Law Should Require Bride To Take Groom's Name -- Really?

Young brides fall back on tradition and drop their maiden name for sake of kids.

November 4, 2011, 4:14 PM

Nov. 7, 2011— -- Julia Levine Rogers thinks of herself as a "strong modern woman," who at 27 has worked in health clinics in Africa and started her own travel business for students.

But when she married Tom Rogers last August in Stowe, Vt., she took his name, even though her own mother had refused to change hers in 1977.

"Choosing to take Tom's name was not a decision I came to lightly," said Rogers, who founded EnRoute Consulting. "I thought a lot about the implications of changing my name, especially since my mother chose to keep her maiden name. I wondered for a while if I was wrongly giving up my identity for an archaic tradition."

According to a variety of surveys, more young women are agreeable to taking a new identity at the altar, though their reasons have nothing to do with subservience.

"In its purist form, marriage is about starting a family, and I wanted to start that family with the same name," she said. "Eventually it came down to practicality and what felt right."

Like Rogers, an overwhelming majority of all brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for a woman who refused to take her husband's name in 1855.

Another survey, published last spring in the journal Gender and Society, finds that at least half of those queried said they would agree that a name change should be a requirement for marriage.

"It absolutely shocked us," said co-author Brian Powell, who is a professor of sociology at Indiana University.

Powell surveyed 815 Americans of all genders and educational and economic backgrounds, asking them if they "agreed" or "did not agree" with certain statements on views of family. More than 70 percent of women said they agreed that a woman should change her name at marriage. And half said "yes" when asked whether making the name change a state law was a good idea.

"Who are these 50 percent -- men?" asked Leslie Gately, a 28-year-old who lives in New York City and is engaged to be married next year. "I think that laws should have little to do with marriage, and the less government involvement the better."

Her fiance, Mike, has urged her to take his name, but she said it "feels a bit weird giving up a name I have had for so long ? [It] seems almost like giving up my family -- and it sort of make me feel like someone else's property."

Then she realizes her surname came from her father, and wonders, is she his property? Still, taking her fiance's name, another common Irish surname, wouldn't be so "drastic," she said. It would be Gately-Crowley.

Her own mother never legally changed her name.

In some ways women like Rogers, and perhaps Gately, have "reverted back," after their mothers' generation pioneered retaining their own names.

"Baby boomers are more likely to define themselves as feminists than young adults, even if their children share more liberal views," said researcher Powell.

An examination of The New York Times wedding announcements from 1971 to 2005 revealed that about 18 percent of brides kept their own names. Only 1 percent did in the 1980s, according to the 2009 study published in Social Behavior and Personality.

Catholics are less likely to keep their maiden names, followed by Protestants and Jews, according to a March 2011 survey in Names: A Journal of Onomastics.

The ultimate decision is really tied up in how women perceive their identity.

"One woman said I did change my name when I married my husband and I was sorry, because I lost my original identity as a person," said Powell. "But many focus on the collective identity of a family or their identity as the spouse of a husband."

Gay Men Tend to Keep Own Names

About half of the participants in his survey said they would approve of a man taking his wife's name, but others thought that was laughable.

Powell, who included this survey in his book, "Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definition of Family," also noted that gay couples -- at least men -- seemed to prefer keeping their given names.

Such is the case with Matt Thompson, a 31-year-old asset manager from Virginia. He and his fiance, Dan, are "unlikely" to change their names. "There is enough confusion to be recognized as a couple, let alone getting the rest of our social life on board with a name change."

But taking on a new name isn't always about identity, according to Michelle Almeyda-Wiedemuth, a Long Island wedding planner who owns Unforgettable Hamptons Events.

"Some women just don't like their husband's last name or they don't want to go though the hassle of changing all their documents," she said. "And some keep their name for financial reasons; their new husband may have bad credit and they don't want to be tied to that."

One Greek-American bride was so tired of telling people how to pronounce her name that she took her husband's.

"She said she was looking forward to her new five-letter last name and her first name fitting on the same line of her license," said Almeyda-Wiedemuth.

A second woman came from a dysfunctional family and thought a new name would mean a new beginning -- "like she had grown out a bad perm and was chopping off and discarding the ugly remains," she said. "The third was a foreigner, and she didn't want there to be any issues with her obtaining a green card."

As for Almeyda-Wiedemuth, who is 36, she hyphenated.

"Marriage is the union of two families," she said. "I am a product of the family that raised me and the family I choose to become a part of."

And sometimes, taking on a new name restores an old one.

Jenn Berman, a psychologist who hosts Sirius XM radio's "Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn," said she was thrilled to take her husband's name, because her own father had changed the family's name from Imberman to Mann.

"My father had a made-up family name, but his original name had been Berman," she said. "My mom used her maiden name personally and her married name professionally. I found it really complicated for me and I didn't want my kids to have the same confusion."

Berman gets calls from couples trying to decide what to do when they marry.

"It's something most women struggle with today," she said. "Identity is huge and this generation of women, especially those who have careers and are more educated, understand the history and what it means. They don't want to give it up."

Such was the case -- at least initially -- with Jordan von Trapp, a photojournalist from Moretown, Vt., who thought she would never take her husband's name.

"Throughout my life, whenever the topic would come up, I would answer with a 'no way,'" said von Trapp, 30.

"My father died when I was 11 and I grew up with my mother, step-father and my little sister," she said. "My mom never changed hers. My step-father and little sister shared a last name, so I grew up in a house with three different last names. It was confusing and it got a little stale having to explain to everyone."

But when she met her now-husband Dan, she realized, "Getting married is about the unbreakable bond of oneness."

"The only thing that really matters is the love between us," said von Trapp. "It is about joyously pledging our hearts and lives together forever ... A simple name change is an additional and relatively easy way to add to the expression of that emotion."

The couple's wedding ceremony, held on a mountaintop on the farm where they now make their home, was so special that von Trapp now promotes their property, Bliss Ridge, as a wedding venue.

Now, one year into marriage, she realizes, "The importance of carrying on my dad's name faded after all."

"It's just a name, a word," said von Trapp. "The importance of having the same name as my other half, no matter what it was, was paramount."

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