Monday, June 22, 2015

Wedding Crap: The Name Change

(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)

What is the tradition? 

Upon getting married, the woman replaces her last name with her husband's last name. This is not only legally, but also is portrayed as a big deal socially - for example, at the end of the ceremony, and as the couple enters the reception, they are formally announced as Mr. and Mrs. HisName.

What is the origin of the tradition?

This varies greatly around the world, but is the English and American tradition. Ultimately, it represents the fact that both legally and socially, the woman was merging into her husband's status and identity. Even once past the time of women being literally owned, they still had limited to no legal standing. It is far too recent in the past when women couldn't open a bank account without her husband's permission. 

A unified family name makes sense, on both a logical and emotional level. But that it is traditionally the woman to take the man's name, and not vice versa, is because of their relative standings in society.

Why is that crap? 

If it were only about forming a united new family with a common last, it wouldn't matter which name you picked. You would pick between the two names (or make up a new one!) based on where they fell in the alphabet, what ethnic heritage they represented, or simply which one sounded the coolest with the parties' first names. But if so, you'd expect a fairly even mix of women and men taking their partner's last name. But no, it's only women who are expected to do this.

It'd amazing how defensive men can get about this, even if they say they don't view it as ownership or anything "sexist" like that. I've far too many times heard a woman talk about jokingly tell her soon-to-be husband that she was going to keep her name - and oh how hilarious it was when this fake news upset him! His name is the important name. If he would never consider taking her name, what the fuck right does he have to ask the same of her?

While there's nothing wrong with a woman taking her husband's name, there is if she's doing so primarily because that's just what people do, or for her husband to be upset if she doesn't want to if he wouldn't make the same sacrifice, or for others to assume that women will take on this burden and that a man wouldn't. Like many things based in historical oppression, modern day choices are not being made in a vacuum, and the historical oppression continues to impact how people perceive the choice and its meaning.

What am I doing with this tradition?

We both kept out last names. To make sure our community knew this, we put language in both our wedding invitation and programs.


Can I reserve a game of [ ] with the new Mrs. HisName? 

I’m afraid not, as no such person will exist. We’ll both be keeping our names as is: Abe T----- and Margaret W------ (Mr. and Ms., if you must.) But we’d both be happy to play a board game with you at some point during the event!

(A side note: my MIL also kept her last name, and my FIL's parents are deceased, so it actually was true that there was no Mrs. T------ present at the wedding, or even currently alive in the family.)


Yay, you’re married! What do we call you now? 

Same thing as before. We’ve both chosen to keep our names as is - Abe T------ and Margaret W------ (Mr. and Ms., if you must).

Here's another post with some of my thoughts on this. Obviously, the invite/program wordage didn't help for those not invited to the wedding, but it became fairly self-evident in business contexts, since we operate with a lot of written communication, what my last name was (except to the coworker in the above linked post, apparently).

You might note that we specified that if honorifics must be used (which, I'd prefer they weren't. My Quaker college definitely convinced me of that), I would use Ms., not Mrs. For a couple reasons. 

First - if someone has a formal enough relationship with me to use an honorific, then it is also formal enough that my marital status is none of their fucking business. Men get Mr. just for being an adult, no signifier of being married necessary. So why do people think it's so important to know if women are married? Well, because if they're married they're weren't their own person, but hopefully we've moved beyond that reason. Second, while Mrs. has primarily been used to signify being married, it also was used as a sign of respect, for example the housekeeper might be Mrs. Smith, even if unmarried, due to her respected role. Mrs. = married. Mrs. = respected. So... married = respected. Fuck no. (Sorry for the higher than normal swearing in this post. It's an extremely passionate topic of mine.) 

Don't try to respect me by assuming I'm married. Respect me by assuming I'm a valid human being in my own right.

How did/will you handle this tradition?

I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!

Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.


  1. It's so funny to me that growing up in the south I only knew like 2 ladies who kept their names, and it was like they were some weird, bizarro anomaly. (Actually probably mostly because the kids always had the dad's name, which I always thought would personally make me feel like kind of an outcast in my own family.) But since moving to the Bay Area, it's probably more like 50% keep their names & maybe 20% keep the old name but tack the husband's on to the end, & when a woman does completely change her last name, it's like "Really? How...quaint." But often I think it's for child-naming reasons. (They all want to have the same name & don't want to hyphenate or *really* throw people off by picking a whole new name, alternating kids' last names, etc.)

    1. I was thinking about this the other day and seriously can only count 3 women that I know in real life who kept their first name! (And another handful who hyphenated). Even though I'm in Portland, which really is a liberal city, though I think a bit insulated in a conservative industry.

      We still have to figure out what to do about future kids' names. I actually need to figure out what the Oregon laws about it are - e.g., do they require one of or a combination of the parents' names? Or can we make up a totally new name? (We've made a combined name - not hyphenated, but mashed up - that we've used socially, like a facebook invite for a game night at the "[blank] residence", and seriously considering using that for kids names, if it's legal.)

  2. We actually have neighbors that took the wife's family name as their married name, he disliked his family name that much...
    I was excited to change my name, it felt like a fresh start for me, but I guess there are a billion different reasons why people choose to change or keep a name...and it's cool we can choose.

    1. Yes, I am very glad at least we have a choice! And even if some people don't automatically think about it and make assumptions, at least once I say I kept my name, they're just like "oh", not thinking it's completely bizarre.


Please join in the conversation!

Please note: Although I'm trying to keep the commenting as wide open as possible and not requiring logging in to one of the profile options, there have been reports of glitches and comments disappearing while trying to post under the Anonymous option. I would recommend logging in if you have one of the profiles, or at least copying your comment to paste back in if something goes haywire.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...