Should You Take Your Husband’s Last Name When You Get Married?

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner··  6 min read
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The tradition of taking a man’s name isn’t what it used to be (thanks, feminism). But no one’s forcing anyone to do it – it’s a choice every woman has to make for herself. And there are plenty of reasons why certain women still do it, without feeling as if they’ve “lost their identity.”

So which is best? Should women follow tradition, or pave their own way through an uncertain future? 

Why Women Keep Their Family Name

Some women wish to keep their family name. It’s all they’ve ever known, and they take pride in the identity that’s built around it. Because everything in society is centered around labels and names, many feminists feel as if changing their name also means “losing an identity.”

Honestly, they’ve been raised to check this box and that. Place pronoun preferences in their social media bios and even on job applications. They’ve been just as groomed to abhor marriage and family as women were trained to be subservient in the Dark Ages, and they look on the history of time periods like the Dark Ages and fear regressing back to when women had no true voice. 

It’s understandable, there was once a time when a woman couldn’t even receive credit for writing a song for her baby or publishing a story. Most of the historic songs and fables with “anonymous” as the writer were created by women who weren’t allowed to be named for their art. Even Jane Austen was originally published anonymously. 

Many feminists feel that changing their name (their label) means “losing their identity.”

As a writer, I enjoy receiving credit for my work – because it’s more a part of me and my identity than my name or any box I could ever check – and so those ties hold weight. Yet, a woman’s “family name” is just her father’s name, so are feminists really doing anything to promote their matriarchal dreams by refusing to take their husband’s name? 

Taking Your Husband’s Name

When women “take” their husband’s name it isn’t a sign of weakness. It usually has nothing to do with submission or leaving anything behind. In truth, it’s an act of good faith that holds logical reasoning even going back to the Dark Ages and before. 

Because women birth the babies, no one can mistake who the mother of a child is. But men, they only claim a connection through family names. Sure, nowadays we have DNA testing to find out if a man truly is the biological father of a child or not, but this was not true for most of history. Because of this, the man’s name was given to his wife and child to solidify that bond. Even if a woman were unfaithful and her “husband’s child” was not his biologically, he was still the head of the family and the one responsible for it. It was actually about making sure women and children were provided for, not just some “stupid” law made to “oppress” and “harm” women.  

The family name solidifies the connection between father and child.

This historical tradition is the exact reason why generational Judaism is only recognized through the mother's bloodline. Because my husband’s mother comes from a long line of Jewish heritage, he’s considered a “real” Jew. If it were only through his father, his heritage would not be traditionally recognized. 

Why Tradition Usually Triumphs

No matter how much modern rhetoric downplays the necessity for certain societal practices and standards, taking a man’s name held a strong, meaningful symbolism and gave women a protector for themselves and their children regardless of how each child was conceived. 

These traditions were created and withstood the test of time because they were important for survival. To believe that any of us know better than thousands of generations of ancestors is absurd. 

For me, taking on my husband’s name wasn’t an issue. I was happy to be relieved of my father’s name because of the trauma he caused me throughout my life (and when I say trauma, I don’t mean he yelled sometimes. I mean physical and verbal abuse where I couldn’t move without pain for days and was constantly told I would never amount to anything and lied to on a regular basis). 

Even though my first marriage didn’t last, my writing career was spawned by my first married name and so even after the divorce I had to keep it. No amount of writing under a new name met with any success, and though names are a strange subject for me, I don’t mind it. But when I got remarried, I did take my husband’s name and I use it as often as I can because I’m proud of our union. 

Naming Children

For women who wish to keep their family name, which last name to give their children is also a point of contention. They don’t want to have a different last name than their babies, but then again, if they legally give their children their family name, then their husband is left out. This is where the trend of hyphenated names comes from. 

It’s considered a happy compromise, and may work for the mother and father, but children with hyphenated last names often hate it. It only further confuses them in an already confusing world, as I saw firsthand with my brother-in-law. 

My brother-in-law has a feminist mother. She, of course, demanded he have a hyphenated last name, and all throughout his life he watched his mother demean men and leave them when things got rough. So he grew up hearing about how “horrible” his father was, then when he was finally able to spend extended periods of time with him, he realized it was his mother who had cheated, lied, and harmed their family. This only made him despise his hyphenated last name more. 

Children with hyphenated last names often hate it.

It’s expensive and takes a lot of work to change your last name without marriage. So my brother-in-law had the choice of shelling out thousands to remove his mother’s name, or just living with it. Talk about having actual identity issues.

It seems that when women refuse to take a man’s last name they might get to “feel better” about their own identity, but to me, all it does is give their children a world of lifelong confusion, frustration, and real identity issues. 

Closing Thoughts

I’m obviously in favor of taking a man’s name. It’s only fair. My lineage is 100% proven through our children without any testing, and my husband deserves to be just as significantly included by having his family name attached to us. 

For women who don’t want children, or are hesitant to get married because of the name issue, this issue is more complex. But honestly, if they’re not willing to rebrand themselves under a married name then they’re more likely to see themselves as “losing an identity” instead of gaining a new one. And marriage is all about taking on a new life with someone you love, so it may not be the best start at a new life anyway. 

Regardless of why women do or don’t take their husband’s name, we have the choice. We have more options than we’ve had throughout recorded history. Just being able to question this and do what works for us is something we should appreciate.  

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