My kids have my husband’s last name, but it was by default. Why wasn’t my surname an option? It’s time to review all the rules of marriage and family, for better or for worse.
I received a wedding invitation a few years ago from a close friend, and the invitation was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Michael Stefnitz. I was surprised and, I admit, a little annoyed because I have never taken my husband’s surname (and this friend knew it!). But receiving the invite made me think: How had I been reduced to merely the letter ‘s’ attached to the end of Mr.?
I was even more disappointed when I asked Google how to address a formal invitation to a married couple—husband and wife. It advised “Mr. and Mrs.” In 2021, when women are busting through glass ceilings in nearly every arena (hello, Madam Vice President Kamala Harris), when the battle cry for women’s rights is louder than ever, how can this be true? No deal. My name is as important to me as my husband’s name is to him.
Why is a man never asked to consider taking his wife’s surname? The only exception is Queen Elizabeth, but even then, Prince Philip was not amused. A woman’s choice is to keep her own name, take her husband’s or hyphenate. The man’s surname is untouched.
Did you know there are only six matriarchal societies in the world? In these communities, women oversee everything from politics and economics to child-rearing, and the men take their wives’ names. How interesting that if one lived in Mosuo, China; Bribri, Costa Rica; Umoja, Kenya; Minangkabau, Indonesia; Akan, Ghana; and Khasi, India, the game would be completely different. That’s it, folks. The rest of the world is set up to put men in positions of power.
This is about playing fair, and as far as I’m concerned, fair is considering all the options—not just defaulting to the man’s surname. It tends to establish, from the beginning of a marriage, who is number one.
I would have loved for my kids to have my last name, or at least have it be an option. They are boys, so in the current setup, that will ensure my husband’s surname continues. Mine will end. I can’t tell you how devastating that is to me.
We are living in a world of change and more than ever, we need to review old rules, dissect their history and decide if they still apply in today’s society (on so many fronts, of course). Let’s not just blindly do what’s easy, labeling it as tradition and viewing it through the lens of sentimentality. Tradition is a comforting word. It tends to convey a romantic notion of what was and should still be. But it stands in the way of progress. Women were once owned. That was tradition. Women didn’t have the right to vote or own property. That was tradition. Tradition has its place but not if it underserves others. It would be nice if it were limited to passing down a family cookie recipe.
Tradition means the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. It’s time to review these long-held beliefs and create new ones.
Maybe one day we will receive an invitation addressed to Ms. and Mr. Jane Bradley. This will be an invitation I will gladly open.