All in a name

January 21, 2008 at 2:26 pm (feminism, love, sexist) (, , , )

Should a woman take her husband’s name when she marries?

This is one of those questions that can evoke so many emotions – irritations, anger, despair, amusement. . . it all depends on which side you’re on.

It’s fine for women who want it but I won’t take someone else’s surname. I know many of my married friends have taken their husband’s surnames and they’re all independent, intelligent women so it doesn’t mean that if you do take his name that you suddenly become braindead.

But I can’t see why I should do it to if I ever decide to take that step.

Usually any discussion about this ends in an argument. My dad (with whom I had this argument yesterday) believes your marriage will never be a union if you don’t take your husband’s name. I of course think that’s crap.

Why should your bond be defined by whose name you have? Why does not having your husband’s surname make your marriage any less solid? And why should you be the one who has to change your name?

My argument is that I am not the property of any man so why should I take his name? I know many women don’t see it that way (and that’s fine) but I already have a name and don’t need another, thank you very much.

If the whole ‘sharing one life’ thing is so important why can’t he take your surname? Because we’re still a patriarchal, male-dominated society and that kind of thing would never happen, that’s why. And in my mind that’s just another reason to not do it – the sheer sexism in this way of thinking is simply too much for me.

My partner, fortunately, understands. But my dad and others like him just don’t get it. It’s not just about a name; it’s about a way of thinking and an attitude towards your life.

What do you think?


  1. Louisa said,

    I think you should have a choice, and if your partner is violently opposed to you keeping yours then perhaps you should wonder why?

    I agree with you Tobes – it’s very much like belonging to someone in a “property” type of way. Pfft…and it’s a real pain in the whatsit to have every single record of you in existence changed, and should things not work out, changed back again.

  2. tbhanks said,

    Exactly Louisa – you should kick to the curb any man who forces you to change your name. Just means he has no respect for your rights and wants to assert his male dominance.
    I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of getting it all changed back. No sirreee, I do not want to put myself in that position!

  3. The Divine Miss M said,

    Personally it doesn’t bother me, I do think that thinking that it makes you someone elses property is kind of over analysing it! I know it is a pain and I don’t know if I can be bothered to go through all of the hassle but that is more laziness than actually caring either way 😉

    Why is it such a big deal?

    My mother never officially changed her name – but she gets called Mrs M and it doesn’t bother her. Officially she still goes by her maiden name. As a child it bothered me apparently, I came home one day in tears because kids had been teasing me at school saying that my parents weren’t married since my mother had a different surname. Before that incident my mother went by her maiden name, after that incident and how upset I was she decided to just sign anything non official and use dad’s surname unofficially. She was still her maiden name but ye

  4. tbhanks said,

    That’s interesting Miss M. How did the kids find out your mom’s surname was different? And why should it be a problem if they weren’t married? What’s the big deal about putting these stamps on people – there’s nothing wrong with being an unmarried mother (even though I know this wasn’t the case with your folks).

    And that’s part of the problem – kids are raised to believe these sexist, patriarchal constructs. Why should men still be the one thing that defines a woman’s life? Why must she be married to one to be accepted? Would it have been different if she were married to a woman or if your dad was married to a man?

  5. The Divine Miss M said,

    I can’t remember how they found out, I possibly said something. Whether or not the kids understand about being married or not being married children just tend to pick on something if it is different to what they consider to be “the norm”. Children tease relentlessly.

    One of my friends at primary school mother was gay and she never got teased at all, kids just can be strange. I don’t know hey. I don’t care who takes who’s name but it is just continuity I suppose.

    But I’m not one of those people who makes a big deal out of being called “Miss” or “Ms”, infact I actually hate being called “Ms” it bugs me somehow.

    I’m just not that bothered really, and there are just so more important things to be expelling our energy and fighting for than changing your name. Some people just like tradition and unfortunately that is tradition – Why it was tradition is from hundreds of years ago when things were different and woman were subservient to their husbands. We all know that isn’t the case now with most average normal marriages, we’re keeping it alive by making a massive deal out of it.

    I bet you that half the time the husband doesn’t even know why it is done or considers it “to be you as his property” just what has always been happening. I don’t really know how to explain this properly, but sometimes I think we over analyse things too much. We are all intelligent woman, we wouldn’t marry someone who considers us to be their property so name changing shouldnb’t reflect that unless you’re the one who is ansy about it, know what I mean?

  6. tbhanks said,

    Mmm…some interesting points you make Miss M but part of the problem is we don’t make enough of a big deal about it so men continue thinking in their patriarchal ways.

    It’s not about the name thing specifically – it’s about the attitude, the expectations and the beliefs that go with it. Why must we change it? Why must we defined as wife of X? Why can’t we simply be the same people we are?

    The whole Ms, Miss, Mrs thing is another problematic issue for me. We find now that people refer to unmarried women as Ms and married women as Mrs. The whole point of Ms was so that women didn’t have to be defined by their title – it doesn’t matter if you’re married or not.

    As long as we allow the time-old “traditional” social constructs to remain, the longer it will take for women to be totally free.
    Although I agree there are other things to be upset about, I think this is an important one because the attitude/belief I feel we should be challenging has everything to do with the way women are still treated in society, the workplace, etc.

    It’s that attitude that still allows domestic violence, abuse of women, etc to continue at the rate it is. If we don’t stop and say, ‘hang on, this tradition sucks because it still marginalises women’, then nobody will ever stop it.

  7. Steve said,

    There’s no law that says you have to change your name, but there can be other hassles.

    Soon after we got married my wife wanted to renew her passport, and the Dept of Home Affairs said she had to applty for a new one because the old one was in her maiden name.

    Banks, likewise, got all fussy about names on accounts.

  8. tbhanks said,

    It’s ridiculous, isn’t it Steve? Why must they go on about a name? It’s just a name for heaven’s sake!

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