This post is not to offend anyone – it is just a reflection of some of my thoughts. If you would like to give your opinions (even if you disagree), I’d love to hear them!
I usually wonder about the necessity for a woman to change her surname after marriage. In many parts of the world, once a woman is married, she changes her surname to that of her husband’s. Therefore when they are referred to as a couple – it’s always easier to say something like Mr. and Mrs. Obama, or Mr. and Mrs. Brown, or whatever. I wonder where this ‘practice’ came from but I find it quite unimpressive. It completely discredits a woman’s identity, and that is my biggest issue with it.
I can (perhaps try) to understand if a woman does it completely out of her own will, knowing fully well that she also has an option of keeping her own name and is not bound by an age-old practice. Or if she thinks her identity is fully linked with that of her husband’s (gulp!). However, I find it quite disturbing otherwise – especially when we do it in a world where we are calling for equality regardless of gender.
For one, it’s always considered to be a woman’s duty to change her surname. I don’t fully understand the reason why. Does she become a different person after marriage? Does her husband remain the same person? Does it necessarily mean that her ‘maiden’ name no longer remains important for her (I hate the term ‘maiden name’)? Take for instance a woman getting married at 25. If she changes her surname now, does it imply that all those 25 years that she had her family surname are redundant? Of course it’s an entirely different debate altogether that usually a child takes its father’s surname and not the mother’s but I won’t get into that here (that’s a different issue on partriarchy, which I can go on about).
Most women change their surnames because it is the most ‘normal’ thing to do. Becoming Mrs. So and So is always considered so romantic isn’t it? Seems like you’re now one entity – Mr. X and Mrs X. But is it not strange that in a supposedly ‘equal marriage’, the very first legal step is an unequal one, where a woman changes her name to that of the man’s? See how level the playing field is already?
Some women think they change their names out of love for their husbands. But don’t you think a woman is unjustified in saying she loves her husband so much that she is willing to change her surname for him? In that respect, her husband doesn’t love her equally then, because he’s still holding on to his own surname. I think this entire concept of changing surnames has been entirely romanticised and doesn’t hold much weight for any woman in actuality.
Seriously, what good does changing a surname do? No one seems to care about your unmarried identity. No one seems to even think a woman was something else before she was married. I find that sad. Also, it’s not like surname changing makes things easy at all. It is a long legal process and can end up altering many things – not only legal documents and accounts – but also signatures.
If you think that by changing names, a woman actually makes it easier for her future kids to have uncomplicated names, then I wonder why other countries (where women do not change names according to tradition) don’t really seem to have a problem.
Let me not even get into the entire thing about the hyphenation of surnames that seems to be the recent trend now. That can really make names look entirely complicated and seriously hard to remember. And you’re still changing your name in another long legal process.
It’s shocking enough that many women do not even consider keeping their own surnames – the ones they’ve used their whole lives. But what I find even more shocking is why women who don’t change their surnames feel compelled to justify their reasons for not doing so. Most say things like “It was too much paperwork because all my official documents and accounts have my ‘maiden’ name”. Really, should anyone have to justify why they decided not to change the surname they’ve had since birth? It isn’t a law to do so (if it were I’d seriously label this an outright discrimination)! I think I’d like someone to justify WHY they changed their surname to their husband’s last name.
Yes, it seems like a small issue to talk about because we rarely question such things. But after a woman is married, people start referring to her as Mrs. ‘So and So’. By adding a ‘Mrs.’, you’re already assuming that a woman has changed her surname, when she might not have done so. Is that gender discrimination? I think so. I mean men never become anything other than ‘Mr.’ unless they’re knighted (or get a doctorate) or something like that, but that has nothing to do with them getting married even.
For women, the whole world knows their marital status because everyone is so conditioned to thinking that every married woman is a ‘Mrs’. Men don’t have any such problems. They are always Mr. – married or unmarried. If this helps – it’s possible not to be a Mrs. after marriage – seriously.
You might say to me – ‘why are you making such a big fuss about names?’. But the fuss isn’t only about names, it’s about the identity attached to that name. If it’s no big deal, then why don’t the two people in the marriage change names to something completely different? That way they both would have a unique surname and identity that is completely unrelated to their previous family names. Then I would say that’s equality. But then I believe family names are important and bring a distinct identity to every person. That’s why I propagate both husband and wife keeping their own family names. And about their kids – well I think they should have the hyphenated names (from both parents) ;). Wouldn’t it be so great if we could trace a family’s lineage not just from the paternal side, but also from the maternal side just by looking at a person’s name?
When we say two people in a marriage are equal on all levels, let’s mean it. For one, let’s start respecting the other person’s identity before marriage as well (that includes surnames).