I recently stumbled across this article about a woman’s dilemma regarding changing her name after marriage, and it reminded me of a site (and a book) by blogger Ariel, called Offbeat Bride, which is about taking pride in elements of your wedding that might not be conventional. One topic that the blog (and probably the book…I can’t remember anymore) covers is (women) changing their last name (and even men changing their last name!).
To me, the most compelling reason to change your surname is to signify that you and your spouse are a unit, one family. I like the idea of everyone in the family having the same last name, even more so if children are part of the plan. This is more an outward demonstration of the union, I suppose, since the act of taking the name of another cannot make you into a family, any more than putting on running shoes makes you into Usain Bolt.
Some arguments I’ve seen against changing your name include:
- your name (for you) is an important part of your identity (you’ve been Miss/Ms. X for 20, 30, 40 years, how can you change your name after so much of who you are has already been formed under this other name?)
- professional reasons (if you have built your career under a certain name, and have built your reputation, perhaps you’re published under a certain name â€” changing your name might be a setback career-wise, and may require you to re-establish yourself.)
- changing your name doesn’t magically make your marriage better or stronger so what’s the point?
- her last name is dying out (maybe she’s an only child in the immediate or extended family and she’s the only one left to carry on the family name)
- his last name is incompatible with her first name aesthetically (maybe it looks or sounds strange with her first name, or it’s far too long)
In my personal circle of contacts, I know coworkers (current and former) in their late 20s and 30s who decided to keep their surname upon marriage. Another woman in her late 40s, a family friend, also kept her surname. Two friends in their early 30s were torn about changing their name and as far as I know, neither one has legally changed her name.
I asked one former coworker what she and her husband decided to do for the last name of their children, and their solution was actually quite cool: her surname is three letters long and is Japanese in origin and its pronunciation works perfectly as either a boy or girl’s middle name, so both her daughter and son have the same middle name, which is like having the surnames of both parents. I told her that her case is the exception for women who choose to keep their surname yet want to have a way of uniting themselves with their children (who often take their father’s surname).
I don’t know any African friends or other acquaintances (I don’t have any African coworkers) who decided to keep their surname, or struggled with the decision of changing their name. Is this because African women are more traditional, and less inclined to have “offbeat” weddings? Not necessarily; I just happen to know and be closer to more non-Africans than Africans. At the same time, maybe Africans are more traditional. I say this as I remember all the elements of a traditional engagement in Yorubaland (and I know other Nigerians have specific traditions or elements in their engagement or wedding celebrations). As I watched my cousin go through the different steps, I wanted to know if certain things were specific to the Yoruba engagement ceremony, or just done in my cousin’s own engagement. It turned out most things are things I was curious about are things that are “traditionally done”.
So what will I do? As much as I love my initials, I’m pretty sure I’ll be changing my surname.
For the ladies:
- How do you feel about changing your name (for those planning to get married)? Do you think you’ll change your name?
- Do you think Africans are more or less likely (than non-Africans) to feel torn at the thought of changing their last name? Why/Why not?
For the men:
- How would you react if your fiancÃ©e told you she would not be changing her surname?
- Do you think African men are more or less likely than their non-African counterparts to have a problem with their spouse keeping her maiden name? Why/Why not?