What’s in a name?

A man marries a woman. Traditionally she takes his last name, but some woman opt against doing this for various reasons. Who knew that the idea of a woman not taking her husband’s name could create a firestorm? Okay, perhaps it’s inevitable. After all, this is the Internet and people will argue about anything on the Internet.

On The Stir, Janelle Harris penned an article that stirred up this debate.1

In the article the author is debating on hyphenating her name with her future husband’s, with her name coming first: Harris-Williams. Her fiancé is apparently not impressed, saying that by doing so says that she is “wishy-washy about [her] commitment and (gasp) that [she’s] not ready to leave [her] family and be a wife.”

So here is my question: why the insistence that the wife take the husband’s name? Why not insist the husband take the wife’s name? I think there are a bunch of people wanting to claw my eyes out for even proposing such an idea, but it does happen. In 2008 screenwriter Kris Dyer took his wife’s name Myddleton when they married.2 The reaction was… less than according.

In my opinion that option is more logical in an evolutionary sense. It is the female of any sexually reproductive species (with some, but not many exceptions) that determines the fate of the species itself. And in human evolution there is ample evidence to suggest that women came first, contrary to the account in Genesis… wait a sec, did I just answer my question?

In the comments to Janelle’s article on its mirror location on Yahoo! Shine, Yahoo! user blackacidevil said this:

Your boyfriend or fiancee was right to state that you obviously lack the commitment necessary for a marriage. Men give up plenty to commit to one woman, to provide for her, etc. You should perhaps try to be honored that a man that is proud of his name and heritage would love you enough to GIVE you his name.

Talk about dated thinking. First most households have two incomes, meaning both the husband and wife work. So most husbands are not providing for their wives, instead both are providing for their mutual standard of living. Plus he’s not giving her his last name. It’s presumed that she will take it and when she keeps her maiden name or hyphenates, confusion seems to erupt.

Plus as Janelle says in her article, she wants a professional career that includes a doctoral degree. That career will require she make a name for herself, so it seems reasonable that she wants to keep her maiden name in part in that respect. After all her career is going to identify her separate of her husband.

A dear friend of mine (an immigrant from the Balkans) kept her maiden name when she married – didn’t take her husband’s last name at all. I know another person who has a PhD, but appears to have kept her maiden name as well. The marriage came after the degree as well. Then we have names such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Hillary Roddham Clinton where the woman continues to use her maiden name as part of her identity, even if she legally takes her husband’s last name.

Now several commenters on both Yahoo! Shine and The Stir noted that her last name is not actually hers anyway. That name is her father’s last name. On that mark, however, as others have noted, the husband’s last name is not the husband’s last name, but the husband’s father’s last name. But even that isn’t true. Your name predates you by… a lot.

I will be getting married later this year (if the stars align properly and nothing gets in the way). My fiancée has already started using my last name when talking to people, though she doesn’t sign anything with my last name as it’s not legally her name yet. If she wanted to keep her last name, in part or in full, I would have no issue whatsoever.

The one thing that few people seem to be realizing is that the name decision is typically one-sided. A lot of men seem to think that they have control in the matter, but that is not the case. It’s the woman’s choice.

A lot of people come up with a lot of reasons why the wife should take the last name exclusively, and, you know what, they’re all full of hot air, in my opinion. If the wife wants to take the last name, then great. If she doesn’t or wants to hyphenate, why is this such a big deal? Some women have good reason to keep their maiden names, such as women with careers and reputations that existed before getting married. But even they can decide to take the husband’s last name.

In my opinion it doesn’t entirely matter either way. It’s entirely a judgment call — on her part. And guys, if you feel offended that your fiancée doesn’t want to take your last name or wants to hyphenate, get over it.

Note: Please read my follow-ups to this article “Revisiting the practice of the wife taking the husband’s surname” and “Playing the marriage name game

References   [ + ]

1. Harris, Janelle. (2011, February 18). “Hyphenated married name fight heats up on Facebook“. The Stir.
2. Harris, Sarah. (2008, August 17). “‘No one understood why I took my wife’s surname’.“. The Independent.