The tradition of a wife taking a husband’s surname comes from the British Empire. Colonists imposed their laws in the lands Britain invaded and colonized around the globe.
Other cultures have entirely different naming conventions. In some Hispanic cultures, neither the husband nor the wife change their surname, but their children are given both parents’ surnames hyphenated.
The practice of requiring women’s surnames to change entered English common law during the 9th century, when lawmakers began to consider the legalities surrounding personhood, families and marriage. The doctrine of coverture emerged—women were considered ‘one’ with their patriarch, then husbands and were legally required to assume their husband’s surname.
Coverture began at birth.
Babies were given their father’s surname, but for women it would change at marriage when her name was automatically changed to that of her husband. For men, they would gain independent legal identity and status at the age of majority or upon the death of their father.
Women would never acquire legal status.
Coverture laws prohibited women from entering into contracts, engaging in litigation, participating in business, or exercising ownership over real estate or personal property. They were legally the property of whatever male “covered” them—their father then their husband.
In the United States, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Tennessee law requiring women to assume the last name of their husbands to be allowed to register to vote.
Other coverture laws in the USA were also altered or removed during the women’s equality movement, allowing women full legal status as individuals separate from their fathers or husbands for the first time.
The history and significance of women taking their husbands’ names led some to reject the tradition.
Today, an estimated 20% of American women opt to keep their birth name after marriage—a lower percentage than in the 1970s and 1980s during the height of the feminist movement.
In the 1980s, women began to adopt a tradition followed in other cultures of combining their name with their husband’s at marriage. The hyphenated surname has become so common that ‘will you hyphenate’ is a question most engaged women are asked by friends and family.
Less common, but not unheard of, is for both bride and groom to adopt the hyphenated name. And with LGBTQ+ marriage equality and the recognition of gender beyond the binary, surname options after marriage have been given a closer look.
If the people being wed are both the husband or the wife or neither, the idea of the wife taking the husband’s surname just doesn’t work.
But some people don’t know the origins of this marriage custom or the history of oppression behind it. They also don’t know that tradition is far from universal, having learned little about other cultures.
A clash of cultures and surname traditions lead to conflict for an engaged couple, so the woman turned to the “Am I The A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for feedback.
“AITA for how I responded to my fiance refusing to hyphenate his name?”
The original poster (OP) explained:
“My (24, female) fiancé (29, male) are planning to get married in the next couple years. We’re realistic people and understand that arguments are normal in relationships but recently we’ve started applying for our marriage license and the topic of last names came up.”
“I said that I wanted both of us to hyphenate so we have matching last names. The reason why is because my last name is important to me as I’m the last one in my family with the name.”
“I don’t know if this is important, but my father passed away when I was younger and I was his only child. I’m also the only one in my family with a Hispanic name, so my last name is the only connection I have to him/my heritage.”
“My partner wasn’t comfortable taking my last name (which I understood), but doesn’t want to hyphenate his name. I asked him to clarify, thinking he didn’t want our names to change, but he told me the woman hyphenates her name, not the man.”
“I was confused and clarified that we should both hyphenate, and he refused, saying, ‘That’s not how it works’. I asked him to think about it as it was slightly important to me that we have matching last names.”
“Here’s where I think I turned into the a**hole. This morning fiancé asked to talk and said he was not changing his name as it made zero sense for him to and my name ‘wasn’t really going to change’ when I did hyphenate.”
“He is mentioning about how both his sister-in-law and mom hyphenated their names, but the husband’s kept theirs no problem.”
“I was pretty upset but left it alone. Later in the day I spoke with him and said that I understand his point of view but since we couldn’t come to an agreement as to matching names, I would just keep my last name as it is now.”
“He got upset with me and said I was being obtuse, that I know that’s not how it works and we wouldn’t be considered married if I didn’t hyphenate. I argued that this was the best case scenario as we couldn’t come to a solution that we were both comfortable with.”
“We’re trying to be civil but it’s becoming a sore subject and we don’t want to fill out paperwork while this is hanging above us.”
“So Reddit, am I the a**hole for ‘threatening’ to keep my last name as is?”
“Also please note, he said the word ‘threatening’, not me. I put it in the post because of what he said.”
“My exact words were: ‘Look since we can’t agree on a last name together (as in agree what to put, not agree on sharing the same name), I’m just going to keep my name until further notice’.”
“His response was that I was threatening to keep my last name since I didn’t like that he didn’t want to change his.”
The OP added:
“He was raised Christian and his parents are from America. All the women in his family have taken their husbands names.”
“I was born here and raised Catholic, but my family is Hispanic and migrated here when my mom was 14. Nobody in my family really changed names, but it lead to problems like picking up kids from school because everyone had different last names.”
“Despite our upbringings, neither of us are religious whatsoever and we both have similar views on politics and such.”
“He doesn’t really care who I spend time with as long as I am comfortable and safe, he doesn’t care how I dress—’it’s your body and none of my buisiness’—and we have a very open relationship in terms of communication.”
“Now he does expect me to stay home with the kids when we do eventually have them, but it’s important to note I brought it up as I want to raise our kids, not do daycare.”
“That being said, this conversation is really out of the blue for him as we are usually able to have a disagreement and work it out, even if we need time to cool off in between.”
“He is very respectful to me as his parents don’t have the healthiest relationship and he wants to be better. I am suspecting the ‘How it is’ comment is coming from how he was raised.”
“When we talked about kids when we first started dating almost 4 years ago now, we both agreed that we would take the approach of sons take the mother’s last name and daughters would take the father’s last name.”
“Hence why this whole name conversation is frustrating me because we’ve have conversations about more concerning topics but usually can discuss quite calmly.”
The OP summed up their situation.
“I feel I’m the a**hole because I responded pretty harshly without offering a compromise/ considering his feelings.”
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors decided the OP was not the a**hole (NTA).
“NTA, you have said what you want to do based on reasons that matter to you. He’s also allowed to have his preference and opinions on the matter, but ‘It just doesn’t happen that way’ is, in my opinion, a pretty poor rationale to take.”
“Newly married myself and the wife asked if I’d be ok if she didn’t take my name at all, which I was fine with since it’s not my name that determines who she is to me or what our relationship is.”
“It’s not exactly traditional in any sense but some arbitrary set of rules made up who knows how many ages ago are not how I choose to live my life.” ~ neophenx
“I know a few people who’ve married and not bothered to change their names. I also know one guy who took his wife’s last name because he thought it sounded cooler than his own.”
“The whole wife taking the husband’s name is just an outdated concept from when she went from being her father’s property to being her husband’s. NTA.” ~ RegularWhiteShark
“NTA. Latin cultures do better: no one changes names cause your identity doesn’t change once you get married.” ~ Full_Championship719
“And so is Vietnam! The women there get to keep their last name.” ~ ABurnedTwig
“I kept my last name, as did most of my sisters. Gave my kids my last name too—not a Viet thing—which my BILs fussed over.
Hubby was fine with it. I never asked my husband to change his, but he eventually decided he wanted his name to match our kids.”
“My parents were surprised and thrilled, as they have no biological sons.” ~ KiyoFury
Some mocked the OP’s fiancé’s ignorance in claiming they wouldn’t be considered married if she didn’t alter her name.
“I am just learning today that my wife and I aren’t even considered married.”
“I thought we were married for the last 15 years, but we don’t share the same last name. My life is in shambles.” ~ Part_Time_0x
“It’s not just you and your wife. It’s every Dutch married couple. We legally keep our maiden name and just gain the right to use our spouse’s name in every setting but the legal setting when we marry.”
“So your passport will always have your maiden name and you file your taxes under your maiden name, but I can request my work to use my spouses last name instead of my own if I like his name better.”
“Clearly no Dutch person is truly married.” ~ life1sart
“Came to say the same thing. Apparently my marriage isn’t actually a marriage cos we don’t share a last name. Whoops…” ~ thefannybrawne
“Same. Guess my husband and I are just really good friends and roommates.”
“And I guess my parents’ last 30 years of marriage were a sham! I’ll need to call and tell them ASAP!” ~ sex-help74
“On the other hand, makes it easy to get married/divorce. Just change your name and boom! It’s done!” ~ iamnotagnome
“I just tagged you with my last name, so we’re married now. Where do you want to go on our honeymoon?” ~ EchoicSpoonman9411
“Are you at least gonna get me a ring first?” ~ iamnotagnome
“I wonder what OP’s fiancé would think about my last name.”
“My parents wanted to stick it to the patriarchy so when I was born, instead of taking either my mother’s maiden name or my father’s last name, they just created a whole new last name for me.”
“It wasn’t without problems over the years, but 90% of those are just other people being d*cks about the different names. I still consider my name to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten from my parents.” ~ Nyxelestia
The OP didn’t provide an update, but they got plenty of feedback proving the tradition of only women changing their names is far from universal.
Hopefully cooler heads prevail and this couple can come to a compromise they’re both happy with.