Weddings are a joyous time filled with celebration but potentially also the most planning you’ve ever had to do in your life!
A wedding, and indeed, a marriage, also comes with its fair share of traditions, though sometimes couples choose to depart from these.
In Western culture, everything from the bride wearing a diamond engagement ring and a white dress is part of the mix.
Taking her spouse’s surname is a more permanent tradition that heteronormative nuptials commonly involve.
It’s a personal choice and there should be no negative judgment either way. However, attitudes to this tradition have become much more mixed in recent years.
Where does the tradition come from?
Surnames were first used after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when England’s population was growing. William the Conqueror decided to compile the Domesday Book to essentially take an inventory of everyone in the country.
It took a while for the tradition to solidify. By around 1400, it was something most people in England and lowland Scotland were doing. King Henry VII (1491-1547) then made an order that all children must take on their father’s last name. The direction had already been going in this way anyway, with women commonly taking on their husband’s surnames upon marriage.
Is it still popular?
Diamond and wedding ring jeweller F Hinds has gathered some data on how popular this tradition still is. Their survey showed that 55% of women said they were more likely to take on their spouse’s surname, while just 15% of men said they would do so.
There are other alternatives to taking a surname which some couples adopt. A small percentage of respondents favoured these. 13% were prepared to create a double-barrelled surname and 4% said they’d hybridise their surnames to form a new name. 3% even said they’d create a completely new surname to share.
On the other hand, 9% of people said they wouldn’t be willing to change their surname at all.
Why do people choose it?
Of course, the numbers wouldn’t mean much without exploring the survey respondents’ reasons for their answers.
The top reason for changing the surname was “It’s just something I want/wanted to do”, an answer given by 34% of people.
This was closely followed by another 33% who said they just liked the tradition but didn’t identify as cultural or religious.
Another 9% said it was because they liked their significant other’s surname better than their own.
Encouragingly though, the least common reasons were to do with pressures from a spouse or spouse’s family.
Looking to popular media, celebrities often make their decisions about changing their surname upon marriage public. J Lo told Vogue that she would be changing her name from “Lopez” to “Affleck” upon marriage because “It still carries tradition and romance to me, and maybe I’m just that kind of girl”.
Whatever a couple decides to do about their surnames when they get married is up to them. All the same, it’s fascinating to see how old traditions are getting mixed in with new ones after centuries of tradition.