Weekend Poll: women using their husband’s surname

I have no reason to accuse Troppo readers of being particularly representative of the community from which they come, but I’d still be interested in the experience of those whose experience is relevant to this question.

Why do women use their husband’s surname when they marry? (This is a question about what’s going on today, not in days gone by.) In particular, do you think the views of the husband or the wife are more influential in the choice made?

So as not to bias the poll (any more than the sample already biases it), I will not at this stage say what my own views are or what has prompted me to post this, and I will ask commenters to try to be as factual as possible rather than to raise any issues for debate.

I will then put up another post where people can debate the issues if they are so minded – but in this thread, please don’t do that.

But the more reflections about your own practice, or the practice of others you know, the better. And if you could be clear if you’re using a pseudonym if you’re male or female, I’d also be grateful.

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Patrick
Patrick
14 years ago

In our case my wife simply never had any intention of keeping her own name. But we are a pretty traditional couple on social issues.

It is, I think, just about being married and how we as individuals see that.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

In most cases I doubt much thought goes into it. They just do what their parents, and most of the people they know, did.

Couples who consciously weigh up the choice (so we are talking about relatively well educated people, for the most part) and opt for changing the woman’s name do so for these two reasons:

1. Children are a big part of the plan, and they are largely family-oriented in their thinking. They like the idea of everyone having the same name, as an identity badge.

2. The are self-identified traditionalists, generally but not necessarily religious, who want to take a stand against a misguided fashion which as they they perceive it signals a lack of commitment, and contributes to the breakdown of social stability, and also is tied up with other social pathologies like sexual promiscuity and no-fault divorce.

Who decides? I can’t think of a case, amongst couples in my acquaintance, where there was any disagreement.

Mr T
Mr T
14 years ago

When I was married, my wife kept her surname. The reasons were based on her independence and sense of self identity. She was also known by that name in her profession and an only child, so she wanted her parents’ name to continue. She is married again now and has continued with her own name – her children, a boy and a girl, have hyphenated surnames. I wonder what will happen if they themselves marry when they’re older ….
All of my female friends who have married in the last few years have also kept their names. In all these cases, I think it’s the woman’s choice that has prompted this, and the blokes really don’t have a view either way.
I know of a high profile female politician who recently married her long time male partner. They kept separate names, and their children have different surnames too – not their parents’ surnames, but the unmarried names of their grandmothers.

observa
observa
14 years ago

And what James said and assuming they want to. Others have a real problem it seems-
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article1923752.ece

Judith M Melville
14 years ago

Didn’t like the surname my birth was registered under, so when marriage offered a no-fuss way to change it I took that option. Tradition or future family had nothing to do with it.

Fred Bastiat
Fred Bastiat
14 years ago

When we married back in 1983, my wife had already achieved a national and international reputation under her former married name.

Additionally she found that since that name was earlier in the alphabet than mine, she was usually listed as the first author on books where she was either a contributor or an editor.

It never worried me much but it seems to be a constant source of query upon which I usually quip that I kept me maiden name upon marriage.

Fred Bastiat
Fred Bastiat
14 years ago

“me maiden” should obviously be “my maiden”.

What a stupid typo!

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
14 years ago

I’m happy to add Judith’s reason to my list. But I’d love to know what her poor, unwanted maiden name was.

Jc
Jc
14 years ago

Why do women use their husbands surname when they marry?

In a word ease.
my wife went for years using her own name until it got too messy when we had kids.

I think the system is stacked that way, at least it was in the US at the time. I recall she had difficulty getting the kids out of the country at one time because her passport name differed from theirs.

I was easier.

David Rubie
David Rubie
14 years ago

My wife took mine from convenience more than anything – she had different namss on her birth certificate and drivers license due to an upbringing that isn’t worth going into here. Taking my name was a relief from having to constantly acquire statutory declarations about her “real” name.

zoot
zoot
14 years ago

Before we married my wife carried the name of her first, abusive husband because they had produced two daughters and she felt that she should have the same surname as her kids. By the time we tied the knot both daughters were married and had taken the names of their husbands, so (to my surprise) she took my name rather than reverting to her maiden name.

wilful
wilful
14 years ago

My wife has kept her surname professionally, and chooses to use mine from time to time socially. Now that we have a child, which has my surname exclusively, she may well eventually (when she changes jobs or careers) change her name to mine.

Spiros
Spiros
14 years ago

Whatever happened to the fashion that women had two bob each way, as in Chris Evert Lloyd? Quite big in America for a time, but no so much here, although I do know of a case where both husband and wife took both names.

The notion that the missus should take her husbans’s name so that she has the same surname as her kids is flawed, for legally if mother and father have different surnames, the kids can have either one.

If the Ruddster becomes PM, then for the first time we will have a PM’s wife who hasn’t taken his name.

Helen
14 years ago

I kept my own name. My sister-in-law took her husband’s name for the simple reason that she felt her own name was pedestrian and common and her husband’s name was simply cooler and more interesting and would work for her better in the profession to which she aspired. Even though they haven’t been together for decades she still keeps the name just because she likes it!

Similar concept to a writing / stage name.

Niall
14 years ago

Patrick says it all. For mine, being the male partner, whether she took my name, or not, is totally irrelevant to me. Marriage itself, I regard as a bygone institution. She is the party which desired the antiquated social recognition, therefore I cannot in all conscience comment as to the validity, suitability or justification of her taking my name or otherwise.

LuckyPhil
LuckyPhil
14 years ago

My wife took my name simply because it has only two syllables (her’s four) and is easier to get right when giving it someone to write down.

Caroline
14 years ago

Don’t drop syllables would be my more flippant advice. Or more seriously, your individuality. I think it is, was and will always be an outrageous practice to subsume and merge your individuality, even if in name alone, to another . . . person. Which is basically where the tradition stems.

Has there ever been a case of man taking on his wife’s family name I wonder? And what would that imply?

Pavlov's Cat
14 years ago

This is going to sound incredible to anyone who didn’t actually experience it, but when I married at 19 in 1973 I attempted to keep my own surname (for all the reasons that are taken for granted now), but was immediately told by various legal and social structures to which I unavoidably subscribed — the ones I remember are the university, the taxation department and (most of all, interestingly) the health insurance people (this was pre-Medibank, just) — that I couldn’t do it. Their structures and/or methods of record-keeping simply did not compute the then radical notion of me being married but keeping my own surname: as far as they were concerned, the husband was the head of the household and the wife took the husband’s name, full stop. It just wasn’t possible for a woman to go on existing as an independent entity in any of these structures.

None of the people I dealt with while I was trying to sort this out could get their heads around the idea that a woman might not be thrilled and proud to tell the world she was married, by taking her husband’s name and calling herself Mrs. Some of the older men I dealt with on phones and across desks were openly disapproving.

I ran out of energy to fight this in the end, and decided that ‘liberation’ didn’t mean endless bureaucratic struggles, so gave in and was officially known for several years by my husband’s surname. When the marriage ended several years later I had to actually change my name by deed poll in order to get my own birth surname back. Which I did faster than you can say ‘decree absolute’.

Just Me
Just Me
14 years ago

“her children, a boy and a girl, have hyphenated surnames. I wonder what will happen if they themselves marry when theyre older .”

One solution to this problem is that daughters take their mother’s last name, and boys their father’s. It does mean that male and female siblings have different surnames, but there are no perfect solutions to this problem.

Jennifer
14 years ago

I didn’t change my name when I got married, neither did my husband. Our children (boys) have his surname, but my surname as a middle name. If they had been girls, I would have wanted them to have my surname, as Just Me suggests.

Jim Belshaw
14 years ago

I think that dates are important in all this because we are dealing with social trends.

When I married (1987) Denise kept her maiden name, but the kids took my name. Denise comes from the high water mark period of feminism, thats another trend issue, and will not in fact answer to Mrs Belshaw. This sometimes caused minor ripples with my older relatives. The school handled the issue by addressing all letters to both of us with individual names.

With my daughters, 20, 18, I do not know what they might do.I do have the strong impression looking across those under thirty that there has been a reversion back to married names, but for different reasons than in the past. I also think that its now seen as a matter of individual choice. But both are just impressions.

Sacha
Sacha
14 years ago

My sister changed her surname when she became married. Her hubbie didn’t.

gilmae
14 years ago

My girlfriend intends to take my surname so she can stop using her ex-husband’s name. She could go back to her maiden name, but then we’d have three surnames in the family, with our daughter stuck with her father – the ex-husband’s – name.

Actually, that’d be kind of amusing, in a lowbrow, confusion-causing kind of way; I wonder if I can convince them to go for it.

Martha Maus
Martha Maus
14 years ago

I started off married life with my family name, my justification to him being that I was starting to publish under my name. It is an ethnic name that has caused pronounciation problems.

The first interstate move I compromised to double barrel-dom with my surname first and then his.

But he was and is a complete traditionalist and the subtle pressure combined with a career change and two moves later to a country town that couldnot/would not cope with my ethnic name meant I changed to his easy Anglo name.And it begins with “A” so I begin the professional lists. Yes, I can justify it as convenience. Yes, it still bothers me but it bothers me less than it would bother him, especially now we have children.

Martha Maus
Martha Maus
14 years ago

Sorry, forgot to say, I am using a pseudonym here.

Vicki
Vicki
14 years ago

I’ve been married twice, and each time I took my husband’s surname. That makes 3 surnames (together with my maiden name) I’ve had.

So I thought, this is ridiculous. What if I ever wanted to marry again? (Yep, weirdly, I still believe in marriage – for myself – it’s an individual thing.) Do I really change my name depending on what man I happen to be with at the time?

Our names identify us, and probably naturally I identify with my maiden name more than my subsequent 2 names. So as soon as I knew my second marriage was ending, I reverted to my maiden name because I was gaining a professional reputation under my married name. Messy, awkward, but I’m happy with that decision and a year later things are pretty smooth.

Should I marry again, I will definitely keep my maiden name as a professional name. Whether or not I take on my husband’s surname would depend largely on how important that is to him. I’d prefer to keep my maiden name but in relationships I don’t think there are many things that should be engraved in stone, and for me that’s not one. It’s ultimately about what works best for the people involved.

Kevin Cox
Kevin Cox
14 years ago

Our name is a convenient identifier for some social interaction but nowadays we are known by hundreds of names. I am AMEX xxxx-xxxx-xxx-xxx as well as 3-Mobile 0430xxxxxx. Each organisation with whom I deal gives me another identifier. People call me by different names (dad, granddad, xxxxx?). Identifiers are established for convenience. As the need for family group identification becomes less important then what name you use for social interaction will reflect your communication needs. For example my wife gives herself many different names when playing online bridge depending on whom she plays with.

The symbolism of a woman changing her name to her husband’s is an emergent property of the identification system and now the convenience factor is reduced and even becomes inconvenient so we will see less changing of names but an increase in the symbolic strength of the action when a change occurs.

D W Griffiths
D W Griffiths
14 years ago

My wife started off in the early 90s using her married name in a couple of contexts and then found it was more convenient to migrate all the way across. Though I don’t think she has any real regrets about the change, she might well be using her maiden name still in particular contexts if the system didn’t force a one-or-the-other choice. I suspect (and so might she) that it is entirely reasonable for the system to force a choice, but it may be that the system could be run another way.

Jezery
Jezery
14 years ago

When I got married (1990), I was asked by a lot of people whether I was going to keep my maiden name or use my husband’s name. There was no feeling that either was a foregone conclusion, rather that it was a decision we could make.

Personally, I couldn’t wait to adopt hubby’s surname, as my maiden name was a bit complicated to spell. I often joke that I looked everywhere for a Smith or a Jones, but had to settle for a Hart.

nabla
nabla
14 years ago

This is a discussion I have had with my soon-to-be wife. She has decided (entirely on her own – I actually think her surname is a great name – lots of syllables and consonants) that it will be easier to not have to spell out her entire surname for the rest of her life – the first name is hard enough.

And on the husband changing his name issue – I know a person with the surname Dick. He recently married and expressed a desire to change his surname to his new wife’s – he really had had enough of the puerile jokes. However, because his wife was from an Indonesian family with a proud tradition the father in law refused to allow it – he now uses his second name as his surname.

Backroom Girl
Backroom Girl(@backroom-girl)
14 years ago

Pavlov’s Cat – I have always used my maiden name (even though most people can’t pronounce it – it is still my name). I was a few years later marrying than you (1976), so didn’t come up against quite as many hurdles, though I did have a couple of similar arguments with people early in the piece about whether such a thing was even possible. I think you are right – it was partly that early computerised record-keeping systems hadn’t been devised with dual surnames in mind – partly just that some people had difficulty coming to grips with the concept.

My two daughters have my husband’s name – it is certainly easier to spell and pronounce than mine, but I also feel that giving children their father’s name is a public acknowledgement of his fatherhood. I know I’m their mother without having to have the same name as them.

I didn’t have children until the 1980s and 90s, but I have never found any real problems with dealing with school and other bureaucratic institutions under different names – I’ve always made sure their dad does a fair bit of that stuff anyway. These days with so many blended families around, lots of kids have even more complicated sets of parental and quasi-parental names to deal with.

My older daughter has recently married along with a couple of her best friends – she didn’t change her name (the combination of her first name with her partner’s surname would have been pretty dreadful), but at least one of her friends has.

James Farrell
James Farrell
14 years ago

…giving children their fathers name is a public acknowledgement of his fatherhood. I know Im their mother without having to have the same name as them.

Good point.

Laura
14 years ago

I have had the same life partner for sixteen years but we’re not married. Reasonably often though, I’m addressed as Mrs (partner’s surname). This happened almost every day when we were buying our house and getting the mortgage etc.

I love the Icelandic naming system so much that it makes me want to go and live there. Everyone in a family gets different names and nobody’s name changes on marriage. Instead of being Laura Carroll I’d be Laura Annesdottir, formally known as Laura. Brilliant.

Backroom Girl
Backroom Girl(@backroom-girl)
14 years ago

The oddest case I remember coming across was a partnered (but not married) woman who had taken her partner’s surname, but got awfully offended when someone addressed her as “Mrs”. Go figure.

gilmae
14 years ago

Reasonably often though, Im addressed as Mrs (partners surname)

Because so much is in my partner’s name I am reasonably regularly addressed as Mr (partner’s surname). It comes in handy with telemarketers; they address me so, I reply ‘kind of’ and already they are on the back foot.

Martha Maus
Martha Maus
14 years ago

Backroom Girl, count me odd, here is evidence of my deep ambivalence. Despite taking my husband’s name, I will not tolerate being addressed as Mrs ( husband’s name), I have sent back several credit cards medicare cards when they ignore my directions or assume etc. Mrs X is HIS MOTHER for god’s sake.

Backroom Girl
Backroom Girl(@backroom-girl)
14 years ago

Well, Martha, perhaps that’s the modern compromise then

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