples. We find that while individualisation and new institutionalism offer partial explanations, bricolage offers a more adaptable viewpoint.