When it comes to equality, particularly within the family, my parents are very progressive. My mom is a very strong, independent, determined and self-motivated woman. My dad is a devoted husband and a patient, hardworking father. They are the loving parents of four girls. We were all raised with a deep understanding of the equality of genders and a strong sense of self-worth and independence as young girls. So ever since I became consciously aware that my mom took my dad’s last name (I was probably around 10 years old), I naturally felt that something wasn’t right. Why my mom? I wondered. And since then, I haven’t stopped asking myself and everyone I can: why is it that it’s mostly women who take the husband’s last name after marriage?
There are still many places where the father’s last name must be the family’s name, or where, as in Latin America, children take both parents’ last names but the father’s comes first; and even though in many places it’s now a matter of choice, it’s still common practice for the wife and children to take the father’s last name. Even in rare cases when the wife keeps her own name, her children will still carry the father’s.
I’ve heard many justifications over the years, mostly around the following statements: “to maintain family unity”, “to begin a life together with a fresh start”, “to disassociate from her single years”, “it’s just a name, it doesn’t mean anything”, and a large number of more groundless excuses, in my opinion. I’m not saying there’s necessarily something wrong with a wife taking her husband’s last name, but I am asking why. Sure, it’s just a name and our true identity lies within our minds and souls, and sure, we want to identify as one family, and sure, I don’t want to hold on to my single years; but why isn’t this change made by the husband? Is it for the sake of tradition? That’s not a good enough reason.
In modern day society, where there are many single or divorced mothers who take custody of the children, and all sorts of new types of families, traditions like this become absurd. I’ve seen single mothers struggling to force the father to recognize their child and give his last name just because it’s the country’s law, or because they’re afraid of public shame. But really, why? What for? What good will come out of it? Is his last name going to bring more bread to the table? I guess in some cases it will since some selfish men probably won’t provide for the child if it hasn’t been legally registered under his name. But it would be so much easier to just pass on the mother’s last name in these cases; it seems more practical and fair.
I’ve also read about women who, after divorce, wish their children had their last name, and about some who even go through the lengthy and tedious process of court in order to change their children’s name into their mother’s. So for married parents, why not take her last name as a family name? If, unfortunately, the parents end up splitting up (which is, according to statistics, a 50% chance) it’s the mother who will, most likely, keep the children. I’m not saying this should necessarily be the rule, but if you live somewhere where you can choose, why not even consider that option instead of taking the father’s last name by default?
I once heard a woman say that she would take her future husband’s last name because she knows that as a mother she will already be more connected to the family than the father, so giving the family the father’s last name will make him feel the same connection and will compensate for the fact that he didn’t carry their children for nine months. I love my dad. I think he’s the kindest man on Earth, and I don’t think that if I had my mom’s last name I would feel any less love for my dad. I don’t feel that I would think of him as any less of a man. And I’m definitely certain that he wouldn’t feel that his daughters were any less of his children.
I think a man is as capable of feeling unconditional love for his family as a woman is, and I don’t see why “just a name” would have to affect his connection to his family. Besides, it’s because of the fact that she carried them inside for nine months that she deserves to have her name considered as an option to pass on to her new born.
Zoe Saldana’s husband took her name and this was “news”. I praise him for his humbleness and courage, but this shouldn’t even be a big deal, not in the 21st century. Although I understand society is still too conservative to see a man who takes his wife’s last name as ordinary, it’s time to revise some of those traditions that perpetrate a primitive culture of superiority of one gender over another. The principle behind this tradition is the only thing I’m against. Let’s think about what’s behind this tradition of men keeping their identities and women losing them. Women’s last names end up vanishing completely in their families, and consequently the children end up disassociating themselves with their mother’s maiden name as if it was never important, when it actually represents her side of the family (but only her father’s side, because her mother’s last name already vanished when she got married). It’s like she doesn’t have her own identity; she goes from being someone’s daughter to someone’s husband to someone’s mother, with her identity always in relation to someone else, always belonging to someone else. Yes, men are also sons, husbands are fathers, but through their names they get to pass on their identity to a whole new family as if the family was only of their creation. This reinforces their original identity. Keeping their names, regardless of what they choose to do in their lives, is a self-confirmation of power and superiority, as if they are unshakable and the rest will mold into their frame. This same idea repeats in the fact that women are given different titles throughout their lives that emphasize their marital status: Miss, Ms. or Mrs., but boys get to be misters all the way to their gravestones. So what importance does the woman’s identity have? Why is it so easy to get rid of it? This represents where we, as society, put women. And it’s sad. Our understanding as a world society of each of these two genders is sad.
Having said all this, if I get married, of course I would appreciate it if my husband wants to take my last name -I mean, nothing more attractive than that level of progressiveness and confidence in a man- but, considering that I would want to start a marriage thinking only about unity, I would be happy to create a new last name for our family, either a mix of both or a whole new one. I think that would really contribute to family unity in this mundane aspect.