A Rose By Any Other Name…: Should a woman accept her husband’s last name?

By: Katherine Thomas

I can see why women might not want to take their husband’s last name. I mean, what if the poor guy had a name like “Barth”? Would you be Mrs. Barth? (My apologies and condolences to the Barths reading this.)

Barth aside, there could be other reasons for her avoidance of this rule. Perhaps she sees taking his name as some sort of mark of his ownership of her, and wishes to “smash the patriarchy” as the young upstarts say nowadays. Or, less controversially, she simply loves her original family name: perhaps it holds ethnic pride or historical importance.

On the flip side, though, what is the benefit of taking your husband’s name? Bear with me; I would like to explore a few views in defense of this tradition. First, we will hear from G.K. Chesterton, then God.

“Of the two sexes, the woman is in the more powerful position,” G.K. Chesterton writes. “For the average woman is at the head of something with which she can do as she likes… women represent the despotic [element in life].” A ruler is, by title, associated with the domain that he or she rules. “King Charles of Spain,” or “Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi, Princess of Genovia” might serve as examples here. If one takes G.K. Chesterton’s (radically feminist) view that the wife is a despot over her family life, it follows that she, like any ruler, would want her domain in her title. “Mrs. Smith” is telling you that she governs Mr. Smith, his progeny Smith, and belongings he purchased with a check signed “Smith”.

Excuse my satire in that last paragraph – unless you actually believe that reasoning. If you do, rock on, I guess. Moving to a more serious mindset, one might peruse the Word. I’ve heard this is a Christian University. How might a Christian woman benefit from taking her husband’s last name? How might the nominal adoption impact her growth in Christ?

When Christ married the Church, dressed to the nines in a bloodstained, purple robe and crown of thorns, he gave men and women a snapshot of what true marriage looks like: the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15) dies for the sake of the bride (Ephesians 5:25). What does the Church do in turn for her Bridegroom? She takes His name as her own: “Christian” (lit. “Little Christ”). We are the Body of Christ: the Christian Church (1 Cor 12:27). Christ’s Body and ours are united, and we become one – under His name. Mrs. Dust becomes Mrs. Christ, essentially. I laugh too; it looks weird.

So, I would argue that it could actually be helpful for the wife to remember her marriage to Christ by taking her husband’s last name. It reminds her that her husband represents Christ in their marriage (Ephesians 5:24). She took Christ’s name at her baptism when she became “Christian”; she might also take the name of Christ’s image (e.g. Mr. Smith) when she marries him.

If you are still reading, I commend your perseverance through this rather tangled thought process. Of course, I am not dead-set either way, and am not saying that taking the husband’s name is “the Christian way to go.” It just seems like it might be a good reminder that marriage to a husband should look like marriage to Christ – but this might not be helpful for anyone else, and that is totally fine. Let me know your thoughts on this controversial tradition. Should modernity kill it off? I take my leave as the yet unchanged – Miss Thomas. 

Leave a Reply