Monday, July 23, 2012


When Nancy and I married, Feminism seemed to suggest that a woman keep her name. Some women hyphenated their names as a practical transition to a married name, but many Feminists hyphenated as a way of keeping their identities in a patriarchal world. Unlike their hyphenating sisters who eventually dropped their “maiden” names, these women kept both or eventually transitioned back to their own name.

Fast forward to today and we have many women and a few enlightened men looking to go the other way—that is, having the man take HER name in marriage. Both as Feminists and as participants in a progressive marriage, we find this prospect very exciting. His taking her name is a very viable option of the many that a woman has. Consider the advantages it brings:

  • Keeps her professional identity
  • Avoids cumbersome hyphenation or merging of a couples names
  • Provides a common family name
  • Carries her family name forward
  • Makes a strong Feminist statement
  • Shows her strength, independence and professionalism
  • Establishes him as a “modern man”
  • Recognizes her career and his support of it
  • Shows deference to her
  • Illustrates his love for her
  • Establishes a foundation for a female-led marriage
  • Cuts male bonds that obstruct the path to a female-led relationship

Whether or not a couple anticipates a progressive relationship, they are making a profound statement about their relationship and attitudes. In our experiences the couples who take the woman's name in marriage all gravitate to a progressive relationship with the woman in charge.

Note that when we say he will take her name, we mean that he will legally change his name after the wedding as does a woman in a traditional patriarchal marriage. He'll have to change his name on such things as his driver's license, passport, tax records, credit cards, bank accounts, his employer records, business cards, etc.

Each state and the federal government has its own rules for changing names. Our patriarchal society seems to make it easy for a woman to take her husband’s name but not necessarily for a man to take his wife's. We suggest that couples consult an attorney and understand what the processes are. With the help of an attorney, the legal system will likely present few problems; family and friends, however, will likely object to such an avant-garde arrangement. The couple should be proactive in addressing these issues and objections. Our experience is that it is best to start early to condition family and friends to the couple's choice.  Remember, you are informing family and friends of your choice, not asking for their approval.

We know of a man who was a small college English teacher. He was marrying a woman who had a lucrative dental practice and earned many times his meager salary. Naturally, she had a vested interest in maintaining her name professionally, but he still felt it desirable to have a couple share a name in marriage. He was curious about taking her name and spoke with Nancy and me about the possibility, wondering how his fiancée would react. We assured him that she would be delighted, and soon after he offered his taking her name to hers as an engagement gift; she was thrilled and immediately accepted as we knew she would.

Now it was time to make the couple's intentions known within their families. When Carol announced their engagement at a family gathering she also told her family that they would have a new family member as Jim was taking her name. The women were very excited and accepting, proclaiming Jim as a “modern man.” In light of the women's excitement, the men in Carol's family kept any comments they might have had to themselves.

Jim's family, on the other hand, was very vocal in its disapproval. They blamed Carol for manipulating Jim and making his taking her name a condition of marriage. His brother warned that this was a bad sign and that Carol was likely to “take over” after the wedding (which, of course, sounds like a big plus to Nancy and me!).
Now one might expect that the women in Jim's family would see his action as a small victory for women, but they, too, objected.  Further, the women pledged to use Jim's name as tradition dictated on all correspondence and gifts. Some of the men even threatened to boycott the wedding! All this over a name?

Our engaged couple were only strengthened by these objections and took action to remedy this situation.

  • They accepted that some of his family might not attend their wedding.
  • They made it known that gifts and cards using other than their chosen married name would be politely returned.
  • They sent out engagement announcements that said that Carol Fisher and Jim Roberts were engaged and would become Carol and Jim Fisher
  • Their wedding invitations invited guests to witness Carol Fisher and Jim Roberts being united in holy matrimony to become Carol and Jim Fisher
  • They had the minister introduce them after marrying them as Carol and Jim Fisher.
  • They put a wedding announcement in two local papers.
  • Jim sent out name change announcement to family and friends and sent out “at home” announcements indicating his new address with only his new name.

Jim decided to hyphenate his names; he's now Roberts-Fisher at his small college where he is regarded as a hero and a modern man for taking his wife's name. Asked how long he intended to hyphenate, Jim said “forever” since he viewed this not as a way to transition to a married name but as a way to illustrate that he had taken his wife's name.

The objections they received solidified Carol and Jim's resolve, and the couple is well on their way to a progressive relationship. They are both VERY happy!

As an interesting side note, we frequently have inquiries from women at the Women's Center where we work about options for married names. Most are excited at the possibility of him taking her name. Occasionally we have a man come in who, like Jim, wants to take his future wife’s name and needs information and encouragement. We were able to assure Jim that his future wife, Carol, would be thrilled were he to offer to take her name because she was in our center only a week earlier exploring the possibilities. We like to think we helped both of them.


dave94015 said...

If women have been taking the man's name for so long, why not the reverse? Oh, yeah, tradition! Thanks for showing the possibility for men who want to take on their partner's name.

Mr. Beth said...

Wonderful post! When I married my Wife, I wanted to take Her name as well. The only thing is She liked my last name a lot better then Her own thererfore my Wife wound up taking mine.

Anonymous said...

I've been wanting to take my wife's name for a long time, but my wife is not very supportive of the idea. I've started subscribing to magazines using my wife's maiden name as my last name, etc. She sometimes tells me I've earned the right to take her name but I know she's just kidding. Any ideas on convincing her that this a a good idea for our marrige?

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

My wife and I are not married, we even don't really know why but never felt the urge, and here in The Netherlands it is not very uncommon to do so. When she became pregnant we had the possibility to choose the name our children would carry. We had various reasons to chose her name. But most important I felt it was a natural thing to do as she was the one giving birth. She initially was joking a bit about it (saying they should carry her name as a joke), and we also thought of practical implications. But at the end she was very pleased with the idea. Only my brother in law gave a negative comment one day that our children were no real “van Dijk's”. But that was all. In the beginning it was strange and sometimes it led to mis-communications. “No Mr. Jansen there is no appointment here for Judith Jansen... that's correct her name is van Dijk...”. Now I sometimes just say that I'm Mr. van Dijk. So informally we mostly use her name for family things. I use my name for my personal and professional things.

Besides the fact I'm very proud that our children carry her name. I don't agree with the article that this does make our relationship more female led. Or better said I don't feel it that way, I know the outside world may say so. I feel it is a statement of the great respect thankfulness I have towards her for wanting to have children with me.

Nancy and Dennis said...

Here’s a response to three of the comments above:

To "dave94015" --
There are many possibilities as far as names are concerned these days. It's really what the couple wants to do. Tradition has gone out the window, especially with professional women, but taking her name is a real possibility that every couple should explore no matter what a woman's career situation is.


To Mr. Beth –

Just the opposite of two men we know. The men had long, cumbersome names and the women they were going to marry didn't want any part of these long monikers. The guys took the women's names and are happy with this rather practical choice. This is one time when the man taking the woman's name was more practicality as opposed to being a sign of a progressive marriage, although both couples have started down that path.


To the first Anonymous commenter who wants helping convincing his wife that this would be a good idea –

I'm not sure that any man ever earns the right to the woman's name; it is something a man can suggest but that only she can accept.

When we were married Nancy kept her name and i kept mine. Over the years the option of a man's taking a woman's name has become a viable option. We are considering renewing our marriage vows next year and have discussed my taking her name. I told her it would be a gift from me to her in recognition of our time together, a strong statement of our Feminist beliefs, and an indication of the progressive nature of our marriage.

As for a suggestion, you might tell her that it is something you want to do as an expression of your love, devotion, and commitment and see what she says. And what is in it for her, besides you sharing her name? Does it help her career? Does it give her more status with her friends? Does it come with more authority within your relationship? You need to consider what she may want and commit to her. She just may say "yes" and when she does make sure to go through a legal name change with whatever that requires in your locale, including driver's license, bank accounts, credit cards, and so on.

Anonymous said...

We are very much into FLR. My Wife is undisputable the HOH. My life is all surrounded by her girl friends and office collegue.

We had 2 lovely daughters taking my wife's name. My wife wants me to take her name too as to proved my sincerity and obedience.

Although I took her last name and all her friends knows about it but till today we still have not made it formal and i still have no guts to tell my parents.

What should i do to face my parents?

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous from the Netherlands --

Thank you for your excellent post; we enjoyed reading it. I have to make clear my comment that when the woman's name is used it is often indicative of a female-led relationship. This is much more the case in the US than it is in Europe. Europeans seem to have a much more enlightened view about marriage names, relationships, roles, and responsibilities so this is less likely the case there. The Netherlands in particular is very progressive in such things and may be a role model for others to follow. We agree with your comment that bearing her name is a sign of great respect. Any time a woman's name is used it is a sign of great respect.

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous (“We are very much into FLR…”)--

You claim to have taken her name and then say that you "have not made it formal." What does that mean? Do you use her name casually or as a nickname but have not legally changed your name? First you need to talk with your wife and see if a legal name change is in line with her wishes. Then you need to speak to a lawyer to understand the process involved for your particular state. Once you make up your mind to make a formal change then you can address what others think.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note that had I realized about a year sooner that what I was always looking for was a WLR that I likely would have taken my wife's name. The only problem that I see with it is that I am the only male child of my parents and therefore their last name would not be carried on. I think that my parents may have seen this as a negative act towards them. I realize that this happens quite often when a couple only has daughters but when you are simply following tradition I don't think you risk hurting anyone's feelings or alienating in-laws which is often a touchy subject in some relationships.

Anonymous said...

When both our daughters took my wife's last name, My parents were so mad at me for not holding on to our family line. They never speak to for almost a year.

All her friends would teasingly call me " hi, Mr Rodrigo". Which is her surname. When we go for grocery or shopping, those shop owners who knows us always address me in my wife surname.

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous two above ("Just a quick note...")
One of the biggest issues concerning whether a couple takes her name or not concerns the extended family and what they think. Some couples don't care what the family thinks, while others are concerned about such things. In a FLR though one might consider that what the wife or future wife thinks is all that really matters.

Anonymous said...

To Nancy and Dennis,
Thank you for your comments.
What would an ideal Matriarchal
wedding be like?

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous "Mr. Rodrigo" --

Congratulations on your first year in a female-led marriage. Couples that embark on such a lifestyle seem to all be happy with the results. And why not? An FLR has offers something to both the woman and the man.

And in response to several who asked about our workshops: We don't conduct formal workshops per se. We are active in a women's group and in that venue we frequently get women and some men who are interested in a topic such as the man taking the woman's name, managing finances and so on, and we'll set up a discussion around that. So it's not something that's formal or planned; it's just an impromptu exchange of information.

Anonymous said...

We are very happy with our life style today. No arguement, No fight over who's decision to follow. My Wife sets out our family house rules and her decision are final.

When my wife and daughters are happy, I am also happy. At early age, my daughters already knows who is the boss at home. In away, my wife is setting example for my daughters to follow and hope they would be able to carry out our matriarchy family tradition in future.

Nancy and Dennis said...

To Anonymous immediately above:

When a woman is in charge, everything works better.

Thomas Gibson said...

Taking the wife's name is one thing, but passing that name on through children is a bad idea.
The reason for patriarchal names is simple. Both parents must be invested in a child for that child to be fully conscious of its identity and for society to fully accept that identification.
Everyone accepts that a given woman is the mother of a given child. The birth will almost certainly have been witnessed. But no-one (usually) witnesses conception. The only way to obtain the real sense of identification between father and child, both from their points of view and from society's, is to give the child the father's surname.
Without this practice, the father becomes a mere sperm-donor, unworthy of human consideration.

Devoted Hubby said...

After many years of resenting my wife's superior leadership talents, I finally gave in and am very happy to follow her lead! She kept her surname and, as chance has it, our home telephone number is in her name, so that I often get called Mr. "her surname". I used to resent it but now enjoy it. If it wasn't for our parents and our kids, I'd have no problem taking her name.

Nancy and Dennis said...

Devoted Hubby, Thanks for your comments.

Many men resent the leadership abilities of women, whether it's in the workplace or at home. This resentment has led to women being denied rightful promotions and leadership positions. Fortunately many companies have taken action to identify and promote women in the workplace. At home, though, the best thing that can happen is that men open their minds and realize that women are excellent leaders and decide to follow their lead.

In our case and in the other cases with which we are familiar, women in charge at home provide good results for all involved. The woman is freed of domestic chores to pursue management of household finances and to advance her career or her personal interests. The man takes over many or all of the domestic duties, opening a new and usually enjoyable role for him.

As for surnames, many women elect to keep their surname for personal, professional, or feminist reasons. Increasingly, progressive men are taking the woman's name in marriage. It makes a real statement as to his commitments and the couple's direction in their relationship.

We know of other couples where the phone listing is in her name with results similar to yours. I'm glad to see that you have embraced being called by her name. Perhaps in the future, an opportunity will present itself to take her name. Nancy and i didn't do this, but we did renew our wedding vows a few years ago and are planning to do this again; we have talked about my taking her name this time, but she hasn't made any decisions.

Anonymous said...

When we got married, she kept her last name...since we have now been in our WLM/FLR marriage for several years, i thought it would be fun and recently got a batch of return address stickers to use on letters/bills/cards/invitations/etc that states it pretty clearly. It reads at the top:

Mrs. and Mr. Jane Smith

Smith is not my last name, but i am proud to be the husband of Mrs. Jane Smith and want people to know it. :)

ZORBITOR said...

I dont want to take her last name - i want to take her first name!��