Why are we still changing our last names when we get married?

Despite the many extremely patriarchal and sexist rooted traditions that take place in wedding ceremonies, the most disturbing is when the couple is introduced as “Mr & Mrs Jones,” and everyone claps. It feels to me as if the women has just lost her gender equality and everyone is happy a man has saved her.

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Upon getting engaged after nine years together, my fiancé and I didn’t even need to discuss whether or not I would change my last name upon marriage. He knew that I am very passionate about keeping my name (which also happens to be my mother’s birth name) and never hyphenating. His exact words on the topic were “Your name, your identity, I don’t care.” I’m lucky to be with someone as progressive as he is on the topic, especially since for so many years women had to fight for this basic right.

In 1856 Lucy Stone became the first women in history to legally maintain her name after marriage. In her era she quickly rose to fame, and became an icon for other women who wanted to buck the tradition of taking a man’s last name. For decades after this, women who followed in her footsteps and kept their last names were known as “Lucy Stoners.”

The Lucy Stone League was founded in 1921 with the motto stating “A wife should no more take her husbands name than he should hers.” They were the first feminist group to arise from the suffrage movement, and became known for fighting for women’s own name rights. It wasn’t until the 1970s that laws were lifted requiring a woman to use her husband’s last name to vote, do banking and even get a passport. Women’s rights have come a long way since the 70s, yet despite this we are seeing an increase in women changing their names rather than keeping them. It makes me sad to think that despite the struggle of these women to form a movement that would help future generations, almost 80 percent of women todaystill choose to take their husband’s last name.

A Harvard University study found that, among its alumni each year that women who delayed marrying or having children had a one percentage point decline in the probability that they would change their names. An important factor was if the women had made a name for herself or not prior to getting married. Oftenwomen who come from wealthy backgrounds, and marry later in life are also less likely to change their names. The New York Times reports only 10 percent of women actually hyphenate their names.

With so many women complacent about this idea I wonder, where does it begin? Little girls are given baby dolls and princess crowns to play with and emulate their future path of being a bride and mother. For too long they have been told becoming a Mrs. is just what women do – and that it’s what they should do to fit in. By the time they are old enough and friends start getting married and changing last names, peer pressure kicks in. They want to be like their friends and other wives they see every day.

Women interviewed about why they changed their last name gave a variety of explanations. Most of which were things like: “I wanted to be a family unit,” “It felt like the right thing to do,” “It’s easier when we have kids,” or “It’s easier to make hotel reservations.”

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To me, it seems like they can dress it up as much as they want, but they might as well just wear a sign that says “I’m OK with patriarchy and being second to my husband.” No one would ever expect a man to take a woman’s name upon getting married, so why is the opposite OK with people? In contrast, every gay couple I know who has gotten married, has kept their own names and doesn’t complain about any of these issues.

Women who say those things are making an excuse to avoid the real issue that they don’t want to do something that is not widely accepted or goes against the grain in society. A society that still has the incredibly outdated expectation that a married man and woman’s last name will be the same. Why? Because women aren’t broadly doing anything about it! Society only adapts when people change, not vice versa. In a world where we fight against men for equal wages, raises and promotions it does not seem logical to me that we are then complacent about taking on a man’s name in place of our own.

It’s time we started re-training society to the fact that the term “maiden name” implies something offensive. It’s time we started teaching and empowering little girls with the fact that their name is their name. Not just something they shed when they meet whomever they will marry.

It’s time that women became proud to be Lucy Stoners again, and when I get married in a few months, I’ll happily be joining the club.

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