Mrs His Name

The Japanese government is facing a law suit brought by five people who claim that their constututional rights have been violated by the law forcing married couples to share the same surname, which in practice tends to be the man’s. The Guardian reports that Japan is the only G8 nation with laws regarding marital surnames, yet the practice is still considered the norm here in the UK. To my continual bemusement.

To me, a woman automatically getting rid of her surname and replacing it with her husband’s is tantamount to saying that he is more important than her. I say automatically, because a woman may have a very specific reason for wanting to take her husband’s surname, be it simply because she has always disliked hers, or because she no longer wants to be associated with her father or other family members. However, it does seem that plenty of women still change their name simply because it’s the done thing. It’s a pretty common reason for doing anything in our society, and I think this herd-like mentality where we unthinkingly do what everyone else does without stopping to question why – probably because it’s easier and makes us feel secure – is to blame for the continuation of a lot of social ills (boys wear blue, girls wear pink, anyone?).

If marriage is about partnership and mutual love and respect, and if we’re living in this supposedly equal, post-feminist (*gags*) society, why are women still queueing up to put their legal identities through the shredder and become Mrs His Name? And what does the man’s willingless – in some cases insistance – on this sexist tradition say about his view of his one true love? I know I wouldn’t want to marry someone who thought his name was more important than mine (well, I don’t want to marry anyway, but that’s beside the point).

Then there’s any potential kids. Even when women keep their own name, there still seems to be a tendency for the male surname to be given to the children. Are they really more his than hers? What good reason is there, really, to automatically carry on the male name rather than the female? Because as I told a dear ex of mine, indignant protestations about ruining the family tree just won’t cut it: the irrelevancy of women to the traditional family history research process is yet another patriarchal slap in the face.

Clearly some decision on names has to be taken when marriage, and kids, loom. The important thing, in my opinion, is that this decision be an informed one, and a decision based on hundreds of years of patriarchal tradition reinforced by modern-day retrosexist romanticism, wedding fetishization and social conformity isn’t what I would call particularly informed.

Obviously not everyone thinks like me, thank [insert your preferred deity/Richard Dawkins here], or has surnames which can be conveniently blended to create a new super-cute hybrid surname for any future offspring (she writes, smugly). Everyone will come to different conclusions and arrangements, and some women will continue to take their husband’s name. But if men and women in heterosexual pairings start questioning the status quo and think about what our romantically-billed naming tradition really says about their relative worth and importance, I think fewer women would spend their time and money on changing what is, legally, the most important marker of their identity.

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