marriage name-taking: a patriarchal anachronism

Several weeks ago, during a Twitter conversation with a group of friends, we discussed the traditional practice of a woman taking their husband’s last name after marriage. It was asked if i was for or against name hyphenation–a growing practice by woman upon marriage over the past three decades.

Of course, i answered i was all for hyphenation.

My response wasn’t surprising to anyone because “of the way you are,” but people weren’t prepared to hear that i am an advocate of not just hyphenation by the woman, but by the man as well. I believe both parties involved (and this is for same sex marriages, too, as all humans should be allowed equal rights and privileges) should combine their last names or keep their own names.

I am not for the continued patriarchal tradition of the man being the implicit “head of household,” of us being presumed dominant over a woman.

Throughout many articles i’ve read on this subject, there’s one constant: marriage between a man and a woman is a union, and there should be solidarity, tradition, an unwavering act of support.

And, i agree. I am all for tradition and cultural values; but never at the expense of personal liberty or at the extent of continuing to relegate a woman to second fiddle. I don’t buy into the idea that a bride essentially being forced to adopt the groom’s last name, is tantamount to equality and positive tradition.

Broaching a sensitive topic, what about the issue of marriage being reserved for only heterosexual couples? A holdover practice at the hands of religious foundations for many of the empires and nations of the world. Recently, Obama said he is “struggling” with the idea of same-sex marriage. Why?

The systems in which we live and that run our lives are adept at maintaining control and making things difficult for change; there are a ton of (expensive) hoops men must jump through to have their name legally changed once married: forms upon forms to receive new IDs, credit cards, professional licenses, etc. Only seven states allow men to change their names as “seamlessly” as women can once married.

“Women in the late 60s and 70s were very, very conscious of just how much marriage used to destroy a woman’s personhood,” [Stephanie] Coontz told

“Until the 1970s most states had head and master laws that said a woman could not keep her own name at marriage,” said Coontz. “And she could only take it back at divorce if she could prove her husband had been at fault.”

The status of woman should be on equal footing to that of man. And, because of the ubiquity, influence and spreading of Abrahamic religious rule—personifying and genderfying the “supreme” Being as a male with “He” and lack of dominant female figures, to say the least—we lack equality between the two main genders, female and male.

Stephanie Coontz from the above quote, is the author of Marriage, A History and a professor at Evergreen State college in Washington. The practices employed were harrowing and continued the systemic mistreatment of individual’s and women’s rights. Ridiculous.

Over the years i’ve had this conversation with several women, and it was usually one surprising to them. They hadn’t given much thought to not changing their names; they accepted it as the way things were. They looked forward to the change; it was like a rebirth, a clean slate.

And at the same time, those who were open and entertained the idea, felt it was odd if they didn’t take their husband’s name. I am not sure if it was for fear of being ostracized or looked at funny or what, but i found it interesting, nonetheless.

As for me, i would love to have a hyphenated name combining mine and my wife’s. In fact, several years ago i was seriously toying with the idea of legally changing my name to include my mother’s maiden name. Why? Because she raised me. I never felt it was fair or representative of my true lineage and upbringing to have my father’s name at the forefront, continuing to dwindle the numbers of my mother’s family name (there are no other male progeny to carry on my maternal grandfather’s name). I decided against it, however, because i realized that my future wife would then “have to” take on a very long name, and if she wanted to keep her maiden name, it would then be a thrice hyphenation. Pretty messy, to say the least.

Akin to many African tribal traditions, i believe names should be truthfully indicative of a family’s history: the offspring should take on both names, to easily identify a family tree. This is something of great importance to me being of predominately dual “racial” ancestry: African American and Filipino. My penname (first and middle names, actually) i use because it is a simplified breakdown of my lineage: macario is foreign; james is traditional, more American. Familiarity and exoticism go a long way.

These are my thoughts on the subject of marriage name-taking. What are yours?

Oh, and for some other interesting ideas, check out this article by Naomi Rockler-Gladen (yes! to hyphenation lol): Should You Change Your Last Name?

3 thoughts on “marriage name-taking: a patriarchal anachronism

  1. I couldn’t agree more that changing a name to the man’s is silly, just keep what you have there is no need to change or hyphen if you like. In Stephanie Coontz’s new book “A Strange Stirring – The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960’s” there is a section that talks about this exact topic. This is an excerpt from the book, ” In 1971, an Illinois bill to allow married women to use a different surname for legal purposes was defeated, partly on the grounds that motel owners could not safeguard “public morals” if married couples could register as Miss Jane Doe and Mr. John Smith.”
    The idea of changing a last name is old, outdated and no longer needed in today’s society. You should also pick up this new book, it is really interesting.

    1. I appreciate the reply! (Didn’t think anyone read or cared to read my blog lol.)

      I’ll add that book to my list. Always looking for new material.

      I hope you subscribe to the blog 🙂

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