Picture this. You are standing in a beautiful courtyard about to make those famous ten steps down an aisle that every woman has, at some point, dreamed of. Along both sides of you are a multitude of people that are amongst your closest friends and families and a majority of people are those you have no idea who they are. Right at this moment, women think about a multitude of things. They question the choices from the floral arrangements, the dress, the bridesmaids and some even question the man they are walking towards to. Some think about the journey that got them to that very point in time and the journey that is ahead, still waiting to be lived out. Fears, hopes and dreams lace the mind of a woman making those very famous steps, literally towards a new future and what they don’t realize is that life as they know it is completely out of the picture.
Many couples do not completely realize how much change they experience when it comes to getting married. That newlywed glow tends to blind the couple into thinking that they are special or different than everyone else and that they will not succumb to those cliches. Well, nonetheless they are there, waiting for you when you get your vision back. It is only a matter of time before you realize that you have to adapt to a new person, your husband. “Where does he put his socks? Why does he eat peanut butter out of the jar?’ Not only is there the adaptation of your new spouse, there is also the question of: ‘Who do you become after marriage?’ Of course, you’re probably thinking “I don’t change, I’m still me.” Well honey, there are some things that you begin to notice that you start to change. Yeah there are typical gender roles that you start to notice you do, like pick up the clothes, clean the bathroom or start cooking weekly dinners because you are working on the weekends. There is nothing wrong with any of those things whatsoever, I don’t want you to question that at all, especially if you are happy with it. My debate that I like to bring your attention is the idea of changing your last name after getting married. That is a change most women do not realize is a conflict they feel until either after marriage or close to the ceremony. There are many options to this conflict; firstly of course being keeping your last name secondly being to have your husband’s last name hyphenated with your maiden last name and lastly is the option that is most popular which is to change your last name to be the same as your newly named husband.
Granted the history behind this tradition started a long, long time ago when it was based on the belief that a man owned things such as a house, a horse and a woman. After a ceremony where the woman would be given away by her father to her husband, whom was approved by the father or was probably arranged by both man and woman’s families, and thus the woman would be claimed as the man’s “property.” Thus allowing for the logic to be further stamped into the society that woman was the property of man. It was also a belief that it created a symbol of unity, for example the symbolism of the lighting of the unity candle (which I file in the Witchcraft folder but that is a whole other essay) and some also took a religious stand point behind the tradition and claimed that the meaning was to ‘become one under the eyes of God.’ Religious folk do see the taking of the man’s last name to be a tradition that has been seen since the beginning of man, the Bible states in the book of Genesis about Adam and Eve and how, Eve would be subservient to Adam. One of these subservient actions would be the taking of the his last name to show unity under the eyes of the Creator. Nonetheless, its an old tradition that has seen a multitude of discussion and mostly so, after the second wave of feminism in the 1970’s.
In recent years, many women have questioned the practice of this tradition when wedding bells start to ring off in the distance. There are more open discussions about it within couples resulting in more couples deciding to not go the traditional route and chose to hyphenate their last name. The big question now is whether or not this tradition is sexist? My opinion? In today’s time, no I do no believe it is sexist or demeaning to a woman if she chooses to take her husband’s last name. Now if women were still treated in a way of a “man’s property” then my answer would definitely be different. The intent of a tradition is what really is at stake when we consider these types of decisions. Just because it is a long standing tradition does not mean that a woman should feel forced to obligated to to something that she does not want to do. Should it be questioned as a tradition with value in present day life? Absolutely! Women have a choice to change the name that they will be known by for the rest of their lives and there should be no retribution for questioning the validity of a tradition when it comes to a topic that will be with you for the rest of your life.
Women do not have to be a feminist to question topics like these. Feminism in my experience is so much more and should be so much more than exclusivity; curiosity is and should be encouraged. To question a tradition, like taking your husband’s last name, is not something that would turn you into an unfaithful or unloving wife-to-be. It makes you look like you are considering all of your options. Marriage is a life changing event that makes for many aspects come up under the microscope. There is nothing wrong with questioning if changing your name is right for you. Just make sure to communicate any concerns you have with your husband-to-be because if you haven’t learned yet you will soon, the fact that you two will be partners for life and that means for a lot of communication exercises.
I have been happily married now for two and a half glorious years. When the time came for me, I was dead set on keeping my maiden name. I tied it to my history and my personality which led me to these questions: “Would I lose who I was?” and “Would I be respected by my peers or disrespected based on my decision?” That was my first mistake, looking back I should have never questioned this tradition with my peers in mind. Its is one of those things where they had nothing to do with it and shouldn’t of been in the equation. The first question was something that I struggled with because I was at an age when I wasn’t even sure who I was and if this change would damage the process of self-discovery. That is something I think every woman would have a personal journey with yet for me I decided that it wasn’t as if I was losing who I was, I was growing into the person I was becoming. I was gaining a piece of me that was missing and I think that is a lesson for marriage as a whole. Again, the topic of communication with your partner comes up as that is what I did with my now husband. I discussed why I felt it was a disgusting tradition and what his views on the tradition were and how I felt it affected me. We even talked about changing both of our last names to a combination of our names. Which would’ve been neat and further proof that I am married to a very open-minded man. Yet in the end I made my decision to take my husband’s last name and my decision was based on ultimately following a tradition that had been handed down since the beginning of time. Not because of the weird property and ownership ideal but of the aspect that I would be taking a new name and with that a new life. That is a beauty that tradition has in as a whole, the fact that so many generations before you were standing in the same exact spot that you are and felt the same way that you did. There is a power behind it that makes me feel like I am a part of something, maybe a little part of history who knows but still a part of something special.
In conclusion, the honest fact of the matter is that, I personally did feel some sort of need to discover who I was becoming after marriage and changing my last name had a portion to do with that. With all of those women who are making their way down the aisle keep in mind that, traditions mean a lot to those surround you and a majority of the wedding is for the enjoyment of your future in-laws but that doesn’t mean you should lose focus on what those traditions mean to you and your soon-to-be husband. As well as the fact that, your decision does not have to be made right after you say “I Do”, you can take a few weeks even a couple of months to think about it and really communicate (there’s that word again) with your partner what it means for yourself and the both of you. Most importantly of all, don’t let anyone force your decision. By all means, you didn’t let anyone force you to marry the guy, so why start letting people force you to follow traditions now? On your very important day as you glide down that aisle to greet the love of your life, hold onto the most important part of any wedding…the cake. (insert laugh track here.)
Author: Carolyn Noe
Carolyn is the Founder & Executive Director of Super Heroines, Etc. She is a recent transplant to Cincinnati and lives with her husband and her dog. She regularly nerds out about Parks & Rec, Firefly, and Pride & Prejudice.