Giving Away the Bride + The Alternatives

"Who Gives This Woman?" (And My Two Other Suggestions)



by Mark Allan Groleau in Wedding Processional
November 21, 2017

Whether it’s giving away the bride or one of the other two options, we need an arrival plan.

If we’re officiating a wedding with a bride, there’s likely going to be a point in the ceremony where she gets to the front, and on the arm of someone accompanying her. She’s arrived, and we need a plan for what happens when she gets there. If it’s not carefully planned and rehearsed, it can get real awkward.

Back in the day, this was a no-brainer. The person accompanying the bride would almost always be her father or a male benefactor. More specifically, it would be the man whose “property” she was. And so, when Bride and – say, her dad – got to the front, the person presiding over the wedding would ask, “Who gives this woman (the bride) to this man (the groom) today?” Or something to that effect. And Dad would answer. “I do.”

Of course, he’d only say that if the groom and his family ponied up enough dough (called a dowry) to make it worth it, mind you.

Okay, so… before I start in on a diatribe about patriarchy, let’s get back to what this tradition means for us wedding officiants in the 21st century.

Let’s assume our bride doesn’t have an “owner.” This means that even if our couple likes this tradition, we need to at least put some intentional thought into it. “Giving away” the bride isn’t just an assumption anymore.

Now, we will marry brides whose fathers have dreamed of their “giving away” moment since she was a little girl, and therefore she wants it to happen, too. And obviously, to them it doesn’t have the same meaning it did 1500 years ago. It’s just a tradition. So of course we oblige if our bride wants it.

But sometimes they’ve never seen an alternative, either.

Here are the 3 essential options I lay out for my couples in our ceremony planning session.

Option 1: “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

We can write this tradition into the ceremony as-is: when the bride gets to the front with her father or whoever is walking down with her, we’ll ask “Who gives this woman to be married today?”

Option 1a: “Who gives Sarah to be married to John today?”

This option is a bit more personal. It doesn’t sound like I’ve gone blind and can’t see that Sarah and John are standing right there. So if we must do the “giving away the bride” thing, I much prefer to use the names of the bride and groom.

Option 1b: “James, do you give Sarah to be married to John today?”

This is my favourite variation of the traditional “giving away the bride” option. Because, again, it’s most personal: I’m not acting like I’m looking over the father’s head and asking “Who? Is anybody there??” Like I can’t see him standing right there. If I can use names wherever I can in the ceremony, I do. It’s way more personal and natural.

Option 2: “Who supports Sarah in her wedding to John today?”

We can use a more traditionally faith-based word in place of “supports” here, like “blesses” or “affirms.” This option is a more contemporary take on this tradition because just about anyone can get behind the idea of the relatives supporting, blessing, and affirming two people joining their lives and being accepted and loved into the family. It’s very inclusive, and I like that.

Option 2a: “James, do you support Sarah in her wedding to John today?”

Again, I like the idea of using this more personal and progressive language while addressing the bride’s escort directly.

So, Option 2 is the most universally accepted option if the couple wants something to be asked or said when the bride gets to the front, but she doesn’t love the idea of being given away.

Option 1 and 2: Including a Significant Other

Another variation for Options 1 and 2 is perhaps including the mother or father or significant other. So if we ask the bride’s father, for example, in Option 1 “Who gives this woman to be married today,” another way he could answer is with, “Her mother and I do.”

Similarly, if we’re addressing the bride’s escort directly, we can consider asking, “James and Peggy, do you support Sarah’s wedding to John today?” That way we include both parents. And this would be an obvious choice if both parents are accompanying the bride down the aisle, as well.

I always offer the choice of including the mother or father or significant other in the question and/or the answer when I’m planning this part of the ceremony with the couple.

I want them to be able to make an informed decision knowing all the choices that are available to them.

There’s another option, though; we don’t actually need to say anything at all. Which leads us to Option 3.

Option 3: It all happens only to music.

This option is what happens in about three-quarters of the ceremonies I officiate: the bride’s arrival and the couple moving into place all happen to the processional music without words or any interruption at all.

I outline the choreographic specifics in my full ceremony post, but essentially what happens here is:

  • the bride gets to the front with her escort,
  • her fiancee steps forward to receive her,
  • her fiancee hugs the person who accompanied her,
  • the bride then hugs her escort,
  • the couple continue forward and take their place in front of the officiant,
  • the bride’s escort moves off and takes his/her seat.

All this happens seamlessly while the processional music plays, and the music fades out when the couple are in their place in front of the officiant. Then, we start our officiant speech.

Here in Toronto, most couples take Option 3 for whatever reason. I think they like the idea of the hugging and the kissing and taking their place to the backdrop of the processional song they chose, rather than bringing everything to a grinding halt and then getting into place in silence.

So there you have it: the options I give my couples. There may be a few others floating around there, but these three best cover the gamut – from full-on-traditional to an adaptable alternative to the whole thing set to music.

And my couples always know in their gut which choice is right for them. 

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  1. Stehanie Jolly says:

    What if the brides father has passed away, and her two grandgathers are giving her away…..when the preacher asks who gives this bride away?? How does he answer? Her mother and I?? Her late father?? Her family and I?? Please help

    1. Hi there! Have you asked the bride what her preference is? I always ask the bride what she wants to do. It sounds like the third option of just leaving out the question and doing it to music might work best here. But first, ask the bride a) if she still wants to be given away, and b) who she thinks would be best to answer if she does. There’s no shame in asking. In fact, it’s best to always leave those decisions to the people getting married. Remember: it’s not our job as officiants to have the answers. It’s our job to lay out all the options so the couple can make the best decision for themselves.

  2. Chermarie Geronimo says:

    hi. how can i include the name of my cousin who will be giving me away? I want to include hos name also in the wedding program? thanks!

    1. Good idea! I prefer to use the first name of the person standing with the bride. And that’s a nice touch to include his name in the program!

      1. Elise Pierce says:

        I much prefer the continental European custom I witnessed in my youth: Bride and groom meet at the church door and walk up to isle together. The “giving away of brides” reflects a horrific ancient custom of selling girls, often in puberty, still practiced today in may places. Why honor such a “tradition?”

        1. Thanks for your comment, Elise. I’m with you – I don’t love it. That said, most people don’t know the origins of the tradition and so it doesn’t have the same oppressive power when you don’t know. Plus, as an officiant working for and with the couple, I do want to honour the preferences of the couple. I like the custom of the couple walking in together, too!

  3. Sharissa says:

    My father is giving away my daughter whom she has lived with now For the past 4 years. How do we address the “who gives away my daughter”? Should I stand once she approaches the first bench and say I do and her grandparents?

    1. Hey Sharissa! Thanks for your quesiton! When I plan this part of the ceremony with my couples, I leave this part entirely up to them to decide. It sounds like for you, the officiant could name you and your parents directly and ask you if you give or support the union today. Then you would all say, “We do” in unison. And don’t worry about standing – you would likely already be standing along with everyone else as this is typically part of the processional and everyone is standing for that.

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