Why Many Women Don’t Use Their Husbands’ Surnames?

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Three years ago, one of my spiritual daughters expressed her grave worry about why women use or do not have to use their husband’s surnames when married. Her problem was not the changing of the name perse but the difficulties associated with the process. After taking her through some series of teaching, she was relieved from the burden of changing her name. When done reading, kindly share your thoughts or views by commenting on why many women don’t use their husband’s surnames?

History of why women use their husbands’ surnames

The issue of a woman taking her husband’s surname on the day of marriage has been an age-long activity in human history. A woman taking her husband’s name on her wedding day has always been the norm. Historically, a surname denotes ownership. Children were seen in the past as properties of their fathers in marriage and this explained why most of our forefather had many wives in order to have many children to assist them in their farms.

Girls born into families by custom would pick up their husbands’ surnames and become properties of their husbands historically. This presupposes that you are named after your father to keep his name and be identified as his property. In the same manner, wives and children too are named after the husband to denote ownership of the husband. However, this is no longer the case in contemporary times. While the majority of women still choose to take their husband’s name, it’s merely done for reasons of tradition. And nowadays, many women choose not to take their husband’s names at all.

Surveys suggest that up to 20% of women choose to keep their maiden names when they get married. And many other women will choose to add their husband’s name to their own, creating a double surname. Also, others will take their husband’s name, but keep their maiden name as a middle name. These are modern trends facing today’s generation of married men and women.

Historical Biblical Incidence of naming a child after fathers to keep the family name?

There are a few historical incidences where children were named after fathers or family members to keep family identity and uniqueness. In Luke 1:16, when Elizabeth told the people gathered that her son would be called John, the people disagreed and said to her: “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name”. Why? Because they believed in promoting family names and that gives them unique identity to easily trace their roots or lineage.

Why Many Women Don’t Use Their Husbands’ Surnames?

  1. To keep and maintain the name and history of some people

Some names are traced to some particular families. Once that name is mentioned, everyone knows the family that person belongs because of the fame or the popularity attached to such names. As a result, many women prefer to keep their surnames in order to remain pride, fame and honour associated with the name in the family lineage.

2. Difficult to mention husband’s surnames

Five years ago, a young lady walked to me for counseling on a disturbing issue. The surname of the young man she was dating was not only difficult to mention but also sounds funny in the ears when mentioned. What disturbed her most and she decided to call it a quit with her ex was how friends and family members made mockery of the name as each of them tried to pronounce it in their own way. Unfortunately, Lilly began putting pressure on the young to either change his surname or she called it a quit. When the young man was not ready to change his surname, she walked out of the relationship.  

3. To keep all certificates and documents bearing their maiden names:

Changing names can also require tedious paperwork and incurs fees for replacement. The process is not only tedious involving lots of paperwork but also comes at a cost amidst the confusions associated with the maiden and the current name. The moment you were born, your birth certificate together with colleagues and university certificates will bear your maiden names and it would be difficult changing all those legal documents as well as your passport and national ID cards.

4. Some national laws don’t permit change of maiden names

Italian and some American women do not adopt their husband’s surname simply because they cannot be easily changed legally. In some countries, it is also incredibly difficult to change any part of your name, because your given name on your birth certificate is closely tied to your identity. Rather than simply receiving a social security number as done in America, Italians’ identification is made up of an algorithm that includes their name, sex, birthday, etc. To change the surname of a married woman would be like changing her social security number.

5. To avoid the legal hassle of going through another legal battle to revert their names when divorced:

Many women, after having seen the troubles and inconveniences other women go through after divorce, decide to keep their maiden names after marriage in order not to go through unnecessary battles and hassles changing to revert their names and ID’s back to their maiden names. Sometimes, those married for long may have changed and reverted to their maiden names but people may still address them with their husband’s names and this may bring back old and disturbing memories about the past experiences.

6. Some feel that using their husband’s surname is like being labelled like properties

Women with feminist backgrounds claim to have that feeling of being treated like properties and labelled with the names their husbands. As a result, they fight against taking up their husbands’ names and prefer to maintain their own names.

7. It is a reminder of male dominance, inequality and submission

Again, for some feminist women, they see taking up the surnames of their husbands as a reminder of male dominance in the marriage and in their lives, a sign of inequality where the woman has to give up on her long-cherished surname and required by law and custom to submit to their husbands. In order not to feel being dominated by any man, they prefer to maintain their maiden names.

8. Issues associated with career and popular brands with maiden names

Changing names can be detrimental to the goodwill and name recognition built over a period of time before marriage. Some women have risen into the limelight, became screen goddess and celebrities with millions of followers who are used to their names associated with their names which are brands. Some of these names which are carefully chosen showbiz names may be difficult to change when married.  

9. For fame and professional reasons:

For example, if you are known as Dr. Akorli and you are now going to change your name into Dr. Mills, it will mean different personalities altogether to the public. This may take time for the public to get to know it is the same person that has changed the name and this may affect branding and other professionally related deals.

10. Hide marital status because of corporate reasons

Ten years ago, I was part of a panel to interview some applicants to fill the position of a teacher. During the interview, we noticed that the best candidate to suit the job was a young lady that got marital about just after a month ago. Unfortunately for this lady, she was not chosen because of her marital status. The school has a policy not to entertain pregnancy and maternity leave until a female worker spends at least one year on the job. The newly married young lady disclosed to the panel that she was expecting to get pregnant at any time and not wait until a year. This is one of the reasons some women prefer to hide their marital status by not adding their husband’s surnames to their names in an attempt to avoid some rules or laws that may affect them. letting the workplace know about a marriage can be detrimental to career prospects as people expect married women to have children and be less dedicated to their jobs.

11. When she likes her maiden names and prefers to retain it.

Some names are beautiful and sound so sweet and good in the ears when mentioned. As a result, some women develop some level of pride in maintaining their names. Further to this, some women also see their family names as so important to them to the extent that they cannot simply let go of that name and pick a different name they are not already identified with.

12. Some husbands do not mind and see it okay for wives to maintain their names:

While many men will not be comfortable if their wives still bear their fathers’ names, others also are not bothered at all if the maiden names of wives are maintained. As to whether the surnames of wives should be changed or not, the onus lies on both partners to discuss it before misunderstandings will rise.

13. It signifies the practical responsibilities of a husband.

For some husbands, they may prefer a liberal way of dealing with this and may choose for their wives to maintain their maiden names. In this regard, responsibility and financial burdens will not be the sole responsibility of the husband.

14. Some religious practices don’t permit it:

As discussed earlier, Islamic religion does not permit women to change their maiden names simply because of marriage in a bid maintain the names to pay homage to their family lineage and to enable them to be easily traced to their roots.  

What are the pros and cons if women maintain their maiden names and add their husband’s surnames?

The pros

  • It brings satisfaction and reduces the burden of taking away the cherished and popular family name of the woman.
  • It keeps the unique identity of the woman that is already popular.
  • For corporate and legal reasons, the slight additional name added may not really affect the woman.

The Cons

  • Long compound surnames and compound names of the husband too will make the woman to have long names.
  • Filling forms become a challenge if limited spaces are provide.
  • Adding your husband’s name to your maiden still needs to be gazetted without which makes it not legal.

Countries where women are required by law to keep their maiden names and not take their husbands names

1. Islamic countries: By customary law, Muslim women who get married are allowed to keep their maiden names as a sign of paying homage to their family names and trace back their family roots even after marriage.

2. Greece: The nation Greece passed a marital law in 1983 in a bid to strengthen feminist pressure and legislation and permitted all women to keep their maiden names when married. This law has been enforced since its enactment and married women have kept their maiden names.

3. France: France is one of the countries with clear laws passed centuries ago since 1789 to permit women to maintain their surnames names when married. However, a new law passed in 2013 allows both men and women to choose to take each other’s name for social or colloquial purposes, but they still cannot legally change the name they were given at birth.

4. Italy: In Italy, a women cannot legally change her maiden name once married under the Italian Civil Code. However, if she wishes, she can include her husband’s family name as a second surname following hers.

5. Netherlands: The Netherlands have a liberal law that is required by law for married women to keep their surnames when married. The law makes it possible that women can take their husband’s surnames under special circumstances, but they will always be identified in documents by their maiden names.

6. Spanish speaking countries. It is custom in the Spanish-speaking world for women to keep their name, which will already be made up of two surnames — one from their mother and one from their father. When a couple marry, they usually take the first of each of their surnames to give to their child. In 1981, Spain announced that, on turning 18, children could decide whether they wanted their mother or father’s surname to come first in their own.

7. Japan: Under Japanese law, a marriage is only accepted if the couple share the same surname, which has led 96 per cent of married women to take their husband’s surname. Attempts were made to overturn the law in 2015, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, it was ruled that women could informally choose to use their maiden names if they wished.

8. South Korea: It is tradition in South Korea for women to keep their maiden names, and while there is no law to prevent them from taking their husband’s name after marriage, it is a relatively unheard-of custom.

9. Quebec: In the Canadian state of Quebec, provincial law forbids a woman from taking her husband’s surname after marriage, thanks to a rule instated in 1976. Created by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rule was implemented as an extension of the charter’s statement on gender equality in names.

What should women do if husbands will not prefer them to maintain their maiden names?

While some women will prefer to maintain their names, some husbands may not tolerate it in the first place. What should women do if the husbands may not agree for them to maintain their maiden names? Well, these few ideas would help.

1. Kindly take your time to explain to your husband why you would prefer to maintain your maiden name instead of using his name. Once there is explanation, understanding may take place.

2. Consider adding your husband’s surname to your name instead of changing it entirely if you want to maintain your maiden name. For instance, a woman that is called Gloria Mills can add the husband’s surname to become Gloria Mills Akorli.

3. Research to know the laws in your country about this as well as laws in your religious background that govern change of names after marriage.

How some men feel if women want to maintain their maiden name and refuse their names?

To a lot of men, women picking up their surnames are one of the highest forms of expressing their love to the man. It is a sign to the man that the woman is proud of the man and wants to be identified with him by using his surname. Sometimes, some married men may not feel secured if the wife is not bearing their surnames. They may have the idea that using their own maiden names is a way of opening the backdoor that leads to cheating because it portrays a picture that the woman is still single and not taken yet by any man. Another challenge of maintaining your own maiden name is that, some married men may see it that, their wives are so much attached to their fathers to the extent that, they have become inseparable and bond to their husbands hence, keeping their maiden names is a way of not cutting off that bond.

Your inability as a married woman to change your surname and use your husband’s surname could paint a picture of your mind that your father’s name is more precious and valuable to you than that of your father.

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