The subject of keeping or taking up a new name after marriage has long been debated with no singular conclusion. Is it compulsory for women to take up the last names of their husbands after marriage? When did this tradition begin? Does she lose her identity by nature of marriage? It really isn’t as complex as some would have it. Woman meets man, woman likes man, woman decides to marry man. So, what makes it necessary for her to change her last name?
Women are no longer required to change their last names after marriage. It is a choice she alone has to make. She can decide to maintain her name, hyphenate it with that of her husband, or drop her last name completely to take up his name. whatever she decides is really up to her.
Marriage is not reason enough for a woman to lose her unique identity. Historically, men were regarded as the head of the home. In recent times, however, with gender equality, same sex marriages and single parenting, this tradition no longer holds true. Women have taken up more dominant roles in society, even to the point of reversing the roles. They are allowed to vote, own property and work; they have earned the right to represent themselves any way they deem fit.
Women are now viewed as partners to their husbands and not property as was the case in times of old – where they moved from being their parents’ property to that of a husband after marriage.
Things to Consider:
A change of name does not equate to greater love and commitment in the union. It does not guarantee that the marriage would stand the test of time. It does not guarantee that you’ll both uphold the pact of ‘till death do us part’.
Retaining your maiden name does not mean your children are born out of wedlock, neither would it lead to an identity crisis for them, after all they know their parents. Children are in no way impacted by your bearing a different last name to their father. The parents get to decide whether the children bear a hyphenated version of both parents last names or just that of their father.
Changing a name after years of racking up accolades or establishing a professional presence is a hassle. As bearing a particular last name for 20, 30, or 40+ years means that every legal document from your birth certificate to your identity cards (certificates, awards, driver’s license, voter registration card, passport etc.) bears that name. It is a serious headache to notify all these organizations of a name change.
Things to Ignore:
Criticism. Whatever decision you make is bound to raise some criticism. Traditionalists will question your decision to maintain your maiden name claiming that you’re not fully committed to the marriage. Traditionalists will question your decision to hyphenate (double barrel) both last names claiming that you’re not proud to carry your husband’s name. Feminists would question your sexist and old-fashioned decision to bear his last name claiming that you not only lose yourself in the process but are a property transferred from the parents to the husband. So, get used to it. People will talk and possibly irritate you every chance they get.
Confusion. People are bound to be confused by your choice of last name so be mentally prepared for that. You would be addressed by your maiden name, his last name, or by the hyphenated version. Whatever the case, you would still be referred to as “Mrs. So-and-So, so it doesn’t matter anyway.
What then happens if the man ends up being a twat and the marriage ends in a divorce? Do you (a) continue to maintain his last name when you know that there’s no chance in Krypton of you both reconciling or (b) revert back to your last name, and go through the hassle of getting every legal document you own changed? Is this outdated tradition worth the stress? What happens if you remarry?
Do you go through the same process all over again? What happens if you are the only child of your parents? Would your family name cease to exist after you marry? Would your lineage just die completely, or would you pass the name to your sons? What happens when the marriage is between same sex couples? Who has the dominant surname? There are just too many factors to consider so it only makes sense for each person to maintain their identity.
There is no compelling reason for a woman to change her last name. If it doesn’t change on the birth certificate, I see no reason to have it changed on a marriage certificate. No offense to anyone, but there is simply no point, nor reason for any controversy on this matter. When you marry a man, you do not become that man, or become his sister – so the use of his last name is beside the point.
Your last name reflects your ancestry and family history. It is your identity, and not something that’s up for debate by reason of marriage. You do not become a ‘new being’ by reason of marriage. Changing one’s last name to me is akin to having multiple personalities i.e. one pre-marriage and another post marriage.
During the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, the Normans introduced their custom of Coverture into the English system which dictated a woman’s legal status after marriage. Prior to marriage, women could execute wills, enter into contracts, and sue and be sued in her own name; however, after marriage, her legal existence was suspended. She automatically became her husband’s property and she was stripped of all forms of control – with the full rights belonging only to her husband, and so, it only made sense for his last name to take precedence.
This patriarchal attitude gave men complete authority over women, as the husband’s identity superseded that of his wife. He alone could vote, hold property, go to law, etc. this tradition of women taking up their husbands last name was to focus on the man and his accomplishments. They were both viewed as one entity. She ceased to have her own identity. However, times have changed. We are no longer bound by such traditions and it should be evident when it comes to marriage especially in the 21st century.
Biblically, women are not required to take their husbands last name. Matter of fact, there is no mention of it in the Bible. Women were without last names and were basically referred to as ‘the daughter of’, ‘the mother of’, or ‘the wife of’ so-and-so.
In some countries around the world, it is actually deemed as illegal for a woman to change her last name by reason of marriage. For example, in most Asian countries (excluding China, Japan and the Philippines), in Quebec, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Iran, Morocco, Greece, Korea, Chile and Belgium it is illegal for a woman to change her last name after marriage. In France, women can take their husbands name socially but not legally; or in the Netherlands where women can only take their husbands name under certain circumstance. In Italy, though women are not allowed to change their birth names, they are allowed to attach (hyphenate) their husbands surname to theirs after marriage.
According to Joni Erdmann, “your name is your identity…your achievements, failures, and collective history are filed under your birth name and that never changes. It is a fundamental marker of who you are, and to sacrifice it due to wedlock is a notion not to be taken lightly, especially given the practice’s oppressive heritage.”
The Bottom Line
The decision to maintain or change one’s name ultimately lies with the woman. Whatever your reasons, you should not allow the disapproval of people derail you from making a decision that affects your identity as a person. You will never be successful in pleasing everybody, so there’s no point in even trying.
You’re married now and that’s what matters. Your new title or lack of one does not change that fact. The bottom line is that you’re happy with your choice.
So, what are your intentions regarding the last name? Sound off in the comments below.