Current name: 4 people in the US have this name
If I were to take Mr. Lee’s family name: 156 people in the US have this name
Perhaps one of the most controversial topics in the North American wedding blogging world is name changes. I’ve participated in a few online name-change debates, and I have to say that I’m surprised not by the fact that many women continue to change their name, but by some of the arguments people use to advocate for name change. I am also appalled by the number of online brides-to-be who are distraught at the thought of changing their name, but feel enormous pressure by fiancé, family, or social context into taking his name. So, I’ll try to keep this civil, but I do want to discuss my reasons for keeping my name and never becoming a Mrs. Lee. I am specifically addressing the custom of women taking their husband’s name and not the various hyphenating/men changing names which are also present in various societies. The following are the usual arguments people give me for why I should change my name and my rebuttals.
This of course begs the question, ‘whose tradition?’ In Korea, women never change their names. In many Muslim cultures, women never change their names. In other cultures women and men take on a combination name. Specifically in Korea, it would be very strange for me to have the same family name as my husband. There are less than 300 family names in Korea. For instance, Wikipedia tells me that 14.8% of Koreans have a variation of the name ‘Lee,’ while 21.6% have a variation of ‘Kim.’ These Lees and Kims and Parks and Chois and Jungs are not all part of the same family. There are Lees originating from one region and Lees from another. The long standing family registry system in this country makes it easy to track such origins. Until very recently, it was actually illegal for a Lee from one ancestral area to marry a Lee from ancestral area because it was considered incestuous within Confucianism no matter how distantly related the bride and groom were to each other (of course – if you are a distant relation on your mother’s side – that’s okay). Lees from different areas have always been legally able to marry, but it is still considered taboo by many. Mr. Lee’s brother and sister-in-law are both Lees from different areas, but this is a rarity. Women keep their names after marriage because although they are registered under the husband’s family in the family registry and removed from their own family registry, they do not lose their familiar connection or history with their family.
So maybe in Korea this is not tradition, but what about your Scottish-German Canadian background you say? Well, in fact ‘traditionally’ women did not always give up their family names upon marriage in Scotland. It is rather a more ‘modern’ nineteenth and twentieth century ‘innovation’ aka influence brought upon by English law and customs for women to change their names. In fact, if the wife’s clan was more powerful, the man sometimes took his wife’s clan name. But more importantly for me, in contemporary Canadian culture, there are vast numbers of Canadian women who do not take their husband’s name, making it now ‘custom’ in many circles to keep one’s name. In Quebec for example, it is incredibly difficult for married women to legally change their family names. For an increasing number of people and areas, it is becoming common to hyphenate names for both men and women. What is ‘tradition’ should not simply be defined by a Victorian-England reading of world history and customs.
In other words, based on my cultural context and Mr. Lee’s context, it is in fact not our tradition for women to change their names.
You obviously lack commitment to your marriage if you don’t change your name.
This is perhaps the most bewildering argument for me, not to mention incredibly offensive. If men and women were living in a culture where they both changed their names upon marriage, and one of them refused to do so, then I can see how this argument might make a wee bit of sense. However, it does not make sense to me that a woman who does not change her name is considered lacking in commitment for her marriage, but a man who keeps his name is committed. The burden of proof as to one’s commitment should not rest more heavily on women, and above all, marriage should be much more than a simple name change!
We have to have the same name to be a family.
I get the fact that in patriarchal societies wherein children are given their husband’s family name, women might want to have a name connection with their children. Therefore, the yearning to be linked through name makes sense to me. However, the belief that a name makes a family does not make any sense. In Canadian culture, the high divorce, remarriage, and children born out of wedlock marriages, means that a great number of children do not have the same name as one or even both of their parents. In Korea, women almost never have the same name, and yet they are not considered less of a mother. What’s more, if, in Canada, a woman has a daughter who changes her name, does that mean that parents and daughters are no longer family after a name change? Perhaps under past law where women were not treated as full persons and thus wards of their fathers and then husbands, but certainly no woman in her right might would believe such a thing today. I do not feel less of a connection to my mother’s relatives or my cousins who have vastly different family names from my own; therefore, I do not believe I will have any less of a connection with my children because we do not share the same family name. In fact, there are so many other ways to be connected to one’s family through name. For instance, I hope to give my future children a Scottish or German first name to go with their Korean family name, and that first name will come from one or more of my female relatives.
My kids will be confused.
I don’t want to spend much time on this argument as I think it is linked to the previous objections. I don’t think that my cousins are confused about the identity of their mother because she kept the name given to her at birth, and I don’t think Korean children are perpetually at a loss as to who their mother really is. I hope we give children a little more credit for being intelligent beings than this argument purports.
This is an emotional rather than a logical argument. In making this statement, I do not want to imply that it is thus less important because it is emotional. I just mean that romance is a feeling that means different things to different people. If a woman feels that it is romantic to take her husband’s name, then that is her feeling which is her’s alone. The opposite is also true. Therefore, if a woman feels changing her name is a romantic gesture, then she should by all means do it, but it should not be a reason given to all women for the reason why they should make that change.
Your name is from your father anyway – so you are being less of a feminist by keeping your birth name because you did not choose it.
I’m not sure if most women who keep their name are concerned about the patriarchal tradition of giving children the father’s family name (when they have children, this custom may become a larger concern). Most women I talk to feel more concerned about the patriarchal assumption that it is women who must change their name, and thus in some ways their identity in order to demonstrate their commitment to marriage (see above). Some of the older crowd in English-speaking Canada still believe that Jane Smith becomes Mrs. John Johnson when she marries. That’s the kind of identity change I want no part of. Yes, my family name comes from my father, but over the past almost 30 years it has become my name and my identity apart from my father and his ancestors. If I were to take my husband’s name that would be taking on his history and culture into my name in a sudden moment without cultivating that identity over time myself.
I do not mean to suggest that women who change their family names are bad or oppressed in any way. Name change, no matter if it is for marriage or another reason, should always be a deeply personal decision which should be based in a particular person’s context and background. And for me, I believe I will be connected to my husband and children regardless of my name, and above all, my name is my name.