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MUCH ADO ABOUT A LAST NAME


Photograph by Seydou Keita

I've seen people divided on this topic, some (most) who can't even understand why a woman would opt to keep her surname after she gets married, and others, who can't understand why women should have to.


So if you have ever read any of my essays, or have had a few interactions with me, you probably know which side of the argument I'm sitting with.


If you're unfamiliar, allow me:

I'll begin by giving you a brief history of how this tradition came about,

Smacks lips


Back in the medieval England times, people didn't really even have last names.

But as the population grew, it got annoying trying to distinguish among the different "toms", "dicks" and "Harry's".  

And then in the 9th century, Lawmakers -the OG fuckbois- started considering the legalities surrounding families, person hood, and marriage. It was around then that the doctrine of coverture (which means to be covered) surfaced.


Since then, women were considered "one" with their husbands, and as such were required to take their husbands’ surname as their own. Of course, this meant that women had no independent legal identity apart from their spouse- they were prevented from entering contracts, making boss bitch moves, and even exercising ownership over personal property.


At birth, a girl was given her father's surname, and was only allowed to change it once she got married, to her husband's surname. (Can you see that men have always been wicked?)


I don't think I have to sit here and tell you that eventually, women were like "nah, fuck that shit", because surely, you understand that women are human too.

Around the 1800s, feminists- THE REALEST OGs - fought until the passage of the Married Women's Property Acts.

Women were now able to sign contracts, make boss bitch moves and buy houses and shit. Since this now meant that the woman's name had its own independent legal significance, more women opted to retain their birth name.


I suppose what the first group of people in this discussion are asking, is the "why."

Why a woman, who now has the option to retain the name she's known all her life, would actually make the decision to retain it, given what this decision could imply?

Whispers, "she doesn't really love her husband".


The answer is simple, because she can.


Because that has to be the first and most significant answer.

Because she, who is equal to her male counterpart, is just as human, which means she is allowed to be just as autonomous as he is. Which means if it is considered part of his basic human right to not even have to explain his choices as he feels it relates to his basic human rights, then it should also be considered part of hers.

Because anything less is telling women that although we recognize their "humanity", somewhere, it just makes more sense that men are more human than they are.

And we all know that that, will be a lie.

So let's just leave it there shall we? Because she can.


Someday, I hope this answer alone will be enough.


But since today I know it isn't, I have to expand - because a woman wanting to retain the name she's become familiar with, one she's literally been called all her life, really shouldn't be that difficult to grasp.


Think about it, this is the name she's known since pre-school, all the way up till high school, the one they called when she received her degree, the one they added M.D to after years of labor in med school, hers, just hers.

Do you know how difficult that is as a woman? To have something that you feel is yours, when the world expects you and literally grooms you to be of service to others?

Why are we attaching not only unnecessary, but also illogical sentimental meanings to her choice to retain it? 

Could it be because the world has taught us to be afraid of (and demonize) women when they make choices with their best interest at heart?


What sense does it make that a woman is only allowed to exist as an extension of the men in her life, as if she's some property that is simply being transferred.


If a woman has come to know and love and accept her surname, she should be able to do choose to retain it without having to explain herself, or deal with pressure from society.


She should not be demonized for refusing to participate in a tradition that fundamentally and historically stripped her of her human rights.


Also, this idea that a woman choosing to retain her last name somehow implies that she doesn't really love her husband or doesn't really believe in the institution of "oneness" is one that I call complete bullshit on.


Why is it that it's only the woman in this case, that is being asked to prove her loyalty to this institution? Shouldn't both parties have to prove this?

I know, I know- it's not tradition.

Do you know how many "traditional" Ideas we've collectively trashed as a society either because they negatively impacted us or simply because we deemed them unnecessary? How much more trashing one rooted in misogyny or wild idea, just allowing people to CHOOSE what works for them without castigating them for it?


Telling women that one of the most important ways they can prove their loyalty to their marriage, is by continuing a tradition that is rooted in the erasure of their individuality, speaks volumes on what we feel about women.


I mean if accepting one's individual erasure is such an important determinant of "true love", why aren't we asking the same of men?


Lastly, and most importantly, do you know how annoying that damn process is? From the auto insurance company to the passport and driver’s license, a name change must be filed.


As a wise woman once said,

'Ain't nobody got time for dat!'.


Words by Temitope Ogunniran