June 02, 2005

Article at Authory

What's in a Maiden Name?

Rather than wax philosophical on Christian feminism, which I may do at some point but not right now, I thought it would be fun to look at an interesting conundrum within the overall issue. Concrete dilemmas are usually more intriguing than abstract philosophies anyway.

So, you're an orthodox Catholic woman who is getting married soon. Do you have to change your surname to your husband's surname? Given the Church's silence on the issue, some might shrug their shoulders and say it's a matter of personal choice. You'd be surprised though how many heated debates I've seen in cyberspace over the issue. A good many orthodox Catholics react to the suggestion of a Christian woman keeping her own surname as if they'd nearly stumbled over a snake—quite likely the one that tempted Eve, at that.

The subject came to mind for me when reading the thoughts of Karen Miller, an Orthodox Jewish blogger. Ms. Miller referenced a 2004 article by Slate on the maiden name debate that I also found interesting. Most interesting of all, for me at least, is that many proponents of name change and many dissenters from name change appear to assume that the standards of the English-speaking world prevail the world over. They also apparently assume that the practice of a woman keeping her own name is only thirty-or-so years old.

Fact is, the maiden name debate is a cultural phenomenon in the English-speaking world. In some parts of the world, it is a complete non-issue. For example, in Spanish-speaking countries, women do not give up their family names because the family name is considered an important identification with one's heritage. In addition to that, the children are given both the father's and mother's family names. And, this custom is quite ancient. Indeed we have a sixteenth-century Catholic saint to attest to it: St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) was born Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada, named for her father Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and her mother Beatriz Davila y Ahumada.

As for me, I haven't faced the decision yet. Should I one day (hopefully) marry, I would choose to take my husband's name. I like the idea of a family being known by one name, and in our culture that name has been traditionally the man's. Of course, if his last name is one he's always hated for one reason or another (e.g., embarrassing connotation, difficult to spell or pronounce), he may ask to take my surname.

(Image: Bride and groom, Pixabay.)