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Your Surname After Marriage

A wife taking her husband’s surname after marriage, is the traditional option for an overwhelming majority of Australians (approx. 80%). Before you get married though, it’s a nice thing to consider – where did the tradition come from? Is it a requirement? Why do women still change their name? What other options are there? How will it affect the couple if they decide to follow or forgo the tradition?

For most of us in Australia, our lives are deeply steeped in our English roots. Like it or not, we are a commonwealth country. We speak the language (although we improved it a bit), enjoy their comedy, and we don’t mind a parade or a cup of tea now and then. The tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name traces all the way back to the Norman conquest of England and the laws of coverture. Back then, a woman lost her own identity and all her personal rights and freedoms when she got married. She simply become “Wife of…”, and so the status of the name showed who she belonged to. Thankfully we are centuries away from this archaic concept of being any man’s possession, but the tradition of taking a husband’s name is still around, so why?  

Before I carry on though, it’s important to understand that in Australia there is no requirement at all for you to take your husband’s name after marriage. It is a personal choice, and like every choice we make, look at the reasons, the benefits, and the potential issues, and decide if it’s for you. You may even come from a culture where the tradition is to keep your own name, and so perhaps considering changing your name after marriage contrasts with what your own family would like. Below are just some of the reasons why you would choose to change your name.

A Family Name
 A surname is a nice way of showing that a group of people all belong together and are a single unit. When mum, dad and all the kids check in for that holiday in Fiji, and you’re all “Jones”, no one can make up any conjecture of how you all got to be there together. A family name also carries the tradition of the man’s family down the line of descendants – “Those Richardson’s have lived in this town for generations”, and it keeps that family legacy flowing for the next generations.

Traditional Expectation
Your mum and your grandmother did it, and so did your in-laws, your aunts and uncles and everyone else that you know. My own mother once commented “Well if you don’t change your name, you aren’t really married”. We do a lot of things because everyone else does the same and these are traditions that confer meaning and importance to our everyday lives. It’s up to the couple to decide what is meaningful to them because that is who is at the heart of every marriage. There’s no right or wrong.

Shows Commitment
When a woman takes her husband’s name it is a gesture of her commitment to her vows. Like any gesture, its strength is in the personal meaning it holds for the couple.

For the Children
Many couples choose to keep a single surname for their kids. Maybe it’s because they feel that it’s easier for young children to understand, or there is a desire that children grow up in the same kind of family that they did – which includes family traditions and names.

Those are just a few reasons why women still change their names after marriage, but times are changing. We’re living in a different age, where every individual has a voice, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and changing your name, and possibly giving up a part of your identity is a big deal for some, so rest assured – there are modern alternatives. Same sex couples are in a challenging position because as a community they are forging new traditions and so need to find an option that best reflects their values.

Ladies, you can keep your own name – and if you do, you aren’t alone – there’s a growing number of women choosing the same option. If you prefer something traditional you can take your partners surname but keep yours as a middle name.  There are also men who take on their wives names, especially when she night have a stronger reputation and celebrity tied to her name. You can opt for a hyphenated name, and with a bit of extra effort, you can even conjoin both your surnames or parts of the surname to create a new one. Remember that what you do on paper for your passport and ID documents doesn’t have to match how you informally introduce yourselves to your family and friends. When you meet a new friend, they don’t ask for photo ID to prove you are who you say you are!

The wonderful thing about living in Australia is that we have a choice. No one has the right to tell us how we must identify ourselves after marriage. Whatever you choose as a couple, it’s the right choice for the two of you.