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(1) A person’s family name. The surname is acquired at birth; changes in personal status through such circumstances as adoption or marriage may result in a change of surname.
Surnames first became hereditary among the aristocracy of ancient Rome. As a rule, an individual’s surname derived either from his birthplace or from the location of his family landholdings. In Western Europe the use of surnames became common in the 15th century, especially among the upper classes. In Russia, surnames were introduced by law in the 16th century, first for the princes and boyars and later for the dvoriane (nobility) and leading merchants. Only after the abolition of serfdom did surnames come into use among the peasantry.
Under Soviet law, a child’s surname is determined by the surname of his parents. If the parents have different surnames, the child is given either his mother’s or father’s surname by agreement of the parents. If the mother is unmarried and paternity has not been established by a joint declaration of the parents or by a court decision, the child assumes his mother’s surname. The surname of an adopted child may be changed to that of his new family if the adoptive parent so requests. If, however, the child is ten or older, his consent is required before his surname may be altered.
A married couple may share the surname of either spouse, or each spouse may retain his original family name. Some Union republics, such as the Azerbaijan, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian SSR’s, permit married couples to adopt compound surnames consisting of the surnames of both spouses.
In cases of divorce or annulment, the conditions and procedures for changing a surname are prescribed by the laws on marraige and the family. In other situations, changes are regulated by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of Mar. 26, 1971, On the Changing of Surnames, Given Names, and Patronymics by Citizens of the USSR. Changes are also regulated by the Statute on Reviewing Petitions by Citizens of the USSR Regarding Changes of Surnames, Given Names, and Patronymics, which was ratified by the Council of Ministers of the USSR on Aug. 20, 1971.
(2) The Russian word for surname, familiia, may also mean family or clan.
(3) The Russian word for surname, familiia, is also applied to the familia, a Roman economic and legal unit consisting of the extended family and its slaves.