The pressure is on women to change their surname when they marry, but are we doing it out of choice, obligation or tradition? And should we stop?
Half of all Americans think that women should be legally required to change their name when they marry. Over here, around 90% of women do and it seems to be more en vogue in the 2010s than ever before, with fewer and fewer women choosing to keep their maiden name after marriage.
This seems strange. After all, in recent decades women have made great advances in their professional and social lives and tend to marry when they’re older, more established and theoretically more attached to their born name. The average age to tie the knot is 29, but after nearly three decades under one name, many don’t blanche at the thought of assuming a new identity. And perhaps that’s part of the appeal.
But should we change our name to our man’s on marriage, or are we letting down the sisterhood?
As with most things, it comes down to personal choice and individual circumstances. Modern feminism is all about choice and equality, so far from judging name changers, we should accept that choice and consider turning our attention to making it more common and respected for men to change, or at least alter, their names. Then perhaps we will start to see couples passing down the woman’s surname to their children, particularly in cases where they are an only child or from a daughters-only generation.
If you’re getting married, here are your options:
- Keep your maiden name and convert to Ms rather than Miss
- Change to your husband’s name
- Double-barrel or modify your name or both your names (you’ll need deed poll for this)
- Your husband can change his name to yours via deed poll
- Changing both of your names to something new entirely (deed poll, again)
Or compromise – keep your maiden name for work and your married name socially, financially and for other complex join ventures such as mortgage and savings.
But what’s in a name? (Had to be done)
How important is your name? Consider this in a personal, professional and ancestral context. Is your sense of self connected with your family name? Have you reached a position at work where changing it might have negative effects? For example, from a journalist’s point of view, changing your name means creating an entire new byline history. Family-wise, being the last of a line with no brothers to continue the family name might make an impact.
And equally, think about how your husband’s name ranks. Is he being relied upon to extend his family lineage? If he’s a high (or even medium to low) powered professional, changing his name to yours would probably have serious social connotations. No, it’s not right, but it’s something to consider. Would double barreling your names together be an acceptable compromise?
In some ways it’s a competition: the name that has the most appeal, importance and history wins. And just as important – which do you prefer?
Putting aside ideas of individual identity or unity, think about which name suits you best. If you’re a Smith yearning for a more interesting moniker, this could be just the change you’re looking for. If you’re a Hincklewink, you may not want to give up your individuality so easily. You’ve got to live with this for the rest of your life, so make sure you like it.
Deep down, does it matter?
You’re marrying him. Does it really matter if you take his last name? Surely, the signature on the page and the ring on your finger are enough to show the world that you’re now a duo.
“Changing my name after I get married has never been up for discussion,” explains TT columnist Alix. “My mum kept her maiden name and I was adamant I’d do the same. To her, keeping her name was all about identity. Her name defined her; after 26 years she was pretty attached to it and didn’t see the need to change it when she said ‘I do’. I feel the same. I love my fiance and am committed to him — I don’t need to take his name to prove that.”
Think about your individual identity. Do you want to keep the persona you’ve built up and the reputation you have under your maiden name, or do you like the thought of starting again? There’s an air of growing up about taking a married name and the chance to reinvent yourself in a new, more adult role can be very appealing.
One of the biggest reasons to change name is the sense of union that’s created by a shared surname. Newlyweds become an identifiable unit; a partnership. When children are added to the mix, they continue the family name into the next generation and with them comes a whole host of difficulties if you don’t share their name. So then, perhaps it’s more of a decision for when you become parents, as apposed to life partners.
“I did think about it at the time but for me it was very natural to take my husband’s name,” said TT reader Rachael. “My parents are divorced and I never felt enormously attached to my maiden name. I wanted us to all have the same name as a family so it seemed like the natural thing to do.”
So it’s a timeworn tradition, it has some nice, unified connotations and it’s generally expected, but it’s your choice. You’ll no doubt be celebrated as ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ or ‘the Smiths’, but ultimately we have the luxury of choice and if deleting the person you’ve been for as long as you can remember doesn’t sit right, keep your maiden name. Even if it is Smith. It’s yours, and it doesn’t make your relationship any less bonafide. But if you want to, aren’t particularly attached to your name and don’t feel a need to ram home your individuality outside your marriage, take your Mrs with pride.
Wow, just look at us sit on the fence there.