Will She Take His Last Name?

This week’s blog will again mention celebrity Kim Kardashian but it really isn’t about her. She’s included in the discussion of whether and why women should take their new husband’s last name upon marriage. For the record, Ms. K has said she will be Mrs. Kim Humphries. However, it will be interesting to see if she continues to use Kardashian professionally or if she will now always be known as Mrs. H?

As you can imagine, the subject of whether or not a woman should take her new husband’s last name is fraught with emotion. Some people (both men and women) are outraged when a woman chooses to keep her maiden name after marriage. On the flip side, some feminists are outraged that there’s even a discussion – of course the woman would keep her name, it’s part of her identity, it is who she has been for the past 20+ years so why would she even think of changing it?

From a historical perspective, the suffragist movement marks the beginning of the fight for women’s equal rights and that includes maintaining one’s maiden name after marriage. In the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, up to 25% of married women kept their own name. Do you notice the semantics here? We don’t write “refuse to take her husband’s name”. We write “keep her name”. The emotions run high with this topic. According to theknot.com (a premier website for brides) about 8% of women today choose to keep their maiden names. That’s a pretty big drop in the 40 years since women burned their bras and marched on Washington.

There are many reasons why a woman would choose to keep her maiden name. First, it’s a pain in the neck to deal with changing driver’s license, passport, social security card, etc. Second, in some professions such as medicine, law, education and entertainment, some women have built a reputation, and their name is recognizable and that’s valuable. Third, there’s something to be said for not being chattel.

There are many reasons to take your husband’s last name. First, it’s a long standing tradition and that’s important to a lot of people. And, to piggyback on tradition is the idea that it is romantic to take your husband’s name as you two become one upon marriage. One woman on theknot.com also claimed that she couldn’t wait to take her husband’s last name because she despised her own – that it was difficult to spell with way too many consonants! Finally, if you have kids, there’s no question that it cuts down on confusion to have the same last name as your children.

So there are a lot of reasons to take or not take your husband’s last name when you marry. There also are several reasons to keep or dispose of your husband’s last name when you divorce. If your ex-husband’s name is readily recognizable – i.e. Jordan as in Michael Jordan – or if you have built your business/reputation with your married name – i.e. Clinton as in Secretary of State Hilary Clinton – then it’s much more difficult to give up that name when you, or if you, give up that husband. In some divorce cases, it’s a very contentious issue and one that should be covered in the pre-nuptial agreement. (Click here for the pre-nup discussion!)

What do you think about marriage and last names? Did you take your husband’s? Did he take yours? Should it be mandatory for women to take their husband’s name? Tell us what you think!

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