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Ivy Nguyen

It is the scripture on your birth certificate. It is the label people attach to your identity. It is the tread between you and your family, those who you love most. It is your name, and it plays a huge role in your individuality in the modern age, prompting the question: what makes women want to change such a huge part of themselves after getting married in America? What is the root of this practice specifically enforced in American society? Every other country around the world does not conform to such a tradition. For example, according to the New York Times, China, Vietnam, and Korea enforce the practice of retaining one’s surname after marriage, as to trace ancestry by paternal lineage. Even Greece and France, as stated by Time Magazine, forbid women from changing their surname legally. So, where did this practice stem from in America, and how did it become so trendy that no one stops to think about changing their surname twice upon marriage? Was it created out of love, or just out of the need to possess someone else?

The sad news is—the answer is the latter. As the early ages of America unfolded, it was common belief that women were merely just property of men, for when she “married a man, she was deprived of independent legal existence,” according to the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy. Although it started as a custom only adopted in America, it became the new law around the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries—in which the law forbade a married woman from participating “in activities such as driving or voting” if she did not bear her husband‘s surname. Thus, the trend of changing one’s surname after marriage was established within the States, which has now transformed into the everyday norm in America. It has been etched into the minds of so many American women that only around 20% of women opt to keep their maiden name after marriage, as stated by the New York Times. The tradition proves to have a huge impact on a woman’s decision upon marriage even today, as society often supports the notion of changing their maiden name, putting pressure on them to conform to the norm.

But is it necessarily a bad practice to follow in modern times? Despite how it stemmed from the oppression of women in society, many believe that as long as the choice lies in the married couple to change their last names, it is not as brutally sexist as it was back in the day.

Mrs. Martin, a Spanish teacher at Conard High School, for example, loves her new surname, viewing the change as symbolic to her “love, loyalty, and dedication to her husband.” The choice was not based on her husband’s need to possess her or put ownership on her, and was rather established for a closer sense of connection between her husband and herself. As she states, she does not need to keep her maiden name, Lovallo, to know that she “was always a Lovallo—[she] knows who [her] family is deep down.” For her, the choice was uncomplicated and simple due to her grounded roots.

Others, however, struggle with the implications of changing their maiden name. Having upheld her reputation with her name for so long, Mrs. Hess-Marcoux, a Social Studies teacher at Conard, admits: “I struggled with this decision a lot, and I thought about it for months.” To her, her name was the most symbolic in who she was, as it was “who people knew [her] as, and it represents what [she] has done in [her] life.” She could not let go of that part of herself easily.

The bright side is: she does not have to. With the open-minded society of 2018, women have the choice to change their name, keep their name, or even hyphenate it—which is exactly what she did.

On reasons as to why she ended up hyphenating her name, she explains: “It just came down to how I wanted to feel like I was a part of his family. I believe that when two people get married they become one … that was a really important thing for me. But I’m also an independent woman, and I didn’t want to lose my identity.”

Mrs. Theroux-Hui, an English teacher at Conard who also chose to hyphenate her name, agrees that it was a way to “maintain her identity but still be a part of [her husband’s] family.” Now that she has kids, she also likes that she has her husband’s name, as she “shares it with them.”

Hyphenation, however, is not always the easy route to take when considering the paperwork that must be done to make it happen. It also makes a hassle whilst introducing themselves to others, as both Mrs. Hess-Marcoux and Mrs. Theroux-Hui admit. But as Mrs. Hess-Marcoux also adds: “I think a hyphen can make things more difficult, long, and annoying, but then I think about it, and it really is reflective of who I am—it’s a little bit of me, and a little bit of him, and that’s more important than the difficulties surrounding it.”

The truth is that there is a lot of change occurring within this era. Almost anything can be done in the modern age without much judgment. Even men, such as Social Studies teacher Mr. Bassi, are open to change. As he would not choose to take her wife’s last name, he would “never ask her to take his” either. He respects the choices women make for themselves.

As he states, this originally oppressive practice is not “necessarily bad, provided women make that choice consciously, and they’re not making that choice because they feel like they don’t have a choice. Whatever name they choose, as long as it’s what they want, and they’ve had time to think about it, then things will be okay.”

Yes, this practice did stem from the oppression of women in society. But as more women are becoming independent and their roles in society are evolving, their choices are expanding and ever growing as well. The present is shaping out to be a better future for women and their choices—even with something as simple as their last name.  

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