Weddings are bound in tradition from everything from the ceremony to the celebration afterwards, but one tradition I can’t seem to embrace is changing my last name.
At 30 years old, I’ve been Abby Rhoad for quite a while. It’s who I am. I’ve heard all things Beatles related, but I’m completely OK with that. While my mom and my aunt were pregnant, it was almost a race to see who was born first to win the title of Abby Rhoad. Clearly, I won. (Plus, my cousin was a boy.) It’s kind of like a trademark for me (albeit a stolen one). And I’m not too keen on being known as someone else.
Before doing some research, I felt like this is a strange tradition for couples to hold onto so tightly because it seems like most of its roots can be traced back to the fact that, historically, once a woman married, she was now her husband’s property. As I researched this article, I didn’t realize that so much of the tradition of changing one’s name was religious based.
Laura Dawn Lewis writes on CouplesCompany.com that though surnames weren’t used until about 11 A.D., name changes began biblically with Abraham and Sarah. In the Bible, God bestowed Abram and Sari the gift of birthing many nations, and with this life change, they were known as Abraham and Sarah.
GENESIS 17:3-6 “And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying. As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shall be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”
The practice of changing ones’ name to mark the beginning of a new life path is a tradition that’s more than 5,000 years old, Lewis writes.
This follows other religious paths: Saul becomes Paul when his life changes direction. He remains the same person yet becomes known by a different name. Another example is baptismal names.
In the eyes of God, marriage is seen as a covenant. When a woman marries, she forms a covenant between herself, her husband and God, according to the Bible. The name change recognizes God and the union blessed and created by Him. The woman signals to the world her new identity as a married woman, symbolizing allegiance to a new person, creating a new family and starting over. But this still leaves me asking the question, why is the name sacrifice made by the woman? Wouldn’t the best answer be for everyone to change their names to form a new family?
As history evolved, I think the religious symbolism of changing your name and a change in life path evolved with the secular world led by men. From the secular side of the name-change tradition, Lewis also writes on CouplesCompany.com that, historically, women took their husbands’ last names for the following reasons:
• Protection of family and wealth
• Designation of a new life direction
• Acknowledgement of God’s presence in and endorsement of the marriage
She goes on to say that as society evolved, generational wealth was passed to the male because, as second-class citizens, women were not allowed to own property, while some cultures even consider the wife her husband’s property. Tradition also held that “a woman is an extension of the man, and therefore she and her children assumed his name. He in turn provided for her monetarily, physically and socially.” Clearly, this is a little outdated.
According to FeministWedding.com, “It is only since the 1970s that married women in the U.S. have been legally free to keep their own names. Up until that point, ‘states required married women to take their husbands’ names in order to engage in basic activities such as voting and driving.’”
Wikipedia sites a Harvard study that found approximately 87% of married, college-educated women take their husbands’ name. That’s down from a peak of more than 90% before 1975 but up from about 80% in 1990. The same study found that “women with a college degree were ‘two to four times (depending on age) more likely to retain their surname’ relative to those without a college degree.”
Having neither strong ties to feminism nor religion, my reason to stay Abby Rhoad is a very personal reason. I feel a very strong connection to my name, my family and what this name means to me and my parents. I’m very proud that I have such a deeply personal connection to my family. I grew up listening to Sgt. Pepper, the White Album and of course, Abbey Road. And in a way, this name is a constant reminder of where I came from.
At the same time, I don’t want this to mean I’m not moving forward with my life, and embracing my future marriage. I know taking Christian’s name doesn’t mean I’m less of who I am or that I’m losing my identity, but my name is a very personal thing. And I don’t want to be made to feel that keeping my name makes me any less committed to my relationship.
Part of me feels guilty for not changing my name, and I know Christian is upset that I want to keep Rhoad as my last name. The spiritual part of me says marriage is about a promise to another person, finding our roles in a new relationship and sharing that with God, and that that is something bigger than just having a cool name. However, that same spiritual part says, if God loves me and blesses me with a caring, kind man who wants to start a life with me, why does it matter if we don’t share the same last name?
Next week: I look at what changing my name would entail and what happens if I don’t change my name?
*Little tidbit – “Abbey Road” was released almost to the day 43 years ago: Sept 26, 1969. And ironically enough, Christian proposed on the day the album cover was originally shot in 1969. (Technically he proposed after midnight on Aug. 7.)
Rhoad to the Altar: It’s about the day, not the date