Reading my book last night (the wonderful “Traveling with Pomegranates” by Sue Monk Kidd) I came across a thought-provoking passage where her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, writes about the fear of “losing herself” when she gets married. She’s contemplating who she will be and what her name will be. Hyphenated? Just her husband’s last name? Keep your maiden name? Obviously she chose to use both her maiden name and her husband’s last name with no hyphen, but it got me thinking.
Why is it that the bride changes her name but not the husband? Here’s a little history that I found fascinating.
Some historians trace the idea back to the days of hunter gatherer clans. Members of clans were mostly all related to each other so young members would meet with other tribes or clans to find unrelated spouses. When they did, the woman would join her husband’s clan so she took the name of his clan. Vice-versa was never the case.
In medieval Europe, women were considered owned by men; first by their fathers and then by their husbands. (cough, cough, gag, gag.) This is still the case in some restrictive Arab and Muslim countries but tell my daughter and her friends that they will be “owned” by their husbands and you’re liable to get “owned!” In those ancient times though, when Mary Jones married John Smith she did not become Mary Smith, but rather Mrs. John Smith! Surprisingly this was even common practice up until the 1970s and the fact that my parent’s checkbook was for “Mr. and Mrs. Tony Luna, Jr.” is proof of this. I can’t even imagine.
Royalty is a whole other story. It was assumed the husband would inherit, buy, or build the family home so his last name was the name of the house. For example, Tudor, which I know of as home design style, but it’s much more than just half-timbered gabled homes in high-end neighborhoods. The House of Tudor was a royal house of Welsh and English origin that descended in the male line from the Tudors of Penmynydd. I have no idea how to pronounce that but I’m guessing their home was in “Tudor style” and I’m guessing they were the big dogs of their time.
Another privilege of being royal is that you don’t even have to use your last name. Does anyone know Prince William’s last name? His full name is actually William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor. “Windsor” because that’s the name King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s father and William’s great-grandpapa, chose as the royal surname in 1917, and “Mountbatten” because William’s granddaddy and the Queen’s late husband Prince Philip, had the surname Mountbatten. But, Prince William occasionally draws his surname from his “Prince of Wales” title, which means in a roll call he would be called William Wales. He also sometimes chooses to go by William Cambridge from his Duke of Cambridge title and his wife Kate’s official title is Duchess of Cambridge. Confusing, right?
One more royal tidbit. One is never called Sir <<enter first name here.>> For example, Lawrence Olivier is to be called Sir Lawrence, not Sir Olivier. More confusing, right?
It seems women had had enough with all this surname ballyhoo and decided to make it simple: they’d keep their first names but use their husband’s last name. Very good.
In Spanish cultures it’s totally different though. When Isabella Lopez marries Diego Garcia, she becomes Isabella Lopez de Garcia, which basically means she is now Isabella of the Garcia house. If I lived in Spain or Mexico or Panama, I would be Carla Luna de Smith. Hmmmm….
As with almost anything, much of this can be traced back to the bible. In biblical times, when a woman got married, she would join her husband’s family so it made sense that she also took his name as she was now a part of his family not her father’s family.
It all sounds a little unfair to women, but historically it was also to remind the man of his responsibility for the well-being and support of the family. He was the head of the house and seeing his name everywhere kindly reminded him of it.
Fast forward to today and things are much different, even with conservative ole me. Before I got married I was a TV news anchor and reporter and my on-air name was naturally Carla Luna. When I got married I remained Carla Luna on air. It is normal for women on TV to do so and it was also in respect to my dad who had passed away. I love my maiden name and chose it as Kristen’s middle name. You can take Luna away from the girl but you can’t take the girl away from being Luna.
Unlike my book’s character, I never considered marriage as a threat to my individuality. I didn’t recite a vow of “obedience” (and if you remember my favorite royal, Princess Diana, also famously left that part out of her vows) but I do consider taking Smitty’s last name as a sign of my commitment to our marriage. Plus, with Smith I knew I’d never have to spell my last name again and I could name our children anything I wanted!
Another issue that came up in “Traveling with Pomegranates” was what name do children take in a marriage where the wife retains her maiden name? I would think it would all be very confusing and complicated if Kristen had a different last name than mine. That’s also one reason why I opted against hyphenating my last name. But, that’s just me.
So, there you have it; the story of the mysterious lost maiden names. In today’s world of powerful and independent women and husbands who are sharing household chores and child rearing, it’s kind of surprising that upwards of 60 percent of brides take their husband’s last name. Imagine that, something old-fashioned holding steady. I like it.