Women Who Refuse To Take Their Husband’s Surnames

by | January 28, 2018 | General | 6 comments

I found this article about women who did not take their husband’s surnames upon marriage interesting and I do agree with it to some extent. I took my first husband’s surname. That marriage ended in an ugly divorce. I kept my maiden name when I married my second husband, and we’re going strong over 20 years later. Take all that as you like.

I kept my maiden name because it’s my name. I am already known well by that name. I used it for my past political and feminist writing. I am aware of the irony of my maiden name coming from my father – another man – but I didn’t sign over my identity by changing my name upon marriage. That’s how I see name changing for me personally. I already have an identity and I didn’t want the hassle of changing a multitude of legal forms. I could have taken my maiden name as my middle name and my husband’s name as my married name but I rejected that, too. I did that for my first marriage. Switching back and forth before and after that marriage was a pain in the ass.

The problem is that the description of men whose wives do not take their surnames as being perceived as being “less masculine” in the article from the Independent seems to be seen as a negative thing. Far from it. How do we define what is masculine? The traditional definition seems to me to be somewhat harmful to men. Some positive attributes considered masculine include being assertive and ambitious. However, “Real” men are also strong who keep their emotions in check. Big boys don’t cry. Brute force is a positive thing. And what’s wrong with a man being seen as more feminine? A balance between stereotypes would go a long way towards showing more humanity.

Those who decried the research (the term “hostile sexism” was thrown about) thought of men whose wives did not take their surnames were “disempowered as a result of their wife’s decision.” That’s a load of crap.

This statement also intrigued me: “A woman’s marital surname choice therefore has implications for perceptions of her husband’s instrumentality, expressivity, and the distribution of power in the relationship,” explains lead author Rachael Robnett. My marriage is not traditional. The power is evenly distributed throughout our relationship. There is no God-ordained leader in my household. I’m not submissive and when I’m upset or angry I feel free to express myself without repercussions, unlike my first marriage. That’s not related to whether or not I took my husband’s name but due to the nature of each marriage.

I also kept my maiden name upon my second marriage because I had taken his surname for my first marriage. I had done it once and didn’t see a need to do it again. I also didn’t have a traditional white wedding for my second wedding. We had a nondenominational ceremony in our backyard with me in a green lace dress. The town clerk officiated. Our sons and my son’s best friend attended. Then we went inside, had my chocolate sachertorte wedding cake I had baked and watched Hellraiser. Hey, there are newlyweds in that movie! It’s appropriate!

I am probably viewed as non-traditional in my marriage, my actions, and beliefs. According to previous studies, “women who violate the marital surname tradition are viewed differently from others. They are described in terms of instrumental traits that in a gendered society are typically assigned to men. These include having a higher status, wielding more power, being more self-focused, ambitious and assertive. These traits contrast with the expressive characteristics that are typically assigned to women, such as being more nurturing, kind and having less influence and power.” My husband freely expresses his emotions like sadness and insecurity as well as anger. Why is anger seen as a masculine emotion? I see why nurturing is seen as feminine since women traditionally have raised children, but that is not an exclusively feminine characteristic.

My point in this rambling post is that keeping my maiden name was a personal choice between my husband and I with my feelings being paramount. Maybe it reflects the dynamics of my second marriage, maybe not. I just know that traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity can be harmful to both men and women. It’s time we viewed ourselves as individual human beings with our own wants and needs and not be held hostage by stereotypes.

Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Cleis Press, Xcite Books, Scarlet Magazine, Circlet Press, and others. She also writes dark fiction and horror as E. A. Black. She lives in Massachusetts next to the ocean with her husband, son, and three cats. The beach calls to her and she listens.


  1. Larry Archer

    My wife didn’t take my name when we married and I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t own her and taking my name doesn’t help or hinder our marriage. If I had to change my name when I got married, I’m not sure I’d be happy with it.

  2. Elizabeth Black

    I wonder if changing names will fade out of popularity down the road? I know some think that it would be a problem when having children but that’s what hyphens are for. I know plenty of people with hyphenated last names. I figure people build up a reputation with a name and it’s a pain in the butt to change it all upon marriage or divorce. Too much paperwork for my taste.

  3. Lisabet Sarai

    I think the custom is already dying out, at least among some segments of society. I never even considered taking my husband’s surname. And he never suggested that I should.

    Of course, we do have a company that uses a conjunction of both our surnames.

  4. Elizabeth Black

    That seems to be the more common way of doing it, Lisabet – some form of both surnames. I’d like to know more about how the custom is dying out. Research time! The nature of marriage itself seems to be changing, especially over the past 20 with the changes in marriage, divorce, and child custody law. It remains to been seen where it all goes.

  5. Jean Roberta

    I agree that the custom seems to be dying out, especially among women who already have an established “brand” under their pre-married (I hesitate to say “maiden”) family names.

    In the 1970s, I was married to a man who never stopped trying to force me to take his name, and I never stopped resisting because I wanted to keep one little thing of my own. Friends of mine often asked if I resented letting our daughter have his family name. I honestly didn’t, because that seemed like a completely different issue. After all, she is biologically descended from her father and his ancestors, so that name represents her roots in another country. She has kept her birth-name while married, and she has visited the Old Country, where she met relatives with the same name. I’m glad she found them.

  6. Larry Archer

    I find it interesting that no males have commented on this post.

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