Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Should the Law Force Women to Take Their Husbands' Last Name?

One of the earliest "gender" moments I can recall from childhood involved me questioning why my mother's last name differed from her brothers' and my cousins'. "She's married." That was the simple answer that failed to compute. My response: "So is Uncle _____." My early lawyering gave way to the inevitable "stop asking so many questions," and I let it go.

A new survey released today indicates that young social rebels will likely continue asking some version of my question for generations to come. According to a survey by the American Sociological Association, 70 percent of Americans believe that a woman should take the last name of her spouse. 50 percent believe that the law should mandate this change. Now that's big government!

Sources:

USA Today
Salon.Com
NY Daily News

11 comments:

Nell said...

I've always thought this was a silly argument. All surnames are patriarchal. I grew up with my father's last name, took my husband's last name when I married, went back to my "maiden" (father's) name when I divorced.

Even if I adopted my mother's maiden name, it was still her father's name.

I once knew a couple who gave their kids a last name completely different from either of theirs. Maybe that's the way to go - choose any darn last name you please.

Mel said...

I remember the moment I decided I would never get married. I was about 10 years old and someone had addressed a letter to my mother as Mrs. Robert P... I wanted to know why my mom was only an s. She had no explanation. I told her I would never become an s.

I like the "any darn last name you please" rule. That is, after all, what my grandfather did. My last name was made up on Ellis Island.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Nell, I think the researchers were most concerned about the "should" or "must" aspect of the survey. Why not have a flexible rule? Or, since all surnames are patriarchal, let the guy switch to the woman's.....

Nell said...

Darren, what is your opinion as to the constitutionality of any law mandating that women take their husband's last name?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I would think it's unconstitutional - gender discrimination and privacy infringement.

FLRN said...

Hmmm Gender discrimination yes! People are going to come up with other names to call women no matter what we call ourselves so in the interest of fairness we should not be made to take our husband's last name.

I was once talking to a client and her name was Hirkenbaunhaimer - I made a comment about how with that name, 1st grade must have been tough. She smiled and said "no it was tough when I was married to him - I keep it now just to piss him off."

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Purely for the sake of future genealogists and historians (my daughter just graduated with a degree in history, and her final paper involved tracking down a lot of personal data from a previously unpublished antebellum journal), I hope very few people choose the 'just pick any name' route. It's just a heartlessly cruel complication in the lives of the future generations of historians and genealogists.

I think it's easier on the adult children if the nuclear family has the same last name. I don't much care if it's the wife's or the husband's, and it's not really that big of a deal when the children are small- friends whose parents did hyphens or kept their own names tell me it was really more complicated when they grew up and had children.

But really, these are all issues of primarily personal interest- or should be. If I want to take my husband's name (and 26 years ago I did and still do), it's nobody's business but ours, and for those who choose otherwise, I feel the same way.

I find it appalling that 50 percent of the nation thinks this should be mandated by law. That's a bigger issue, as I think you're saying, Professor. That indicates fifty percent of us have no understanding of or care for Constitutional protections of basic civil liberties. That indicates 50 percent of us are far too comfortable with government regulation of the minutia of other people's lives. I'd like to know more about the politics and those who think this way. And I'd like very much to believe the survey was wrong.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Btw, I can't find the story at the Salon link.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Headmistress, We agree! As for the link at Salon - investigating (but it was there earlier).

Leparsdon said...

I had no issue taking my husbands last name. Unlike these women who seem to relish in the sad underbelly of "womanism" I looked forward to changing my last name and starting a family with my husband. To do anything else just seemed silly. I believe that man is the head of the household and as such it was my duty to take him name.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Lepardson: There's a difference between voluntarily taking your husband's name and doing so under the force of the law. Although I do believe this has feminist implications, it is also about Big Brother not telling you what your name has to be.

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