I have two last names. No, not a hyphenated last name; two distinct last names. And I have no plans to change them if I get married.
My mother did two things that are considered the norm in Spain but not anywhere else – she kept her maiden name, and she passed it down to me.
This the norm in Spain for as long as we have historical records. This is how it works: every person has two last names; when two people have a child, that child will inherit the first name from each parent. My name is Beatriz Valero de Urquia because my father’s first surname is Valero and my mother’s is de Urquia. If I had a child named Maria with a man called John Smith Brown, the child’s full name would be Maria Smith Valero. Traditionally, the father’s surname is given first, but this is no longer compulsory.
In Spain, children traditionally inherit two surnames, one from each parent.
When I had a crush on someone as a little kid, I would not write my name with that person’s surname, but the names of our possible children.
In all official Spanish documents, there are separate spaces for ‘first surname’ and ‘second surname’. However, this became an issue when I moved to the UK, and I had to pretend to have one gigantic last name. Nevertheless, I am proud of it.
The reason why we have two last names in Spain is so that children by default share a last name with both their parents. Because yes, here women don’t change their names when they get married. I won’t either. I refuse to.
This seems shocking to my British and American friends, but it’s very simple to me. My surnames show my heritage, who I am, and where I come from. Both my parents are represented in my name, but as different individuals. I am as much a part of my mother’s family as I am of my dad’s. When I get married, I will start a new family, but I won’t be any less a part of my parent’s families.
Marriage will not change who I am, so I see no reason why my name should change.
Lucy Stone, an African-American suffragist, fought for women’s right to keep their names.
Moreover, changing one’s own name seems like a paperwork nightmare. Passport, driving license, social media, insurance, tenancy contracts…and what if you get a divorce? I refuse to let my identity be defined by my relationships.
I was very surprised to find out just how common it still is for women to change their names after marriage. It is believed that this custom originated in relation to the doctrine of coverture, which took effect in England in the 14th century and under which a woman was considered to be her husband’s possession and had no legal rights of her own. A court statement of 1340 defined it very clearly: “when a woman took a husband, she lost every surname except ‘wife of'”.
By the 15th century, a married couple began to be perceived as a unit, and therefore women received the right to use their husband’s surname. It was not until the 19th century that women slowly received the right to maintain their maiden names after marriage.
However, the fight was longer in the United States. It was finally thanks to Lucy Stone, a 19th-century suffragist and abolitionist, that the courts were required to admit that there was in fact no law that dictated that women had to change their names upon marriage. She was inspired by African-American customs to maintain her name and was shocked when legal officials wouldn’t let her buy land under it. She always signed her letters as ‘Lucy Stone (only)’.
Her fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “Nothing has been done in the woman’s rights movement for some time that has so rejoiced my heart as the announcement by you of a woman’s right to her name. It does seem to me that proper self-respect demands that every woman may have some name by which she may be known from cradle to grave.”.
Marriage will not change who I am. Why should my name change?
Nonetheless, laws differed from state to state, and it was only in 1972 that women were allowed to maintain their maiden names in all 50 states. However, recent research from the New York Times found that 70% of women in the United States in recent years have continued to change their legal name after marriage. This is not very different from the situation in the United Kingdom, where only 35% chose to keep their maiden names.
More shocking is the situation in Japan, where a marriage is not recognized unless both spouses have the same name. This explains why 96% of Japanese women change their surname upon marriage.
Nonetheless, Spain is not the only country where women traditionally have maintained their last names. In fact, in Greece, Italy, and France, women cannot legally change their surname, although they can use their husband’s names in informal situations. Moreover, in most of Latin America and in some Asian countries such as Malaysia and Korea, changing one’s last name is also very uncommon.
I was shocked when my boyfriend was talking to me about one of his cousins and suddenly corrected himself for saying her first name wrong. “She has gotten married recently,” he explained. That is how I discovered that many Indian women are not only socially expected to change their surname, but in some communities, they also change their first name. “Don’t expect me to ever do that,” I said to him at the time. I still stand by that.
I have a shockingly long name, but I’m proud of it. It shows who I am and, if I ever have children, I will pass it on to them so that they can be proud of who they are and where they come from.