Princess Banana-Hammock or Why I Kept My Surname After Marriage

Yesterday, I asked this question on Twitter: Why do women still change their surnames after marriage? I’m genuinely curious.
I didn’t get many replies so I remain curious and a little perplexed why a woman, who may be a feminist in all other aspects of her life, takes on her new husband’s name. Before I go any further, let me say that I respect the right of everybody to change their name to whatever they choose. I just don’t understand the motive(s) behind the automatic change after marriage in this day and age.
The reason the subject interests me so much is that I didn’t change my name after getting married in 2007 and ever since, my husband and I have had to correct an endless number of people who automatically assume you have the same surname. I’m also always surprised when a woman returns to work after her wedding and has to get her email address, nameplate etc changed. But I had you down as a strong minded career woman…does not compute!
The Rhyme and Reason with a Special Note on Tradition
I’ve spoken to a few people about this issue over the last few years and these are some of the reasons I’ve heard.
Because I love him so much: This is a genuine reason I’ve heard but let’s just call bullshit on this right off the bat. Why does a change of your name equate to love? Does that mean your husband doesn’t love you because he didn’t change his name?
Tradition: I expect many women change their name because of this reason – it’s the way it’s always be done. But as with many things, traditions shouldn’t be followed blindly.
I have a great story about tradition I can share with you now. A woman was teaching her daughter how to cook a pot roast. Her daughter asked her why she cuts off the end of the joint of meat before placing it in the pot. Her mum told her it’s something her own mother had always done so she always did the same. Her daughter then approached her grandmother and asked her the same question to which she received the reply that her pot was small and the joint didn’t always fit. Moral of the story – don’t just do something because it’s what’s always been done, you might be wasting good meat!
You may be surprised to know that this tradition of changing your surname isn’t a universal one; the practice being mostly widespread in English speaking countries (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ireland, India, the English-speaking provinces of Canada, and the United States). In fact, such practices were abolished in Arab countries after the dawn of Islam (Muslims as feminists, oh my!). The reasoning behind the change was that the practice of a woman taking her husband’s last name in marriage was thought of as a pagan tradition. Women used to be the property of their fathers until marriage and then when they took their husband’s last name in marriage that meant she was now the property of her husband. Islam opposed this with clear instructions in the Qu’ran and Prophet’s teachings that a woman should keep her family name. Of course, in Islam the child always takes their father’s name which brings me to the next reason.
Having the same name as your children: I can partly understand this reason because not having the same surname as my husband creates issues and with kids, multiply that by n where n is the number of children you have. Perhaps everyone in your family having the same surname is important to you for convenience or other reasons.
This brings up another important point however, why does a child always takes their father’s name? Why is there no link to any of the female ancestors? I expect this is what drives the preference for a male child that has plagued many cultures over the centuries and still to this day.
I’m a Lucy Stoner
Lucy Stone was an “American abolitionist and suffragist, and a vocal advocate and organizer promoting rights for women” who lived in the 19th century. She became famous for insisting on keeping her own name after marriage, a practice that was unheard of back then. She is quoted as saying “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and should not be lost”. Woman who choose to keep their name after marriage are often referred to as Lucy Stoners.
When I got married three years ago there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be changing my surname. I hadn’t given it huge amounts of thought previous to this, perhaps a couple of conversations with my sisters or best friend, all who agreed they’d do the same. It wasn’t something I had an official nerve wracking conversation with my then fiancée about it either. He has never had a problem with it and frankly I wouldn’t have fallen in love with and married someone who would insist I take his name.
I have post-wedding given it more thought and wondered what my reason is. It’s simple really, my name is my name. Why should I change it because I am getting married? My husband doesn’t have to change his name, there is no expectation for him to so why is there an expectation for me? I believe it is because of tradition and that tradition stems from a time where women were classed as property. This just seems wrong to me and I don’t want any part of that kind of tradition and practice. (I did toy with the idea of double-barrelling the name but thought that wrong too unless my husband did the same…equality and all that!) I guess it’s my primary reason for not changing my name that makes me question why others do. Perhaps they don’t understand the history, perhaps they do and they’re fine with it or perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions that are completely untrue. Maybe it’s just a name and not such a big deal after all. Either way, I’m still curious!


  1. The reason for adding the husband’s name as her surname is that a woman wants to tell the world that she has a protector now and so the rest of the men should back off. Otherwise it is still an open invitation 😉

  2. I think women change their names because they want to show their love for their new husband – and the way they are pushed to do this by tradition and culture and etc. is to wear a ring and change their names. It is becoming less common though isn’t it? I wonder how many men would consider changing their name?
    Love your blog btw. Just found it through twitter.

  3. I’m with SJ – I would hope a wife would change her name as a token of love, commitment, whatever. The fact that it happens to be a precedent or whatever is beside the point. For a woman to change her name is precisely her making a statement on her new identity, that of one who is primarily the wife of a man, and that she’s “given up” her family name is precisely what gives that token its value. Men have their own ways of doing the same (for example by walking by the roadside of his wife or suffering a boring day job for his family), but in this particular case it just happens that a precedent has been set. What’s even worse is how people use the fact that they’ve not changed their name as a statement.
    >I think it is becoming less common and it’s a trend I’m glad to see.
    Then I’m afraid you have no right to complain about the lack of chivalry in the modern man. Personally I think it’s equally chivalrous for a woman to change her name, but it seems these kind of gestures have less importance in a modern age where independence and exclusive identity are worth so much to us. The biggest shame is that it’s a change that seems to be driven by women, eventually to their own detriment.
    We’ll be choosing to live in our own spaces eventually.

  4. Saima, I just saw this and will now work very hard to keep it from my new wife! She has kept her last name (Which I fully support) but we are talking about children’s names. Here I find myself a little more traditionalist, but beyond that there’s also a bit of logic. Since our kids will be growing up in America, and have at least one non-Muslim American parent, it’d be a way to give them a constant reminder of the less dominant side of their cultural background. That might be tenuous logic, but I think that’s the proper direction to go on this one. Mind you, all that might fly out the window when there are little babies right there where you can see them, but that’s what I was thinking.

  5. Shak – I don’t see how not changing our name leads to our detriment, care to elaborate? And no, I don’t complain about lack of chivalry in the modern man.
    “Men have their own ways of doing the same (for example by walking by the roadside of his wife or suffering a boring day job for his family”…wow, I work too you know!
    Mohamed – the children’s name issue is a complicated one. Our son has his dad’s surname and we contemplated until the last minute of giving him my surname too. I vetoed it in the end because middle names just get lost. I think in your situation though, I like the idea of them having your less common surname. Of course, you may completely change your mind when they arrive. 🙂

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