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Monday, November 9, 2009

Taking On A Name

 Linda Lowen (, 2009) explained approximately 3 million women change their maiden names and take their husband's surname upon marriage because it's traditional and expected of a woman in our society. In the American patriarchal system for heterosexual marriages, the wife customarily takes her new husband's name. Changing names also makes the formality of meeting people and introducing spouses much easier. And, after couples have children, it avoids any confusion or suggestion that maybe the children were born out of wedlock.

Of course, today, career-oriented professional women who have worked hard to establish themselves and whose names are respected and widely recognized in their fields often choose to keep their maiden names upon marriage (sometimes in hyphenated form). A recent study by University of Florida Professor Diana Boxer found that since professional women have begun marrying later in life, allowing more time for careers and finding they have “made a name for themselves” in their respective professions, they can and do keep their names. However, this trend in the United States seems to be growing for other reasons.

Faith Salie of (November 5, 2009) revealed that she reads the New York Times Sunday wedding section to find that about half the women -- mostly under 35, all women with careers, all women who chose to submit their announcement to the supposedly liberal New York Times --are electing to give up their identity.

Salie said that Lucy Stone, a 19th-century suffragist who was the first American woman to revert to her birth name after marriage, had to chastise Susan B. Anthony once by writing to Suzan, "A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers." Stone's followers -- women who refused to change their names upon marriage -- were called Stoners.

According to Salie, today only about 20 percent of American women are Stoners. In other words, 80 percent of women change their identities (names) -- upon getting married. Women were once considered property and changing the last name reflected this. Lis Wiesh of Fox News reported that although not true anymore in the legal or social sense, name changing symbolically still reflects unity and commitment to many women. (

The Stoners

Now, the Lucy Stone League urges women to retain, modify and create names:

"This tradition of name-abandonment by women is so much a part of U.S. culture, that few recognize it for what it is: a powerful instance of sex discrimination which has a major effect on women.

When girls are growing up, they see what they have to look forward to: the abandonment of their identity into the identity of another. What incentive do they have to develop their full identities in their adolescence?

In some prison cultures, inmates are given numbers and their names are taken from them. One purpose of this practice is to strip away a sense of importance and humanity from the inmates....the tradition of women giving up their names is equally damning." (

What's In a Woman's Name?

Tammy Jo Eckhart wrote that surnames are one of the most powerful tools used by patriarchy to deny women not only equal rights but even personhood. "Tradition is the only reason why American women have taken their spouses' surnames, since there have never been any laws in the United States dictating which surname must be taken upon marriage. Until very recently...some women have had to go to court in order to keep their maiden name or to change back to it after divorce or widowhood." Since the 1970s, it has been established that people may legally use whichever surname they wish. (Tammy Jo Eckart, "The Choice and Power of Surnames," Sister Columbia University, 1996-97)

In Iran, Muslim women keep their names for life. So must women, by law, keep their names in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Malaysia, Korea. Faith Salie really liked the way they do it in Spain. There, people have two surnames -- their father's and their mother's. When they have a child, she receives the first surname from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother, and the parents choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children.

Salie cited this reasoning: "Names are our identity. They matter. Think about it: What does the Witness Protection Program do when they want you to disappear? They make you keep your first name and change your last name. When someone illegally assumes someone else's name, we say an identity's been stolen; when someone legally assumes someone else's name, we're married."

And, Salie said, "Let's cut through the most platitudinous argument: 'A family shares a name.' Um, nuh-uh. Did your grandmother have the same last name as you? Was she still your Nana? Conversely, does having the same last name mean you'll always stay a family?"

How About A Man's Name Change?

Wikipedia reported, "A man who wishes to change his last name to his wife's will, in the United States, encounter some difficulties, despite the general common-law right to choose one's name at will. Only California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota explicitly allow a man to change his name through marriage with the same ease as a woman." (Greg Risling, "Man Files Lawsuit to Take Wife's Name," Associated Press, January 12 2007) In Risling's report, a wife had no brothers and wanted to carry on the family name. A man living in any other state will have to apply for a name change through the court system and pay the required fees (usually several hundred dollars).

Many Choices Exist For Children's Surnames

Couples who have different surnames make different choices about their children's surname(s). Various alternatives are used:
  • Most commonly, children are given the surname of one parent, usually the father's.
  • Children are given the mother's surname.
  • Female children are given the mother's surname, and male children the father's.
  • Children are arbitrarily assigned the mother's or father's surname.
  • The surname of a neutral third party is assigned to the children.
  • Children are given the hyphenated surname consisting of their mother's and father's surnames, in either order.
  • Children are given a surname formed from each parent's surname. For instance, the children of Jane Peak and John Dixon might be surnamed Peaxon.
The Case For Changing Maiden Names

Laura Dawn Lewis (, October 3 2005) reported,"Like many of life’s mysteries, the answer sought becomes the answer seeking, solving itself when least expected, and in this case, where least expected, The Bible. The key reasons for a bride taking the groom’s name are:
  1. Protection of family and wealth
  2. Designation of a new life direction
  3. Acknowledgement of God’s presence in and endorsement of the marriage 

So Diana Boxer said, "So we'll do the merging, we'll keep the family together. After all, it's one of the things that women have always done best." (Diana Boxer, National Public Radio, 2009)

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