Now that I’m on the wedding circuit, attending the nuptials of friends’ and relatives’ children, I’ve noticed that more and more women are forsaking their maiden name and taking their husband’s instead. In an era of growing marriage and gender equality, this seems a vote for tradition. After the “I do’s,” convention apparently is a favorite choice.
As a woman who insisted on keeping her surname in some form or another, I wonder what this means — and if it matters.
In the past year or so, various studies have confirmed what some of us assiduous observers of all things cultural had already recognized. The MRS. is back in fashion, though if you look at the numbers you might argue it never lost its luster.
A survey conducted by the wedding website TheKnot.com polled nearly 19,000 women who married in 2010. Only 8 percent kept their own last names. And while 8 percent still seems like a hefty figure — only 1 percent of brides stuck with their names in the 1800s — it’s actually quite a drop from the 23 percent who did so in the 1990s. Why? Why haven’t more women stuck with their family name?
I suspect that keeping a maiden name is no longer the statement it once was. Back in the 1970s and even into the ‘80s, there was much debate about why women were expected to give up their family name. The practice seemed to underscore the inequities between husband and wife.
But now, for the most part, the battle for an equal partnership has been largely won. Husbands move for their wives’ careers. Some stay home with the children. Many cook and clean and launder, chores that were once considered solely women’s work.
Danielle Tate, founder of the marital name change website MissNowMrs.com, told a Chicago Tribune reporter that today’s young couples assume equality as a given. “They don’t even fathom not being an equal partner in their relationships, so changing their names isn’t as weighted as it was decades ago,” she said.
When I first married, I decided to keep my maiden name for various reasons, all of which remain important to me even now, though I’m no longer a fresh-faced college graduate staking a claim to the self I was creating. For one, I loved my surname. There was something poetic about it, the way it rhymed with my first. What’s more, Veciana seemed freighted with all kinds of meaning: History. Identity. Culture. Ethnicity. For a girl whose family had moved around so much, it provided an attachment to the rest of the family in the old country, Catalonia. And above all, the name was mine, as part of me as my brown eyes or big feet.
When I finally added Suarez, my first husband’s last name, it was a concession I made reluctantly, the kind of compromise couples learn to negotiate to keep the peace. By the time he had died and I remarried, the hyphenated last name was an integral part of my professional identity. It was on everything of note I had written.
These days hyphenation is passé, but that doesn’t mean the maiden name has been sacrificed at the altar of tradition. Hardly. We women are, if anything, adaptable. Studies also show more are using maiden names as their middle names, thus staying equally loyal to the many ties that bind.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.