Monday, May 16, 2011

The Surname Debate - Would You (or DID you) Take Your Spouse's Last Name?

I got wrapped up in a Yahoo article yesterday that went into a discussion about women taking their husband's surname.  Apparently, according to a study, more women today are taking their husband's name than were doing so a decade or so ago. 

This is obviously a widespread tradition all over the world, but of course there are plenty of people who go a different route.  The discussion in the comments got pretty heated at times, and the two major dissenting opinions seemed to be:

You SHOULD take your husband's surname because NOT doing so is dishonoring him, showing your own lack of commitment, and proving just how much you do NOT love the man you are marrying.  If you cannot commit to doing a simple name-change, then you should reconsider getting married in the first place.  The type of woman who would KEEP her maiden/birth name is the type of woman who is looking for an easy "out" in case the marriage fails.  These women are feminists and only care about themselves.


You should NOT take your husband's surname, or should freely have the CHOICE not to do so because the practice of changing your maiden/birth name is an archaic practice dating back to the times when women were mere property, being traded from the father to the husband.  Taking on the husband's name is, in a sense, branding you as his new property, no longer the property of the father.  Changing a surname is wrought with legal complications, forms, documents, etc. and is a huge hassle for something that is essentially an antiquated, sexist practice.

I couldn't help but comment a couple of times, and I really didn't realize how much it struck a nerve with me until I really got into it.  My own personal stance is that, yes, changing the surname definitely DOES have connections with women being traded as property, but a woman shouldn't be branded as some sort of old fashioned, subservient ninny for choosing to do it.  HOWEVER, the decision to keep a maiden/birth name (or as I prefer, a hyphenation), had no bearing whatsoever on my love and commitment for my man.  NONE.  I was actually a little offended by the harsh comments from people directly saying that keeping your name is some horrible practice and a true show of selfishness and lack of devotion.  Hah...lemme tell you that NOBODY can love my man the way I can, not nobody not nowhere not noHOW.  Bet that.

There are so many important things that factor into a successful marriage -- not just a marriage, but a successful one -- than what your name is.  One commenter stated that sharing the same last name shows unity, and that having different last names essentially tells the world that you are NOT a united team.  So basically a couple who shares the same last name but rarely sleeps in the same bed and can hardly stand each other is more 'unified' than a happy loving couple with different last names?  Nice.  Several men said that they wouldn't even consider marrying a woman who didn't take on their surname fully and completely.  Many of the pro-husband's-name comments were fueled by strong religious notions (lots of Bible quotes that really didn't have much to do with the heart of the discussion) and several of the anti-husband's name/hyphenated name comments were moderately to overtly feminist. 

My last name is fairly unique (here in the States anyway I guess), and it honors my own family heritage.  It isn't lost on me that my surname is most likely the name of some sweaty slave master from hundreds of years ago, but not much can be done about that now.  It is still my late father's name, and it's important to me to honor it, especially seeing as how I'm an only child and he had no sons.  If my man and I have children, my family and heritage will be a part of them also, and I would want them to know that I treasure it as much as their father (my dude) treasures his.  I would want my kids to have his last name, however, and let them choose in the future what to do with their own names once they were old enough to take on spouses of their own.

Another commenter said that she and her husband married when she was 3 months pregnant and decided that to avoid a bunch of 'baby-daddy crap' she would marry the guy (seems she gave him the ultimatum to marry or walk) and take on his surname so that her child would always be able to look at his birth certificate and know for a FACT that he came from a "love relationship and was not a mistake" .  It would be a pretty sad state if that's the only way the kid ever knew, not in the love and affection his parents demonstrated toward one another, the mutual respect, the admiration, the devotion, the tolerance, the fidelity, the fairness.  Having nothing else to show him in the way of a good example except for a piece of paper showing that they shared the same last name...

I just feel that the name itself has NO bearing on what's inside the minds and hearts of the people involved nor the health and stability of the relationship itself.  A book cover can be torn, ragged, scorched, ripped, chewed, soiled - and still be a beautiful work of literary art on the inside.  On the contrary, a candy wrapper can be golden and shiny and brilliantly intricate with a candy inside that tastes like hog shit.  If a person feels that it is an honor to adopt a spouse's surname, be it a woman or a man, and he/she is doing so freely with a contented mind and spirit, then WONDERFUL, bless you.  That's a beautiful thing.  Conversely, if a woman wants to hold onto her given name, be it solely or hyphenated, then as long as she is doing so with a sound heart and in good conscious bearing no ill will or malice, then TERRIFIC, more power to you and bless you too.  As long as people are living their lives, contributing to society, not hurting anyone, what business is it of anyone else's what the hell they do with their name?

There are SO many reasons for taking one stance or the other, as the comments showed (many interesting personal stories).  Some people couldn't get rid of their maiden/birth names fast enough in order to cut ties with a dysfunctional family, and some men were happy with changing THEIR names to the wife's name.  What a wonderful thing -- diversity.  People doing what works for them.

So what about you guys?  For anyone that's married, what did you do, and did anything influence your decision to do it, or was it not even a thought?  And if you're not married but plan to be someday, is this anything you've given thought to?  Does your culture dictate that you MUST do one or the other, or is it tradition or choice?  I would really love to hear peoples thoughts on this, male, female, married or not.  As always, go crazy, write a 'novel', no censors.

Also, read the article (and some comments) if you get a chance - it touches on several points that I didn't get into here.