Does Marriage Involve a Name Change?

Oh the dilemma women face soon after the wedding is over! Should I be Mrs. His Name or can I just be me? It has been common practice and norm that married women gladly take on the husband’s surname, but today’s modern woman is not too enthusiastic about whole idea. Now is this right or wrong? Is it wrong for a women to decline to do so or is it right for a man to ask a woman to do so? Let’s seek help from our renowned marriage counselor, Nalini Karunartne to see how best we can resolve this issue…

You are given a name at birth so that you can be identified and from then on it becomes the most basic marker of your identity. At first, your name identifies the family you belong to – you have a first name and a second name which is known as your surname or family name. All your achievements, successes or failures are built around this name and you become attached to it and are generally rather proud of this identification, so much so, that you feel offended if it is misspelt or mispronounced. Your name is your identity and any other name would mean a different person altogether.

Around the 15th century, women in England began taking their husbands last name after marriage in place of the name they had previously used. Their previous name became known as their maiden name. This was done to symbolize that the union made the couple ‘a single person, the two became one as their intimacy made them one flesh and one blood.’ Then, in English culture, it was common practice until the 1970’s that you could be with your original name or your maiden name even after marriage and could also be referred to as Mrs. (which meant mistress of) followed by your husband’s surname.

However, this tradition was not followed across the world. In Australia, women changed their name after marriage, but in many other countries like Greece, for example, women didn’t change their name and it was considered illegal to do so. In many cultures and religions they keep to their birth names.

Name changes mostly concern women, and people can be hard on married women who do not change their names. Until quite recently, about 10% of people thought that it indicates that you are not really dedicated to your marriage if you don’t change your name, and about 50% thought that you should be legally required to take your husband’s name and because of these views 90% of women changed their names when they got married. Social judgment in a male dominated culture made women to decide to change their name, as it was the path of least resistance. But with the rise of feminism all of this thinking started changing rapidly as traditional marriages underwent many changes.

Changing your name after marriage is no longer considered mandatory and it’s a choice you make, depending on your own views of marriage, the value you place on your name, the professional image you may have carved out for yourself, difficulties encountered in documentation and numerous other considerations. With globalization and more international travel, there are more marriages being contracted between different nationalities and this too has affected the traditional view of a name change after marriage, as different cultural considerations have also to be taken constantly into account.

In Islam it is not permissible for a human to attach lineage to any other than their own father. But it is common for Muslim women living in some countries to change their lineage to their husbands perhaps to fit into a culture or because they have been forced to do so. On the other hand, there is nothing in Christianity about a wife changing her name because in Bible times most people did not have surnames. They were identified generally by where they lived or by the children they had or by the husband they belonged to. Name change is common in Western culture not because it is explicitly biblical, as there is nothing explicitly unbiblical about changing it. The matter is generally based on cultural considerations and the wishes of the couple.

Many are still under the assumption that a woman must legally change her name to her husband’s last name. But she has many options. She is free to keep her own name, take her husband’s name, hyphenate her name with her husband’s name or come up with a completely different name. If the couple were to agree, they can even adopt the women’s surname. It is, however, radical for a man to take his wife’s name, but the number is increasing. Some men with embarrassing surnames don’t want to pass it on to their children, as to them their names are a liability because they are difficult to spell or pronounce. Some couples opt for ‘meshing’ – creating a new name by combining both names, which is also increasing in popularity as centuries of tradition go out of fashion. As long as the name change is not done criminally or fraudulently, any of these options would constitute a legal name change.

Your name does not change automatically after marriage, if you do nothing, then after marriage your name will remain the same. So how do you set about a name change? It’s easy; just start using it among family members and in social settings, when notifying a change of address or when opening new accounts and memberships and so on. If documentation is required because of the threat of identity theft and fraud, your marriage certificate should suffice. You also have to change your other identification documents like your identity card, driving license etc. In the event of a divorce you have the freedom to revert back to your former name. However, changing your name to something other than your husband’s name requires more than a marriage certificate. You need a court order and sometimes a formal announcement in the newspaper.

Changing your name is an important step to take today and before doing so, it is best for the couple to discuss and candidly share their views on the subject before they make a decision that should be mutually acceptable. Both should be happy with the choice, and once agreed upon, it should never be used to insult or hurt the other in a future conflict situation. Children too, should be encouraged to respect their parent’s choice and not allowed to show disrespect to either parent even in humor.

With the popularity of social networks increasing, it is advantageous when you can be traced easily by friends who may have lost contact with you over a long period of time, because you have continued to keep your name unchanged. But with the prevalent sexual permissiveness that is flourishing rampant everywhere, it can also be quite naturally assumed, by people who have lost touch with you, that you are in an intimate partnership and not a legal marriage with the person who is seen always accompanying you.  

Many women today are not interested in the traditional responsibilities associated with marriage. They prefer not to cook or stay at home being a home-maker, they don’t like having children – it is generally one or none – and now they don’t even want to take the husband’s name! There are many reasons to justify all of this, but can marriage be considered a viable option for women with such views? Does such a woman consider marriage because of the social stigma attached to spinsterhood? But that is not the case today as the number of single women are on the increase. The marital status being hardly visible today with even the wedding ring worn when convenient and now no name change, one wonders whether the togetherness of marriage is being subtly destroyed. Lack of private space is one of commonest causes for divorce today. Why is this lack of space in the relationship of marriage considered so important today? It is a thought worth considering. 


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