Why don’t more men take their wife’s surname?

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Like most men, Mike hadn’t given much thought to what he would do with his last name – Ambrogi – when he got married.

What was there to think about? Even among straight couples who share a progressive gender policy, the question of surnames is usually directed at the bride: will she take his name or keep hers? Or further down the line: will the kids have his last name or a hyphenated combination?

But when he was in his twenties, Mike, a game developer who lives in Portland, Maine, discovered that a couple he knew had combined parts of their last names into a new one that they could share. Then a friend announced that he would take his fiancée’s last name when they got married. Mike began to think beyond the default cultural options, and when he got engaged to his now wife, Sara, he offered her the option of taking his last name.

He was “half joking” at first. But she took the idea seriously, so he did too. It didn’t hurt that she had a primo last name.

“‘Mike Primo,'” he said in an interview, giving his married name. Compared to what he had before, “it’s basically James Bond”.

Primo’s brothers have since followed in his footsteps. But outside of that inner circle, he hasn’t met exactly anyone who’s done the same, he said, and doubts most other men have even thought of it.

“I think that’s literally off the table, in any way, for the vast majority of couples in America, period,” he said.

It is extremely unusual for newlyweds to take their bride’s surname – although data on rarity is hard to come by. The Social Security Administration doesn’t follow it, nor does the Census Bureau. Knot’s 2021 Real Weddings study surveyed more than 15,000 respondents and found that 78% of couples who married that year had one partner taking the other partner’s last name – but this survey does not break down this data by sex.

The anecdotal evidence, however, is unambiguous: it is rare.

“I haven’t seen a single groom take a bride’s last name,” said Andrew Zill, an event planner who has been helping couples plan weddings for 20 years.

“I’ve never seen a man take a woman’s last name,” said Heidi Hiller, CEO and creative director of Innovative Party Planners, which has performed half a dozen weddings a year over the past twelve last years.

Sandy Yi-Davis, founder and head of event design at Chic Weddings and Events, estimated that she had planned more than 250 weddings over the past decade. And how many of those couples had a fiancé taking his fiancée’s name?

“It’s actually zero,” she said.

HitchSwitch, an online name change service, estimates that around 5% of its newly married customers are men seeking information about taking their wife’s name, a slight increase from a few years ago. years. Matthew A. Wolff, HitchSwitch’s director of operations and compliance, said that sometimes, “When husbands take their wives’ last names, husbands are like, ‘Is that even allowed? » ”

Why don’t more men take their wife’s name when they get married?

“There’s this assumption that female surnames are the shifting, malleable names,” said journalist and author Jill Filipovic. “The fact that only women make that choice – that only women are presumed to make that choice – in itself reflects a pretty deep gender imbalance.”

Currently, a woman who marries a man must both make a choice and face the judgment that her choice will elicit from both loved ones and strangers, whether to keep her name (divider, selfish, love she really that guy?) or to marry him (backslidden, traitorous to the cause, aiding and abetting his own self-effacement). Meanwhile, her future husband is beyond reproach, regardless of the outcome. She can’t win and he can’t lose.

For women, keeping their existing surname (most likely inherited from their father’s family) is generally considered the most progressive option. About 20% of women made this choice in the years leading up to 2015, according to an analysis conducted that year by the New York Times blog Upshot. But even in households where the woman keeps her name is inevitable, the idea that the man would change his name, more often than not, is not even on the table.

When author Laura Hankin got engaged to David Christie, a staffer of a Democratic senator, she knew she would keep his name — “My name is my identity,” she said — but the prospect Christie taking Hankin’s last name never came up. .

Hankin is convinced that if she had “made a big argument to make a big social statement in favor of gender equality”, Christie would have been receptive. But she wasn’t interested in asking.

“I think it comes down to this question of identity,” Hankin said. “Marriage is a beautiful commitment between two people who don’t necessarily change or become a whole new person. I think we both felt like: We want to be two people who love, support and care for each other. “commit to each other, but don’t become each other. So if I didn’t want to change my name to his for that reason, why would he change his name to mine?”

The funny thing about this whole name-changing phenomenon, said Rebecca Traister, an author who has written extensively about women in America, “is that it’s a fundamentally strange thing to do – of any point of view”.

This innate strangeness, she says, partly explains why even men who, for example, take a more active role in raising their children or in household chores that have historically fallen to women, might nonetheless be reluctant to give up their Last name.

A name change is a symbolic reassignment of privileges (which name replaces the other?) rather than a practical one (who leaves work early to pick up daycare?), making couples more likely to ignore the custom rather than reverse it. While the material concerns of parenthood, cooking and cleaning must be taken into account, “changing your name is not a necessary thing in life – in fact, it is a bizarre and anachronistic thing”, a said Treater. And yet “the attitudes around her linger. These are really hard to shake.

Ask why women always change their names when they marry, said Princeton historian Tera Hunter, and you’ll see why most men don’t.

The legal construction of marriage in the United States is modeled on the coverture, the set of national laws imported from England by the first settlers, which decreed that the identity and existence of a married woman were legally “covered”. by her husband. His money was his money, his body was his to do with what he loved, and his name no longer existed.

“The woman’s identity is essentially erased,” Hunter said, and the erasure of her name signified her submission to her husband’s authority.

The average modern man probably doesn’t think about the dehumanizing framework of blanket laws when he bristles at the thought of taking his wife’s name (if he thinks about it at all). But according to Hunter, these norms are so deeply ingrained in our society that even people without any knowledge of history feel compelled to uphold these customs or are wary of the cost of rejecting them.

“There’s a lot of social pressure around naming practices,” she says, including “ego, ideas about masculinity, family traditions, all sorts of things that influence how men see themselves and think of their name in particular”.

When Vogue asked the pop icon now known to the justice system (if not her fans) as Ms. Jennifer Affleck if any part of her “might want Ben to be Mr. Lopez,” she burst out laughing. . “No! It’s not traditional,” she explained. “There’s no romance.”

When actress Zoe Saldana married Marco Perugo in 2013, Marco took the name Saldana – and Zoe told InStyle that she “tried to talk him out of it”. She feared he would be “emasculated” by his “Latin community of men, by the world”.

Mike Primo, the Maine man formerly known as Mike Ambrogi, has a theory: Most men have a visceral, even subconscious aversion to taking their wife’s name – an aversion they may be unable to recognize, even for themselves.

“I wonder if — just to get into the deep, deep code of being a participant in our culture — most guys code by taking a woman’s name as straight-up emasculation,” Primo said. Perhaps “to become more like a woman in any way, for a man, is to sacrifice status and caste placement in our culture.”

Primo was ready to have to defend his own choice in front of the world, but since getting married in 2012, he’s been pleasantly surprised to find that his choice raised virtually no eyebrows.

“None of the things you imagine would happen,” he said. “No one has ever had pushback of any kind or honestly even that much curiosity.” He used to call Ambrogi his “bachelor name”, but has since adopted the more classic “maiden name”. (“Again, you would think there would be a follow-up,” Primo said, “but there just isn’t.”)

One person Primo didn’t have to explain himself to was Josh Peek (née Goldston), the friend whose decision to take his wife’s name influenced Primo’s decision to do the same.

As a child, Peek had asked his mother why she had taken his father’s name. “And she said, ‘Well, a family needs a name,'” Peek recalled. “And that was a compelling point for me, and a central point.” So when he and his wife, Katie, got engaged and she said she wanted to keep his name, he pushed her to take his. (Josh would keep “Goldston” as his middle name, and his wife would also “unofficially” take it.)

Her dad was “on board pretty quickly,” Peek said, but her mom needed a little more time to get back.

“My reaction was a bit negative,” Ruth Goldston said. ‘What, you’re not going to have our name?’

As a mother of two sons, she says, “you expect a lot of other things not to happen. You will never be the mother of the bride, for example.

At the wedding, however, she had warmed to the idea and is now proud of her son’s last name, even though it is not the one she gave him.

“Their reasoning was that they wanted to subvert the dominant paradigm,” Goldston said. “And I could hardly not get on board with that.”

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