Culture Question:

Why do Women have to Change their Last Name if they get Married?

(posted: April, 17, 2011)

Women (I am assuming you mean Western women) do not have to change their last name when they get married. The laws relating to changing names vary from country to country in the West. For centuries it had been the tradition in English speaking countries for a woman to take her husband's last name when they married. This came from a more patriarchal time in the West when women were viewed, and treated, more as property. Though there is no longer a legal requirement for women to change their last name to that of their husband, many women (around 90% or so (Russell)) still chose to do so.

A Wikipedia article on Married and Maiden names provides the following glimpse at the legal end of married name changes:

In areas whose legal systems derive from the English  common law —such as most parts of the USA, Canada, and the UK—a name change usually does not require much legal action, because a person can choose to be known by any name (except with intent to defraud). Married persons who take their spouse's name must get a new driver's license and National Insurance or Social Security card, etc., and inform the company they work for, etc. However, the legal process for a name change due to marriage is, in many jurisdictions, still simpler and faster than for other kinds of name change. In many jurisdictions whose legal systems derive from the civil law—such as France, Spain, Belgium, the Canadian province of Quebec, and the U.S. state of Louisiana—however, the default position is for a woman's "legal name" to remain the same throughout life: Citizens there who wish to change their names legally must usually apply to do so via a formal procedure.

I have known couples who handled the 'married name' question in many different ways. Some couples have followed the English tradition and she has taken his name. Some have hyphenated their last names, using both of their family names. Some have each kept their own family name. Some women keep their birth family name for professional reasons, but use their husband's family name socially. I knew one couple who turned the tradition upside down and he took her family name. And I knew another couple who both changed their family name to a new family name that they chose together. There are certainly lots of options.

When I was a teenager I used to think this name change thing didn't matter to me, it was either my father's name or my husband's name. I was named in connection to a man either way. But as female friends got married I noticed that if they chose to change their name that my gut reaction was "why?". It was then that I realized that it did matter to me and that I didn't want to carry on a tradition tied to viewing women as property. So when I eventually got married I chose to keep the family name I was born with. Neither my husband nor I felt a need for us to have the same family name so we made no name changes connected to getting married.

Many women in the English speaking West struggle with this identity and tradition laden question when they are approaching marriage.

You will get a better of understanding of some of the struggles around changing last names in the following linked articles.

Readers Respond to: Pros and Cons to Changing Your Name When you get Married. -- Comments from a variety of people sharing their opinions about this issue.

Getting Married? Seven Reasons to Change Your Name--or Not -- The author shares her ideas, followed by comments from readers.

Sources:

  1. Russell, Cori, “Married or Maiden Name? Behind the Last Name (Change)”, ( http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/6-1-2006-98005.asp ), 17-Apr-2011.

  2. Wikipedia. “Married and Maiden Names” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_and_maiden_names ), 17-Apr-2011.

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