Should Women Keep Their Last Names After Marriage?

Patriarchy’s unwritten rule of marriage: a woman should take the man’s last name after marriage. But should they really?

When I was living in Orlando, Florida, I remember my high school English teacher asked, “Do you think women should keep their last names after marriage?” and I was the only one that raised my hand and said yes. I was shocked. It had never crossed my mind that this would be so controversial. My answer to the question was: “It’s part of my identity.” I always believed that this is a decision a woman makes by herself and for herself.

This topic has intrigued me ever since. I couldn’t believe what some of my classmates were saying!

“I would be offended if my wife doesn’t want to take my name.”

“Its tradition!”

“My boyfriend wants me to do it, so I will.”

These were some of the comments, and I was so mad about it.

Around 90% of American women still take their husband’s last name at marriage, and 50%of Americans think it should be illegal for a woman not to take his surname, according to The Guardian.

There’s not an expectation for the same name-change in men.

In a recent study, of 877 heterosexual married men, less than 3% took their wife’s name after they got married. Oh! And none of the men surveyed, who had an advanced education or more than just a bachelor’s degree, changed their name. The study said that better-educated men find themselves in their traditional role (earns the money to support the family) and thought that they had more to lose by changing their surname. They worry that they’ll be seen as less of a man, less dominant or weaker in the household.

The expectation that women should change their last name after getting married, swapping their own identities for their husband’s, is an antiquated practice.

According to the Huffington Post, around the time of the Norman Conquest in England, women didn’t have many rights. Married women were perceived to have no surname (except “wife of”), since the Normans had also brought with them the doctrine of coverture, which was the legal principle that upon marriage a woman became her husband’s possession.

Lucy Stone, 19th century U.S. suffragist and abolitionist, was the first woman to keep her last name after getting married in 1855. Since that was very new at that moment, she had many problems during her daily life because she didn’t have her husband’s name. For example, legal officials wouldn’t let her buy land without signing her husband’s name. This inspired her to seek legal assurance that there was no law in existence that dictated she must do so.

Her friend and activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote: “Nothing has been done in the women's rights movement for some time that has so rejoiced my heart as the announcement by you of a woman’s right to her name. It does seem to me a proper self-respect demands that every woman may have some name by which she may be known from cradle to grave.”

Yes, women changing their last name after getting married is tradition. The tradition exists because it comes from a time when women were not allowed autonomy, a job, or an independent life whatsoever.

This tradition is similar to the way slaves in the U.S. were given their masters' last names back in the 19th century. It’s not that I believe slavery and marriage are the same, but our naming customs derive from the same attitudes and beliefs.

So, slavery was tradition, women not having the right to vote was tradition-- but just because it's tradition doesn’t make it right.

Stone said, "My name is my identity and must not be lost." And I completely agree with her.

Women keep their last names for many reasons, whether it’s for feminist principles, professional goals, because they love their name or just because it’s “too much work changing it.” The most important reason is identity.

Marriage shouldn’t change who you are; it just means you are living a life with another person now. You are your own person and your identity should not be tied to who you marry.

Andy Golder changed his last name after he got married and talks about how it was worth it on his Buzzfeed article. When he addressed the thought of changing it to his friends and family, they were confused. A common response he got was to combine their names, but why does it make more sense to create a new name than to take one that already exists and has familial ties?

Women are expected to change, adjust and give up part of themselves, but it shouldn’t be an expectation. If a woman wants to change her surname after marriage, it’s fine and if she doesn’t, it’s also fine. This should be an individual choice and women shouldn't be pressured to do so.

 

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