Why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

I’ve been married for over ten years now (crikey) and I’m one of those “rebellious” women that didn’t change her surname after walking down the aisle. Initially it was for professional reasons as I had built up a reputation as a journalist (plus I couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork), but in all honesty it went much deeper than that. So, why didn’t I take my husband’s name?

Firstly let’s talk about culture. The concept of name changing is very common in Western, English speaking countries but in many other cultures such as Arab, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Spanish and Greek culture (to name just a few) this isn’t a traditional practice. Women keep their own surnames after marriage and there is no issue or conflict of interest. Changing one’s name is by no means a universally accepted practice.

Exchanging rings ten years ago

For me, it wasn’t about being a feminist or not liking the Old Git’s surname. It just felt wrong to change such a fundamental part of my identity. My surname is an intrinsic part of who I am and had defined me, at the point of marriage, for thirty years. So why would I just give it up? It connects me to my childhood and to my parents. I am still my father’s daughter, even after marriage.

I see no reason to become immersed into my husband’s identity. He has his own family history, as do I, and I am not defined by his story. Of course my children ask me why I have a different surname to them and this simply gives me the opportunity to remind them that they come from two families, with two different names, both of whom love them very much. It’s not complicated at all. It’s a way for me to remind them of their maternal line and for us to celebrate the origins of our own little family.

Just because I haven’t adopted my husband’s surname doesn’t make us any less of a team or mean  I love him any less.  We make decisions together, share a house together, have children together and are committed to each other in every way. To suggest that sharing the same surname promotes family “unity” is nonsensical as the 42% rate of divorce in the UK demonstrates. A name has no bearing whatsoever on whether a couple stays together.

The day we said “I do”

So how does the Old Git feel about all of this, I hear you ask? If I remember correctly, he grumbled a little bit when I first mentioned it ten years ago but not enough for it to become an issue between us. He would jokingly say I was “doing a Beyonce” on him (a la “Independent Women”) but he never took it personally or as a rejection. His only occasional gripe is when other people describe him as “Mr Khan” on wedding invitations or holiday bookings. That, it seems, is a step too far for him and then he grumbles…A LOT. In a way, these occasional social mishaps are a good thing as they give him an insight into what it feels like to lose the name that you were born with and identify with.

I have my own little family now and am a wife and a mother. Naturally I have evolved over the years with these experiences but my name is still very much at the core of who I am. Shazia Khan, the girl that was. Shazia Khan, the woman that I am.

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18 thoughts on “Why didn’t I take my husband’s name?”

  1. Great article and a very debatable one too .

    The reason to take my Husband’s family name was as to my knowledge at that time was the tradition or culture to take on the family name as I saw it with my own mother too .I guess in a way it’s saying that the female is ready to settle in with the new family and it’s members and understand that life will never be the same as I was when being my father’s daughter .I still am my own parents daughter and the love them as much as I did before changing my surname too .

    But it does not change the fact that I lost my identity or my self ,in fact it helped to grow the family and love knowing I’m one of the family members and my husband understands and supports my love for my own family too .

    Each to its own and I leave the decision with my own two girls ,for when the time will come inshallah for them ,if they wish to take on their husband’s family name .

    Brilliant article .xx

    1. Thanks Amna for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I know many who share your sentiments about this subject. A lot of it boils down to tradition and personal choice. There’s no right or wrong way. All I wanted to do was explain my own choice and challenge the idea that name changing after marriage is necessary to demonstrate one’s love and commitment. X

  2. Great insightful piece Shazia! You have voiced many of the things I have felt in my heart as I like you never changed my name after marriage . I like my name and I like what it is associated with so why should we need to follow cultural norms. A woman after my own heart 😘

  3. Great article Shazia!

    I thought long and hard about this whole name change thing when I was getting married and being the youngest of six daughters, I felt a little added ‘pressure’ to keep my maiden name in honour of my father. I remember having a conversation with my parents about how proud I felt to be a ‘Paul’ and that it would be like the end of an era if I were to give it up?!
    After a lot of thought (and guilt trips), I whole decided on taking my husbands name, even though it annoyingly rhymed with my first name (cringe). I really must love him to put up with that for the rest of our blissfully (ahem) married life.

    1. Thank you Misha for sharing your experience. How interesting that you felt pressure to retain your family name after marriage. I guess it works both ways:) Very cool to have a rhyming name now… almost poetic! 😎

  4. At a young age I was all for adopting my husbands surname when I get married as it was the norm. However in my early twenties when I started to study Islam I learned that traditionally women in the West (or was it Christianity) became the property of her husband and therefore took on the husbands surname. In Islam this is not the case, she does become his property. I also learnt that after death a person will be identified by who their father was so then I decided that I would keep my name after marriage.

    My husband has never had an issue with it and the kids naturally have their father’s surname. I think it teaches them an important concept too from a young age. I also have no problem with referring to myself as Mrs Ali especially when ringing builders or work men as it easier in such circumstances.

    One of the funny questions I got this morning when I rang my son’s high school to arrange payments for a trip was “do you and dad live together?”, obviously to some it’s a natural assumption when parents have different surnames!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Waheeda. Yes, there are definitely a lot of assumptions that come with having a different surname (eg. not married, not committed enough to husband, don’t like husband’s family, too independent, don’t love husband enough etc etc) and that’s just not acceptable. As you say, in other cultures name changing is not the norm at all. Thanks for commenting:)

  5. My thoughts are exactly the same as you Shazia. People do not bat an eyelid when they learn that my surname is not the same as my husband’s. If anyone asks my reasons I merely point out that it is against my religion (Islam) to change names whether male or female as maintaining your family’s identity is important. Your father is just as important as his. Did you know that if you adopt a child, it is forbidden to change that child’s surname in Islam?

    1. Thanks Leila for sharing! It’s so interesting that there is no Islamic tradition of name changing post marriage and yet in Pakistan and other south Asian countries people still do it. Although my understanding is in many Arab countries women don’t change their names. For me it was about my personal identity. I just couldn’t imagine not having my own family name.

  6. Brilliant! I still remember someone at the school calling me a snob for my daugther surname. She has my husband surname first and my surname second. When she was born the spanish emabssy told us that when applying for spanish passport it will have to be like that because of spanish law and better do it the same in british passport otherwise she will have two identities and a lot of headaches for the rest of her life.
    The spanish tradition is that you always belong to your family (clan), not matter your companion. In the cementery you get bury with your family, he does with his. Unless you start a new sanctuary and a new lineage. It super fun visiting cementery in some parts of Spain. My mum is always worried that people keep dying in her family and it will not be enough space for her in HER family chapel.

    1. That’s so funny Carmen regarding your mum! And yes, you illustrate perfectly the point I was making that the concept of name changing post marriage is very culturally specific. It doesn’t happen in many different cultures and so we shouldn’t ever feel compelled to do it. Thanks for sharing. x

  7. An interesting article. I am yet to marry so have never had the opportunity to change my name (unless of course I wanted to make a conscious effort to do so). I suppose I am different in that I was always looking forward to changing my name as part of getting married not because I wanted to lose my identity but actually as a way of regaining it. My sister and I have both always hated our surname as we were teased mercilessly throughout primary school for our surname, often by friends who considered it friendly banter (we both disagreed that it was either friendly or banter). My Dad was an only child so there was only the 4 of us and our Grandparents who shared the name – those sharing the actual name were hardly a large clan and losing the name wouldn’t make me feel any less like I am a part of them.

    When I was building my career I worked for a while in the same company as my mother. She had nothing to do with my job and yet I was permanently known as Sue Baker’s daughter, never Sarah Baker. People I didn’t know knew who I was because of my surname not because of me. I built a good reputation of my own and still the legacy continued. It was a relief when I moved to another company as I could be purely my own identity but I still felt that my surname detracted from my individuality rather than added to it. Plus it really bothers me that people insist on calling me “Mrs Baker”. If I am going to be assumed to be Mrs then I would like that to a) be true and b) be the name I married into – the assumption that I must be “Mrs” bothers me.

    I also want my children to share my surname (whether that be Baker because I am not married or a shared surname because I am), I don’t want them to have a different surname from me. Which actually does raise a question out genuinely pure curiosity – why give your children your husbands surname and not your own. Why do women feel the need for their children to be identified with their husbands family by name and not your own? Your heritage is also a part of your children’s so why cant they carry on your name rather than that of your husband?

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience and thoughts on the subject. Really interesting to hear your views and what has shaped them. Of course there is no right or wrong way.. But it is a subject that is loaded with assumptions and judgements. Personally I have no problem with having a different surname to my kids. It just doesn’t bother me, probably because I carried them, gave birth to them, nursed them and have that special maternal connection with them. In contrast, men have always identified with their children, and historically confirmed their paternity, by giving their name to them. But there’s no reason why a woman can’t give her children her surname in my view. On reflection I could have given my kids my surname as their middle name to honour their maternal lineage but i doubt the Old Git would have been OK with them not taking his name at all and taking mine instead. Call it a thousand years of paternal conditioning and an innate desire to confirm/state paternity.

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