Why Taking your Husband’s Surname ISN’T ‘Medieval’ or ‘Horribly Sexist’, and Weddings aren’t ‘Acres of Misogyny’

I should start by iterating that I am NOT in any way, shape or form an anti-feminist. I’m all for equality between the sexes, I love my independence and I relish the fact I have all the social, political, legal and economic rights as men in this country. However, I recently read an article in the Daily Mirror in which feminist columnist Polly Hudson claimed that it’s sexist and medieval for a woman to take the surname of the man she is to marry. She then goes on to pick at every aspect of the wedding ceremony from the father walking the bride down the aisle to the bouquet toss. Whilst I’m sure that Polly’s intentions were not to disgust her readers, I couldn’t feel anything but angry when I studied the article. Two thoughts went through my mind; the first being that feminism had become ridiculous and would appear to be, in a lot of cases, extreme. She almost bullies women into feeling ashamed for not keeping their own name. The second was that every romantic ideal of my own wedding day had been tarred with the ‘misogynist’ brush, destroying all romantic notions of the little rituals which will, if I get married, be so incredibly important to me.

Taking your husband’s surname is NOT medieval.

The first issue I have with Polly’s article is that in no way, shape or form is taking your husband’s surname medieval (the only accuracy Polly has pointed out in her claim that it is, is that medieval women took their husband’s surname). For starters, surnames during the medieval period had a much more significant meaning to them than they do these days; they were usually derived from titles, profession or place of habitation. For example Webb was a surname attributed to weavers, and Baker was a surname attributed to bread makers. Therefore, following a wedding, the women took on the identity of their husband’s profession, not just their family. The surnames would be used to attribute individuals to their family groups for the purpose of records, and also distinguish them from each other as society grew.

Nowadays, surnames don’t hold as much practical significance as they did during the medieval period. However to me, they’re still important. Personally, I think taking your husband’s surname is a tradition which should be upheld if it’s something you wish to do. I’m incredibly proud of my current surname; several members of my family have been very successful and brought it some prestige, and it’s very uncommon in the UK. If and when I get married, however, I will be dropping it in favour of taking my husband’s. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. After all I’ll be starting a family with him, living with him, and sharing my life with him as my partner from that moment on. When I consider how big those changes are, and how frivolous some people are with using deed poll to change their names, taking my partner’s really isn’t such a big deal. I will still have my roots and know where I come from. I won’t ever lose my family ties. Instead, I’ll be making my own. Everyone is entitled to make their own decision regarding this, but it’s better to make an informed one as opposed to being pressured or made to feel ‘subservient’ by an overly feminist woman who wants to pressure others to share her ideals.

There is no reason why your sister/friend/mother/ can’t make a speech at your wedding

I’m not sure if Polly is familiar with YouTube, but I’m sure if she typed ‘maid of honour speech at wedding’ into the search bar, she’d find plenty of examples of women standing at the top table and toasting the bride and groom with a speech which could rival that of her male counterpart. In the UK women have the same rights as men, and these rights are not void when it comes to nuptials. These days, they can be both traditional and modern without a hint of sexism in sight. All you need to do is ask. I’m pretty sure I won’t be breaking any laws by asking my sister to speak at mine. I’d ask my Mum, but since she almost drowned me in happy tears at my graduation I’m sure she’d be too busy trying not to flood out the guests to say a single word – let alone a speech!

You are not ‘property’ being ‘traded’

Whilst a daughter was her father’s property back in the day, the handing over of which was symbolised by a walk down the aisle, today it means something entirely different. My father has never treated me like property, and has only ever encouraged me to be my own person. I don’t see why he should all of a sudden ‘lay claim’ to me for my wedding day. Instead, I look at it as the last walk I’ll ever make with my Dad as his little girl. It will be an act of love, not ownership, and a final confirmation that he trusts the person that I marry to protect me and keep me safe for the rest of my life. It doesn’t mean he’s a misogynist or of the belief that women can’t look after themselves as well as men can; he just wants his daughter to be as safe as possible with a man who loves her unconditionally. He will use the walk to reassure me that I can go through with my marriage and support me as I make the biggest change I will ever make in my life. Or, should I get cold feet and decide I don’t want to go through with a wedding for whatever reason, he will be there to support me then too. I for one know that when I make that walk there is nobody I’d rather have by my side than my father, and I sure as hell won’t be able to make it alone.

The bouquet toss is NOT solely for ‘subservient little women’

Another tradition that Polly has sought to demean is the bouquet toss. She claims the women jostle each other to try and catch the flowers, whilst their boyfriends look on wondering which will be forced into marriage next. If this does happen, these displays of emotion will be made purely in jest and everybody in our society knows it. The bouquet toss is a bit of light hearted fun which provides amusement to party guests. Nobody believes that the person who catches it will be the next to marry, and that’s why it’s so much fun. There is also nothing to prevent the men from joining in either. The reason they don’t is most likely down to the fact that they don’t have any interest in flowers, and enjoy seeing the state that their partners get in trying to shove other women out out of their way whilst they attempt to claw their way to victory. I don’t think Polly has considered that there are just some things that men aren’t in to, and her attempt to legitimately use it as an example of separation between the sexes is just ludicrous.

Divorce doesn’t mean you’re stuck with your husband’s name

Polly cites Ronnie Wood’s ex wife Jo as an example of an individual who is ‘stuck’ with her ex husband’s name. She wasn’t ‘stuck’ with it; she just chose not to change it. She had become known by the name, and decided that she wanted to stay known as Jo Wood in order not to slip into anonymity. When you go through a divorce, you can change your name. You can revert back to your maiden name. It doesn’t mean you’re ‘handing your identity back’ or giving your ex another part of you. In fact I think it means the opposite. By retaking your maiden name, you symbolise how strong and independent you are, and I imagine that without association to my ex should I ever go through a divorce, it will make moving on with my life so much easier. It also doesn’t mean that I’m allowing my father to ‘repossess’ me. Like I said previously, I will never forget where I came from and, should I need to start again, I’ll go back to the beginning.

I apologise if this has come across as one sided – that wasn’t my intention. I’m merely adding my voice and opinion to the debate, along with my reasons why. If people choose not to marry that’s none of my business. There is nothing wrong with cohabitation without marriage. There is also nothing wrong with choosing to keep your name or adopt a new one when entering into marriage. It is not for others to judge those who choose to do things either way; everyone is entitled to make their own choices and be happy with them. For me, the traditions of a wedding are important and should be kept, but modernised where possible. I don’t judge those who decide to do differently unless they do so in a way which demeans the ideals of others in such a way that it is insulting. In the same way, I don’t expect to be judged or made to feel less of a woman because of the decisions I have made or will make. I don’t want to be accused of ‘setting women back 100 years’ or of being ‘weak’ for not fulfilling somebody else’s ideal. Ensuring my rights are protected is important, but so is making decisions which will be the best for me and my family.


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