As Featured on News Cult: Should Women Change Their Name When They Get Married? Let’s Discuss

I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of marriage-induced name changes. Especially as a feminist (not the self-professed kind who will vote for a war criminal just because she has a vagina, but an actual feminist). To me, taking your husband’s name seems a mere tenet of The Patriarchy. So it’s hard for me to justify. But maybe it’s not that simple. Let’s discuss.

To start, what are names for? Identification purposes, mainly. If we didn’t have names, people wouldn’t know how to address us, and communication might break down. Names categorize us—they indicate what family we belong to, oftentimes where we come from, our gender, etc. But more than just logistical purposes, I think names serve to construct the subjective parts of our identity. Like, when a mom and dad decide to name their girl “Cash,” it’s because they want her to be different from the average “Rachel.” They want her to live up to the name she’s given, and I guarantee you that as she grows up, her name will help shape her. There’s no female “Cash” walking around who isn’t tragically hip, effortlessly attractive, and mysteriously unattainable. Rachel, on the other hand, wears lots of predictably solid-colored cotton shirts, has no layers in her hair, and her favorite flower is a red rose (with some white baby’s breath thrown in if she’s feeling frisky).

Names mold our identity so much so that some of us even change the ones we were given. If people feel like their names don’t represent who they are—whether because they’re gendered (or, in my case, androgynous), have some negative societal connotation (“Dick”), or everyone who shares them seems to be a massive tool (like, why is literally every individual named “Emma” a complete narcissist?)—they’ll re-brand themselves. And while I’ve always found this to be a foreign concept, (although to be fair, if my parents had named me Mark Sinclair, I would’ve changed it to Vin Diesel, too—mainly because Mark Sinclair sounds like a stuffy accountant and I don’t think Vin Diesel can do math), I at least respect the autonomy of it.

But when someone changes their last name to their spouse’s, that seems like anything but autonomy. Why basically label yourself as belonging to someone else? And of course the burden to change the name befalls women—but even in the rare cases where the man takes it on (please see: Marco Saldana), I would still argue that it’s wack. Because it signifies possession. And last I checked, humano a humano ownership isn’t considered cool (anyone remember a little thing called slavery?). But seriously. Taking someone’s name is in essence taking on their identity as your own. Why is that necessary?

And back to the gendered nature of it, because it’s impossible to ignore—it’s not that name-changing is problematic just because it’s a way to mark territory, but it is even more so because it is expected of women and not men—and thus just one more way the patriarchy reigns. It signifies that a husband possesses his wife; that she concedes to his ownership by way of his identity. I realize this sounds like some crazy conspiracy theory shit, and that’s because it is! On its face, women changing their last names to match their husbands’ is precisely a methodology of imprisoning them in their gender roles—the docile, subservient, agreeable wives.

I call bullshit.  Why is this antiquated tradition continually practiced in our society? I, for one, won’t be changing my last name when I never get married. And I salute all who’ve kept theirs—way to be strong, independent women who don’t need no man’s name. It is principled stands like this, aimed at establishing equality, that define feminism. (That said, if you were born with the last name “Hitler,” “Bieber,” or “Seaman,”  then by all means, change that shit.)

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20 thoughts on “As Featured on News Cult: Should Women Change Their Name When They Get Married? Let’s Discuss

  1. Green Embers says:

    Hmm. I don’t see it the way you do, I’ve always seen it as a way to show unity. Two becoming one and such thing. Traditionally it’s always been the man’s name but no real reason to keep it that way, except for genealogical benefits, maybe. Personally, a solution that would work for you, imo, is if you and your future spouse create a brand new surname that you both feel appropriate.

    Also, you stereotype too much based on a person’s name, which is kind of sad really. I’ve met plenty of Emma’s who aren’t narcissists and never met a Cash at all, lol. Vin Diesel is a Dungeons and Dragons player, so you bet he can do math. That game is all about the math.


  2. ceraoni says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot too. I agree that taking on a man’s name started out as a sign of ownership. I don’t think most men feel that way now, it’s just became convenient to follow the “tradition.”

    This is why I’m not too terribly offended by it, but change is good.

    If I were to get married and not have kids, I’d probably keep my last name or hyphen it. If I do have kids, than I feel like the whole hyphen thing gets messy. I mean what happens if my kids have kids and they hyphen too?

    I have an idea how to solve this though. My cousin took a hyphen when she married. Her last name is Hill and is now Cummings-Hill. She had a daughter recently, they kept the hyphen. If her daughter marries and if I was her daughter, I’d drop my father’s last name and hyphen with my husband or wife depending on sexual orientation. This way it’s a joining of two people who love each other and you can carry on a maternal name as well as a paternal name depending on your gender.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s an idea.

    Then again, my name is Rachel so my ideas are pretty bland. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. peckapalooza says:

    In the conservative world in which I grew up, I seem to remember it being a shocking thing if we knew a woman who decided not to take her husband’s last name. Personally, I never saw the big deal. If Lois Lane could still be Lois Lane after marrying Clark Kent, what’s stopping anyone else from remaining who they were before saying I do? Besides, statistically speaking, 50% of those women are likely gonna have to change their names back anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. charoflondon says:

    This is complicated in some ways. I think it might be easiest to keep your name professionally but change it personally? Having built up a rep at work, it would be worrying that’s kind of lost when someone looks for you on linked and can’t find you because you changed your name!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. emilypageart says:

    So, when I got hitched, I decided to hyphenate. I wanted to be able to avoid confusion in case of accidents that involve hospitals, etc. I also wanted to avoid confusion with all my art being signed with my last name and accepting checks written out to my art name that’s different than my married name, etc. So I went through the obnoxious name change process. Fast forward a few years, and eventually my husband decided that he no longer wanted to be named after his father, who’s evil, so he wanted to change his name. I told him I was not going to go through the name change process again unless it was to go back to my maiden name. So he decided to take my maiden name. So now people call my house and ask for Mr. Page which totally freaks me out because that’s my dad, lol. I have to stop myself from yelling at them that he’s dead.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bensbitterblog says:

    I’m more about doing a different adjective name. I should probably just get rid of my last name and put bitter before my name. And hey if you’ve got a cool last name, who should force you to take a different one? If celebs keep their last names, you certainly should be able to, because you are above a celeb.

    Liked by 1 person

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