Marriage and the Name Change

Katherine Rosman, at , wrote a piece about not changing her name when she got married and it got a bundle of responses, including a few clips below.

Where are you on this one? Do you believe in changing names or think it’s open and up to the individuals? Any pastors out there have a policy in place?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my decision not to change my name upon marrying nine years ago, noting: “I did not appreciate what a symbol my last name would be for the way married people feel tousled among different identities.”

This column generated a torrent of email. These letters were deeply personal, passionately argued and totally revealing of the many facets tied to what we call ourselves. Many letters deserve printing. Here are snippets from just a few….

There was a contingent of women who shared stories of their decisions not to change their names, including a number who married decades ago and were disheartened that the issue remained an issue at all.

“I could think of nothing more unnatural than changing what I called myself when I married at 20, and I still feel exactly the same way now at 52,” wrote Jeanne Maire of West Sayville, N.Y.

Quite a few women also wondered whether I played down the feminist angle too much when I wrote that my clinging to “‘Rosman’ was hardly a sign of matrilineal dominance. It was my last name because it was my father’s last name.”…

When Matthew Glinn of Harrisburg, Pa., married his wife, he told her he was not comfortable with her changing her name to his because he felt it would reinforce “the notion that women are inferior to men,” he explained in his letter. So he and his wife combined letters from each of their names and created a unique surname, which they both adopted. “To me,” wrote Mr. Glinn, “it seemed a logical way to handle the situation since marriage is, if nothing else, a melding of two into one.”…

“When two people marry, they become a couple, a single entity! And a single entity does not go by two names!” he wrote, before adding, “your obsession with your identity is misplaced, overwrought, selfish and small-minded.” (Mr. Schroeder and I have subsequently corresponded. I’m officially a fan: I like a person who speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of an exclamation point.)…

A bunch of readers similarly suggested that my reticence to change my name could be interpreted as a lack of commitment to my marriage. Ramon Estrada of Mission Viejo, Calif., wrote, “I don’t think your husband will EVER feel you are 100% his (not literally, of course, but emotionally), by retaining your maiden name. I wouldn’t if my wife did, then again, she wouldn’t be my wife. How many marriages do you know of that have worked out where the wife made this same selfish decision?”

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  • John W Frye

    Before we take sides on this issue, it might do well to trace the history behind the (woman’s) name change in the West. I recall something to the effect (and this could be wrong) that women were considered *property* of the husband and therefore were called by his name. If so, then I would consider name changing a negotiable issue. As a pastor, I have no official policy (and I don’t think my denomination does either) on this. So, I would be willing to enter into a dialogue with a couple where the wife wanted to keep her name.

  • rjs

    This is a culturally dependent issue – not common in many cultures and is up to the parties involved – his name, her name, separate names or combined names. It is not something where an official policy is appropriate.

  • Amos Paul


    I wouldn’t trust that supposed recollection. A quick google search doesn’t turn up any (obvious) connections between women being ‘property’ and changing their name in the Western European tradition. The only obvious connections I saw were the importance of family lines, names, inheritance, etc.

  • Jeff L

    With my blessing, my wife kept her name for professional reasons. I’ve never felt that she was less my wife or that she lacked a firm commitment to our marriage.

    In fact, I would guess that when it comes to men who feel this way, it says a lot more about them than it does about their wives.

  • tdsutter

    I am a pastor and we (the denomination, local church, and myself) have no policy on this issue, nor, I believe, should we. It seems to me to be individual preference.

  • As a woman who kept her name upon marriage, I’ll weigh in on this one.
    1. why on earth would a pastor have a “policy” about this? I am seriously asking.
    2. Re commitment: A personal note- my husband and I have been married 23 years and counting. More generally: Given the small number of women who do not change their names and the high frequency of divorce, it seems unhelpful(at best) to suggest that women who do not change their name are less committed to their marriage. I’m guessing here, but I suspect that one’s name has little to do with the longevity of one’s marriage.
    3.For me it was (and continues to be) an issue of personal identity. Society is very quick to define women almost entirely by their roles as wife and mother. Keeping my name was one way to try to preserve my identity. I am glad to be the wife of X and the mother of Y and Z but that is not the sum total of who I am.

    When my husband and I were talking about getting married and I said I wanted to keep my name, that was a problem for him. He had assumed that what was culturally acceptable was what ought to be done. I told him that if it was important to him that we have the same name, he was welcome to change his name. He didn’t change his name. But I think spending even a brief amount of time thinking about what it would mean for him to change his name helped him understand my feelings.

  • Dana Ames

    I think it’s up to the individuals.

    I also think that the solution of taking letters of both names and combining them into a new name is confusing. I still like to know the way each party is related to others in their family. This is something I “inherited” from my mother. I grew up in a small town, and when I meet someone from there, if I don’t know them, I know one of their relations; it “places” a person for me.

    A married couple among my friends simply use both last names as one last name, without a hyphen; the names are short enough for that. I’m still not sure which person belongs to which name, unless I happen to be with them when one set of parents is there.

    I changed my name. Yes, I married in the ’70s, and even then I didn’t care what other people did; it was simply that I’m “old-fashioned” in that regard. The commenters the author mentioned who think that the meaning of marriage stops with becoming one entity are, for whatever reasons, short-sighted. The man and wife do not lose their identities, and oneness doesn’t mean one single identity, whether that of the man, the woman, or something else. As Richard Twiss said, “God is one because God is three.” Same paradoxical thing for a marriage: The two are one because they are two.


  • As people marry later, issues of public identity increase. Beyond the many issues of personal identity, authors, actors, professors, etc, have significant issue of ‘brand’ identity if they change their name.

    I agree that the pastoral policy question is odd. The only reason to ask it would seem to be that someone would have a policy of not marrying someone because they refused to change their name or would change their name in a way that the clergy deemed inappropriate. I have never heard of a name change being a reason for not performing a marriage ceremony.

  • Samuel

    @Nancy (6) In your 3rd point, you say that personal identity was and still is the reason behind your decision to retain your last name. You mention that society has the tendency to pigeon hole women into either wife or mother. How would you define your identity and how does that translate into your last name?

  • Joe Canner

    JeffL #4: Amen…in fact, men who feel this way (that not changing a name = lack of commitment) should consider changing *their* names in order to show *their* commitment to the marriage.

    #1-3: In Morocco (and probably other Arab countries) women typically do not take their husband’s name. Sometimes the children take his name, sometimes a hyphenated name if there is a status advantage to including the mother’s name. So, there is probably not a correlation between “women-as-property” and naming conventions.

  • Jay Green

    The best compromise I’ve ever seen on this one comes from Andy Crouch in his book “Culture Making.” In it, he explains how both he and his wife changed their names when they married, both taking his wife’s maiden name as middle names, and her taking Andy’s surname.

    If I hadn’t already been long married when I read it, I would have considered doing the same thing. It has the benefit of giving the family a single, common name, while, at the same time, honoring his wife’s family name. Seemed to me an excellent egalitarian solution without the difficulties of multiple names in the family or, worse, hyphens.

  • Diane

    What about hyphenated names: when Mary Smith and John Zelanzny become Mr and Mrs Smith-Zelanzny? This can cause trouble for children, when Zu-Zu Smith-Zelanzny marries Johnny Gonzalez-Harrison, you potentially have four surnames … But it does clarify the ancestry.

    I took on my husband’s name for convenience: it was easier to spell than my Eastern European surname, and it was simply easier for us to have the same name. If my name had been the simple one and his the long, complex one, we would have taken mine. As noted in the post, I agree that there’s no great matrilineal gain in taking one’s father’s surname–or one’s mother’s last name for that matter, as it all represents the male line. I see value in creating a wholly new name–I think it helps a couple find definition as a new family, but I also can understand the value in some intelligible connection to ancestors.

  • Brian W

    Pastor here… I have no policy for such a thing and I don’t believe I ever will make one. But I do have general counsel in this related area. I do believe its important for me as a pastor to encourage decisions, activities and behaviors that support and not distract from the unity that happens in the covenant of marriage. In my marriage counseling, I hear so many comments about “her money, my money,” “his friends, my friends,” “My vacation, his vacation” that I’ve learned so many seem to be living as roommates with benefits… and oftentimes not even with benefits; the only thing they share are parental responsibilities and when the kids are gone they just share the knowledge of their daily routine.

    Changing one’s name isn’t the silver bullet that somehow brings perfect unity in a relationship. But I always make sure that couples know what they are actually doing when they get married… they are actually coming together as one. So live out that reality in faith.

  • Robin

    In keeping with the biblical notion that when two people are married they are leaving father and mother to become one flesh…I think at a minimum the couple should have one family name. That could mean either person dropping their last name and taking on that of the other, or combining the two with a hyphen, or creating a new surname out of thin air. I just don’t like the principle that two people who are one flesh would have different surnames (and implicitly claim to be from different families, since that is the purpose of a surname in our culture).

  • Robin

    Also, it is definitely cultural. When I worked in the food stamp and Medicaid office it was impossible for me to go through a case record and understand paternal and maternal relationships regarding children. It seemed like I would have 5 kids with the same biological mother and father and all of the children would have different surnames. That is an exaggeration, but their naming conventions are really different.

    My main point above is that if we are going to exist in this culture, then our naming conventions should be consistent with the principle that the husband and wife have formed a unique, committed, family unit. That seems difficult, in our culture, if both retain their surnames (and implicitly their allegiances to their childhood families rather than to one another).

  • BradK

    I agree with rjs others that a pastor having a policy on something like this is inappropriate. It would be a major warning sign of an overly meddlesome or controlling pastor and I think I would sort of freak out a bit if I thought my pastor had a policy on surname changes.

    As for the wife assuming the husband’s name in general, to each his or her own. Rosman’s last paragraph was the most important, imo.

    “I hate the idea of causing my children any angst, and it’s true that my oldest has begun to ask why my last name is different than his. But when the kids skin their knees or get a fever, I’ve never heard them ask for Katie Rosman or Joe Ehrlich. It’s all, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” and that’s the most important name I have.”

    Sounds like her children may have the dad’s surname, which sort of makes sense. The mom’s maternity is never in doubt, but the father’s could be. “Mommy’s baby, daddy’s maybe.” Although technology is making this less of an issue than it once was. But it makes sense for the children to bear the surname of the man who assumes responsibility as their father. But maybe that view just means I am old-fashioned. 😉

  • Robin


    In comment 15 I meant to say it was difficult to go through case records of Hispanic families and determine maternal and paternal relationships, due to their different naming conventions.

  • DRT

    I think it is irrelevant for the couple, but could be very relevant with kids in the picture. My wife (poor woman) took my name and we never gave it a second thought.

    But, it seems to me, the kids would have a different concept growing up in a dual name house.

    I also think it depends on the name. My last name if very distinctive so there is a great deal of identity that goes along with it. If it were Taylor or Smith instead, well that would be quite different.

  • Joe Canner

    Brian W #13: I think you hit on the reason why people like Ramon Estrada (last paragraph of the post) say things like “How many marriages do you know of that have worked out where the wife made this same selfish decision?”

    A wife not changing her name is probably not the cause of marriages going sour, but it *may* in some cases be a symptom of selfishness, which is the real cause of the failed relationship. I also imagine that it is rarely just the woman’s fault in such cases. There are probably plenty of selfish men who like the fact that their wives don’t change their names because it allows both of them to be selfish.

  • Amos Paul

    RJS & Nancy,

    Both of you questioned why a policy on this issue would be a appropriate. I humbly suggest that, in your minds, you may be viewing policy as–Pastor require name change, or some other sort of standardized method of acting.

    However, policies can be much more dynamic than that. A pastor, due to experience, may have a ‘policy’ within their marriage counseling (often required) to bring up the issue of the name change. It may be their ‘policy’ to explain this or that detail that they have observed couples struggling with in that area prior to or after marriage, and it may be their ‘policy’ to suggest one or two courses of action they think are helpful or healthy.

    While this specific issue did not come up in our counseling, that was basically what our experience consisted of. Our church’s ‘policy’ was to work through a designated set of material with a pastor to pre-emptively engage with various potential issues while the pastor offered suggestions and/or explanation upon the importance of those discussions. Moreover, my wife’s name change did, indeed, become an issue post-marriage that we have had to discuss.

  • @ samuel (9) I define my identity as child of God and not by what I do or to whom I am married to or the mother of.But this is not how society, and even the church, identifies people. By way of example…
    Just after we were married, my name appeared in the church bulletin as “Nancy Jones”. I assumed this was a simple misunderstanding, since most women do change to their husband’s name. After worship I found the church secretary and told her I had not changed my name. Her reply was,” I know you didn’t, but I put your name in the bulletin that way so people would know who you are.”

  • LarryS

    Back in my seminary days (1985ish)people were just beginning to keep both their sur-names when they got married. My friend and I called them Mr. and Mrs. Hyphen – but never to their faces. 🙂

    I think it should be the choice of the couple.

  • DRL

    A cultural matter, so biblical arguments are moot. In our Western culture the woman will likely end up with a man’s last name either way (either her husband’s or her father’s–unless she was born to a single mom, then probably her grandfather’s name.) So the question of feminism is moot. It really comes down to one’s own sense of cultural commitment, personal identity, and practicality.

    What I have found more complexing is when a divorced woman remarries but wants to keep her ex-husband’s last name for business reasons or to otherwise maintain continuity with her established life. I know a number of women who do this.

  • DRL

    oops. meant perplexing, not complexing. :”(

  • Cliff

    As a pastor, I don’t personally have a policy on name-changing, but I disagree with those who feel it’s inappropriate for a pastor to have such a policy. People do not need a pastor in order to get married. Any justice of the peace will do, and in some states other family members can preside. When a couple comes to me, we must have a shared understanding of what Christian marriage is if I’m going to authentically do their wedding ceremony. If we don’t, I recommend other pastors whose theology and beliefs might be a better fit. To say that a pastor should not have a conviction on name-change (maybe he sees it as a crucial sign of spiritual unity) or other matters seems to imply that all pastors have a duty to marry whoever asks them. Since no one needs a pastor to get married, no one’s “right” to be married is endangered if we have convictions that move us to say, “I can’t do this in good conscience.”

  • Amos Paul (20) You’re right, the language of “policy” is problematic for me. I would have been happier if the question had been phrased along the lines of “do you discuss this during marriage counseling”.
    A general comment. I am quite fascinated by two recurring ideas in these comments. One that cultural conformity (meaning white anglo saxon conventions) is important. Two the idea that retaining one’s name is a sign of selfishness or lack of commitment. That has not been my experience. Couples I know who have talked about names, etc have given thought to what it means to be married and what their expectations of each other are. (OF course couples who have the same last name may have also talked about this issues.)

  • rjs

    Amos Paul,

    A policy to discuss it (among other things) in premarital counseling is a very good thing. No question here – I don’t think people (male or female) realize how big a move it can be … to change or not to change. I just don’t think the pastor or church should have a policy dictating the choice the couple must make.

  • Laura K

    Like a previous commenter, I have a frequently-misspelled last name. I will be happy to be rid of it. If it were an easier name, I think I would still change it because having the same last name identifies you as married (with different last names you might be married or may simply be living together). I could see myself keeping it for professional purposes only, and I’ll likely leave it as part of my email address and facebook names (with my married name added to the end) for several years to avoid confusion.

  • Beakerj

    I kind of took a middle road on this – I got married at 36 & decided to keep my maiden name as a middle name, not being able to imagine life without it. So I gained his name, kept mine & no hyphen was involved.

    It also meant I got to have 4 names, finally. My 4 brothers were all christened with 4 names, & I just had a measly 3, until now.

  • DRT

    DRL#23 has a good scenario that really speaks to the culture. Would an older, ahem, divorced woman keep her former husband’s name for business reasons. I say a wholehearted YES! A name is but a name.

    But, eating food sacrificed to idols is bad if one causes others to sin (amen?). In other words, she would need the buy in of her new husband.

  • DRT

    Cliff#25, I invite you to reconsider your position. Having a policy on name changing indicates that the pastor is applying a rule over the situation of the people involved. I would contend that a *policy* is totally inappropriate in Christian circles and strongly ask that you reconsider your position.

    If a 60 year old woman whose husband died need to change her name if she wanted to remarry? What you are saying smacks of legalism.

  • nathan

    After 10 years of marriage celebrated this past week, I’m seriously considering incorporating my wife’s “maiden” name into my own.

    It seems to me that there is some “family identification/identifier” functionality to having one name (barring professional considerations, etc.), but it also seems hopelessly sexist that the assumption/default must be that a woman gives up her family name. (Not saying it’s intentional or malicious, but then again, that’s pernicious patriarchy for you–it’s the cultural furniture.)

    I know my parents would be bothered if I added my wife’s family name into my own. Can’t quite say why, but I know it would be a source of consternation for them.

    The other practical question is “What do you call the kids?” and “what do they do when they grow up/get married?”

  • Sarah

    The irony for all those talking about it being hopelessly sexist for a woman to give up her name, is that overwhelmingly that is the tradition of her heritage.

    The very name that they are so tightly trying to hold onto is really just a family name that has been passed down through men in their families history. This strikes me as odd though, since it seems to be just another failure on the part of some Christians to see the power of names in their Hebrew context and high the taking of the name is centrally symbolic to becoming “one.”

  • Deborah

    I had a psychologist tell me once that she thought it very beneficial for women to take their husband’s name at marriage. Shocked, I asked the feminist why she felt that way. “Unity” she said. The same name creates a sense of belonging that multiple names do not – one of the many reasons blended families tend to fail. They all have different last names – hence no one “belongs” to anyone else. Hence, the feeling of “no one cares about me”.

    Me? I couldn’t wait to get rid of my maiden name and I’ve never looked back! 😀

  • Chris Theule-VanDam

    My wife and I both changed our names 12 years ago when we got married…I added a hyphen and her last name. She added my last name and a hyphen. As she said back then – it represents 2 becoming 1, and it does.

  • Bob Smallman

    My oldest daughter chose to keep her own last name when she married. My only problem is figuring out how to address the envelope when I send something for both of them!

  • Cliff

    DRT #31, since I don’t have a policy regarding name-changing, I’m not sure what you are asking me to re-consider. I would (and have) married people who do not take their husband’s name, have used hyphenated names, etc. How is that legalistic of me?

    My point was simply that all of these posts (rightly, I think), are expressing the wide variety of convictions that people have about the issue, but it was assumed in a few posts that pastors should not have any convictions about it and should be required to marry folks regardless of beliefs. I disagree that pastors should play that role. Since people don’t even need pastors to get married, how would it be legalistic for a pastor to stand by their own personal convictions on this?

  • TriciaM

    When my fiance told me he wasn’t going to wear a wedding ring, I told that was fine as long as he was ok with me not changing my name. We both compromised.

    On deeper reflection, I decided that, even though I didn’t have my mother’s name on my birth certificate, I was as much a Mctaggart as I was a McLeod and she was just as much a Whiteside as a McTaggart.

    A question for those who have hyphenated: What do you hope your children or grandchildren will do? I’m not being facetious; I genuinely couldn’t get past the idea that I was putting a burden on any future daughter to have a very long surname.

    In the end, I decided to take my husband’s name and make my children aware of the rich heritages attached to the names from both sides of the family. They are Millar-Clark-McLeod-McTaggarts and a few more besides but they don’t have the stress of fitting them all on a credit card.

  • Ana Mullan

    A friend of mine is a doctor, but she wanted to keep her original surname because she felt her parents had made many sacrifices for her to become who she is and she feels by using their surname she honours them.

  • rjs


    I don’t think a pastor is right to have a policy on the name change because name change customs are cultural and vary considerably from culture to culture. There is no biblical command or mandate that makes it an issue of Christian conscience – it never, ever comes up in the NT (or the OT).

    Imposing an opinion on others over this kind of issue reflects an attitude that is overbearing and controlling. This is not the kind of attitude Christian leaders and pastors should have.

    Yes – the couple can go elsewhere. God help them if this was their church and is the kind of church leadership that shaped and formed their Christian experience.

  • DRT

    Cliff, I recognize you do not have a policy on this, but you advocated for those who do. I agree with rjs#40 on this.

  • Amos Paul


    I probably wouldn’t agree with a pastor *imposing* his convictions in a required manner upon someone, either, but for the sake of argument–consider the following.

    What *IF* one of the Eastern Orthodox traditions, or the Catholic tradition, or some equally longstanding tradition had a teaching that when a man and a woman left their families to start their own via marriage that they should take the same name. If that’s been a teaching and practice of their church tradition (essentially, IS their church culture), would you think it wrong of them to put that teaching in practice within their tradition?

    If the answer is no it’s not wrong of them (and this may nto be your answer), do you think it’s the attachment of said teaching to a cultural tradition that makes it okay, or the fact that it’s a theological distinctive which a denomination has the option of taking a stance on, or some other factor(s)?

    My personal opinion *in general* upon this discussion, however, is also to comment that I think the teaching of *leaving* your father and mother and *cleaving* to one another is one of great theological and personal importance to impart to engaged individuals.

  • rjs


    Leaving and cleaving is biblical – I also attach great significance to this.

    Name change is strictly cultural, not biblical. For example, it is not the practice among the Chinese as far as I know – and the Chinese Christians I know don’t seem to practice it. From wikipedia (which matches my experience, but of course shouldn’t be taken as an authoritative source):

    Traditionally, Chinese women usually retain their maiden names as their family name, rather than adopting their husband’s. Children usually inherit the father’s family name. However, some married women add the husband’s surname to their full-name (this is popular in Hong Kong but rare in Mainland China), but rarely do they drop the maiden name altogether.

    Should we impose a cultural practice on others as part of the Gospel? Should we insist that they assume our practice here?

    I think we are wrong when we impose the strictly cultural – our culture or anyone else’s – as part of what is entailed in the “Christian life.”

  • Amos Paul


    I specifically began my comment by basically agreeing. Indeed, we need not go as far as China. The Catholic tradition in Puerto Rico is for women to hyphenate their last name with their husbands, although their children will inherit the paternal surname.

    Nevertheless, I pushed a fictional example for the sake of discussion. Would you objectively speaking say that a longstanding church like an Orthodox group that prescribed such a thing for its participants be wrong for doing so?

    I’ll play my hand a little further, though, and say that I don’t think Christianity can be understood outside of the context of some sort of perspective. Denominations embody various perspectives upon Christ–to lesser and greater extents. But moreover, I also see denominations as necessarily *cultural* expressions of Christianity–since those perspectives grew out of particular cultures which participated in prescribing how the founders of the movement saw Christ.

    Therefore, while I don’t think pastors should tell anyone that any particular surname practice is right or wrong, I do see some grey area in this matter. If surname practices are cultural, and denominations are, to a certain extent, a cultural context. Could a specific surname practice be okay to be practiced within the bounds of a denomination insofar as sucgh is actually a cultural understanding within that group?

  • DRT

    Amos, in my view, I cannot take your question seriously until you come up with an example of something they do that would be a parallel to what you are proposing. Simply having a hypothetical about a rule indoctinated when it is obviously social custom is a high bar.

  • Barb

    I took my husband’s last name and didn’t make my maiden name my middle name (although my mother thought I should) I really like my two given names and wanted to keep them. But don’t address me as Mrs. “husband’s name” whatever you do. note: on facebook I changed my name to put in my maiden name–helpful for former classmates.

  • I never changed my name with the social security administration when I got married. I tried but didn’t have the right paperwork and just never bothered to change it. After 12 years of marriage (last year) when it was time to renew my driver’s license I asked my husband how he would feel if I added my maiden name back to my ID. Since I never officially changed my name with SS I had 2 “identities.” He said he didn’t feel strongly either way. So, I added my maiden name back onto my driver’s license and I added my married name to my SS ID. No hyphen. So, now I officially have two last names. To most people, though, I share a last name with my husband. Regardless of how I’m most frequently addressed, I do appreciate having back my maiden name.

  • MatthewS

    Our church does not have a policy on this.

    Some cultures in India and Sri Lanka (and numerous other places) have a patronymic custom where the children take the given name of the father as a surname. This can lead to 3 surnames in one family: mom has her surname, dad has his, and the kids take the dad’s given name as their surname. That is a cultural norm – it’s expected.

    When this family comes to the US, it can create confusion when it seems that none of these people are in the same family due to 3 different “last names”!

    I appreciate the freedom our culture has to do whatever works for you, and I support that, but I personally encourage operating within the expected norms of your culture with dignity and pride. It is a cultural norm in much of the Western world for a bride to take the groom’s name and the children to share that name. There are indeed valid reasons to buck tradition but 100 years from now when some poor kids are doing a school project and they are trying to figure out all the last names in your family tree, they may be very upset with you!

  • Cliff

    RJS (#40) and DRT(#41),

    I think everyone agrees that this is a cultural custom and people will have all kinds of different opinions and convictions. But pastors are people, too, and they (or their church/denomination) will have convictions that should also be respected. You wrote, “Imposing an opinion on others over this kind of issue reflects an attitude that is overbearing and controlling. This is not the kind of attitude Christian leaders and pastors should have.” But this kind of attitude is okay for other Christians to have towards pastors? If a couple comes demanding that a pastor break his or her own conviction so it conforms to their own, how is that not “imposing an opinion on others” and being “overbearing and controlling?”?

    Also, your argument that this is strictly a cultural issue without the weight of any biblical command further begs the question, Then why would it be so traumatic for a couple to seek out another pastor, or church, or justice of the peace…or even compromise their own convictions on name-change?

  • rjs


    This is a hypothetical situation – but think about it, what is the authority that comes with the title “pastor” and how is it to be used, how can it be abused?

    If a couple has come to a church only to get married – well then they can look elsewhere and it should not be too traumatic. Unfortunately this is far too often the case in our world today.

    If this is their church – one they are committed to and have been a part of, especially for a long time – then the situation is different. Looking elsewhere can be devastating.

    Why shouldn’t the couple just go along and why is it overbearing and wrong of the pastor? Because he is imposing his view on their entire life, not a small matter, well into the future, on grounds that are not biblically required or defensible. This kind of desire for authority and control over others is devastating to the church.

    I do have stronger language for the (hypothetical) pastor here – he is supposed to be the mature spiritual leader. If the case in point was biblically defensible (e.g. marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian) – my response would be completely different. I do think that we are required – and especially Christian leaders are required – to be wise, charitable, and mature.

  • Kristen

    My favorite, actually, is where the couple makes up a new name that they both take — although it does make the wider family tree complicated.

    I don’t know if I’ll get married. I expect that if I do, I’ll probably take his name to some extent. Maybe keeping my original name as a middle name (which I’d use all the time). Maybe hyphenating. Something.

    But my sister got married last month and chose to keep her name. And that’s a-ok too.

    I could imagine a church with an understanding of submission within marriage such that keeping one’s maiden name was unthinkable. I could not imagine going to such a church.

  • I am a pastor, and I encourage the couples I am preparing to marry to prayerfully consider the name situation and I will support and celebrate whatever decision they make. I took my husband’s name at my first marriage, and discovered with the loss of my birth name (I refuse to call this my “maiden” name), a loss of identity. As in first century culture where women were mostly invisible, my name became embedded in his, rather than standing on its own as valued and important. When that marriage ended in divorce, very much because of the imbalance of power that was in many ways represented by the disappearance of my name, and when, very unexpectedly, I was privileged to meet a man of God and enter into the covenant of marriage with him, I returned to my birth name (I had kept my married name until then for the sake of my children).

    When I resumed again my birth name, I also gained a much more solid self of real selfhood that has been extraordinarily helpful in this second marriage. I bring to him the fullness of who I am, not a truncated self. We both come in wholeness to this holy marriage.

    Yes, it is a little confusing socially, but people do get used to it. I was also highly intrigued that when my oldest son married a lovely woman from Bogota, Colombia. that there was no talk of her taking his name. And their sons have her last name, not his. That’s the culture there. They have lived all over the world with this unusual naming situation. Doesn’t seem to have hurt the family cohesiveness at all. She, like me, knows that people will occasionally refer to her as “Mrs. husband’s last name” and we just take it in stride and don’t worry about it.

  • Cliff

    RJS (#50),

    I think you are arguing two sides at the same time. You say how this issue is not “biblically required or defensible”, and then argue how it is devastating to their entire lives if the couple doesn’t get it their way.

    If a couple can have such a strong conviction about it (even though it’s not biblically required or defensible), my hypothetical was to say that a pastor/church/denomination could also conceivably have strong convictions that should not be so quickly dismissed–especially since their conviction does not in any way prevent a couple from getting married.

  • rjs

    No Cliff. It isn’t arguing both sides.

    I am not arguing that it is devastating to their entire life – I am arguing that it is personally devastating to be rejected by one’s pastor and one’s church family. Rejection hurts however brave a face one puts on it, and however much the guilt lies with the other.

    You are arguing that “to keep the peace” they should go along with someone else’s demand for their name choice – because he has a deep conviction about it? This isn’t something like cake choice or order of ceremony – here today, gone tomorrow, move on – this is a decision that sticks.

    No he shouldn’t be forced to marry them. Yes they can (and probably should) move on.

    But I am arguing that it is wrong – always – to behave in a controlling fashion over issues like this that are not clear-cut, with strong biblical foundation. Frankly there are a lot of people out there who behave in very unloving and controlling fashions – and even do so in the “name” (heaven help us) of God out of deep conviction. We need to call it out for what it is.

  • Cliff


    I am in total agreement with your statement that “it is wrong to behave in a controlling fashion over issues like this that are not clear-cut, with strong biblical foundation.” I just disagree that this only applies to pastors. A couple that wants a pastor to lay aside his convictions (no matter how odd or incomprehensible those convictions seem to you and me) is just as controlling as a pastor who would tell the couple to lay aside their convictions on this issue. That’s why I think the loving thing to do (on both sides) is to respect each other’s convictions and have a different pastor/church perform the wedding.

  • I think that it matters that a pastor is in a position of authority. If s/he refused to perform a wedding, that’s in effect saying, “not with my blessing.” So, withholding a blessing of a union for something that does not constitute immorality is problematic, esp. if this is not some random pastor but the pastor of the couple’s home church. And to say that hyphenating a name or keeping a maiden name or the husband’s taking the wife’s name is immoral is a stretch, in my mind. I don’t even agree that keeping one’s maiden name is selfish. Wow. Nothing stands up to that kind of scrutiny. Might as well criticize the wearing of wedding dresses and tuxes as vanity and withhold pastoral blessing for that. The case could be made. It’s just not relevant to blessing a union. “Does anyone know of any reason why this man and this woman should not be united in marriage?” No. OK, then. (Am I being naive? Are there common, extremely trivial reasons for denying the performance of a wedding?) Does performing a wedding for a couple that is going to hyphenate their name rise to the level of something that violates the pastor’s conscience? (Incidentally, I don’t see how a couple could force a pastor’s hand here, so I don’t see what choice they would have but to accept the decision.)

  • David Himes

    I think we’re putting too much emphasis on a name. While I acknowledge all of the social and psychological implications already discussed, the emphasis in the discussion is on building up our own idea of ourself.

    It seems to me Jesus called upon us to minimize our own importance in order to serve others.

  • It IS a personal preference. But here was my thought process when I got married:

    1. I like having a single “family” name, connecting me, my husband, and our children.

    2. I dislike hyphenated names stylistically. And bestowing a hyphenated name on a child seems like it would make their future choices of married name all the more complicated.

    3. I like the idea of combining last names into a new hybrid name, but (a) I also like the idea of continuity and (b) my maiden name and my husband’s name didn’t mesh well.

    4. I’d spent 23 years of my life correcting the pronunciation and spelling of my maiden name (it has a silent, capitol “J” in the middle of it). I was tired of this. Hence my fairly easy decision:

    Choose the name that’s easiest to spell and pronounce. If it’s the wife’s name, have the husband change his name. If it’s vice versa, go the “traditional” route (as I did).

    All that to say, my only “position” is to advocate for what is simple and what both members of a couple agree upon.

  • Rick

    I just was married 2 months ago. I told my wife that whatever she wanted was fine with me. I just wanted to be married to her. The name is really irrelevant.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I guess I’m a traditionalist — unless the woman has a career (actress, doctor, etc) where a name change could affect their career. But, ultimately, I like the idea of the whole family sharing the same name (and dislike hyphens) so I’d be ok with taking my wife’s name (she already took mine).

    I like that we’re the Johnsons… a unit. And as a fan of the Avett Brothers, I like the line from their song, “Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
    Like the love that let us share our name”