Monday, January 15, 2007

What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but for American men changing names at marriage stinks.

California man is suing the state for the right to take his wife’s name. In that state a woman can take the man’s name without any trouble, but a man who wants to do so has “to file a petition, pay more than $300, place a public notice for weeks in a local newspaper and then appear before a judge,” according to the AP. Apparently, only six US states have name-change equality.

Personally, I can’t understand why anyone would want to change their name at marriage. Admittedly, it wasn’t something I ever thought much about being a man, and also because I never thought I’d be able to legally marry another man.

I see the tradition of a woman automatically taking a man’s surname as some kind of sexist throwback. After all, she’s no longer considered his property, and she doesn’t stop being her family’s descendant just because she marries. What do most women get out of the deal by changing their names?

In the
California case, the wife has no brothers and wants her family name to continue. The man is estranged from his father, so has no connection to his surname. Clearly for them his taking her surname is a thought-out choice.

Here in
New Zealand, partners getting married or entering a civil union can take one or the other’s name, form a new joint name or keep their own names. Neither taking the partner’s name nor forming a joint name affects the birth name.

New Zealand marriage is restricted to two people of opposite sexes, and the Department of Internal Affairs website advises:

In New Zealand it has been customary for a woman to assume the man’s surname after marriage. In some cases couples are combining their names to create a new family name, or some husbands are assuming their wife’s surname on marriage. You may retain your current surname.

Civil unions are the legal equivalent of marriage in
New Zealand but open to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. The advice on names is the same, without the reference to one partner customarily taking the other’s name. Civil unions are still too new for anything to have become “customary”.

Gender equality in name choice upon marriage/civil union is good, of course. Whether it’s silly or not, and even though I wouldn’t do it, people—men and women both—should have the choice as they do in
New Zealand. The name for that is “equality”.

Update 16/01/07: Just to prove some people don't take the whole name thing too seriously, a New Zealand couple decided which person would change surnames by playing a game of minigolf. Well, that's one approach…

1 comment:

d said...

When Darren and I got married, I kept my last name. #1, I'm not a huge feminist, but I am mildy offended by the assumption that I would take HIS name and not the other way around. Also, I picked my last name in college and went through an expenive process to change it. It means something to me, and is important to my individual history. I may be married, but I'm still an individual.

I love that NZ has so often taken a sensible approach to things. "Hmm,maybe people want a new last name, or the man wants to change HIS last name. Well, why not?" Awesome.