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Must a Woman Take Her Husband’s Surname?

Reading Hillary Clinton’s biography, A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein, I was astounded by the fuss Americans made over Hillary’s decision to keep using her maiden name, instead of taking on her husband’s surname. Her remaining Hillary Rodham not only caused her mother-in-law great distress, it actually affected her husband during his gubernatorial campaign. Voters made such a big deal about it, I wondered how conservatives would take it if it affected liberals that much.

Eventually, Hillary gave in and changed her surname to Clinton, and somehow that made me sad. I don’t have anything against women taking on their husbands’ surnames – I took my husband’s family name and I wouldn’t have it any other way – but I feel this is something that a woman should do because she wants to, not due to societal pressure.

Reasons for not taking a husband’s surname differ from woman to woman. Sometimes a woman’s name, to her, is her identity. This was the case for Hillary. My name is part of who I am and I like my name, so why should I change it?

Sometimes a woman’s name, to her, is her identity.

Some women have achieved so much before marriage and worked so hard to make a name for themselves, that it simply makes no sense to them to throw away their hard-earned renown by changing their name.

Others would take on the name of the man they love, but they find they actually don’t like his name even though they love him. It may be a name that makes people laugh, a name that’s difficult to spell, or a name that has a meaning which doesn’t sit well with her.

Also, many of us know women from all-girl families who seek to continue the family lineage by not dropping their surname. This is certainly understandable.

Then, of course, there are women whose refusal to take on their husband’s name is a symbol of their stand against patriarchy. For them, the business of changing surnames simply perpetuates the idea that a woman is “owned” by her father, who then transfers that ownership to her husband.

While that may sound extreme, consider on the other hand the woman who takes on not just her husband’s surname but his first name as well. It’s also her choice!

For a woman who is not particularly in love with her maiden name, or whose career only really took off after marriage, dropping the surname might be easy. The same goes for women with complex surnames who marry a guy with a simple, short surname; they might actually even look forward to it.

This is something that a woman should do because she wants to, not due to societal pressure.

Of course, women whose husbands have names that open doors are often eager to switch to it, although there are a few who would rather distance themselves from the popular name.

Then there are women who find a balance by hyphenating. This allows them to take on their husband’s surname without dropping theirs.

Whether a woman decides to take her husband’s surname, his first name plus his surname, his name along with her own surname, or not take his surname at all, we should aim for a world where she won’t be judged, labelled or discriminated against because of her choice.

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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at]

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