What’s in a Name?

February 9, 2010 | NeW Staff

Last week I said I would write more on NOW’s contradictions, but I think  the other blog authors have done such a great job of covering it and elaborating, that I would just be repeating their excellent points. This week, I’m going to talk about something I found out in one of my classes.

I am taking Chinese as my language credit for college. Prior to college, I took Italian, Spanish, German, and Greek, so I am familiar with the cultural differences between those cultures and American culture. However, one difference among cultures has always intrigued me – what happens to last names after marriage and children. For example, in most Spanish-speaking countries, the mother’s last name and the father’s last name are added to the child’s name, but the woman keeps her own family name when she marries. Similarly, in Italy, the woman keeps her family name, but she also has the option of hyphenating her husband’s last name according to social norms there.

In my Chinese class, I discovered that the woman always keeps her family name as well. Culturally, she can be referred to as her husband’s wife – for example, if her husband’s last name is Wang, she can be called Mr. Wang’s wife – but more often than not, the woman is called by her family name.

So why has the social norm in America been to take the last name of the man?

The origin is from our English friends who started the tradition in order to protect the wife’s right to her husband’s property since everything he had, she gained upon marriage. Historically, this is a perfectly legitimate reason to change family name, but now the option of keeping your own name is accepted legally.

As a female, I do not think the custom of changing my last name to my future husband’s name is outdated, as many feminists believe. It is a historic tradition indeed and one that a woman has a valid reason to accept if she chooses.
Although I believe the practice is valid, I will likely not take my husband’s last name for reasons otherwise: The first is that I love the heritage and meaning behind my family name, and the second is that my last name will not be passed down because I do not have any brothers to carry it on according to custom.

HOWEVER, I, unlike radical feminists, am not going to criticize women who take their husband’s last name! Feminists make this mistake over and over again – they try to force all women into a mold. They preach that women have the freedom to make their own decisions, yet they disapprove of women who choose to take their husband’s name. My stance is that we can choose in the modern world and we should not be criticized for doing so either way.

What do you think about changing your last name and why?

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