Should married women take their husbands’ last names?


Fact Box

  • A ninth-century English common law called the Doctrine of Coverture was one of the first recorded laws to require married women to take their husbands’ last name.
  • According to a Google Consumer Survey, about 20% of women married in recent years have not taken their husbands’ last name.
  • A Portland State University sociology professor authored a study to find out the main reason Americans think women should change their names upon marrying. She found that it was due to “...the belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves.”
  • In some states, if a husband would like to take his wife’s last name, a legal marriage license may not be enough to grant such a request, as is the case with wives--he may have to appear in court as part of a legal name change process.  

Sheryll (No)

Like most other forms of normalized sexism, expecting a woman to take her husband's last name seems justifiable merely because we are used to it.  

The long-standing tradition has immensely sexist roots in being a symbol of the 'property transfer' that historically happened upon marriage. Essentially, women went from being their family's property to becoming owned by their husbands. Although most of the developed world does not perceive marriage the same way anymore, there does seem to be a romanticization on women's parts to sacrifice a part of their identities to become a unit with their husbands. 

But if taking a man's last name was truly about establishing family units, why do we not see more instances of husbands adopting the last names of their wives? Having this burden lay almost always on the woman is evidence today that women are still expected to forgo their own needs for the well-being of the family. 

A surname change especially poses problems for women who've already spent years establishing their careers and building a reputation around their names long before they may even have met their husbands. To insist that women bear the risk of starting over professionally, simply because societal expectations demand families share one surname, is a misogynistic ritual that should no longer be socially acceptable. 

Surname changes are a constant reminder to women that their identities are altered by marriage, while a man's identity is unaffected. And while it is true that some women still choose willingly to take their husbands’ names, the fact remains that even an idealized view of the issue cannot shroud its sexist roots. 

Bertie (Yes)

Every day, little girls' notebooks are decorated with the doodlings of their first name followed by the last name of their latest crush. It's culturally ingrained for women to take their husband's last name when they marry and, though it shouldn't be a requirement, it's a good tradition to continue honoring, which a vast majority do.

There are several reasons for this, not least of which is that it's simply easier and more practical in American society. The constant explanations of 'why' a woman didn't change her name are enough to ward off many people. Not to mention the increased ease when traveling--especially flying. Then there are the explanations to your future hypothetical kids or those kids' schools, or god forbid, a hospital stay where, amid THAT stress, you would have to explain that yes, even though your names are different, you are, in fact, legally married. 

Relationship experts point out that a woman taking her husband's last name not only demonstrates her loyalty to the relationship, but it also bonds the couple together to commit to the one-family, one-name concept. As exciting (albeit stressful) as planning a wedding together is, carrying that unity over into marriage by having the woman take her husband’s last name signifies the new start the two are making and also communicates to exes that the woman is officially 'off the market.' 

Ultimately, however, another strong argument for a woman taking her husband's last name is the undeniable fact that men love and appreciate it. For many men, their wives' name change reinforces that their partners want to be a part of their family and are proud of the family name.

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