Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, March 22, 2013

What's in a Name?

I've decided that when I get married again - if I get married again* - I will not be changing my name.  I did that once and I'm not doing that again.

My fiance isn't sure he likes the idea but I think it's mostly because it is tradition for a wife to take her husband's name here in the US and he doesn't like doing things that are out of the ordinary. Yeah, I know.  He should be used to being a bit out of the mainstream as he's with me (a liberal in a conservative area, an atheist in a religious population) but that doesn't matter. He'll get used to the idea, I suppose.  He'll have to.  I'm not changing my name again.  I like this one.

The practice of a woman taking her husband's surname has always bothered me a little.  It reminds me of how women used to basically be their father's then their husband's property and that isn't something I think should be alluded to. I suppose it made a little sense when I was married the first time and presuming that I would be having children as it is nice for everyone in the family to have the same name.  Other than that, I can't think of a good reason that a woman should take her husband's last name.  Besides, there is no reason that the husband couldn't take the wife's name, is there? Or they could use some sort of combined name.  In short, there are other options that would still allow that connection between parents and their children.

I realize that I don't always think the same way others do so I thought I'd see what others in the US think about the issue. It surprises me to find out that, according to studies done in 2009, 70% of Americans think that women should take their husband's last name when they marry.  That sounds ridiculously high to me in this day and age. Not only that but about 50% of those polled felt that the government should require a woman to change her name!  What happened to all the talk of gender equality and such?

When I looked into the tradition, I was surprised to find that it is not something that is done world-wide. In some countries, a woman retains her birth name as her legal name but uses her husband's last name socially.  In other countries, she never uses his name.  Some countries, the couple chooses one or the other surname and both use it.  In others, they combine names and either the wife or both use the new name.  It varies greatly depending on where you live.  This Wikipedia article talks about how things are done all over the world. It's fascinating how many different customs there are!

None of this explains why it is more common for a wife to take her husband's surname today - in the US -  than it was in the 1990s, however. One could simply say that "tradition" is the reason but there are other traditions that we have had no problem discarding such as the wife promising to obey her husband in her wedding vows (in most cases). Perhaps, despite statements to the contrary, we haven't come as far as we thought we have when it comes to gender equality.  Perhaps that isn't the case at all and there is another factor I'm not thinking of.  It does give us something to think about in any event.

What do you think? Should a wife take her husband's surname? Is it important for her to do so? If so, why?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia and found here

*Note: This is not an indication of cold feet or that sort of thing.  It's just that I've been engaged for over 10 years now and I'm not positive that we will ever feel the need to actually tie the knot.  

2 comments:

  1. As I'd already changed my name legally at the age of sixteen it wasn't really much a to-do to change it again when I married Blokey; I've never personally looked at it on terms of gender equality or possession, but I understand the arguments.

    As long as both parties agree to it then it should be a personal decision between the couple ... it's only a name, and let's face it, these days with the new normal being family units which rarely existed even twenty years ago, any one household could contain a plethora of surnames.

    However, when I was first on Fb I signed up under my maiden name and after a while Blokey found out (he doesn't really use it) and he was a tad upset. He's a numpty. *grin*

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    1. LOL! I think he and K might get along, then. *grins*

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