Taking a spouse’s surname should still be a choice

I’m usually quite entertained by The Marriage Ref. I like that they seem to take both serious and ridiculous marital squabbles and make them fun, also rewarding all couples with a paid-for second honeymoon. The most recent episode made me quite angry, though—first for constantly reinforcing the idea that in het marriages the husband always wants sex and the wife doesn’t, except when the husband buys her something (i.e., marriage as long-term, monogamous prostitution); and second for unanimously insisting Erica Cobb take her husband’s last name. For a moment, the host actually sided with Erica but then was booed by the audience and the other panelists and then succumbed to the pressure and ended up siding with the husband.

Look, I get “choice feminism.” If a woman wants to take her husband’s last name, cool. If she wants to wear make-up and high heels and be a stay-at-home mom, also cool. All cool if that’s what she wants to do. But if her husband is pressuring her to do those things against her will and then Hollywood strangers are also pressuring her to do those things against her will, that is not cool. No husband has the right in this day and age to demand his wife take his surname. If it’s so damn important both people have the same last name so that the (future) kids will all have the same last name, the husband can change his name to his wife’s surname.

What decade are we living in? The 1950s? Very disheartening…


  1. hah, interesting coincidence, posting about this on the same day.

    You’re completely right. It absolutely has to be a free choice, and this sort of backlash is very disheartening. It does explain why some feminists feel that we should ban namechanges for marriage, but I think that’s the wrong way to go about this. For example, the Quebec law these feminists like would still not prevent this sort of pressure, since the women would simply use the husband’s name inofficially for the required number of years, and then change it officially.

    All this would do is prevent women from changing their name if their marriage is shorter than the waiting period on the namechange.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. We are naming our first child after his mother. Hopefully when he grows up, having his mother’s last name instead of his father’s will give him a reason to question institutional sexism no matter how entrenched in tradition it is.

  3. I told my wife, “It’s up to you; you don’t need to take my last name.” She didn’t. She didn’t with her first husband, either.

    So now, my wife, my stepdaughter, and I all have different last names. And no two of us look alike, either (we’re mixed-race)…

    Can make for lots of fun with people and their “cultural assumptions” — Many think we’ve adopted.

    Does any of this matter? Not in the least…

  4. I too felt pressured to take my husband’s last name but I did not go quietly! I say that tongue in cheek but it took five years before I actually made the change and only because I lost a bet with my husband. This may sound quite strange but I won because the bet was in my favor and my husband won because I changed my name. I was married before and my name was part of my business so it made more sense to not change it but it bugged my new husband because he was always being called Mr. ***** (old married name).

  5. For the topic of surnames, there is no way I am letting my hypothetical future wife change her surname to mine. Apart from the fact I hate my surname, I don’t approve of my name being in my wife’s. I consider it almost like branding my name in her forehead, for my name to become part of hers, and the days of owning people are so far in the past it is ridiculous! I will actually quite like changing my surname to hers, though. I only hope that she will see my logic.

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