The Name Game

Saturday, December 09, 2006
Should a women take a man's name when they get married?

Is this still the norm? As I was growing up, every woman I knew who got married took their husband's name. There was never a question about it. When I moved to Ontario for a short while during university, I met a lot of couples/families from Quebec. I found that for almost all of the couples who were French, the woman had kept her last name and the children had hyphenated last names. This was not necessarily true for the English families from Quebec or anywhere else.

Moving back to Alberta and finishing my degree, I began noticing more and more that women were choosing to keep their own names. Apparently it was not limited to those who spoke Francais. My guess is that while it's not necessarily the "norm" yet, it's definately catching on. And certainly varies with generation. My mother took my father's name. Then when they got divorced went back to her maiden name (that, if you think about it, is an interesting way to describe a woman's origianl family name...). She remarried, took her new husband's name, and then, when they divorced, back to the maiden name again. She's now determined to not get married again, and will forever remain a "insert last name here".

Now, my mother's circumstances certainly don't prove that this is generational. In fact, it's a pretty bad example. Perhaps the wrong place to insert that anecdote. Oh well. Let me give you one that might explain this a bit better. The field of work that I'm currently in (not my specific job), is fairly narrow. It's not like teaching, business, or driving a cab. There's a relatively small group of individuals who do this type of work in the country and most of them, if they don't actually know each other personally, have usually heard of one another. At least those in the adjacent provinces. Three of the women I've worked with have gotten married in the past couple of years.

The first two were my age (give or take a year or two), both professionals. Each kept their own last names. For bride A, there was never a question. Her husband never asked her to change her name, nor did he expect her too. For bride B, there was quite a huge kerfuffle between her, her husband, and her husband's family about her refusal to take his name. In the end, she prevailed. However, there were some very hard feelings about it. Bride B's decision was based, in part, on her reputation in her field (for lack of a better way to describe it). People knew her as Bride B, not Mrs. Groom X and while she didn't have a problem being referred to as Mrs. X outside of her chosen profession, she didn't want to change her name legally. Perhaps it's because I'm a woman but I can see her point.

The third bride, bride C, is older, close to the same age as my mother. She had been married for a number of years and then divorced but had kept her husband's name after they seperated. I'm not sure why (and I'm not about to pry by asking her) but it may have had something to do with how people knew her professionally (just like bride B) or the fact that she had children. She remarried recently but chose to take her new husband's name. She appeared to be extremely proud of this fact. There was no concern about professional problems regarding her name. There was no "grace period" per se either. She dove in head first and changed her name immediately.
We've all had friends get married. Some change their names, some don't. I've been surprised by those that have - people whom I would have expected, based on their type of work and/or their personalities, to keep theirs have usually been the ones who've taken that of their husbands. One friend, who kept her name, told me when I asked her about keeping her name said that she was born a "*****" and she'd die a "*****". I like her attitude. That's not to say that if put into the situation where I had to choose, I would do the same. I don't know. I think it would depend on where I was in my life and if the fella I was hooking up with had a name I could pronounce and spell. In the end there's nothing saying you HAVE to take a husband's name, it's a personal decision.


Sniffy said...

You could always go double barrelled. A couple of my friends did this as they wanted to display the complete partnership in their marriage. It was the bloke's idea.

I think in Italy, the woman keeps her own name, but becomes known as somebody "in" the husband's family. So for example, Anna Maria Smith in Jones (can't think of any Italian names off hand - except my own of course).

I'd definitely want to keep my surname, so I'd either just stay as I was or go double barrelled.

Alun said...

I like the Icelandic system so that each member of the family has their own surname. Male Fathersson or Female Mothersdottir.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Yeah the Icelandic system is cool!

I kept the name I was born with; there was never any question of me changing it. I would never even consider it. And many of my friends who are around my age have done the same.

Lately though I've been noticing a trend among younger women to change their names when they marry. I don't understand the rationale but I do find it rather disturbing.

Anonymous said...

I always disliked the name change thing, as well as the double barrel hyphenated thing..what if 2 hyphenated kids marry?..then they have 4 hyphenated surnames? I know of one person..her son took his wifes name....each to his own but...i know it caused lots of grief and confusion

Red said...

In Italy now you have to keep your own name if you get married, irrespective of how you feel about it, which I think it's a bit fascistic. I mean, if your maiden name is horrible and you can't wait to get married to ditch it, why not?

When * and I got married, we both took the other's surname, so we're both double-barrelled now. While that makes us very exotic, it also means that whichever country we're in, there's at least one half of our name that is completely incomprehensible to the locals. At times it's frustrating; mostly, I think it's cool.

Of course, from that point of view, it's a shame that we're not going to have children: we should have started our own dynasty of weirdly half-Italian-half-English double-barrelled surnames!

Tanya said...

I had taken my ex-husband's surname F when we got married and reverted to family name O when we divorced. I never want to change my name again. Yeah yeah - I know that you get your surname from a man whether it's from your dad or husband, but I identify more with the quirkiness, stubborness and sher O-ness of being an O. I was never an F, although it makes a much nicer sounding writer's name than Tanya O. Sometimes I submit stuff as T.D F or Tanya F because it simply sounds better.

I sometimes couple Kate's surname with mine and refer to myself as Tanya O-L. But... double barreled surnames are SO laborious to write out and a little pretentious if you ask me so that idea got knocked on the head shortly after opening a googlemail account.

I am an O. That's where my blood is.

Gardenia said...

Every time I sign my husband's last name to a piece of art work I feel as if I am betraying myself. Odd, huh? This post leaves me a lot to think about. Like "Who am I?"

Karen said...

I agree that the hyphenated surnames are a bit much. Not too bad if it's confined to the parent, but certainly not for the children.

I'm an L. Always have been, and always will. While changing my name won't alter who I am inside, do I would want to give up that part of me. However I'm no where near having to deal with that issue so I guess it doesn't really matter.

* (asterisk) said...

Nah, double-barrelled are fun! It's great when you get to the middle when you're seplling it for someone and you go "hyphen", and they have no idea, believe it or not, what a hyphen is. How many times have people put an apostrophe instead? Like, a million, that's how many!

Wandering Coyote said...

Well, as someone who's changed her name upon marriage and just changed it back upon divorce, my opinion is IT'S NOT WORTH THE HASSLE. It's patriarchal enough that we have our father's name upon birth, but to take on a husband's name is further buying into that patriarchy. And it can be a real pain to change it, and let me tell you, it's a real pain to change it back if the marriage doesn't work out. I polled all kinds of people before I got married and everyone had a different take on it. It's a personal decision for sure, but really, I wouldn't bother. I like the Icelandic tradition; I also like Red's idea of BOTH partners taking on each others' names; that is cool and flies in the face of custom in a way I really like!

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