When I got married a year ago, I kept my maiden name – just the way it had always been. It wasn’t that I ever came upon a final decision; rather, it was more the result of a lot of indecision.
It was assumed, of course, by all of our family and friends that I would take my husband’s name. For not long after we had walked down the aisle we started receiving letters and invitations addressed to ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’ and it was frequently in the traditional form of, ‘Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.’ When I received those letters, I wondered where I went in the midst of the addressing process. Suddenly, my identity was completely lost in my husband, and it made me very ‘angsty.’
The angst, however, was no slight on my husband. I am ineffably in love with him and still breathless thinking about the incredible romance God has unraveled before us. However, I had spent almost thirty years with a certain name. How could I suddenly change it to something else? Losing my name felt like losing my identity. It felt like losing a certain part of me – my culture, my heritage, and the woman I had grown into – complete and whole, called and gifted by God without a husband/man’s ‘leadership’ or ‘covering.’ And, putting my first name with my husband’s last name resulted in a person I did not know. She was a stranger to me, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to be her.
I wrestled with the name change for months before and after my wedding and was told, more than once, of all the spiritual reasons for why I needed to change my name. Some reasons given to me included:
1. You need to embrace your husband’s identity as your own identity. (My response: Of course! But my question is: why doesn’t he need to embrace my identity as his own identity, too?)
2. It is a standing truth that God made Adam and Eve in his image, but at the same time he refers to both as ‘man.’ (I think that the person who said this meant that since God referred to both Adam and Eve by the man’s name ‘man,’ so too, I should take on my husband’s name.)
3. You need to change your name because ‘the beauty of God’s image is in a man and woman becoming one. Each needs to be lost in the identity of the other, being fully represented and affirmed. The Father was willing to identify with the Son and the Son totally submitted to the will of the Father.’ (My response: But why is it, despite this ‘equality’ sounding reasoning, do I feel like I’m the only one losing her identity here? I don’t feel like I am being fully represented and affirmed.)
4. Changing your name to your husband’s demonstrates your submission to him as your spiritual head. (My response: What about the idea of mutual submission from Ephesians 5:21?)
5. You need to show your oneness and unity in order to do battle against Satan. Satan attacks marital unity, after all. (My response: Is a name capable of scaring off Satan?)
I was perturbed by these reasons given to me by older, spiritual men whom I respected. Their arguments made it sound like changing my name was God’s will and akin to being spiritual and godly. Not changing it was not being a submissive wife and therefore being a bad Christian. However, I don’t personally believe a woman changing her name is a biblical mandate. It’s a part of Western culture and tradition, one that has been deeply influenced by patriarchy, but it is not the equivalent to godliness.
In a way, my desire to keep my maiden name is a resistance against some of the inconsistent lines of thoughts that were presented to me. I don’t want to simply fall in line with patriarchal traditions that pose as biblical mandate. To change my name would feel to me like I was making a public proclamation that I subscribe to mainstream interpretations of spirituality – i.e. headship and submission roles in marriage – when on the contrary, my husband and I have spent the last year establishing a biblical marriage based on mutual submission.
So, I haven’t changed my name. But, I still wrestle with all this because while I want to be able to represent the uniqueness and individuality which God gave to us both, I also want to represent the oneness. I don’t want to be so focused on the ‘twoness’ in the midst of the oneness that there is no oneness to be seen. And, ‘oneness’ is important to me too.
I still haven’t come to a final conclusion yet. Maybe you could help me.
What do you think about the name-changing tradition? Biblical, unbiblical? What are pros and cons to a woman changing her name? What is your personal experience?