Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To Name, Or Not To Name

(Disclaimer: I thought for a long time about actually posting this blog. It's a wee bit controversial, especially in the U.S., and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I really wanted to explore the reasons behind name changes and what that meant for me with marriage. I hope this is a little bit enlightening for all 17 of my readers.)

One of the scariest parts of marriage for me is the fact that I am expected to give up my last name. All growing up I was informed that that's "just how it happened." The girl gives up her last name and takes her husband's. It always seemed weird to me, and kind of wrong, the woman having to give up some of her identity get married. I thought that hopefully I'd come around when I found someone I wanted to marry. Then I found out that some people, and not just celebrities or established business-persons, don't take the husband's last name. And to me, that was like a ray of sunlight.

There's lots of reasons to both keep or change your last name. The reasons for changing can be as simple as hating the name you grew up with, to seeing that changing it made you a family and brought you both closer together. The reasons for keeping a maiden name are surprisingly similar. To quote Elliot from Scrubs, "But...his name is Dudemeister. I'd be Mrs. Dudemeister....I don't think I could take it." Add to that a lot of women have spent a lot of time building a professional career for themselves and have degrees with their maiden name on it. All those years of schooling and work for a name that is now moot?

Here's some statistics for you. Per Women's Health magazine, only about 10% of married women in the U.S. have kept their birth names. Another 6% choose to hyphenate. When polled about changing their names, many women said they did it because that's what they thought was expected. Speaking of expected, according to a Men's Health poll in 2014, 96.3% of men said they would refuse to take the woman's last name, (hypocrite much?) and 63.3% would be upset if the woman kept her birth name. Reasons range from thinking that she didn't value the marriage, that she was putting herself first, to feeling like they were being emasculated. That him taking her last name would be unmanly, and her not taking his name would detract from his masculinity. Theme much? Cutting through it all, it seems to me that men either feel she wasn't putting the relationship first, or that she was trying to undercut his manliness. These are valid ideas, however I'm going to throw a little more knowledge into the mix.

In countries where English is spoken, it is common for the woman to assume the husband's name upon marriage. This started in the U.K., and now extends to America, Australia, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ireland, India, the Philippines, and English-speaking parts of Canada. Canada is a different case though, because of French influences. In British Columbia and Quebec, and new rule went into play in 1981 that made it technically illegal for women to change their last name upon marriage. This simply means that they have to go through a legal name change, and not just view the marriage certificate as legal proof of a different name. Makes it more equal and all. But, these countries are the only ones where this is the norm. Laying on some more knowledge:

Women in Greece, the Netherlands, Italy and France are required to keep their birth names, in Greece  and the Netherlands they can socially go by the husband's last name but officially keep their own last name.

Couples in Germany can adopt either name, there isn't a precedent for one or the other I found, they are working to make it more gender-equal.

In Japan couples have to pick one surname or the other. Typically the woman changes her last name, however if the wife's family is of higher status then the husband will take her last name.

In China and Korea the woman keeps her last name, as they view their names as handed down through tradition from their ancestors. The children typically inherit the husband's name.

So, if you consider the people who live in these countries, most women in the world don't change their last names. Asian countries typically have women keep their names due to heritage, and Western countries have been moving towards women keeping their names too. Countries that were heavily settled by England tend to expect women to change their names. How's that knowledge treating ya?

In light of all this, for some women it can be traumatic to change her name. Like I said, names describe who you are, hopefully you don't suddenly turn into a different person during marriage. Here's my personal opinion.

It's my name. It's been my name for years. My whole life in fact. It's something I'm proud of. In marriage, we are always told not to try and change the other person. Why change something so fundamental about your spouse, right from the get-go then?

Maybe I'm coming off as being fundamentally flawed, you know, like those people who argue that the Holocaust never happened and Anne Frank was a myth. But still, something about keeping the fundamental integrity of my name to myself kind of resonates with me.

I don't think all women should be required to keep their own name, nor do I think all women should be required to change it. I like the laws how they are, change them if you want, hyphenate if you want, change his name, or change both. The married couple should take a look at the business of last names and have a discussion on it, rather than just expecting that one or the other is going to happen. Plus, a marriage isn't based on names, despite what some people might argue. A marriage is based on thoughts and actions and words and deeds. My name doesn't detract from my commitment level.

For me, the jury is still out. I love my fiance, and his last name is fine. It would socially be easier, if more difficult professionally to make the change. I have 2 months until we go get that marriage certificate though, hopefully by then I'll have an answer.

Men, I don't understand why so many of you are so dead set against even considering changing your last name. If nothing else, consider this. By getting married, you will live 3-5 years longer thanks to your wife. In comparison, getting married will shave 3-5 years OFF her life. Just consider it.

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