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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.”