Given the interest that everyone suddenly has in the vacancy rate of your uterus, it should come as no surprise that in 2011 (that's 2011, not 1911), 50% of Americans still believe that a woman should be legally required to take her husband's last name after marriage. And because of this, our collective inability to mind our own damn business, it's still an issue that we continually revisit. Should married women change their names? Should they not change their names? Should America get a hobby? Hope you've got your Judgepants on, because it's time for some judging!
The tradition of changing one's name, as you've been told a bazillion times, has its roots in the idea that women give up their rights to own property and exist as a separate entity from their husbands when they marry. According to NBC, crappy little reminders of this law existed into the 1960's and 70's, when women weren't allowed to get their own credit cards or open their own bank accounts without their husbands' permission. Women who don't change their names often cite the tradition's sexist past as justification for bucking it. There's also the issue of identity; because women are getting married later, being known as Jane Smith for the first 28 or so years of your life and then expecting everyone to start calling you Jane Walsingham can be a daunting task, especially if you work an academic or artistic field.
On the other hand, women who end up taking their husbands' names argue that lots of traditions have evolved from something ugly and terrible to something benign. Some women consider taking their husband's last name an "active choice" in forming a family identity. Plus, it's fun for everyone in the family to have matching names like a set of nomenclature Matryoshka dolls, and forming a family softball team is cuter if everyone on the team has the same last letters emblazoned across the back of their jerseys. Other women change their last names gladly; a relative of mine went to high school with a woman whose last name was the same as a part of the male anatomy, which she shed after getting married. Still other women are totally fine with the traditional notion that when they get married, they become a part of the husband's family.
People have different, complicated reasons for integrating tradition into their modern lives? Stop the presses!
Of course, you can avoid all of this rigamaroll if you just get secret-married and continually refer to your husband as your "boyfriend," but with this headache avoiding method, you probably don't get all the free tableware that could come from a not-secret wedding. The choice is yours, ladies! But remember: no matter what you decide to do, everyone will have an opinion about it.
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