Before you walked down the aisle — if you even did — did you first agree to take your partner’s name? Had you popped to the bank for updated credit cards, changed your email address, and updated your Facebook?
I didn’t; and I know plenty of women out there didn’t, either. So I was pretty shocked to learn that in a recent survey, nearly 50 percent of U.S. citizens believe a wife should take her husband’s name — and she should be required to do so by law.
Author Emily Schafer, a sociology professor at Portland State University, surveyed a representative national sample of 1,200 people for the study, which found that an overwhelming number of American adults think there needs to actually be a law in place to prevent women from keeping their own name.
The most common reason given? The belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves. To this, I confess I’m a bit confused; because I don’t understand how exactly not taking your husband’s last name means you aren’t prioritizing your marriage.
It begs mentioning that of those surveyed, this answer was most common among less-educated men, who in many cases actually describe such a woman as a “bad wife.” (Jeez.) The study even goes on to reveal — and I’m flabbergasted here — that these same men believe a husband would be “more than justified” to file for divorce if his wife works “too much,” and likened it to a form of “neglect.”
I’m sorry; are we really in 2017? Or did we just step back into the dark ages there for a minute?
Now, I didn’t take my husband’s name for a variety of reasons: I didn’t feel like the name was “mine” and professionally I had built up a reputation as a writer under my maiden name, so I didn’t want to lose that. His surname wasn’t easy to spell, either; everyone gets it wrong (including my mother — still — and we’ve been married 13 years). But most of all, I felt like in taking my husband’s last name, I was losing a huge sense of self. And while yes, we are a family, I don’t want his surname to define me. I’m not his possession.
I suppose you’re wondering what my husband thought about all this. But the truth is, we never even discussed it. I just stayed as me and he as him.
The first time we discussed surnames was when I was pregnant, and said I had no issue whatsoever in my son taking his dad’s surname. But it really wasn’t something that my husband felt slighted by.
All that said, I get why people do take their husband’s names — most of my friends did, after all — but we should at least have the choice, no? Not taking my husband’s surname doesn’t make me a “bad wife” and it doesn’t make me neglectful — it makes me married to a man who respects my choices and my established name in my career. Someone who is not threatened by my sense of self. (Which frankly, is why I married him to begin with.)
I also understand that it makes sense to perhaps change your name when you have kids, so you all share one family name; but couldn’t men take their wives’ names like Zoe Saldana’s husband did? Or find a happy medium, like Dawn Porter who married Chris O’Dowd and became Dawn O’Porter?
Thankfully, there is no such law in place at present. There’s also a substantial number of married women in the U.S. keeping their maiden names in recent years: 20 percent. Another 10 percent choose to hyphenate their surnames or legally change it while continuing to use their birth name professionally. The idea being — do what works for you. Can’t that always be our motto?
Just like every aspect of motherhood, each woman should be respected for the choices she makes — without having to do anything by law. And we should all be grateful to Lucy Stone — the first American woman to legally maintain her last name after marriage in 1856. Just imagine how difficult that must have been to forego tradition in that era?
And yet a 2010 study published in Basic and Applied Psychology found that women who changed their name after getting married are still typically viewed as more “caring and emotional,” while women who kept their last names were viewed as “smarter and more ambitious.” But what about the men? Are they equally ambitious by wanting to keep their surnames?
Instead of criticizing another woman for her choice, I say we start supporting her instead. At a time when women are marching to be heard, still striving for equal pay and the same rights as men, being forced to take our husband’s name after marriage is something we shouldn’t face. Surely we can all agree on that.