Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My boyfriend is an awesome guy whom I feel incredibly lucky to have. But now that we are discussing marriage, he says it’s important to him that I take his family name. I have always considered this practice anti-feminist, not to mention unnecessary. How do I talk some sense into him?
Consider your reasons
I think you need to decide why your last name is so important to you. If you look back into your own family tree, all names inherited through the male line, making the entire convention anti-feminist! If feminism is the overriding consideration, there really is no satisfactory solution. If you do prefer to remain identified with your father’s family, however, your future husband should support your decision. If he doesn’t, then you may want to consider what this means about each of your perceptions of your identity and your role as his wife.
– Kathy Geer, Orillia, Ont.
Make a mutual decision
Although traditionally the wife assumes the husband’s surname, it would be equally valid for your boyfriend to assume your family name. However, I am very uncomfortable with the “talk some sense into him” remark. His position is just as valid as yours, and you need to show him as much respect as you expect from him. Since life partnership is about compromise, perhaps you might want to suggest that the two of you take on each other’s family name in hyphenated form. Alternatively, you could each keep your own family names and come to some agreement regarding the family name(s) your children assume. Whatever the outcome, it must be a mutual decision. To do otherwise sets a bad precedent for future decisions.
– Leanne Ridley, Maple Ridge, B.C.
Danger lies in separate names
Some look at a name change through the lens of the woman losing her identity in the marriage. But I strongly think that keeping names separate keeps two people separate. You are getting married, blending your lives, coming together as one unit. A common name allows for people to identify you as one unit and not separate entities. The feminist movement of wanting to separate a woman’s identity, apart from the family, could attribute to the rise in divorce. “I want a separate identity” leads to “I want a separate name” leads to “I want a separate life.” If you like your name, then make him change his name. They call it the “family name” for a reason.
– Lila Arnold, Calgary
The final word
I once met a Muslim husband who was upset his wife decided to wear a niqab. But his wife told him that it was her body and only she had the right to choose what to do with it. Eventually, she stopped wearing it, but out of her own volition. To me, the moral of that story is that no one should compel a woman do to something that she’s not comfortable with.
A father giving away his daughter on her wedding day used to mean one man handing off his property to anther man – a patriarchal tradition that today has been reclaimed as a symbol of paternal love. In the past, taking a husband’s last name signified ownership of the wife as well as all her property. Feminism changed those oppressive laws. Today, if you own horses and a plot of land, taking your husband’s last name won’t automatically give him your goods. Some traditions have evolved into toothless symbols.
So the real question, as Kathy and Leanne point out, isn’t the name change but whether you’re being pressured into changing it.
I don’t agree with Lila’s sentiment that a separate identity leads to divorce. If anything, it probably helps a marriage. These days, last names are a moving target anyway. Multiple divorces, blended families and gay marriages create new combinations of partners where the traditional “family” name goes out the window along with the traditional family.
So talk to your fiancé and let him know how you feel. As my husband pointed out, if he’s that great, he’ll understand. I didn’t take my husband’s last name because, even with the original intention lost to time, it still rankled me. I’m not a big fan of changing last names or wearing face veils, but I still believe only a woman gets to decide what’s right for her.
Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week's question
A reader writes: My boyfriend and I are talking about moving in together. However, there is one problem: his overbearing sister. She insists on organizing all events and then bombards us with lists, e-mails and nagging phone calls. My boyfriend and his family laugh about it and tell me to ignore her control-freak ways, but I feel anxious about losing my sense of autonomy. It’s come to the point where his sister is making me reconsider our future. How can I deal with her without losing him?
Let’s hear from you
If you would like to participate, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions are published anonymously, but we will included your name and community if we use your response (it will be edited).