What with same-sex marriage, de facto relationships, plus high divorce and remarriage rates, you might think the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name is old hat.
But it is still remarkably popular. Bride to Be magazine found found 82 per cent of brides plan to change their surname, while 11 per cent expect to keep their name, five per cent will hyphenate and the remainder were undecided
“The overwhelming reason they cite for the changing of their name is family and thinking forward to having children,” the magazine editor told Fairfax.
In most countries in Asia, women keep their maiden name. In Vietnam, for example, if a couple were to be introduced or gossiped about, you would use the husband’s first name, as in, “did you see that Mr and Mrs John have bought a new car?”.
Funnily enough, this tradition does not hint at a more progressive culture for women. It represents a strict patriarchy, in which a woman in considered her father’s possession, whereas in Anglo-Saxon tradition, the girl is passed from father to son-in-law, like wisdom or a well-crafted tool.
Chinese, Italian and Arabic women all keep their surnames, while their children take their father’s name. In some cultures, the mother’s name is incorporated into the mix, along with other ancestors, which is how I came to know a Filipina with 17 names.
The story of Greek women is particularly fascinating. In 1983, as it emerged from a dictatorship, Greece enacted a law that said all women must keep their birth names.
As the Guardian explains, the law was part of a swag of reforms that revolutionised life for women in Greece. Women came out of the kitchen and began attending university and work outside the home.
On a practical level, the system tends to work. It can be confusing for teachers to match students to parents – especially seeing as the parents can choose which name the children bear – and travel-savvy Greeks will carry their marriage certificate to conservative countries to prove they are married and can therefore book the double suite.
Maiden name not necessarily a feminist move
In 1855, American equal rights activist Lucy Stone made a profound statement by maintaining her maiden name after she married. Even in the 1970s, in places like Australia and the US, it was a slap in the face of society to keep one’s family name. And it caused practical complications. In some states in the US, women were still required to use their husband’s name to vote, do banking or obtain a passport.
Today, the world can cope better with the messy realities of life, which is probably why we’re seeing a slight upturn in the trend for women to keep their maiden names. Just as it’s incredibly easy to change your name after marriage, it’s just as easy not to. Or to change it back if your marriage ends. At worst, it makes you difficult to track on social media.
Personally, I flit between two names, using my maiden name professionally and my married name for personal affairs. Why? Well, I call myself a feminist but when it came to the crunch, I decided I wanted to have the same name as my children. Also, it’s what French women do, and French women are fabulous.
What will my daughter choose? I’ll have to wait and see. No matter what, she’ll still be my little girl, her Dad’s daughter and her husband’s wife.
Have you stuck with tradition or kept your maiden name during marriage and/or divorce? What about your daughters? What did they choose?