Each generation has their heated issue when it comes to marriage.Once upon a time, it was imperative to maintain the virtue and innocence of a young woman (i.e.: the presence of her hymen) on her wedding night. In present times, the average age of sexually active women is 17. Therefore, contrary to the repressive sexual times of our predecessors, kids today are literally putting the sex in the sex-ed. Don’t know what a hymen is Susie? Statistically, it looks like you lost it well before you made it to that health class lesson. Where the social issue of the hymen eventually broke, there is a new age one that aims to unite – that is last names. Say hello to our little friend, the hyphen.
With women gaining more leadership ground, narrowing the wage gap and successfully balancing family and work, women are also starting to preserve their original identity by way of their surname upon marriage. In fact, a 2004 Harvard University study found that the number of college-educated women who kept their surnames upon marriage rose from about 3% in 1975 to nearly 20% in 2001 (similar stats on men are not kept). There are five ways that women accomplish this.
A woman says sayonara to her middle name and replaces it with her maiden name. She then says to konnichiha to her spouse’s name, which is now her new last name. (“Betty Ann Jones” becomes “Betty Jones Smith”).
Another woman can choose the hyphen route (“Betty Ann Jones-Smith”), which unfortunately has picked up a country club snobby stereotype to it, but it’s a woman honoring herself – so how can that be bad?
Alternatively on rare occasions, both spouses co-hyphenated each surname. Or on more rare occasions, a couple will opt to create a new surname using a Scrabble-like approach (“Jonsith” or “Smones”) or even choose an entirely new name that is meaningful to both.
The hyphen has become the issue of the hour because it exemplifies the gradual eradication of all things sexist and obsolete in marriage. It stands precariously in the middle of old conservative ways, new liberal practices and polarized feminist debate.
We live in a society that does not value female names, but modern women are beginning to recognize the value of their surnames, their heritage and their origins. They want to remain committed to it. They recognize that identity is not something that is passed on solely through the male lineage, nor is it to be traded or abandoned with marriage. A woman’s surname is equally as valuable as their spouse’s, and it is an asset that they bring to a marriage and their future family.
Hyphenation and surname retention (opting to not take his name) are slowly growing among women because they want to represent their own ancestry in their new marriage or have a professional life supported by their surname. It is also costs nothing to keep one’s name and is highly convenient compared to the alternative.
One-sided name adoption is a sensitive issue among women though. Many feel that they are making a sacrifice to unite the family while also maintaining their original identity, and that this action deserves some credit. However, another perspective is that one-sided hyphenation is like building a bridge toward equality and stopping halfway across the river. Hyphenation is great in theory, but when it’s done by only one half of a marriage, what is really being accomplished?
The trailblazing couples choosing mutual hyphenation or new surname adoption exhibit an excellent example of marriage equality. This concept, though, is still new and faces a certain level of social scrutiny from those who are defensive to change or prefer the old ways. My advice – smile and buy them a beer, then calmly and securely explain that your spouse is so proud of her heritage or the accomplishments she’s made under her name, how could you ask them to change it? Showing that you’re the bigger person versus following the status quo shows a lot of confidence, security and care.
When thinking in terms of marriage equality, surname retention, co-hyphenation and co-name adoption are the options that eschew outdated patronymic practices. But there are still many husbands who refuse to hyphenate or join names, or are hurt when a woman wants to keep her name. These feelings are learned behaviors: Men are taught to honor the origin of their name and the generations that came before him, carry on his lineage, and remain a solid fixture in a relationship; while young girls doodle a boy’s last name in their notebooks, and women are taught to be peacemakers and to bridge relationship gaps. To fix this unequal social norm, women must recognize the value of their surname – in life, in work and in relationships. Men must join them on this journey. If marriage is an equal partnership, each person must honor themselves and the value of the other.
Coming Soon: Why are men less likely to change their name? The Feminist Bride would love to hear from the other side of the name-changing argument!