Tradition of retaining male surname is sexist


Annie Cohen, Contributing Columnist

Amal Alamuddin, an international human rights lawyer, has been thrust into the spotlight this past year because of her relationship with actor George Clooney, and it does not seem like the attention will go away anytime soon. Alamuddin most recently made headlines this week when it was revealed that, according to the official listing on her law firm’s website, she took Clooney’s surname. This move came as a surprise to many, especially since it seems atypical of a successful, established career woman.

While I respect Alamuddin’s decision, I find it difficult to fathom. In fact, I find the entire practice of taking a man’s name, and how little this practice is typically questioned, very troubling. A woman altering a vital part of her identity while a man retains his is indisputably sexist. The action implies that the woman now belongs to the man, branded with his name for all to see. As far as I am concerned, changing one’s name is an antiquated notion that should be abolished.

Interestingly, the past decade has seen a decline in woman retaining their names after marriage, dropping to around just 18 percent after peaking at 23 percent in the 1990s. This trend needs to be reversed immediately. Names, after all, represent our identity. From the moment we are born, we have names bestowed upon us, yet it has somehow become a beloved custom to abandon these identities after walking down the aisle. As more and more women are earning professional degrees and working in high-profile jobs, names are becoming even more significant. There is a reason, after all, that it is called “making a name for yourself.” If a woman has spent decades building a reputation and a career, she should not feel pressured by society to alter any part of herself in any way.

Some argue that women retaining their names is an affront to tradition. This argument is flawed, however, because traditions must evolve as times evolve. Women have more opportunities and are more unrestricted than ever, so it seems unreasonable to expect them to adhere to an outdated practice. In today’s diverse world, a husband and wife sharing a last name is simply not all that important.

Gender equality has come a long way, but clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. Even if something like retaining a name seems innocuous, ultimately it is a step in the right direction, for it is usually the little things that have the biggest impact. If women are to be truly equal to men, having an unfair custom where men assert their dominance should not stand. It is crucial that society rid itself of this damaging practice.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct 22 print issue. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected].