What’s in a name? The debate surrounding women taking their husband’s surname when they marry is one that resurfaces every so often – usually thanks to some new statistic about the percentage of women who either change their name or don’t (a recent poll suggests 90 per cent currently choose their husband’s surname), or a new ‘trend’ in wedding traditions (much was made of the fact that television presenter Dawn Porter married Chris O’ Dowd and chose to become Dawn O’ Porter).
Some people who consider themselves feminists or pro-gender equality, are incredibly opposed to the idea of the name change. Personally, even though I am a feminist, I’m not that concerned either way. I don’t believe that changing your name means you lose your identity or that you’re letting down the sisterhood. But I also don’t believe that taking your husband’s name should be pushed as the ‘proper’ thing to do or that people should insinuate you’re showing less commitment to him if you want to keep your birth name.
What I definitely don’t believe is that it’s the correct Christian thing to do. So why do lots of people think it is? Of course, it’s something that’s tied up with concerns about gender roles and submission. A blog post on the subject – written a couple of months ago by author and speaker Mary Kassian – has been doing the rounds again this past week and generating plenty of debate.
Kassian, who holds a conservative view on gender roles and women in the church, urges women to Say ‘I do’ to the name change, outlining six reasons why she believes taking your husband’s name upon marriage has a Biblical basis, although she admits that the Bible doesn’t actually address the issue. She believes that “culture cannot be separated from ideology”, meaning that although different countries have very diverse naming traditions, that doesn’t mean they “reflect Biblical principles”.
In fact, she goes as far as to say that these traditions are less “valid” than the practice of a woman taking her husband’s name, something that seems incredibly insensitive and offensive, and showing little awareness of the way that naming traditions have changed so much over the centuries even in countries she sees as doing things the ‘right’ way.
The reasons Kassian cites – unity, commitment, becoming a new family – could be used to justify a husband taking his wife’s name, or both husband and wife choosing a completely new surname. Many women keep their birth name for professional reasons. Some can’t wait to change their name because they’ve never liked the one they were born with. What’s important is that they feel free to discuss how they feel about it with their future husband, and that they don’t feel pressurised into making a decision about it because of negative stereotypes or what people perceive the Bible tells us about it.
The world of relationships is surely one of the key areas where a host of dubious ideas purporting to be biblical truth have been pushed on us. It’s probably not the time to turn surnames – and what decisions we should make about them – into one of these.