The comments at both Volokh Conspiracy and Yglesias' site are fascinating. I have not seen a longer list of women explaining that their decision to take their husband's last name was not influenced by tradition, but was merely for convenience at the bank and at the kid's school and that they had always wanted to get rid of that four syllable-twelve letter German surname.
This would all be fine and their own choice (etc etc), but I find it exceedingly hard to believe that it is mostly women who end up with surnames they want to change. Are there really so few men out there with names they want to dispense with given the chance?
Now maybe I'll change my mind in years to come when I deal with these things myself, but the "inconvenient at the bank" and "teachers will be confused if I have a different name than my child" excuses are sort of shaky.
I've had joint financial arrangements with flatmates/roommates in the past, and now with my fiance, and you know, it really hasn't been difficult. No more difficult than opening any other bank account or insurance policy. Where are these banks and other companies that cannot keep track of a couple of different names on the account?
As for the "teachers will be confused" argument, I don't know from experience, but I think this would be no more difficult than the banks? Teachers have, what, 30 students in a class, at most. It surely wouldn't be beyond them after a while to remember that Joe X is the child of Sam Y. Perhaps the best teachers at the best schools keep written records of which children belong to which parents, it couldn't be hard.
Now this isn't to say that everyone in a family having the same name isn't a good idea -- it's a perfectly fine reason to change your name. I can understand the commitment it demonstrates to a relationship to both have the same name. But it does not lead logically to women taking their husband's names.
You can't ignore history here, and as I read it, the reality is that historically women changed their names as part of the system of coverture where married women lost a separate legal identity. Most of the legal traditions of coverture have been abolished in western countries, but women changing their names to their husbands is a social remenant of coverture.
In a truly equal society we'd see approximately equal numbers of men adopting their wives names. We don't.
None of the reasons given for women changing their names are special to the woman changing her name, as compared with both taking a new name or the husband taking the wife's name.
When those alternative practices are equally as common then it will be OK for women to adopt their husband's names. But until then there's a conflict of individual choice and advancing social equality. It will seem the height of arrogance to say this, but really, if people knew the background to the cultural practice of women changing their names it would be far less common.
On the other hand, if anyone has a good defence of why, in general, (not in your particular case) women should change their names to their husbands on marriage I'd be interested to hear it.
Upholding tradition is all well and dandy, but please know the tradition you're getting into first.
And donate to the Lucy Stone League.Posted by robe0419 at May 18, 2005 6:02 PM | TrackBack