Name Change Head Explosion

John W. Pinkerton

When a woman marries a man, she adopts his surname; Julie Smith becomes Julie Jones automatically.

Not so fast, old guy.

A newly discovered long lost cousin, recently revealed that her husband's last name is not her last name.  Okay, I've noticed some ladies retaining their maiden names particularly if they don't want to risk their accumulated career reputations by changing their names.  This is understandable.  I've noticed this practice among many female artists who don't want to have to rebrand themselves.

Well, I thought maybe she just kept a preceding husband's last name.  Nope.

This was not the case with my cousin.  I won't offer conjecture about her reasons, but she adopted the name which is common in her family's country of origin and to which she believes there is an ancestral relation…a bold move and a head scratcher for me.

All of this got me to thinking about the practice of ladies accepting or not accepting the surnames of their husbands.

It turns out that in some jurisdictions in the US, the name change is not automatic.  It requires a legal procedure.  In eight states there is a legal procedure for men to change their last names to the wives' last names.  My head is about to explode.   Of course, almost anything is possible by petitioning the court…anything.

In Quebec, in the name of gender equality, it's illegal for the woman to adopt her husband's name without petitioning the courts.

In English speaking countries, the tradition is that women automatically accept their husbands' names, but increasingly women, particularly those with education and careers, retain their maiden names.

The suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stoner fought for women to retain their original surnames.  Sometimes women who do not use their husbands' names are called “Lucy Stoners.”  Go ahead; make up your own jokes.

Here are some current trends.  Some have retained their original surnames as their middle names: Hillary Rodham Clinton. About 7% of American women hyphenate their name with their spouse's name upon marriage.  Although less common than name joining, a growing trend is the blending of two surnames upon marriage (Jean Westhafer and Paul Moore of Grand Island, N.Y., for example, became the Westmoores in 1975, and Michael Weintraub and Janice Myrick of San Diego dubbed themselves the Weinricks three years later). 

Okay, let's go around the world: France, a woman may adopt her husband's surname or a man may adopt his wife's surname; Netherlands, women are always identified in documents by their maiden name and can only take their husband's name under special circumstances; Belgian law requires that one's surname not change after marriage; Germany, the husband may adopt the wife's name or visa-versa; Greece, women are required to keep their birth names; Italy, women keep surname but may add husband's after hers; the Spanish speaking world, spouses keep their original surnames; Japan, marriages not recognized if women keep original surnames; China, women keep original surnames; Korea, same deal.

In England, until the 1970s, the wife kept her original name but could be referred to as Mrs. plus his entire name.  Women said, “Enough!” and things changed.

Now there are a few really good reasons for women not taking their spouses' names: financial complications, creditor confusion, and account imbalances.  It's too complicated to try to explain all of these, and I don't want to bore you, and I'm not sure I understand these,  but they involve money.

Now the reasons to accept the husband's last name are much simpler:  men love it (I know I do.); easier business transactions (Most businesses make the assumption that the surnames are the same, and it takes forever to get things changed once a mistake is made.), easier for children to understand (self-explanatory); better for monograms (not a biggy but a consideration); a sense of unity (“We're the Oswalds.”); one less issue for in-laws (good point); less misunderstadings (Even my cousin confesses to a problem with the different last names in her marriage…but they just laugh it off.).

Okay, if my cousin can change her last name on a whim, so can I.  Let's see.  John Kennedy, John
Rockefeller, John Barrymore, John Adams, John Sousa, John Lennon, John Hancock…well, they did pretty well with these names, and I don't think I can live up to them.  Let's try again: John Booth, John Gacy, John Dillinger…stop, wrong path.  John Bracegirdle, John Pigfat, John Cornfoot…no, no, no.  I always liked the name Humperdinck...John Humperdinck.  No, no, wait.  John Wayne.  That's the ticket.

I guess my head won't explode if I encounter ladies who have different last names from their spouses.

Okay…it may a little.


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