For many years people assumed that a woman would take her husband’s surname after marriage. Nowadays it is a question that pops up when you discuss marriage as it is considered an option rather than a requirement. I’m sure if you are engaged you have been asked the question about whether you’re going to change your surname at some point along the way.
So far in our Feminist Wedding series, we have talked about proposals, ceremonies and equal planning. Today we are talking all about that big name question and ask if you can truly be a feminist if you do take someone else’s name?
Like many other traditions the taking of a name comes from an old tradition of the women becoming the man’s ‘property’ and the name was one of the symbols of ownership. There is definitely a familiar theme occurring here isn’t there? Did you know that when you get married you are not automatically expected to take a partner’s name, nor do you have to? You will always be asked what you are deciding to do.
There are a lot of ways to change your surname now and almost a little less pressure to actually take one person’s name. However, it is still a big decision to make. So let’s discuss some options and the implications that come with the choices. Are any of the options less feminist than the others? Does one of them make you more of a feminist or does one mean “selling out your feminist views?” Name changing runs a lot deeper than the surface but ultimately the decision is yours and yours only and if you are happy with your choice then we believe that is all that matters.
Keeping your own surname
It has definitely become a lot more popular in recent years for both partners to keep their own surnames. There are so many reasons to do this and people have varying views and opinions on why they have chosen to keep their own name.
I spoke to one person who married her husband a few years ago who decided to keep her own name. She states the main reasons for doing so were that she was attached to her name – it had been “hers from birth and was a huge part of who she is”. It is also a name she has made for herself in her professional career so thought changing it would mean people wouldn’t be able to find her as easily. Another large point she made was that she believed changing her name to that of her husband would be going against her feminist beliefs.
This is a common thought amongst a lot of people so it was shocking to find that a recent survey of young people aged 18 – 30 showed that 85% would take their partner’s surname but also that 60% classed themselves as feminist. It poses a question of whether or not people still think that this is something you HAVE to do.
The same person I spoke to also stated that if she and her husband were to have children in the future then she would possibly consider legally changing her name so that she had the same name as them. However, she might still continue to use her maiden name as her professional name. There are a few things to consider if you have children or might possibly want children in the future and how keeping your surname can have an impact on this such as travelling with different names to your children.
Whatever the reasons for keeping your own surname, it has to make sense for you and be the right decision. Really that is all that matters! The reasons are yours and they are valid. However, you may need to have a serious conversation with your partner as they may not like this decision, as of course, they will have grown up to accept that their wife will take their name.
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Changing BOTH of your names to a double-barrel surname
More frequently partners are opting to both change their surname and create a double-barrel surname. This is becoming more common in both same sex couples and heterosexual couples too. There are many reasons why this can be a great idea and an option for you both. It’s a way for both partners to feel equality. Both having to change your name means going through the process together rather than having one partner (typically a woman) have to go through the process of changing their name alone.
I spoke to a couple who decided to change both of their surnames because they were both so fond of their family heritage and neither of them wanted to give that up. On the other hand, they didn’t want to be called by different names as they wanted to feel equal in the marriage and everything that came with it. They also wanted to be seen as a married couple instantly so that is the reason they chose to go for a double-barrel surname.
This option is also popular for people who are merging families together and want to feel like a unit. If you do want to opt for a double-barrel surname then you might have to change your names via Deed Poll. They have lots of advice for all areas of name changing and women’s rights upon marriage here.
Taking one person’s name
It is still just as popular as ever to take one partner’s name. Given the above statistics that state many people class themselves as a feminist even though they have taken their husband’s surname, it has raised a few questions over the years.
You are not automatically expected to take a man’s surname in a heterosexual marriage so you do have to actually make this decision. It should be a decision that YOU are happy with, comfortable with and haven’t been forced into. If you feel this is the right decision for you for whatever reasons but still consider yourself to be a feminist then nobody can really question your choice. Choice is what feminism is about after all.
Given some of the above information, many people choose one surname so they do feel equal with the rest of the family unit. If you have children before marriage and they have used the father’s name or one of your names then you might choose to keep that surname as the family name because you feel equal and joint with your children too. Choosing to have one person’s surname is actually a choice you GET to make and if that choice is the one that works best for you then absolutely take this option. As we have said, you choose to make the decision on your name. Plus, a legal change of name only needs to be used for certain parts of life (Medical, Legal etc) but professionally you can absolutely be called by your previous name still if you want to be.
There is also nothing to say that the husband cannot take the wife’s surname either.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing what your name will be after marriage. Whatever option you go for is completely your choice and should reflect your opinions, beliefs and any other circumstances. Ultimately it should be made by yourself and discussed with your partner. The good thing is that you can choose to change your mind. If you do that it will require going through Deed Poll and having to make changes to personal details BUT it can be done if you really aren’t happy with your decisions.
If you want to read more on whether you have to change your surname then have a read of this blog.
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