Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marriage Name Changing: a Mandate or Choice?

After stumbling across an article published in August 2009 entitled “Should a Woman Change Her Name When She Marries? 70 Percent of Americans Think So” on, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to expand the search. As evidenced by the title, 70 percent of Americans think women should change their surname after getting married, with 50 percent feeling it should be mandated by law. Perhaps it is important to first examine the reasons as to why a woman might feel obligated or compelled to change her name. An article on Suite101 outlines potential reasons and the pros/cons of various name changing options:

“1) Woman Takes Her Husband’s Name: It’s the most socially acceptable option. It’s the easiest bureaucratic option. Naming the kids is easier. Family cohesion.

2) Women and Man Both Keep Their Names: Feminist concerns. Changing your name is a pain. Career concerns. Easier than hyphenating. Attachment to a name. If you get divorced, you don’t have to change your name back.

3) The Hyphenated Name: Compromise. Both partners can hyphenate. It’s not as hard as it used to be.

4) Woman Adds on Her Husband’s Last Name: Compromise. Easier than hyphenation. Honoring your family. Career concerns.

5) Woman Changes Name, Uses Maiden Name Professionally: Best of both worlds. Less confusion at work.

6) Couple Creates a New Name: Design your own name. Perhaps the least patriarchal option.

7) Man Takes the Woman’s Name: Nonconformity, but with the benefits of having just one name. Family cohesion. A way for a man to honor his wife.”

**YES, a MAN taking his wife’s name. It happens more than most people would think, as reported by USA Today.
“'Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have caused as much of a stir as it did,' says Mike Salinger, 27, of Seattle, who was married in November. 'We knew people might be surprised, but we figured they'd say 'Huh' and get on with it…Three months later, I'm still taking (flak) from one of my college roommates.'"

The same article also discusses the idea perpetuated by some that a man who takes his wife’s name should “turn in his man card.” I can’t help but ponder the idea of a woman being told to “turn in her woman card” if she took her husband’s name. It would no doubt be cited as irrational and confusing. I recognize that a woman taking the man’s last name is dictated by certain religious texts, but considering that many other traditions have been tossed aside to accommodate the demands of society…why isn’t it more common for a woman to keep her name? Sure, feminism has certainly made it more acceptable, and, in certain instances, more expected (to be a truly liberated woman/feminist) for a woman to keep her name, but if female name changing still remains at the heart of what it means to be an American family, how can woman truly feel comfortable making a decision that isn’t given the same prestige and equality as the norm?
With all these options in mind, why is it that so many women elect to change their last name following marriage without first considering all alternatives? Not to mention, the hassle of changing information for credit cards, social security, insurance, and the like. There are many variables to consider when deciding whether to keep, change, or recreate one’s surname following marriage, as outlined by Alternet contributor, Jill Filipovic, in the previously mentioned article (READ IT!). An organization called Lucy Stone was originally created in the 1920s with the belief that “a person’s name is fundamental to her/his existence, and is therefore dedicated to: Equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names and equality of patrilineal/matrilineal name distribution for children and equal actual frequency of name retention, modification, and creation between men and women at marriage and throughout life.” To many, these ideas and this notion may seem a bit radical and unnecessary, but to me they represent just another way in which feminism continues to ensure that women AND men are given the same opportunities to express themselves and relate to one another in bonds of equality.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you posted this Alex. I wish more people would consider the options instead of just going with the "norm." I for one do not plan on simply giving up my name if/when I get married.