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Say “I Do” to the Name Change

| April 2, 2013

The Globe and Mail once suggested that women who get married should say “I don’t” to changing their name. It cited research from the Netherlands, which demonstrates that a woman who assumes her partner’s name upon marriage is regarded as more emotional, less intelligent, less competent and less ambitious. Moreover, she supposedly will be less likely to be hired for a job and will likely earn much less than a woman who keeps her own name.

In my opinion, the research (and the Globe and Mail’s foreboding advice) demonstrates more about a prevalent bias against marriage, motherhood, and womanhood than it does about the competence,  intelligence and ambition of women who change their names.

First, it’s important to note that the researchers and participants of the study were unmarried college students. Since college students have not yet embarked on a career, it’s safe to assume that their perceptions are not based on their experience with married women in the workforce, but rather on what they’ve been taught about the ideals to which women ought to aspire.

College students have been have been taught that if a woman is smart, she will be career-minded, independent, and calculating—a high-earner, who is fiercely intent on reaching the highest rung on the career ladder. They’ve been trained to believe that it would be a “waste” for a smart woman to spend her life on family rather than career. Those women who value marriage, family, and commitment above career—those who get married and/or change their name, become dependent on a man, or give up anything for him—are regarded by today’s students as either less competent, or just plain dumb.

Unfortunately, it may take several decades of life experience for it to dawn on them that this simply isn’t true. And by then, their course will be set, and it will be too late.

Should you say “I do” to changing your name when you get married? I think there are six biblically-based reasons why it may be a good idea:

  1. Unity:  Scripture says that when you become married, you become one flesh with your husband.  Changing your name to his reflects that fact. (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5)
  2. Identification: Scripture teaches that it’s the man who launches out to establish a new family unit. Changing your name to his, and naming your children with the same name, identifies all of you as part of his family unit. (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5)
  3. Commitment: Changing your name indicates that you are making a permanent, life-long commitment to your husband, and will henceforth be identified as being inseparably linked to him. (Rom. 7:2; Matt. 19:6)
  4. Roles: Changing your name to his indicates that you affirm the biblical pattern of your husband being the head of your marriage and household. (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5)
  5. Paradigm: Since the relationship between husband and wife is a paradigm of the relationship between Christ and the church, Christian women who change their name model and bear witness to the reality of Christ changing our names when we enter a relationship with Him. We—the church Bride—identify ourselves with Him and are called by His name when we become one with Him. Christ’s bride is rightly called by her Husband’s name. A woman who changes her name bears witness to this part of the gospel story. (Isa. 43:7, Acts 15:17, 2 Chron. 7:14, Rev. 3:12; 14:1)
  6. Precedence: Adam named Eve. Twice. (Gen. 2:23; 3:20)

It can be argued that whether or not a woman uses her husband’s name is a cultural practice. But in my mind, culture cannot be separated from ideology. A culture’s practice is based on that culture’s belief system. The reason our culture is deviating from the practice of a woman adopting her husband’s name is due to a devaluation of marriage and emphasis on woman’s independence from man.

More and more women are keeping their names, or hyphenating their names, or negotiating with their husbands to change both names to a new, blended name. Although the Bible doesn’t directly address this issue, and while I don’t thing it’s “wrong” for a woman to keep her maiden name, I believe there are compelling reasons for a Christian wife to take on her husband’s name when she gets married.

Contrary to popular media opinion, saying “I Do” to changing your name may, in fact, be more intelligent than saying “I Don’t.”


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Comments (11)

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  1. Anonymous says:


  2. Kay says:

    Mary, Thanks for once again giving good, sound answers to a question that would otherwise probably trip us all up. You’ve equipped me with some intelligent and relevant reasons for still doing one more thing “the old fashioned way.”

  3. Silvia says:

    I never thought that my name would tell me how Christ centered my family is, despite my prayers and willingness to serve Christ through my marriage.

  4. Well said! I appreciate the reasoning you provided in this article.

  5. Ashley says:

    I think the article hit on a few good points, but I still believe that the article fell short in a few places.

    Taking on the husband’s last name is simply a Western tradition; it has little to do with Biblical standards; it is more of a cultural practice. In China, for example, the woman keeps the same name all of her life and I can’t see evidence that the Bible looks down upon that.

    The five arguments brought up in favor of name changing (unity, identification, commitment, roles and paradigm) appear to be very weak.

    1. Unity. Yes, the wife becomes one flesh with her husband…which means logically, the husband becomes one flesh with his wife. So, if we’re talking about “unity” why don’t we use both last names? The argument is based on a fallacy; basically, you are saying “the husband and wife are one; let’s choose the husband’s name” the conclusion you drew doesn’t seem like it would flow logically from your premise. If the husband and wife are ONE it appears they should either combine their names or take on both names.

    2. Identification. The problem with this is that you are talking about the family is it if it HIS family unit; not THEIR family unit. Children should be able to identify with their mother and father equally and not favor one over the other. This argument (about it being the man’s family unit) actually contradicts your previous point about unity. How can their be unity of two parties and yet the family should only be allowed to identify with one party of the unit? This is poor reasoning.

    3. Commitment. Again, I don’t understand how you are coming to this one. For example, I know a female attorney that did not change her name and yet she has a very happy marriage with her husband (in fact, I know many). You cannot argue, then, that commitment is shown by who changes their last name – I would not argue that is even a significant factor in commitment.

    Secondly, the argument is also flawed because the article said, “changing your name will indicates you are making a commitment to your husband.” Wait a minute – using that logic, the husband is also making a commitment to his wife, so why doesn’t he change his name? Basically, you are saying that both parties should be committed, so the wife should change her name and the husband should keep his. Besides being in direct contradiction, it makes no sense.

    4. Roles. I’m not hear to argue about roles, but I don’t see how not taking on my future husband’s last name will somehow make me a usurper.

    5. Paradigm. First, I’d like to point out the Scripture verses that were linked on at the end were taken poorly out of context. When Isaiah talks about those who were called in God’s name, he meant that some were called in the name of God…I don’t think you can argue that means women should change their last names to match their husbands.

    In the end, I think it is fine for a woman to change her last name when she is married if she feels it is right. My take on it is, name changing has mainly been a cultural practice and I can’t see any Biblical principals that apply.

    • Mary Kassian says:

      Although different cultures have different practices when it comes to marital names, I think it’s important to remember that cultures do not reflect/apply biblical principles equally well. Some cultures are much closer to the biblical pattern than others.

      Some languages, for example, do not use the generic “man” to represent mankind–as both male and female. No such word exists in Chinese, though it exists in Hebrew. Therefore, though the Chinese language is rich and beautiful, it is not as conducive to communicating the idea of “adam” representing the entire human race, and all the associated theological implications contained in the Hebrew language. In this instance, the German language, which has a generic word “Mench” for mankind is more true and faithful to communicating biblical truth than the Chinese language is.

      The bottom line is that just because a woman in China keeps her name her whole life doesn’t mean the practice is equally valid as the Judeo-Christian tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name. Various cultural practices are not equally biblically faithful and precise. The Chinese culture shines when it comes to honoring the aged–in that practice, they are more biblically precise than others. It is the Bible that ought to inform our culture–and not the other way around.

      I agree with you that since the Bible doesn’t directly address marital names, we must exercise grace, and that there is room for personal discretion. However, I do believe that the Judeo-Christian tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name (which you call the Western tradition) has strong biblical support.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bottom line is, yes they’re equal,
      but the man is the head of household. Changing her last name will honor that.

  6. Caroline says:

    While I use my husband’s name, and am happy to do so, for many of the reasons you suggest, I would hate to make this a rule, as to some extent, this is cultural, not Biblical. As an example, I know a missionary couple from the Solomon Islands, who have different names, as they told me is normal in their culture, and this does not seem to affect their unity, identification as a family, commitment, roles, or their ability to model Christ and the church.

    Also, and this might seem a bit of an odd point, relating to your point 2: It has always seemed a bit strange to me that, though the Bible says “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined unto his wife”, in our naming practice it seems more like a woman has left her mother and father and become part of her husband’s extended family (which he was supposed to have left, in some sense). Maybe a new name would reflect the reality of Genesis 2:24 better than just wives taking their husband’s father’s name! But I wouldn’t do it myself because in our society it would be making a statement that could easily be misinterpreted.

    But I think that your wider point about bias against marriage, motherhood and womanhood is true. So in our society (BTW I am Australian, but I think the same issues probably apply) I think it is a potent symbol to use your husband’s name. Just so long as we remember that this is a matter of Christian freedom, and do not leap into judgement upon women who do not do so.

  7. Basically, it is in our culture and norm that once you get married, you will be bearing your husband’s surname. Saying “I Don’t” to the name change is a silent protest and rebellion in this culture, specifically our patriarchal culture.

    This is one of the simple advocates of the feminists. So sad I heard that there is a woman pastor in the umbrella of our denomination who seldom use her husband’s surname (only when she has to) and yet completes her maiden name still. Some of our women see it that changing your surname will mean changing you and being subordinate with your husband.

  8. Hyphenated says:

    Maybe keeping your maiden name works well in Holland but not in our North American culture. 22 years ago, I added my husband’s name onto mine with a hyphen for two reasons. Professionally, I was working as a freelance artist and I wanted to keep my name in tact for business. My groom was not particularly proud of his family name. But I, on the other hand, was very proud of my family name. So, in went the hyphen.

    It never effected our unity as a family. What it does effect is communication with everyone else. People became confused by my hyphenated name. I even had one older woman become downright nasty about it and refused to use my maiden name on anything. People can’t find my phone number because they assume I use my married name. People that know my husband don’t know my name is different. If I’m listed in a organization directory under my maiden name people can’t find a number for my husband or children. Doctor’s offices, hospitals, insurance companies…. lose my files or have trouble finding them because their computer won’t do a hyphen. Sometimes they file under actual name and sometimes under my family name. Too much confusion for what seemed to be a simple choice.

    In hindsight, I should have been more humble about taking my husband’s name. I should have respected the culture and gone with the flow. Living in a computer age has not make it easier. Professionally the change would not have effected me as much as I originally thought. Together my husband, my children and I have worked to build respect of OUR family name so we can be proud of it. Even so, I would encourage my girls without a doubt to take their husband’s name minus the maiden name and the hyphen. It’s not worth the confusion.

    In the province of Quebec, Canada, you are forbidden to take your husband’s name. Many married women I know in Quebec wish they had that freedom.

  9. Kelly says:

    I think that there may be Biblical-based reason for taking the name of your husband when you marry, but I hesitate to say that it is required by the Bible.

    People in Biblical times did not even have last names. You have to have a certain amount of population in order to need to differentiate between Johns. Should a woman who is a Christian in a tribe in rural Africa take a last name in order to fulfill this mandate, even if they don’t have last names in their village?

    Traditionally, names are a reflection of ancestry, not your current family unit. Consider Simon bar-Jonah. His name was Simon son of Jonah. His last name reflected his father.

    While my husband was in graduate school, we met a couple from Iceland where every person in their family had a different last name. Why? Because they held on to this traditional naming system, which we see used in the Bible. The husband was Thor Finnson. His wife was Hana Eriksdatter. They had a boy and a girl and their last names were Thorsson and Thorsdatter.

    If we continue to look to Biblical names for the standard, then women might need to change their names to reflect their sons. Which Mary do we read about in the Bible? Well, there is Mary the mother of Jesus (not listed as the wife of Joseph) as well as Mary the mother of James and John. Many Muslims follow this custom still. If you meet a woman named Umm Bilal, then her name is “mother of Bilal.”

    I think that the reality is that the wife taking the name of her husband is a reaction against feminism in Western culture. It reflects your view of marriage. It makes sense to keep the Western practice for that reason, but I think to call it “Biblically-based” is to read our culture INTO the text rather than to use the practices which were actually in the text.