The Feminism Of Names

I’ve been thinking for a long time about women who change their  surname when they get married.  But I don’t think I’ve ever said this to anyone.

Traditionally women have always changed their surnames when they get married.  It was a sign of dedication to, and subservience to their husband.  I’m not attempting to comment on what it was and where the intention of the act came from, I really just want to comment on what it is now.  There are a number of schools of thought here.

A lot of women feel a strong connection to their identity and want to preserve their maiden name.  It reflects who they are, and it helps them preserve their identity and individuality, so when they get married they feel strongly about not taking on the name on their husband.

I know women who have changed their surnames out of a desire to be joined in name to their husbands and show that link to their new family unit.

I know other women who see it as a stance of independence to say they will not be determined by men.  Marriage is an equal partnership and they will not change their name because it is expected of them.  Why should one person change and the other not?

I know other women who don’t care either way and simply keep their maiden name because the paperwork involved in changing their surname is so cumbersome it’s just not worth it to them.

I also know a couple where the man changed his name to the woman’s surname.  The man had a pretty dysfunctional family and as a couple they chose not to identify with his family, so they both took her surname.

Personally I come from a few schools of thought.  I identify with the women who want to be linked to their husbands and form an official union that can be recognised easily by everyone.  I want to share my husband’s last name because it will easily link me with him and I want people to know I have chosen to partner myself with this man for life.  I also see it as a practical issue.  It makes life simpler in terms of identification, but more than that it makes the identification of children easier.  Sharing a surname means there is no question when naming your children.

I’ve known a few people who have hyphenated their children’s names with the mother and father’s surnames.  I understand this on one level.  But what about subsequent generations?  Doesn’t that mean that the first generation gets 2 surnames, then the next gets 4 (2 from each parent) and so on?  I just think that seems impractical.  For me, the issue of a surname is only an issue as much as you make it one.  Personally I don’t feel that strongly about keeping my surname as a form of personal identity.  My identity is linked to so many things, and for me my name is a little arbitrary.  I have immense pride in my name and in my family, but I also recognise that my name does not determine who I am, and changing my surname if/when I get married will not change me more than I allow it to.

I also know mothers who have given their children the husband’s surname whilst keeping their maiden name.  But that means the mother will have a different surname to the children.  I guess if you don’t mind then it’s ok, but I would certainly mind not having the same name as my children.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts on an issue that is very individual.  I’m not saying I think others should abide by my thoughts, these are just my thoughts.


5 Replies to “The Feminism Of Names”

  1. My surname has 13 letters, and my wife’s maiden name has 6. A hyphen would have made that 20 characters, which is totally out of the question.

    No way it’d fit on a class roll either!

  2. They definitely need to make the whole changing surname thing easier. My wife and I have been married over 4 years and we still find things with her maiden name on it which has actually proved problematic and stressfull at times like when it nearly prevented her from being able to board a plane home with me. I was fine with changing my name cos I felt no need or pressure to carry on the family name but in the end we went the traditional way.

  3. I couldn’t wait to get rid of my maiden name! not for any reason other than I thought it was plain and boring.

  4. I would have thought that the traditional reason was that the husband is the “head” of the household, and therefore by extension he had responsibility over it.
    The rights to the ownership of the name of the new family unit are therefore conferred by the mechanism of responsibility.

  5. If I ever get married again, I wont be changing my name. Thankfully my name is a nice simple one, so no point in changing it. Last time I got married, my ex changed their name to mine, because they had one of those names that no one could ever spell. Funny thing is, since getting divorced, they have kept my surname.
    Our name is part of your identity, so I think it comes down to the individual person, and how they want to be identified.

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