Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mrs. Hyphenated-Last-Name

It's no secret that most young girls begin planning their weddings from a very early age. But have you ever stopped to consider how much further planning we tend to do when it comes to being married? Some women already know what they want to name their children. Some have already picked out their dinnerware for special occasions. Although I was never one for planning my wedding or decorating my future home, I had already decided upon what I wanted to be called, which is exactly what I'm called now.

That's right. I swore I would not change my last name - not even hyphenate it. I have become so accustomed to my maiden name that calling myself by any other name seemed like . . . how did I describe it? Oh, yes: "an assault on my identity." Naturally I am grinning as I write this. The sentiment just smacks of smug rebellion and self-love. Needless to say, I no longer feel this way about changing my last name. Let's just be clear: there is nothing wrong with keeping one's last name, or hyphenating a last name upon getting married. The problem instead lies within the heart. I don't want to directly quote anyone here, but if you surf the net on your own, you will undoubtedly come across three general reasons women give for not taking their husband's last name:

1. We're both getting married. Why should I take his name? Why doesn't he take mine?

2. That tradition was (allegedly) based on a patriarchal system which symbolized that a woman was the man's property.

3. It would interrupt my career and create all sorts of confusion in my personal life.

The practice of taking your husband's last name has often been associated with Western "patriarchal" culture, but it is more specifically tied to Christianity because it is symbolic of the transformation that takes place when a person is born again. Just as a bride and groom promise to "forsake all others," we reject our former lives when we become born again. We call ourselves Christians to symbolize that we now belong to Christ:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The fact that I swore I'd never change my name because I wanted to cling to my identity showed where my heart was. The Christian life is precisely about forsaking one's old identity in order to embrace a new identity. Granted, a marriage is merely a temporal symbol of the greater thing: eternal union with the Lord, but what are we saying to our husbands when we refuse to take their last names, or insist on clinging to our own names?

Let me stress again that this is a symbolic procedure. If you do not change your last name or if you decide to hyphenate, God will not be displeased with you. In fact, in many cultures (particularly in Latin families) it is customary to hyphenate last names as a way of acknowledging the unity of both families. The stress again is on the condition of one's heart when one makes such a decision. If I insist on maintaining my own identity, I am essentially clinging to self. A love of self cannot be good for my walk with God or for my marriage. We are called as Christians to die to self. There is no more room for "me." In marriage, we exchange "me" for "we." In the Christian life, we exchange "me" for "Thee."

When all else fails, we may want to consider dropping our maiden names in the event that our stubborn desire to hyphenate results in one of these unfortunate combinations. (Warning: Content in this link may be mildly offensive to some readers, but I believe it makes a point!)

6 comments:

Rita Martinez said...

oh I'm one of those whose been planning the wedding day since I turned 15...I even had a folder of pictures of a wedding dress I liked, the shoes, the veil...lol! and definitely I can't wait 'till I'm Mrs. (insert husband's name and last name here) Although it was not always like that, during my "femenist season" before I was a Christian I too hated the idea of having some man's last name I refused to even think about changing it, thank the Lord I'm a new person in Christ now and pretty excited about being a Mrs. Husband's-last-name....my only concern is will I be Dr. Martinez or Dr. Husband's-last-name?

Jennifer said...

To be exact, I was only going to take my husband's last name informally. I was told if you hyphenated, you could use either name legally. So I was going to use my name when it was convenient for me, and I was going to use his name when it was convenient for me. LOL! Me me me me me!! Sounds like I'm warming up for choir practice, doesn't it? :)

Natasa said...

I took my husband last name... in one point I thought that I will add his last name to mine but this solution was to long...

Rita Martinez said...

lol! Jen I had no idea that was the purpose of hyphenating a last name :P

Donna said...

Glad I came across this article, funny because someone just told me about this site so was nice to have the opportunity to check it out.

A friend just told me she's keeping her last name and adding his after marrying last week and that's something that always irked me quite honestly when done by Christians for the reasons you'd mention. However it prompted me to look more into it to ensure it's not a personal judgment and apparently it is, so important to know the history behind things and so changed the way I responded to her (this is all facebook convo)

Jennifer said...

Donna, thanks for sharing. It is always encouraging whenever I hear of someone examining themselves. It's a reminder for me to continue examining myself as well. I may have written this but as time passes I can forget what I've written and become judgmental too. I have a Christian friend who hyphenates and lately I've been thinking, "Why does she do that?" Then you brought up this article again. I completely forgot the part I wrote about Latin families - and my friend is Hispanic. She could be hyphenating for cultural reasons. Just because I would hyphenate for rebellion's sake doesn't mean everyone else does.