The naming of spouses is a difficult thing

// 23 March 2007

name changeMore and more men are chosing to take on their partner’s name when they get married, according to a report in USA Today.

As Donna and Mike entered their wedding reception, an unwitting announcer told the expectant crowd, “Ladies and gentleman, put your hands together for the new Mr. and Mrs. Salinger!”

Some guests clapped, some chuckled at what they presumed was a joke and most looked at one another in confusion. The couple spent the entire reception and some of their honeymoon explaining to people what they had done.

The groom, you see, had started his day as Mike Davis and ended it by doing something precious few of his brothers-in-arms do: He took his wife’s last name instead of her taking his.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have caused as much of a stir as it did,” says Mike Salinger, 27, of Seattle, who was married in November. “We knew people might be surprised, but we figured they’d say ‘Huh’ and get on with it.

Some men who have gone down this route have got even worse reactions, including podcaster Sam Van Hallgren, who explained his decision on air. A reader wrote in to tell him to “hand in his man card”.

How important is this issue? In the grand scheme of things, it would be a minor detail, if not for these violent reactions against the practice. And these small, symbolic acts do have a knock-on effect, in terms of both bringing to light and forcing people to confront why they find it so horrendous.

It would be really interesting to see some research on whether the same trend is occuring in the UK. Of my married friends and acquantainces, I can only think of one man who has taken on his wife’s name, although more couples have each stuck with their own last name. And, as may not surprise you, the folks I know are generally pretty progressive.

Interestingly, though, California is just about to introduce a law which would make it as easy for men to take on their wives names as the other way around, which is a definite plus. While the law continues to tacitly support and encourage the patriarchal practice of women taking on their new husbands’ names, and put barriers in front of those that want to do things differently, then it is no wonder that men such as those quoted in the USA Today story encounter these negative reactions.

Photo by Matt Brett, shared under a Creative Commons license

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