In the world of social media, relationships and decisions within them are rarely unseen. If you open your Facebook app, you are able to see where the most annoying couple you know went on their honeymoon, how many people got engaged this weekend, where Sarah and Liam went on a date last night, and who has decided to change their last names after signing their marriage license.
Everyone always assumes that after marriage, the wife takes her husband’s last name. It’s seen as a tradition, but have we thought about where it began?
According to the BBC, Around the time of the Norman Conquest, married women were perceived to have no surname at all, since the Normans had also brought with them “the doctrine of coverture, the legal principle that, upon marriage, a woman became her husband’s possession.” This was reflected in her namelessness. One court in 1340 stated, “when a woman took a husband, she lost every surname except ‘wife of'”.
Around the turn of the 15th Century, the French doctrine of coverture received a “unique English twist”. There was another interpretation available, based on scriptural ideas, which focused on the unity that marriage gave them, rather than on the husband’s power of his wife.
English jurist Henry de Bracton, stated that they became “a single person, because they are one flesh and one blood”. As this idea gained ground, wives came to share the her husband’s surname as a symbol of their legal and spiritual unity. At this point, married women still could not hold property, vote, or go to law. Legally, at the point of marriage they ceased to exist. Over the 19th Century, it had spread to Scotland, Ireland and Wales, as well as overseas to British colonies and ex-colonies, and to parts of mainland Europe.
The battle for the maiden name was ongoing in the USA. Lucy Stone, a 19th Century US suffragist and abolitionist, faced challenge from legal officials who wouldn’t let her buy land without signing her husband’s name, which inspired her to seek legal assurance that there was, in fact, no law in existence that dictated she must do so. However, after getting real
estate deeds, passports, bank accounts and voter registrations issued in the names that they chose, various U.S. states passed new laws compelling women to take their husbands’ surnames.
“One attorney-general told a women who wished to keep her name that she was ‘an oddball’, a ‘sick and confused woman’, whose need was ‘not for a change of name but a competent psychiatrist’. It was only in 1972 that a succession of legal cases confirmed that women could use their maiden names in whatever ways they pleased.
[All above information came from an article from the Magazine section of the BBC News website titled Why should women change their names on getting married?]
According to Broadly on Vice, researchers have found that more than 70 percent of US adults believe a woman should change her name, and approximately half felt that doing so should be required by law. Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer states, “The most common reason (approximately 50 percent of the cases) given by individuals who advocated women’s name change was the belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves.”
Personally, I see no reason to change my last name. I have been known by this name for 23 years, I prefer my initials now, I don’t hate my last name like many others do, and I believe you can be united without sharing the same last name.
My long-time boyfriend and I have had discussions about this many times, and although he would prefer I take his last name or even hyphenate, he is also aware that it is more of my decision than his, as nothing would be changing for him.
My name is my identity, and I like that it isn’t incredibly common. We have already merged finances, listed each other on important documents, and, as many of our engaged and married friends have stated, we are more married than they are. Personally, I don’t think a last name change would change the foundation our relationship is built on, nor would it change our partnership.
I also wonder why I would be expected to change or hyphenate and my partner, who just happens to be male, would not. I would be the one who would have to go through the process of changing documents, and feeling as though I had a completely new identity. I like being independent, and I see nothing wrong with being independent while also being in a loving relationship.
Regardless of my opinions, I wanted to hear why other women have chosen or would like to choose to take their husband’s last name.
I didn’t do any formal research on the subject, but I decided to do some convenience surveying, if you can even call it that. Quite simply, I went on Facebook and made a status on my personal account asking this of my female Facebook friends. I was presented with a variety of answers.
Some women had more simple reasons including “I hated my maiden name”, but most had much more traditional thoughts on the subject. I read quite a few that stated something along the lines of having something to share with one another or being one whole. The remarks I found more interesting were, “…it helped me assimilate easier into my new phase of life as a wife… I felt changing my last name was helpful in combating [my independence]”, “…all our bills and accounts would be so much easier than they are now with one last name”, and “I just love the thought of being his Mrs.”
I read through these comments attempting to put myself in their shoes and think about why they think about marriage in these ways. One thing I realized it that all of the more extreme comments come from women who are younger than me and/or have been in their current relationship for a much shorter time than I have. I think back to the first two years or so of my relationship, and although I was independent, I was also incredibly blind to logic, and probably would have said similar things. Now that we have grown as individuals and together, things are very different. We have different last names on accounts without having any issues, we are very much together, and I am not overly concerned with how different I may or may not feel as a wife, if we choose to get married.
I like my full name the way it is, and I like to see myself as an individual, not just “part of a whole”. This may sound crude to some, but I don’t feel the need to change my identity for another person.
That being said, I would like to make it clear that although I do not agree with some reasons why women want to change their name, it is their choice. In the words of Amy Poehler, “good for her, not for me.” I do, however, think we should look at the history behinds our actions, and realize that many reasons we do things such as this, is because it is what we are “supposed to do”.
Ladies, don’t make a decision about your life and your identity just because that is what your husband wants and/or is pressuring you to do.
What do you think about this subject? As a woman, have you/would you change your last name? As a man, what are your thoughts? Also, are there any thoughts on the LGBTQ+ community and the “tradition” of changing last names? How do men feel about their wives changing their last names?
Let me know in the comments below!