I had a conversation yesterday about the practice of a woman taking a man’s surname as her own after marriage. The woman I was talking to had chosen not to take her husband’s name and we were chatting about the discomfort we both felt with the idea of doing so. We talked about people we knew who had chosen not to do so, men who had chosen to take their wife’s name and a clever couple (with mercifully short surnames) who had combined their two last names to create a new surname they both used.
Aside from the fact that it seems like a sign of subservience to accept a husband’s name as your own, I suppose my discomfort is also rooted in my attachment to my last name. It is long and unwieldy but I was raised with a paternal Grandmother who had a strong sense of history and spoke of the origins of her own family as well as my Grandfather’s a great deal. Ironically, the fact that she very much adopted my grandfather’s last name is what gave me such an attachment to it. She was frequently known to say, “Remember you’re a (my last name)” and then would proceed to declare what qualities one was required to have as a member of this family. She had ambitious ideas regarding what qualities this name denoted and the honor we, her grandchildren, should consider our possession of this name to be. All this in spite of the fact that she didn't much like her in-laws. Go figure. She constantly reinforced the idea of family as a community, as a continuing thread. I’m first generation American and my attachment to my last name also relates to my sense of having a tie to that history. My middle name is my mother’s maiden name, which I suppose was her way of asserting a claim on my identity. The women in my family have a wierd thing about names.
I found an article on the subject at Wikipedia listed as married and maiden names. There are cultures with different traditions regarding his practice, many include some part of the woman's last name remaining a part of her name which is then passed onto the couple's offspring. I would want my children to have my name (if and when I had any)... which would require a break from Western tradition. Then again, I have a complex ten letter last name. Forcing a hyphenate or a bizarro middle name on a child might be inconsiderate. My Grandmother, however, who was so posessive of the name she married into would probably have loved the idea.