In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
In a gem of a Thought Catalog article titled “15 Men React to the Idea of Taking Their Wife’s Last Name After Marriage,” 27-year-old “Ricky,” responds, “If hoards of men started taking their wives’ surnames, it would be an unfortunate and perhaps irreversible step towards a matriarchal goddess culture, which blows for guys because those cultures used to routinely kill male infants and treat males like slaves. In a world where there are already very few incentives for men to get legally shackled, this is one slippery slope I wouldn’t want to slide down.” Ladies, let’s make a pact right now that Ricky never has the opportunity to slide down that slope, k?
In a 2015 Huffington Post poll, only 7 percent of respondents thought it was “great” if a man were to take his wife’s last name. Meanwhile, 40 percent thought it was “a little odd,” and 17 percent felt it was “inappropriate.” The actual number of men choosing to take their wives’ names is so small that “any survey would have trouble picking it up,” according to an expert. And not only is this a cultural anomaly, it’s also legally challenging. While women can take men’s names in all 50 states without any legal pushback, only nine states allowed men to take women’s names through the same process as of 2015. For men in the other 41 states, the name change process can be tedious and expensive, even requiring a man to take out an ad in the local paper for weeks on end, declaring his intention to change his name in order to create a public record.
So imagine my trepidation when taking on this topic that required me to actually find a man who braved the cultural stigma and the legal hurdles of taking his beloved wife’s last name. Every internet article on this topic lists the same two celebrity examples, so I was prepared that this treasure hunt would be exhausting—nay, impossible. But, I am proud to say that when I put out the call, unicorns traveled from all corners of the interwebs to share their tales of woe and victory.
What surprised me the most was that with the majority of couples I talked to, taking the wife’s last name was the husband’s idea. Phil says, “Taking my wife's last name was something I'd been thinking about since high school (far before I met my wife). When we finally met and eventually started talking about marriage, I told her my idea, and it turned out that she had always thought about keeping her last name. So it ended up being serendipitous.” And for good measure, he adds, “I always love any chance to subvert the patriarchy.” Maybe Phil can write the next (first) feminist groom column.
Most of the men I spoke to weren’t necessarily trying to make a political statement, or at least that wasn’t their primary motivation. Reasons for taking their wives’ names varied. Some had personal motives for letting go of their family names, while others just preferred the sound of their wives’ last names, or their wives had already made a name for themselves in their careers. Andy explains, “I knew that I wanted us to have the same last name; to me, it solidified the fact that we were becoming a family. So we went over all of our options, including merging and all that, but taking her name made the most sense.”
Their wives uniformly expressed pleasant surprise and gratitude to their husbands for being the one to sacrifice a piece of their identity, something I wonder if most husbands take for granted when their wives change their names. Julie says, “For me, his suggestion and willingness to take my last name was an awesome gesture of respect.” Ginny agrees: “Emotionally, I felt supported and happy that a big part of my identity didn't need to be compromised because my husband chose to go against tradition and choose what was best for us as a couple.”
The legal challenges the men faced varied by state (and country). For men who live in states that allow men to change their names through the same process women do, the name change went fairly smoothly. Ben, however, says, “I faced some unexpected institutional sexism when trying to do the official part. Nearly every person, at every level of the Social Security Administration, denied my right to change my name via a marriage license because I was a man.” Andy agrees that being a man made the tedious name change process extra difficult: “I still happen upon accounts I have here and there that I forgot to change, and a lot of them require certified copies of your marriage license (which cost money, and which they neglect to send back to you when they're done)," he mentions. "So I live in fear of the day when I find out I forgot to change something important, and I have to explain to someone that I changed my last name when I got married, and they're less likely to believe me because I'm a man and it's uncommon, and suddenly I can't get on a plane or something.”
In terms of social consequences, most said that their families were supportive. Mike was not as lucky: “Socially there was some drama that was actually unforeseen near the wedding when my mother apparently ‘realized I was serious’ about changing my name (we had been talking about it for six years at that point, and she was well aware)," he says. "She insisted we not mention the name change at the wedding and told all of her friends that my wife was taking my last name.”
Despite the legal and social challenges of their name changes, these couples are pleased with their choices. Ben explains, “Now I get to spend the rest of my life as this new person, sharing a new name with the only woman I want to spend my days with. It’s pretty great.” I tip my hat to these husbands because after all, it ain’t easy to be a unicorn.