As homepaddock reminds us summer is the season for weddings. Over the last few months a steady stream of my female friends and acquaintances on facebook have been busy posting pictures of their nuptials and excitedly changing their names to reflect their new status as married women. Most have gone the fully traditional route and changed their surname to their husband’s name but some have chosen to add their husband’s surname to their existing one. Although wedding season still has a few months to run, not one of my recently wedded female friends has kept her name and interestingly not one husband has chosen to hyphenate let alone change his name to hers.
The common reasons I’ve heard as to why women choose to change their names is that they felt it was a way for them to show that they are truly committed to their spouse, that their husband’s name sounds better than their own, they don’t really have any attachment to their father and that they want to create feeling of oneness within the family by sharing the same name as their spouse and that they want to share the same family name as any current or future children. A few had partners who insisted on the change as a condition of marriage while a few thought it would be rather tidy for any future genealogists if they shared the same name as their spouse.
The movement to keep maiden names began in the 1850s in the United States, when a suffragette named Lucy Stone decided to keep her name when she married an abolitionist named Henry Blackwell. Along with her staunch views against slavery Lucy Stone also believed that women who change their names get absorbed into their husband's family histories and lose their independent identities. While slavery is now almost universally considered a very bad idea the maiden name still lingers on, at least in the Anglophone world. The ‘Lucy Stone’ movement was almost quashed altogether in the 1950s when almost all women, including highly educated career women, changed their names to their husband's when they married. Of course, the majority of these women were married in their early twenties. Now that women marry later, and live more of their adult life with their maiden names, it can feel unnatural to assume another name. Moreover once you have "made a name for yourself" in the world it becomes more complicated, and even professionally damaging, to change it.
But if my summer’s facebook updates are anything to go, entering into a marriage means a name change for most women. I always feel so conflicted when I see all these women I went to school and university dropping their former names. On one hand, I know that their name is their own damn decision and not really any of my business even if they are making decisions that I don't agree with it. But on the other, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I suppose because along with changing the name comes with so many other expectations attached to it. That a husband's career will become the most important and the wife will do all the wifey (god I hate that term) duties like looking after the kids and cleaning the toilet. I know that isn’t always the case, Caroline Robinson is still reading the news over on TV3 even though she is now Caroline Ryan with kids attached. But I still can’t help feeling that ditching the freedom to keep your name at marriage ignores all the struggles that previous generations of women went through so that women can have this and so many other choices, though same can and has been said about other choices we make like for instance me spending way too much on clothes and make up. I suppose what irks me about the maiden name debate is that the women alone experience the pressure to show that they are part of a ‘real couple’ by changing her name to his as him changing his name to hers is so clearly offbeat as to be well ridiculous. To give you an idea of how all pervasive that pressure is, even The Child insists that my family name is the same as The Suit’s because in her five year old brain we must share a name because Daddy is a man and I live with Daddy.
In the end it doesn’t actually matter which wedding traditions a couple keeps or for that matter decides to ditch because at heart all weddings by their very nature are traditional. A couple is seeking a formal acceptance both from their community and the state that their union is officially going to go the distance, something humans have been doing for a very, very, long time. So for me this name changing business is largely academic as I’m not so much a fan of the matrimonial institution itself. However in the unlikely event of marriage, I would not change my name because I consider keeping my name more important than the reasons I should change it. However any male considering marrying me is most welcome to change his to mine if us having the same name is a really big a deal to him post-ceremony.