Changing your surname to your partner’s last name is often a custom that is expected and not discussed until someone questions why. In a shift away from tradition, it is becoming more common for partners to keep their own surnames and ditch the admin that comes with changing your name.
Where the tradition stems from
Historically, it all started in medieval England where people were known by their Christian names – just a first name. It started to go pear-shaped when names were recycled and there were more than one person with the same name. To distinguish between individuals as well as families, a second name, or surname rather, was chosen for the familial ‘group’ according to occupation or location. It was only later that women who got married had to take on the surname of the man purely based on superiority and patriarchy. This meant the woman had no legal identity apart from the man, and of course the same went for a newborn baby girl who automatically took her father’s surname. Women couldn’t vote, sign a contract, be independently recognised or even start a business if they did not take their husband’s surname.
Changing your name
Our identity is intimately linked to our names. Letting go of that name is hard – it feels like you’re letting go of a part of yourself, even though it won’t change who you are. For example, you could have an Indian surname but marrying a German might make you feel like you can’t identify with your heritage anymore.
Let’s be honest, it’s a shlep. In most cases it’s the woman who will change her maiden name or opt for a hyphenated version of her surname and her husband’s surname. In same-sex marriages it’s the same situation, but it all comes down to the legal aspect of changing every single account or legal document of your entire existence. In South Africa, as of 1992 it is legal for a woman to use her maiden surname, her husband’s surname or, as of 1977, a double-barreled surname after she is married. It’s a lengthy process but it’s not impossible, just be prepared to stand in a few queues.
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Keeping your maiden name
For women who have a professional career or a namesake business, it will make things much easier should you wish to keep your maiden name. If you are also the last female family member in line holding onto your specific surname, you might want to keep it. Currently in South Africa, it’s not possible for a man to take a woman’s surname without going through a whole process since there is no set procedure for doing so.
With that said, changing your surname to match you husband’s means you will pass it on to your children, so that everyone in your immediate family shares the the same surname. This traveling easier for everyone and it creates a feeling of unity.
The bottomline is…
It is totally up to you. It is no longer a law that a wife absolutely has to take her husband’s surname, you have to consider what it means to you. More often than not the decision will be purely emotional, rather than practical.