For better or for worse: Should women in the US be expected to change their surnames after marriage?

October 18, 2018

A woman stands at the altar, waiting to say those two words that will forever cement her relationship with the man she loves. She declares her consent and kisses her new husband.

 

They exit the altar together and the festivities begin. Her smile is permanently stuck on her face, until her friend asks, “How does it feel to be the new Mrs. Smith?”

 

This woman, and about 30 percent of women from recent marriages, according to the New York Times, did not choose to take her husband’s last name. Women, or anyone in a relationship, should not feel judged for choosing to change or keep their surname. It seems like such a silly thing, changing a surname, but why are women so often pressured to do so in the United States?

 

The practice of changing surnames was inherited by the United States from Britain, which began using surnames about 1000 years ago due to French influences, according to BBC. In the beginning, women were only seen as property, and labeled by their husband’s surname.

 

However, a new interpretation changed the meaning of the label into a demonstration that those involved in relationships become one—the husband and wife are unified by surname. Yet, women were still unable to own property or vote, so husbands still exercised ownership over their wives.

 

The definition of a wife has changed over the years, and women are no longer seen as property in the United States. Because of this, many women question why they have to change their last names when there isn’t any real reason behind it anymore.

 

Surnames have also traditionally been a way to signify bloodlines, or to show generational ties. However, why should the man be the only one given the responsibility of passing on the family name? If a child does not share the same last name as their parents, they aren’t any less related to them.

 

Surnames are important in other aspects of human life aside from demonstrating family bloodlines. Women may choose to keep their surname because they want to preserve their professional or personal identity, keep their culture or just because they prefer their own last name.

 

However, there are other options for women besides taking their husband’s name or keeping their own name. A popular option is to take both names by hyphenating them.

In taking both names, a woman is able to keep her own personal and professional identities, and feel unified with her husband.

 

Another option is for both spouses to change their surnames to a new name that they choose together to symbolize a fresh start.

 

However, women shouldn’t feel pressured to change their name in any way for their husbands. Everyone holds their own personal identity, and no one should be asked to change themselves for a relationship.

 

In addition, LGBTQ+ couples add complexity to the issue. The tradition of taking surnames is relatively undefined for these couples. Why should some couples be held to a standard that doesn’t even apply to all couples?

 

There shouldn’t have to be a set guideline for who takes whose last name, regardless of gender or sexuality. Every relationship is different, and every couple should be able to decide what works for them, and to examine all of their options without feeling societal pressure towards any one option. Relationships should be built on love and respect, not who takes whose name.

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