Real Talk: In the Name of Love

What's in a name? Should women take their mate's last name?

What’s in a name?

Last week, two Black women’s sites -- Clutch and Madame Noire -- posted stories about whether women should change their last name when they get married. The stories were prompted by a recent study in the journal Gender and Society that conducted a poll on American’s attitudes about women taking their husband’s surname.

Two-thirds of the respondents said that it’s best if a woman takes her husband’s name. Fifty percent of those surveyed would support a law requiring women to take their husband’s last name.

I’m not surprised. In every theoretical conversation I’ve ever had with a man about his one-day wife not taking his surname, I’m met with blank stares and staunch resistance. For many men, the unwillingness to take on his name is a symbol of rejection of him and traditional gender roles, and too, of his partner’s argumentative nature. “If she’s carrying on about taking my name,” one man began. “What else will she make a fuss about?”

Although the subject comes up often enough to give marriage-minded men a good scare, they can actually rest easy. Women are by far more likely to take a man’s surname. Just 5% of American women keep their maiden names after marriage, and 70% of women feel that they should ditch their last name for their husband’s.

What about that other 30% who are on the fence or believe, like Marlo from “The Wire,” “My name is my name” -- who aren’t willing to change it? Writer Joi-Marie McKenzie tackled the topic earlier this year on Clutch in “Weighing the Options: Is Changing Your Name After Marriage Still Necessary?"

“When a woman decides to keep her name, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s as an act of resistance or independence,” McKenzie wrote. “If anything, it’s an act of claiming your identity or a fear of losing an identity you’ve come to know and love. If you are getting married, you should feel as if you’re adding to your life. You shouldn’t feel like you’re losing yourself in order to follow society’s traditions.”

She suggested that couples who are on the fence about a wife changing her name, consider all their options: hyphenating her last name to add is, moving her maiden name to her middle name while adopting his surname, or the husband taking the wife’s name.

The topic didn’t lose its intensity even when it was mostly women discussing their options.

“A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, no?” one commenter responded.  “If you’re so unsure of your personal identity that changing your name makes you that uncomfortable, maybe you shouldn’t even be in a relationship.”

Other respondents didn’t buy that logic. “I’m going to give up the name I’ve had my ENTIRE life for someone I’ve known a few years?" wrote another woman. “Hell, many men don’t want to give up football on Sundays. Somehow, I can’t ever see them making this sacrifice being normalized or rationalized away.” 

Ladies, did you or would you take your husband’s surname after marriage?

Demetria L. Lucas is a life coach and the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

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