OPINION: Keeping your surname after marriage is only feminist if your child gets your last name too.

Like a growing number of women, Natalie Lasance chose to keep her own surname when she got married.  

"I feel like I've worked hard to craft my own identity as an adult woman, which encompasses both my professional life, my social life, and also my online presence. To me, changing your name feels like you're changing your identity to fit in with your husband and giving up a part of yourself."

It’s an increasingly common perspective. If you cast your mind, you’ll no doubt be able to name several married women who don’t share their surname with their husbands, although they still remain in the minority. 

"In relationships, it's usually the woman who adapts and changes herself to fit into the man's life. And that includes taking on his friends, hobbies and lifestyle. Taking his name is just the next step to this and I don't agree that is how equal partners should treat each other."

Some traditions are hard to break. Watch Newington College old boys and parents protest the school’s decision to admit girls. Story continues after the video.

Video via Seven News.

But while most of us will know of women who have kept their surname, how many of those women share their surname with their own children? The likely answer is not many, if any. 

"I think to most people it's just not even a possibility," says Natalie. "I know people who are fairly liberal in their beliefs, but when I've asked them why they gave the kids the man's name, especially when they're not even married themselves, the only response they have is 'It's just what you do, isn't it?'. It makes me a bit sad that they don't have a better reason than that."

So, when Natalie became pregnant, she wanted to do things a little bit differently, and promptly told her husband she’d like to give their baby her surname. Initially, he was taken aback.

"But he quickly came around once he had heard my reasons, and he respected that I felt passionately about it.

"I explained to him the historical significance of my family name and the fact that we didn't have many boys left to continue on the family name. We have researched my ancestry and we are literally related to every Lasance in the world. It's completely unique to our family. Whereas my husband's last name is very common. Having one more would just be a drop in the ocean."

Natalie believes there shouldn’t be a 'default' setting when it comes to surnames, but rather a discussion and mutual decision. 

"It should be a discussion where each family decides what works best for them. I just think people should acknowledge and fight against the patriarchal biases that overlay these decisions. I think it's pretty cool to give mothers more respect and a higher status than what society currently gives them."


Julie Sweet isn’t married to the father of her child, but they’ve in a stable, long-term relationship. Their child shares Julie’s surname. 

"As someone with European heritage, I was raised to believe that getting married and having children was a certainty in life.

"I adopted an unspoken and spoken belief system without questioning it when I was young. I was conditioned to believe this was to be my pathway. Similarly with changing my name, it was assumed that I would take my future husband's name upon marriage, however neither has occurred."

In Australia, if a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother's surname is used for registration. However, research shows over 95 per cent of children hold their father's surname, regardless of whether their parents are married or not.

"There are several reasons for this, including the fact that it is considered a patrilineal tradition that continues to this day, as well as religion," says Julie. 

"Although we're not married, my partner and I have been in a long-term relationship and have a beautiful 13-month-old baby boy. For me, the significance of his birth and our commitment to each other goes beyond the institution of marriage," she says. 


Before their son’s birth, the couple discussed negotiables, non-negotiables and deal breakers, including Julie’s desire to give any future children her surname. 

"My partner, who has two teenage children from a previous marriage with his name, understood the relevance for our child to have my name. Each family must determine and make decisions based on what feels right for them, disregarding external opinions. The judgments or negative opinions of others often reveal more about themselves than the decision to give a child the mother's surname."

The question is, why isn’t it more common? Why are women, even those who are comfortable keeping their surnames, still reluctant to give their names to their children?

"Nothing but misogynistic."

"The patrilineal surname tradition is nothing but misogynistic and needs to be killed off."

That's the opinion of feminist influencer, Sommer Tothill, who says it’s simply not necessary for anyone to change their surname upon marriage.

"In taking men’s surnames, and appending those names to our children, we’re saying that women don’t matter: we don’t matter in our relationships, we don’t matter in the world, and our back-breaking sacrifices in birthing and raising children don’t matter either."

Tothill says while she's in favour of any cultural shift towards women championing their own identities, she believes independent women still give their children the father’s surname because of a "stubbornly lingering fear of emasculating or diminishing the men we love". 


"It’s important to remember that men rarely, if ever, feel guilt for stripping women of their identities and condemning their lineage to invisibility. It’s one of the many ways they are able to assume primacy and privilege, never pondering it.

"If you look at the statistics in Australia, the parent who undergoes the rigours of pregnancy, birth and lactation is also the one who does the vast majority of domestic and caregiving labour at great cost to their health, wellbeing and finances. This labour is the foundation of society and the economy, and should be acknowledged by preserving that person’s legacy."

As there is no legal requirement for women to change their own names, or give their children the father's surname, Tothill says the main barrier to any cultural shift is just that: cultural. 

"It’s uncomfortable, but as women, we have to think a lot more about the ways we willingly participate in our own dismissal and diminishment. 

"Women have to stop burying our identities underneath those of the men who profess to love us, while giving those men the gift of a lineage in the names of the children we birth and raise for them, at great cost to us."

Feature image: Getty. 

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