In marriage, the first question is usually pretty easy to answer: will you marry me?
But it’s the multitude of questions that follow that are really leaving women stumped: Where will we live? Do we join bank accounts? Will we have kids? And, a big one – will I take his surname?
One of the oldest wedding traditions in existence, the taking on of a husband’s last name was an unquestioned ritual until the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.
All of the sudden, women stopped viewing themselves as objects to be acquired and owned. They didn’t want to abandon their surname and walk blindly into a whole new identity as ‘his’.
And so, a whole new can of wedding worms was opened: will you take his name, or won’t you?
For a time, the answer from many women was a resounding: No Fricken Way.
One of the Mamamia senior writers notes that she can actually approximate the age of someone as to whether or not they have taken their partner's last name. For women of her age-group, keeping your maiden name was the 'done thing'.
Brisbane nurse Mary-Ann Beresford-Smith is a great representative of this baby-boomer era, who was among the first to really consider what was in a name.
"Deciding to get married brought up many questions that we explored together," she told me. "It seemed like everything was up for discussion. Where to live, when to marry, where to marry and by whom, did we want kids, a mortgage and so on."
"Suddenly my identity was in sharp focus and I thought about “losing” my name and having some one else’s’."
We discussed this issue on the latest episode of Mamamia OutLoud. Listen to it here:
The hyphenation of their two surnames didn't sound right together, so they sourced an old family name (Beresford) in her family tree that went back several generations, and added it to his name (Smith).
"My husband was completely open to it. He had to change his name firstly by deed pole, and from then on his identifier was his birth certificate and then his deed poll certificate."
"We both love the name and the tie it gives us to the generations past."
And Mary-Ann is not alone. In an article recently posted to Arts Mic, writer Angie Siu explains the historical rise of keeping one's surname, and how it became something of a phenomenon.
"Keeping one’s maiden name was born out of feminist philosophy in the 1850s," she explains.
"The practice was first introduced by U.S. suffragette Lucy Stone. In the 1920s, members of the Lucy Stone League began to adopt this practice, and the feminist movement of the 1970s popularized it. It was a way for women to declare that they were equal to men."
Stepping forward into the 1980's and 1990's, even fewer women again were looking to adopt their husband's surname.
According to The Wall Street Journal, "The trend toward women keeping their maiden names after marriage peaked in the 1990s, when about 23% of women did so."
It is tempting to equate the rise of the 'power woman' to a strong female desire to own her identity, especially in marriage.