Mrs His Name

// 12 January 2011

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wedding figurines 2.jpgThe Japanese government is facing a law suit brought by five people who claim that their constututional rights have been violated by the law forcing married couples to share the same surname, which in practice tends to be the man’s. The Guardian reports that Japan is the only G8 nation with laws regarding marital surnames, yet the practice is still considered the norm here in the UK. To my continual bemusement.

To me, a woman automatically getting rid of her surname and replacing it with her husband’s is tantamount to saying that he is more important than her. I say automatically, because a woman may have a very specific reason for wanting to take her husband’s surname, be it simply because she has always disliked hers, or because she no longer wants to be associated with her father or other family members. However, it does seem that plenty of women still change their name simply because it’s the done thing. It’s a pretty common reason for doing anything in our society, and I think this herd-like mentality where we unthinkingly do what everyone else does without stopping to question why – probably because it’s easier and makes us feel secure – is to blame for the continuation of a lot of social ills (boys wear blue, girls wear pink, anyone?).

If marriage is about partnership and mutual love and respect, and if we’re living in this supposedly equal, post-feminist (*gags*) society, why are women still queueing up to put their legal identities through the shredder and become Mrs His Name? And what does the man’s willingless – in some cases insistance – on this sexist tradition say about his view of his one true love? I know I wouldn’t want to marry someone who thought his name was more important than mine (well, I don’t want to marry anyway, but that’s beside the point).

Then there’s any potential kids. Even when women keep their own name, there still seems to be a tendency for the male surname to be given to the children. Are they really more his than hers? What good reason is there, really, to automatically carry on the male name rather than the female? Because as I told a dear ex of mine, indignant protestations about ruining the family tree just won’t cut it: the irrelevancy of women to the traditional family history research process is yet another patriarchal slap in the face.

Clearly some decision on names has to be taken when marriage, and kids, loom. The important thing, in my opinion, is that this decision be an informed one, and a decision based on hundreds of years of patriarchal tradition reinforced by modern-day retrosexist romanticism, wedding fetishization and social conformity isn’t what I would call particularly informed.

Obviously not everyone thinks like me, thank [insert your preferred deity/Richard Dawkins here], or has surnames which can be conveniently blended to create a new super-cute hybrid surname for any future offspring (she writes, smugly). Everyone will come to different conclusions and arrangements, and some women will continue to take their husband’s name. But if men and women in heterosexual pairings start questioning the status quo and think about what our romantically-billed naming tradition really says about their relative worth and importance, I think fewer women would spend their time and money on changing what is, legally, the most important marker of their identity.

Comments From You

RM // Posted 12 January 2011 at 10:19 pm

My husband and I do not have the same surname. We chose to give our son my husband’s name. This wasn’t and ‘automatic’ choice, but to do with my husband’s concern that people would assume he isn’t my son’s father when picking him up from nursery/school etc because of the different surname. It’s so common for mothers to have different surnames from their children that people aren’t phased by it, but my husband was worried about how people would treat him.

Now this wouldn’t bother me – I don’t care what people think/say, but my husband does and I don’t think it’s fair of me to force him to deal with this if it’s too big an issue for him. He supports my feminism and is happy to deal with a comments etc about our lifestyle choices, but he has his limits, and I have to respect that.

I too am bemused by the ubiquity of women taking their husband’s name! I didn’t like my ‘maiden name’ for various reasons so changed it when I was 18. When I got married I kept the one had chosen.

Tonia // Posted 12 January 2011 at 10:25 pm

It’s always an interesting one when it comes to surnames. I’m from China where we don’t change surnames when we get married (either way) and more and more younger parents are naming their children double-surnames – same in South Korea. I do like my surname (mostly because it’s a rare one in China – Lu), but I still get slightly offended when people spelt it ‘Loo’… That makes me want to just change to my partner’s surname.

Anyway, the recent unhappy experience was, my partner and I just moved and we went to the Post Office for mail redirect. And we realised that even if you live in the same house, unless you have the same last name, you are not seen as a ‘family’ or ‘couple’. It didn’t bother us as we are not married or have been together for very long time, so we paid the price for 2 redirections. But it is obviously quite offensive for long-term and married couples, especially those who have started a family already.

There must be a better way to see if someone’s a part of a family other than by their surname, isn’t it?

Sheila // Posted 12 January 2011 at 10:41 pm

Interesting post. Given the divorce statistics and social norms, many women go through multiple name changes during their life – adding administrative complexity and expense to matters like having a passport, filing tax returns, endowment policies and the like.

My ex husband’s new wife has the same surname as my children and I do not. She makes dental and doctor’s appointments for them giving the impression that she is their mother and signs consent forms (illegally) for their treatment. All based on the assumption that she must be their mother. No one likes to plan for divorce when they get married, but how will you feel when the passport agency charge you once to change your name on getting married and again to change it back again on getting divorced (if you choose to). My children’s school simply cannot get their heads round me being a Miss and patently not a virgin.

But I don’t know what the solution is. Should children’s names be drawn out of a hat. Isn’t it natural to want to belong to a clan of some sort? My kids love the idea of tracing their maternal family tree, of being half another name to the one they actually bear. Maybe the marriage ceremony should include a mutual name change. But isn’t that just adding a ridiculous ritual on to a ridiculous ritual? One of the reasons people get married is for social recognition of the relationship – and being of one name is a clear way to demand that recognition.

I end up thinking that I couldn’t care less what people choose to call themselves. After all, the poor woman who married my ex will never be my children’s mother, for all her trying. There is more to me than my name, none of which I chose.

Schnee // Posted 12 January 2011 at 10:59 pm

Fantastic post Laura, it’s all there, and have had this conversation with friends quite recently.

A propos of your comments about the herd-like mentality where we all do something because it’s just outside of our comfort zone not to, I was reminded recently of a quote from economist JK Galbraith,

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

Kris // Posted 13 January 2011 at 3:25 am

This has always interested me. I surrounded myself with feminist friends in college. Nearly all of us are married, and all have careers, including several engineers and lawyers. Yet I was the only one who did not take her husband’s name. When I asked why, I almost always got the same response. “I want us to have the same last name, and he didn’t want to change his.” Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I don’t want to cheapen their choices, because they were made freely, but why is it always the woman who gives in so that life can be more convenient for the family as a whole?

Never have I even considered taking my husband’s name. When I was a very young girl and assumed I had to, it bummed me out. I was never one of those girls who wrote “Mrs. (crush of the week)” all over the place because I always felt a strong connection to my own name. On top of that, I believe that too many women suffer from the “burnt piece of toast” syndrome. Lots of moms are the ones who automatically step up to sacrifice for the family, from the smallest things like eating the overdone piece of toast to the biggest things like dropping their career so somebody can be home with the kids. That’s not going to be me. It’s not about counting favors or keeping a balance sheet, but when unpleasant sacrifices need to be made for the family, it’s not just going to be an automatic that I’ll do it because I’m the woman. I told my husband when we were planning the wedding that if he cared particularly about having the same name, he was welcome to change his, but I was not changing mine. Having different names doesn’t really bother me. It does bother him, but he also fully understands my feelings and shares my beliefs, and realizes he has no room to criticize because he had the choice to change his name, and didn’t. It has set a very good tone for our marriage. We are equal partners. I learned to cook, but he does the laundry. We alternate who has to stay home with the baby.

That being said, my son does have my husband’s last name. If we have a daughter, she will have my last name. I did not want to inflict a hyphenated name on the kid, and on top of that, I generally have issues with hyphenation (what happens when two hyphens get married and have a kid? Hyphening a hyphened name is ridiculous). This seemed the easiest way.

I would really be interested to hear from feminists who did change their name–why?

polly // Posted 13 January 2011 at 8:41 am

“To me, a woman automatically getting rid of her surname and replacing it with her husband’s is tantamount to saying that he is more important than her. I say automatically, because a woman may have a very specific reason for wanting to take her husband’s surname, be it simply because she has always disliked hers, or because she no longer wants to be associated with her father or other family members”

What I don’t understand though Laura, if that’s the reason, is why she didn’t change it before? Because anyone can change their mind at any time.

It’s surprising how many people think that changing your name on marriage is actually a legal requirement in the UK. It isn’t. And ‘legally’ your name doesn’t change simply by getting married, anyone can adopt any name they want as long as they’re not doing it for criminal purposes.

It reminds me of the episode of Friends where Phoebe went to change her name after getting married.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txmd5trrv6c

childerowland // Posted 13 January 2011 at 9:05 am

I agree. Changing your name on marriage (as a woman) perpetuates the idea that women are the ones who should make sacrifices in relationships – even completely unnecessary sacrifices.

An expectation on the part of a man for a woman to change her name should be a huge red flag for any feminist-minded woman. Expecting or wanting your partner to do things that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself is the essence of inequality.

I don’t watch a lot of TV so maybe there are exceptions, but it irritates me the way in which when female hetero characters get married (e.g. in Eastenders) there never seems to be any question of them not changing their names – the fact that they have a choice just never arises. It’s seen as romantic to immediately start to be addressed as Mrs Husband’s Surname.

Josie // Posted 13 January 2011 at 2:40 pm

Fantastic post Laura and I agree with every word. I’m 31 and out of all the women I have ever known, only 3 have not changed their names to his on marriage. One is my best friend, who was definitely going to change to his name when they got married – I can’t tell you how sad this made me feel. My partner and I often call her by her last name as a kind of nickname (long story!) and about 3 months before their wedding, she heard my partner refer to her by her last name and instantly changed her mind about adopting a married name! She said she suddenly felt she would be losing a part of herself if she changed her name and made up her mind to stick with hers. I’m so proud of her.

Childerowland, the soap characters thing gets on my wick too – massively. I have to confess to also feeling really sad that someone like Samantha Janus, who has been around for a long time and had literally ‘made her name’ using her own name, changed to Womack when she got married recently. I wonder if Cheryl Cole kicks herself for changing her name (at least professionally) in view of how things turned out

Mobot // Posted 13 January 2011 at 2:52 pm

Wholeheartedly agree with this post and pretty much all of the comments. Back to the old cliche of the woman as martyr, making all the sacrifices. I reckon men are generally priveleged enough not to notice or have to worry about these things very often, so when they’re presented with suggestions such as giving up their names or not having their kids named after them, it’s a bigger deal than it often is for women, who tend to learn to resign themselves to such things. Sad state of affairs… also interesting how people talk about women ‘taking’ a man’s name. That implies an active process, but I’d argue that, in the vast majority of cases, it’s more like passively giving up their own name.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 13 January 2011 at 3:15 pm

I changed my name when I married- cause I was young and stupid and it genuinely didn’t occur to me that there was another option. Now, all my qualifications are in that name, so it is my professional identity and will continue to be so. Although in Scotland, you never give up your maiden name- so when I sign legal documents etc, I am sometimes asked to use both- and can choose to use whatever I want in other cases.

I also use my maiden name for various other facets of my identity (ie when I write in a ‘non-professional’ (er, that is non-academic) context). And, I also have this handy pseudonym (FA) that I use for my online identity. So, I guess I have just reconciled the idea that different facets of my life have different personas and different names.

Ema // Posted 13 January 2011 at 5:28 pm

As a feminist who did change my name when I got married I have had to justify it again and again. I changed my name for the reasons you stated, I didn’t want to be connected to my family and I simply didn’t like it (it was very long and I got asked “how do you spell that” a million times a day and it got on my nerves). For starters I didn’t change it before because I didn’t feel able to while I still lived at home. I looked into legally changing it after I left but couldn’t decide what to change it to and the period between that and getting married was very short as I married young. My husband had always assumed I wouldn’t change it because of my feminist views but when we talked about it we both decided it would just be nicer to have the same name. He said he had no particular attatchment to his name and would be happy to change it but I chose to change instead as it was something I had already wanted to do. I agree with the argument that it automatically being the woman who changes is a horrible tradition and one that I think more people should question. I however DID think about it and, I believe, made the change for reasons that were right for me. Being told by so many people that I can’t be a real feminist because I changed my name is insulting. Having said all this I still don’t call myself “Mrs”. The idea that I have to announce my marital status every time I write my name is one step to far for me.

Laura // Posted 13 January 2011 at 6:10 pm

@ Mobot – Great point about the use of the active verb “taking” – I think I will use the phrase “giving up her name for his” from now on.

@ Ema – Well whoever told you you’re “not a real feminist” for changing your name is a fool! (As if your surname is what makes you a feminist anyway.) You clearly thought about what you wanted and made the right decision for you, which is completely different from just giving up your surname for your husband’s because it’s the done thing.

Mercy // Posted 13 January 2011 at 8:40 pm

I know a divorce lawyer who’s convinced that children should automatically be given their mother’s surnames as mothers generally end up being the main carer on separation and and up with children with a different surname and awkward and lengthy explanations as to why ensue.

I’m baffled as to why women don’t follow men, who move from Master as a boy to Mr on becoming a man, and change from Miss (girl) to Mrs (woman) rather than on marriage. That way your courtesy title doesn’t hint at your martial status. Anyone else noticed how the Daily Mail refers to divorced women as Miss (Mrs Cheryl Cole is now Miss Cole) and keeps Miss as a courtesty title when a married woman does not take her husband’s name (Miss Paltrow)?

Alex T // Posted 13 January 2011 at 8:45 pm

Oh, totally with you all the way on this, Laura. I’ve been married 4 years, with my own name, and got a cheque from my aunt recently made out to Alex L_____. Sigh.

Our son has a ridiculous double-barrelled surname, but since I did all the work in producing him, he was bloody well having my name! Husband felt strongly about son having his name too, so son got both names. And he is free to change it to whatever he wants when he’s older! So there!

Kris // Posted 13 January 2011 at 9:18 pm

I am curious about this part:

“Anyone else noticed how the Daily Mail refers to divorced women as Miss (Mrs Cheryl Cole is now Miss Cole) and keeps Miss as a courtesty title when a married woman does not take her husband’s name (Miss Paltrow)?”

Is Ms. not a commonly used title in Great Britain? I would never consider being called anything but Ms. I agree with the poster that the Miss to Mrs. age progression would make sense, but at least here in the states, that’s not really an issue because Ms. is a pretty established neutral title. The thought of being called Mrs. actually somewhat makes my skin crawl–if somebody is not on a first-name basis with me, my marital status is none of their damn business.

Laura // Posted 13 January 2011 at 9:28 pm

@ Kris, Ms is used in the UK, but it’s nowhere near as common as in the US. Most people think it’s a title used by women who are divorced, and it’s REALLY bloody hard to get most companies etc. to use it. In fact, when I bought something in a large department store the other day, they had to take my name and I actually spelled out my title M-S yet the shop assistant still wrote Miss on the receipt!

Sheila // Posted 13 January 2011 at 11:00 pm

I call myself Miss especially when with my children and love it when bigoted people’s eyes bulge with indignation when they assume I must be some underclass harlot. Miss is such a lovely old-fashioned title that it can be used ironically to annoy self-righteous bigots no end. My American friend gets her children to call me Miss Sheila out of respect, like Miss Ellie on Dallas. Miss in southern states of America is the title you give to matriarchs.

Holly // Posted 14 January 2011 at 1:19 am

Sorry, but I really have to disagree with most of the posts here. In line with Ema’s response, and in response to Kris’ request, here’s my tuppenceworth as a proud and forthright feminist who’s a) married and b) changed her name to her husband’s! Gasp! :)

(Laura, I know you’ve responded to some similar points to these, and thank you for that – but thought it would be still be helpful to have another voice in this mix!)

I get a little bit tired of stipulations like:

– I’m ‘unthinking’

– I have a ‘herdlike mentality’

…and, my personal favourite here, that my surname is ‘the most important marker of [my] identity’… er… what?!

Come on.

There are plenty of battles to fight against the mad, bad and downright ugly as a feminist, and I really don’t think this is a big one. My surname is absolutely not the most important marker of my identity. It’s a name I have, and that’s all it is to me. My carefully-honed and fiercely-guarded opinions, loves, skills, histories, foibles and hopes are much more important to me. That’s not to say I have aspects of my personality ranked ready for bidding! But I must admit I get a bit tired of being patted on the head by women who happen to have come to a different decision to me on this one.

And that’s the important thing. We decided that I’d change my name when we talked about getting married. Together. As a partnership. We talked about it and came to an agreement. I must stress – it *is* possible to do this.

It’s a whole other kettle of fish if you’re not allowed to keep your own name if you’re attached to it, or if your husband/partner-to-be won’t let you keep yours. (In which case, are they the right one for you…? I’m sure if my partner had kicked off about what he wanted, what I had to do and what he expected under the legal terms of marriage, I would have had that argument out and, frankly, won it, taking the cats with me.)

But we did talk about it, and, having discussed all the options, I decided I quite liked the idea of us having the same surname. Tradition happens to be more important in my husband’s more traditional family than mine, so I was actually really happy to change my name. If I’d have really wanted to keep my name, I would have. And he would have changed his to mine if I’d wanted him to. But that just isn’t what we decided, unfashionable as it is.

I like the fact we’re husband and wife. And I like being called Mrs. Shock, horror! I get called Mrs because I’m married! And, until we all have the equal right to civil partnerships and/or marriage (which is a whole other story – dare I say a bigger issue?), to my mind being a Mrs is part and parcel of getting married and one that, having thought it through, I’m totally comfortable with. Sorry; it’s not trendy, but it’s what I think. I’d fight for anyone’s right to be a Miss, Ms or Mr – whatever you want, at whatever stage of your life – but please respect my decision to make my own mind up and be a Mrs His Name.

My point is that people who choose to change their names aren’t all poor little underthethumbs. The article about women’s experiences in Japan riled me – how dare anyone take away that right from any woman? – but please don’t conflate the argument that everyone should be able to choose with the tired, boring one that everyone who does *choose* to change their name is a sad, unenlightened, pathetic, aproned wifey. It’s more than a little patronising.

Rosi01 // Posted 14 January 2011 at 2:59 am

Great post, Laura. I completely agree with you. The issue with children’s surnames remains a huge problem, I am inclined to think that they should have my surname just to repay all the years of the patriarchal practice of taking the father’s surname! But that approach kind of misses the point. Likewise, my surname isn’t exactly amenable to double-barreling (Cuppaidge).

Great to read such a straightforward take of the minefield that is not becoming Mrs His Name, I just wish more people thought like this :)

Laura // Posted 14 January 2011 at 8:22 am

@ Holly – Think we’re pretty much on the same page in terms of the important point being making an informed decision, whatever that might be :-) Just wanted to point out that I said your name is probably legally the most important marker of your identity – I don’t think it necessarily is on a personal or social level.

Holly // Posted 14 January 2011 at 9:50 am

Laura – I agree, I’m quite sure we are! Maybe it’s just me that’s not hung up on the name thing, and I do appreciate that for some women it’s a real touchstone (other things are for me!), but I just had to post to demonstrate that there are freaky people like me out there who really do feel, think and decide that way :) Jumping to the conclusion that name-changing conventions are all patriachial conspiracies, and that people who submit to them are helpless, feckless or gutless just gets my eyes rolling, I’m afraid. Good to debate though :)

Hazel // Posted 14 January 2011 at 10:08 am

There are plenty of battles to fight and I understand why many women think that this isn’t one of the important ones. However, changing your name is certainly one of the most personal things that you can do and it reflects on you as an individual in a way that other issues don’t, and names are clearly important or there wouldn’t be any debate at all.

Personally speaking, my name is part of my identity and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I am married and we have a child and he has my surname. It has caused no problems at all for either me or my husband or, indeed, our son.

Helen S // Posted 14 January 2011 at 10:15 am

This is a subject very close to my heart – when my husband and I got married almost two years ago I didn’t want to change my name, which upset him very much. It quickly escalated into rows in the months preceding the wedding- I asked him to justify why I should change my name, and he couldn’t answer. Eventually I gave I and agreed to change it (possibly a very unfeminist move on my part but I couldn’t bear the arguing any more, make that of that what you will).

Although I changed my name legally, I insisted that I still use my maiden name at work as I am well known and wanted to keep it. Unfortunately, our HR department are completely incapable of understanding that someone may have one name legally and another for correspondance at work. Since our wedding I’m constantly fighting with them – they keep changing my email and telephone details without my permission so other staff can’t find me and I’ve started to get complaints. The last time I queried this I said to HR that surely I was ‘not the only person in the history of our organisation to do this’, bearing in mind that we are a university and I know many academics in particular who like to use their maiden name for work.

A bit of a ramble, sorry, but I’m still fighting and it annoys me that I have to.

Cass // Posted 14 January 2011 at 10:33 am

Ever read any books from the ‘Pern’ series by Anne McCaffrey.

The characters have an interesting way of naming children based on some combination of the parents names.

Ie Cassandra and Bill might make Bandra or Cassill or Bindra etc.

Cass // Posted 14 January 2011 at 10:46 am

I also want to add this.

The whole last name thing doesn’t bother me (though I like that other people are working on stuff like this). However I don’t like being called by my husbands full name.

I received a Xmas card from my Aunty (she is in her forties so not very old) addresses to Mr and Mrs Bill T_____.

That irked me a lot. I feel like I am Elizabeth Bennett being possessed by Mr Darcy. I felt like my own worth was dismissed, as if I was nothing more than the possession of my husband and should submit to his will.

Funny how one envelope can make me feel that devalued.

Jessica // Posted 14 January 2011 at 12:50 pm

When I married I changed my name to a double-barrelled one. I still sometimes only use the first part, which was my birth name.

I did this for one reason only: we want to have children, and we don’t want to impose a nineteen character long surname on them. So we had to choose between his name or mine. While my surname is rare in London, it is the name of a small village near Lincoln and there is a sizable tribe. His name, on the other hand, is held by fewer than 100 people on the electoral register (we think) and can be traced from his family to the original name of a particular family in Kent. So our children will get his name as a surname, and mine as a middle name. And so because I want to have at least part of a connection to them, but I didn’t want to lose my name, I went for the full nineteen characters. My partner has taken my name as a middle name, just as our future children will.

I do think names are important — it might be a minor thing, but actually it’s an important part of my identity. In fact, I’m keener on my birth surname than my first name. (Too many Jessicas out there…) And I think too few people sit down and discuss it — many just take the man’s name. I have friends who changed to his name, but I also have friends who changed to her name. And I have friends who kept their birth names.

By the way, someone commented that girls should stop being Miss when they become a women. I strongly support this — I started calling myself Ms the day I turned 16. Except I generally avoid titles. Bloody titles.

Jem // Posted 14 January 2011 at 1:17 pm

Great post! My partner and I aren’t getting married, but when kids come along, they’ll be Child My Name. I love my name, although it’s my father’s. When my parents got divorced, my mother wanted to revert to her unmarried surname, but kept it for five years because she wanted to make it easier for my brother and I whilst we were still minors, and were having trouble with the split. She has now changed her name – but by Deed Poll (moving forwards, not backwards) and I really respect her for both choices. My partner is totally happy for the kids to be called My Name, particularly as his is double-barrelled, but would like his parents’ names to be in there somewhere – maybe on the birth certificate but not used generally.

Rachel Thwaites // Posted 14 January 2011 at 2:02 pm

Great blog post! Thanks Laura.

I’m actually doing my PhD on naming decisions women make when they get married (and divorced), why women do/do not change their name, and the impact this has on sense of self. If anyone would be interested in taking part in my study (15 minute survey online) then I’d be really interested in hearing from you! ret508@york.ac.uk Thank you!!

Aimee // Posted 14 January 2011 at 2:32 pm

I have said before I think that I could never ever change my name to any potential (not going to happen) husband’s. I know that this is contraversial but I do kind of think that changing your name is reenforcing a cultural convention which is actively harmful to women. I know a lot of mrs. hisnames have made informed choices, but I also feel like we – especially those of us who identify as feminists have a kind of responsibility to make a change… I feel as though making a stand first will mean REAL freedom of choice later. Going with the flow and claiming free choice isn’t changing anything. This is instinctual feeling and I certainly wouldn’t actively criticise anyone’s choice… but personally, even if I hated my name and liked the future husbands’ etc. I would feel as though it would be more productive for me to keep my own name – to foster these kinds of debates and make people think.

I am interested in the Miss/Ms/Mrs thing though. I actually think i’d always like to be a Miss. There’s something kind of rebellious about it, I think. Ms feels too grown up for me and I will never, ever, regardless of marital status be a Mrs. I don’t think we should impose titles on people due to either marital status OR age. I rather think it would be better to leave it up to the individual based on how they feel. If a married woman wants to be a Mrs. then that seems good to me. Similarly if a married, sixty year old woman wants to be a miss.. if she FEELS like a miss, then I think that’s good too.

Lindsey // Posted 14 January 2011 at 2:40 pm

I wonder how many people get married at all without seriously considering the alternatives (I’m not trying to be rude or start a fight, I promise). It’s not really a big deal either way anymore if you get married or not in terms of social reputation (unless you’re in a religious community) or financial consequences and sometimes to me it feels like people do it just because it seems like a nice thing to do and everyone around them expects them to anyway. Not getting married then seems like a lower status, as if your relationship is not as strong or your partner not as worthwile. I think some women will take men’s names under this belief, as if to deny his name means that secretly they think he’s not good enough (or so it may be implied).

I know that if I got married my family would be overjoyed, my partner would love it and my friends would be supportive. Everyone would be so happy except me. But if I could grin and bear it I could make a lot of people really happy, and my family would stop treating me like an unfulfiled potential. Sometimes I think about just doing it anyway, because what’s the worst thing that could happen. It’s hard to make some people understand that “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason. Similarly if you do want to get married and change your name “I want to” isn’t enough for some people to accept your choice. I know that no decision is made in a vacuum and that I may have regrets in the future, but all you can do is make the best choice for yourself at this moment in time.

Hazel // Posted 14 January 2011 at 3:07 pm

“Bloody titles.”

Yes! What do they matter? Many online forms require you to fill in the title field. Why? What difference does it make to Thames Water (for example) if I am trying to tell them that a stopcock cover is broken if I am Ms or Miss or whatever?

Outburst over.

sianushka // Posted 14 January 2011 at 5:21 pm

Jem, my mother did the same – my parents split when i was 4 so she didn’t want a different name to us. she now uses her name for email and things. altho i think we still share a name in terms of official electoral things.

i think there is an important distinction between changing your name because you have a reason for wanting to, or changing it after discussion and thought, and changing it because it’s the ‘done thing’ which have been wonderfully and articulately discussed on this thread.

Jo // Posted 15 January 2011 at 12:14 am

I understand why this debate is important for some feminists, but I’m always confused by the assumption that it’s a choice between one’s own name and one’s partner’s.

My surname is my father’s name (and the name of a long line of men). It is not *my* name in any meaningful sense. Patriarchy has ensured women don’t have names at all. Because of this I do not feel attached to it and I would prefer to change it if I marry (it’s also incredibly boring, so I would like a slightly funkier surname!).

My friend’s parents had a nice solution: they kept their own names and gave their son the father’s name and the daughter the mother’s name. I’d be totally down with matrilineal names for women.

Alex T // Posted 15 January 2011 at 10:11 am

A male friend of mine always hated having his stepfather’s name, and on getting married, he and his wife chose a new name (admittedly from his family tree) together. I suppose it’s not just women who want to escape associations with their fathers/family.

Tracy // Posted 15 January 2011 at 2:09 pm

I have been unmarried to the one man for around 30 years. I have never used his name and never would, mine has always been important to me and I like it. Now and then there has been an expectation (not by my partner) that I should use my partner’s name, even though we aren’t married.

Our children have a hyphenated name that is both our surnames. Won’t mention what it is for privacy reasons but they go together so perfectly. One of my daughters commented the other day how her surname was one that was always remembered by people working in her industry and that it was an advantage for her.

As far as titles go I have been using Ms since I was around 14, after hearing a teacher explain why she used it herself.

Maeve // Posted 15 January 2011 at 4:32 pm

I didn’t change my name on getting married, but a lot of people just started calling me Mrs…other people call my husband by my name. It’s all mad.

I was also informed by one woman, on us being introduced, that she “doesn’t do Ms”. I told her that Ms is a legal, generally accepted title in wide use in the 21st century, with emphasis on TWENTY-FIRST!

Sheila // Posted 16 January 2011 at 10:36 pm

@Aimee

Go with the Miss thing. You won’t be sorry. I have stuck with the Miss thing. I am a 45 year old divorced mother of three in full time work. No one, but no one, in my work has ever had a problem with me being Miss – men and women alike. What it suggests is that I was advanced enough in my career at the time when I might have got married to have a professional reputation worth keeping. And I love the embarrassment I encounter from small minded small town bigoted parents at my kids’ school when I tell them I am Miss G_____. Goodness me! We have a woman in our midst who is not a virgin and not married. My kids are proud of me being a Miss too. There is something so archaic about it as to actually be anarchic. I’ll always be a Miss. That’s how I was born. What does my relationship status have to do with anything. It is terribly liberating to poke fun at your own title and to leave anyone silly enough to care about a person’s title scratching their heads. Ms suggests you’re bothered about what people call you. Miss puts two fingers up at the whole silly system. I suppose maybe the other thing would be to call yourself Mr. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad subversive idea.

Liz K // Posted 17 January 2011 at 3:43 am

I agree with Helen S: why not have two names, one for “home”, one for work and professional purposes? I believe in separating parts of your life! Also if you were someone famous, like JK Rowling, wouldn’t you want sth a bit less conspicuous for the PTA meeting?

As for the other main point – only Jo mentioned it, near the end! The thing is, your birth surname, though yours, is only your father’s name, passed down to you through generations of men: a patriname. What we need is a matriname or matrilineal name, *for women to pass on to all their children of both sexes*, so that we have true matriarchal as well as patriarchal surnames. The only quibble then would be in what order to place them!

The only person besides Jo to suggest this to my knowledge is Brian Sykes, scientist and author of The Seven Daughters of Eve. It has particular significance to him because he was the one to discover the importance of matrilineal DNA.

aimee // Posted 17 January 2011 at 2:50 pm

@shiela

That’s a great idea. I was always jealous when my brothers got letters addressed to ‘master….’. I guess we should just be called whatever the hell we like. I definitely agree with your entire point re. miss.

Shelly // Posted 17 January 2011 at 5:11 pm

If I were to get married (not happening anytime soon!) then I would have to think long and hard about changing my name. In all honesty it’s very unlikely that I would as I have my mother’s surname and as an only child I think that it’s quite important to keep it going. I think that I’d go for the double barrelled option if it was important to my partner but I would certainly have my surname also.

When I was 15 my father attempted to get me to change my name to his but I didn’t want to. He kept on and on about it for a good 6 months but I kept saying no. He even brought me some papers to sign once!

He was really quite annoyed by my refusal and went to talk to my mother as he was determined to “make me see sense”. She sat down with me and asked me if I wanted to change my surname or if I was just afraid of offending her by doing so. I said no I just didn’t see why I had to discard a name that I like and am used to for one that I didn’t want.

Suffice to say, I still have my name and I’m very happy with it!

Sandra // Posted 17 January 2011 at 7:45 pm

I can understand why a woman would want to take her husband’s name, especially once you have children. I do have a problem with the assumption that it’ll be the woman who takes the man’s name by default. If a couple want to share a surname, they should think about what they want it to be together.

I kept my name when I married because I like it. It’s an unusual surname and I like that I share it with my parents, sisters, cousins etc. It gives me sense of connection to my family.

My son has my surname and not my husband’s. It was important to me but not my husband as he was never close to his father’s side of the family.

My son has his paternal grandmother’s maiden name as a middle name though so there’s a family link on both sides.

It means, my husband does get called Mr Myname sometimes though and normally he doesn’t bother to correct it.

Carl // Posted 17 January 2011 at 8:35 pm

Interesting comments to this article, my imagination of name choices has never been so broad.

To me the whole Miss/Mrs issue is bigger than the surname change because it seems we have quite a post-feminist equality in that people are free to chose their name (marriage or not), despite of course social pressures which is the bigger barrier here.

On the whole the ‘title’ for either sex is unnecessary I think, is it really applicable today? I don’t really understand why women don’t just chose ‘Ms’ if they don’t want to disclose this, as nobody is forced to use ‘Mrs’ to my knowledge. On the other hand, I imagine there are a considerable number of women who are happy and proud to be married. Maybe we should be talking of the lack of a male title which signifies they are married? If there is one already please enlighten me…

I think the best outcome of any discussion about this is that people can talk about what interesting and egalitarian options there are…

I think you are correct that many people don’t really consider the options, maybe because its not so important to them, or because they want to follow the tradition, or for many of the other reasons mentioned here. But like I said, informing people better of the options is the only option to increase peoples freedom (a freedom doesn’t really work if you don’t know it exists).

Personally I like the idea of taking the partners name as a middle name.

Having kids on the other hand complicates things more. The maternal and paternal line taking their respective names is interesting, but still might make people assume each child has a different father or mother, but it seems like the best option from the bunch. The double barrelled name seems a bit unwieldy to me, and you’re lucky if you have names that go well together (and then of course you have to decide which name goes first). Aside from that, the connections with aristocracy would make it an uncomfortable choice for me.

Overall, I think saying taking the husbands name is practically saying the man is more important is a bit harsh. I imagine most do it because that’s what others do, and the same reason why men would expect it from their wives. Its hard to go against the grain, especially if the person doesn’t feel strongly about the issue either way. I can’t imagine many men saying the reason their wife should take his name is because the man is more important. Historically, for English language, surnames the name signified the profession, which would more likely have been the profession of the man. Men and women alike are trapped in this slow changing world of social expectation, upbringing and tradition, its been going a long time and even in the wildest dreams of an egalitarian social norms around ‘taking names’ won’t change for generations.

Annika // Posted 18 January 2011 at 1:07 am

To be honest, I think there are bigger things for me to worry about.

My daughter has the same surname as my partner, and my surname as her middle name.

I have my dad’s (read sperm donor) surname. I share the same dad as my brother, but my brother’s surname is my mum’s maiden name. My sisters share a dad, but one sister has her dads surname and the other has my mum’s maiden name.

My mum’s original maiden name belongs to her dad, who was physically abusive to my nan. My nan left him and remarried. The man she married adopted my mum and uncles and gave them his name. He then sexually abused my mum.

My mum changed her surname both times she married. Both were abusive men.

Confused? I know I am. Who’s name is who? What does it matter? Really?

Whether or not someone wants to change their surname is their own business. Informed decision or not, who are we to question their motives?

Names mean nothing to me, where I am concerned. And if I chose to change my surname or not, that would be up to me, and I would not be justifying it to anyone.

Each to their own, I say.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 18 January 2011 at 11:39 am

In Scotland, women traditionally kep their own name on marriage well into the 19thC. (Children were often called firstname mothername fathername when being named.) This is also true of a number of European countries, including France and some of Scandanavia.

But, when the English custom became fashionable in Scotland in the 19thC, the norm changed pretty quickly- within a couple of generations.

Similarly in both England and Scotland, Mrs was a title related to age and social status, not just marriage, until very recently. This dropped out of fashion in the 20thC- probably when marriage became so ubiquitous (with up to 95% of women marrying by the 1970s- an unprecedentedly high number and the majority marrying before age 25, making a Miss, Mrs marriage distinction more realistic than in a society where up to 1/3 of women never married).

So, when change happens, it can be quick- you just have to have the political will!

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