Last Names

I showed up late to a meeting recently, and introduced myself to everyone.  I was promptly asked what my maiden name was.  When I repeated what I’d just said I was given an odd look, which I returned with an odd look.  Thinking about it later, I realized, at 28, people may well expect that I’m married.  Unfair of them to assume so, but I shrugged it off.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I started thinking about it again though.  Clearly not shrugging it off completely, I was reminded of a recent conversation with a few women about the age of my mom.  One woman was talking about how her new daughter-in-law had yet to change her name.  After a few months she assumed her daughter-in-law would have done this, and couldn’t understand why her son wasn’t pushing it.  All I could think was that the recent bride probably has no intention of changing her name.  As the conversation continued, there seemed to be a consensus among the group that young women (and they’d look at me) have no interest in “making it official” in a timely fashion.  Huh?

I have no interest in ever changing my name.  I also have little interest in actually getting married, but that is a completely different topic.  My name fits me well; it is part of my identity.

While many acknowledge the arcane reasoning for changing names, it does seem rare still to find women who keep their maiden name.  What I found was that the history is mainly within English-speaking countries.  In many countries around the world it is customary for women to keep their maiden names or combine names with their husband.  Why English-speaking countries, then?

Angola, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, France, Iceland, India (Northern areas), Iran, Korea, the Netherlands, and Portugal all generally expect women to keep their maiden names.  Muslim countries see it as a sign of ownership – transferring ownership from the father to the spouse.  Funny how many American women see it that way, too.  In Sweden, changing your name to your husband’s didn’t become common until the 20th Century, falling off in recent years in favor of long traditions of keeping your maiden name.

Why is it always the woman who needs to change her name? Have we really been so slow to change that no man will stand up and change his name to his wife’s family name?  I’ve run into situations when I am given my boyfriend’s last name.  I let it go in restaurants, so as not to create a scene, and at the vet office where they have given both cats his name, no matter my efforts to ask for them to add a hyphen.  I learned my lesson with Comcast.  I admitted to not being his spouse and was treated like a child.  That will not happen again!

Why do I just let it happen?  Those rare moments where we are greeted for a reservation at a restaurant and they refer to him as Mr. Arden is almost worth it.

How did English- speaking countries get so far behind on this, and how do we catch up?  Or do we?

I know plenty of women who will happily take their husbands name, and not just because they are tired of always having to spell their given name.  It is a choice and one that women are free to make.  I can’t help myself questioning where men come into this, or if they do.  Certainly ask for the future spouse’s opinion, but how many are going to agree, or change their mind?  Does your choice change when kids come into the picture?  I’m a fan of everyone changing names then – if it really is important for everyone in the family to have the same name – come up with one everyone agrees on.  Level the playing field, and start over!  You could always just add the new name onto the end of your current or given name.  There are actually many options beyond taking his name or not.

How did you or would you choose and why?

Originally posted on Fem2.0

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