The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What’s in a name? For Anne Holton, a lot of history and the potential to make more.

Former president Bill Clinton and Anne Holton, wife of Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), attend a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Kaine at McGonigle Hall at Temple University in Philadelphia on July 29. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

When Hillary Clinton was first lady of Arkansas in the late 1970s and early '80s, she went by her maiden name, Rodham, embracing an increasingly popular practice among women of that era — highly educated professionals influenced by second-wave feminism.

But by the time she became first lady of the United States she had bowed to lingering political and societal pressures and was using her husband's last name.

If Clinton is elected president in November, she will bring with her to the White House a woman who is less likely to face the same kind of scrutiny for using her maiden name, Anne Holton, the wife of Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Holton would be the first wife of a U.S. president or vice president to use her birth surname. And she would represent yet another break from tradition among women occupying one of the most visible roles in American society. In the current White House, Michelle Obama is the first African American first lady and Jill Biden is the first spouse of a president or vice president to hold a paying job while her husband was in office.

Still, both those women, who like Holton hold advanced degrees and had prior professional careers, use their husband's surnames, in keeping with the practice of the vast majority of married women in this country.

Holton, 58, is the daughter of former Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton, a Republican who pushed a resistant citizenry toward desegregated public schools by sending his own daughters to an all-black Richmond school.

She earned her bachelor's degree from Princeton University and her law degree from Harvard. Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Holton secretary of education in 2014, a post she held until last month, when she resigned after her husband was selected as Clinton's running mate.

In the late 1990s, Holton was appointed as a judge to family court in Richmond, stepping down in 2005 when her husband became governor of Virginia. She continued to use her maiden name as the state's first lady.

Deborah J. Anthony, who wrote a 2010 paper on the legal and social influences on how women decide which surnames to use on the subject, estimates that 80 to 85 percent of married women take their husband's last names.

"Statistically speaking it's fairly uncommon for women to keep their names," said Anthony, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, who also cautioned that reliable information on the subject is scarce.

The Census Bureau did a survey nine years ago using data from 2004 that found that only 7 percent of women had different surnames than their husbands. Percentages were much higher for women with advanced education: 12 percent of women with a master's degree, 21 percent of women with a professional degree and 33 percent of women with a doctoral degree.

"It is more common for professional women to keep their birth name at marriage for practical reasons," Anthony said. "Women who marry later in life and have already established themselves with their birth name may want to continue the professional identity."

Women from families that are prominent in political, business or social circles also often continue to use their birth surnames, either alone or in combination with their husband's last names. Ivanka Trump, the married daughter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, comes to mind.

Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and suffragist, was the first known woman in the United States to insist on keeping her maiden name after her marriage to Henry Blackwell in 1855. "My name is the symbol of my identity, which must not be lost," she was quoted as saying.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on the issue.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian with the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, said that Holton would be the first spouse of a president or vice president to use her maiden name. "Hillary was the closest to this when she used her maiden name officially during the initial years of her husband's presidency," Anthony said via email.

Lara M. Kline, a spokeswoman for the White House Historical Association, also confirmed that Holton would be the first vice presidential spouse to use her maiden name.

Clinton, in her autobiography "Living History," said that both her mother and mother-in-law objected to her keeping her maiden name. "It was a personal decision, a small (I thought) gesture to acknowledge that while I was committed to our union, I was still me. I was also being practical. By the time we married, I was teaching, trying cases, publishing and speaking as Hillary Rodham."

But after her husband lost his reelection campaign for Arkansas governor, she learned that "some people were upset when they received invitations to events at the Governor's Mansion from 'Governor Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham.' Chelsea's birth announcement, also featuring our two names, was apparently a hot subject of conversation around the state.

"I decided it was more important for Bill to be Governor again than for me to keep my maiden name," she wrote. "So when Bill announced his run for another term on Chelsea's second birthday, I began calling myself Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Anthony doubts that a political spouse would face such intense criticism and expectations to change her name today. Still, she would view it as a significant milestone if Holton becomes second lady and keeps her maiden name.

"At a minimum, it is evidence of the fact that people are able to make those choices for themselves, that choices are available and acceptable and women can decide what is important to them and what they want to do with their identities," she said.

Deb Biggert, 49, a audiologist who came to see Kaine and Holton at a campaign stop in Asheville, N.C., last week agreed.

"I totally support any woman who has her own ideas," she said. "It's certainly not that taking your husband's name is antiquated, but she's a professional woman, with her own identity."

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.