Changing your name to your husband’s name celebrates an evil history of oppression

The practice of women changing their surnames to their husbands’ surnames after marriage is sexist and evil and should be stopped. Before you tell me it is up to personal choice, let’s learn a little bit about the history of the practice.

The myth of the natural inferiority of women greatly influenced the status of women in law. Under the common law of England, an unmarried woman could own property, make a contract, or sue and be sued. But a married woman, defined as being one with her husband, gave up her name, and virtually all her property came under her husband’s control.

During the early history of the United States, a man virtually owned his wife and children as he did his material possessions. If a poor man chose to send his children to the poorhouse, the mother was legally defenseless to object.

WIC – Women’s History in America

The purpose of a woman changing her surname upon marriage was to signify that she no longer belonged to her father – now she belonged to her husband, along with all her property. Women lost all their rights when they married. A man could beat and rape his wife every day, and it was okay, because she was his property. There was nothing she could do. Any property she owned became his. All her belongings, even down to her clothing, was his. So if she decided to run away, she would be accused of stealing even if she took nothing but the clothes on her back.

“But,” you may say, “those things don’t happen anymore! So if a woman wants to change her name to her husband’s, it’s her own choice and it has nothing to do with that.” (For now I’ll put aside the issue of the near-impossibility of a man being convicted of marital rape even in our “enlightened” modern times.)

Well, let’s say, hypothetically, there is a holiday every year called Linchday. No one really knows when or why this holiday started. All they know is, it’s a fun day that everyone has off from work and school, when children play fun games with ropes. Maybe they jump-rope, or play some variation on tag, or give each other colored ropes as gifts, sort of like valentines. One day a historian says to you, “Hey, did you know people from a small town in the US back in the 1700s started this holiday to celebrate the yearly hanging of black slaves?” After learning that, how would you feel about playing those rope games?

Hopefully, after learning its history, celebrating that holiday would be out of the question for you.

A woman changing her surname to her husband’s after marriage is a tradition that comes directly from the idea that a man owned his wife as his property. Do we really still want to be following this tradition, knowing where it came from?

“But, but,” someone (not you, surely) may say, grasping at straws, “it does not mean that to me. I just want to show the world that I love my husband!” Then why don’t you trade names? Doesn’t he love you, too?

Ignoring me, this (surely fictional) person says, “Moreover, it is most definitely MY choice. I am not required nor pressured in the slightest to change my name!” Perhaps if you had decided to keep your name, you would have experienced what most women do: wedding checks, letters, junk mail made out to “Mr. & Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname.” Friends and family calling you “Mrs. Hisname,” refusing to remember your repeated corrections.

“For some reason, even though it was perfectly legal for me to keep my maiden name upon marriage, everyone expected me to take my husband’s surname.” The Choice and Power of Surnames

“Aftermaking it clear to some of his family members that I kept my name, they still address correspondence to “Mrs. (his name).” I recall at least three occasions when I told his mom, for instance, that I had kept my name. I even mentioned it to his grandmother. Still, our mail says “Mrs. (hisname).” Other family members do the same.” Source

“I just got a holiday card in the mail from MY aunt, who apparently ignored the fact that I did NOT change my name?! My mom said she specifically told my aunt that I hadn’t, but somehow it doesn’t surprise me that the ‘error’ occurred.” Source

“How do you correct people without being a bitch? Am I going to send my aunt a note to say “Just got your Christmas card, by the way I didn’t change my name” – hurting her feelings won’t fix my hurt feelings, you know? With my husband’s family I wonder if the name mix-up isn’t just passive aggressiveness. Does anyone else get that sense?” Source

“this same thing has happened to me with people sending me things addressed to Mr & Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. even people who know i haven’t changed my name. not just aunts, etc but including – get this! – the state when they sent us our marraige license. (and when you open it you can see the document which clearly shows i did not change my name).” Source

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3 Comments

  1. August 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I really don’t understand that tradition. It does not make any sense to me, and _if_ I marry I think my wife will keep her name.
    And I won’t allow others, be that family members or not, to treat my wife badly about that.

    To the woman in the fourth quotation I’ll answer – I wouldn’t care if correcting someone about your name would hurt their feelings. If you don’t correct people they’ll call you with your husband’s name again, so there will be more pain for you. You can also look at that as a good quest in finding which people really care about you, and which not.
    You’ve been strong enough to retain your name, so be strong enough to correct others about that.

  2. Mr HerGrandmothersMaidenName said,

    January 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

    We just thought it was cool to have the same name, it kind of started a new family unit. It took us ages to choose a name though…

  3. February 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    You’re quite right but what do you think about naming children? Double barrelled names might be okay to start with but within a few generations we’ll each require a whole ‘phone book just to fit our surname. Of course we can do what we like really.


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