On Taking Your Partner's Last Name

Imagine the traditional “big white wedding.” The priest says a bunch of stuff, pronounces the bride and groom “man and wife,” leaves time for the two to kiss, and introduces the new couple as “Mr. and Ms. So-and-so.” The newlyweds happily walk off and proceed to celebrate with the guests.

Yet, one thing that has always bothered me about that picture (other than the fact that it only considers a heterosexual couple and labels the two “man and wife” as if the man is his own, unchanged person and the woman’s new title as “wife” is simply an add-on to the man’s life) is that the woman is referred to as “Ms. Husband’s-Name.” Where does this tradition of the women taking the man’s name come from anyway?

In the past, women were considered property of their fathers, and then after getting married, property of their husbands. Rather than being their own individual selves, they were the accessories of the men in their lives, and their last names only served to prove that point. Today, women are no longer considered property, but many heterosexual women continue to adopt their husbands’ surnames and pass the same name down to their children. Why?

Many argue that it is simply tradition and that going against it unnecessarily defies a social norm. However, this tradition doesn’t exist in all cultures. I personally grew up in a family with happily married parents but still two different last names, and it never bothered me when letters to our family were addressed to two different names. We like to think that Asia is far behind the US in terms of social justice and feminism, but many women in Asian countries do not adopt their husbands’ last names (though they do often pass their husbands’ surnames down to their children, as my mother did with me. Still, it is a lot more common for Asian parents to alternate last names with multiple children than it is for American parents).  Hispanic women usually take their husbands’ last names while retaining their father’s last names, although their mothers’ surnames are lost in the process.

The tradition also hits an obstacle when it comes to homosexual couples—if both parties are of the same gender, who takes whose surname? Gay and lesbian pairings, at least, are given a choice by society—if the couple chooses to share the same last name, they at least have choice in deciding who gets what. Straight couples usually assume from the get-go that the woman will change her name.

 And since women have the freedom to make their own choices, it’s perfectly fine to take their partners’ surnames. But by the same logic, why is it so rare for husbands to take their wives’ last names? Why is that even though Beyonce and Jay-Z are equally famous and respectable people, their children are all Carters and not Knowleses?

It’s 2017, but systematic sexism still exists, and one of those ways is in which men have much more trouble taking their wives’ last names than vice versa. Men are still seen very much as “possessing” their wives despite the fact that the “women-being-objects” ideology has been denounced long ago, and are considered “whipped” for taking their wives’ last names. Although it varies by state, most women need only pay less than $100 to change their name during marriage, while men must undergo an entirely separate legal process and pay up to $300 in some areas.

We as a society still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality, but as mentioned earlier, it is 2017. Heterosexual couples aren’t the only ones getting married anymore; feminism has practically become a household word for young girls; and more and more, women aren’t taking their husbands’ last names. Why not consider it as well?

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