The XX Factor

If Someone Has to Change Names Upon Marriage, Why Not the Husband?

Amal and George Clooney at their 2014 wedding in Venice. (Doesn’t George Alamuddin have a nice ring to it, though?)

Photo by Pierre Teyssot/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview in July’s InStyle, actress Zoe Saldana revealed that her husband, artist Marco Perego, took her last name, making him Marco Saldana. She was worried that the choice would cause him to be “emasculated” by others, but he replied, “Ah, Zoe, I don’t give a s–t.”

Men taking on their wives’ last name is still incredibly unusual. When I put out a call for men who had done it, most who responded had not changed their name to their wife’s, but had hyphenated or invented a whole new name. But a few folks had actually gone all the way. 

“I’m against women changing their names; the whole idea that a woman’s entire identity somehow changes after a ceremony, and becomes subsumed by her husband’s, is ridiculous,” Deborah Kadish, who is working towards an MPH at the University of Haifa, explained over email. However, her husband, Noam Kadish, a master’s student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, felt “it was important to have a ‘family’ name” for the sake of their children. She told him that “if it was important to him, he should change his name, and he agreed,” Kadish writes. 

Tristan Salazar, who works for a union in New York City, agreed with Noam, saying, “It was important to both of us to have the same name. To identify as a family unit in that way.” He thought it was easier to take his wife’s name, however, “because my wife, who is an actor, already had a professional identity under her name.”

“My wife intended to keep her surname, whereas I’d wanted to change mine for a while,” explained writer and stay-at-home father Aaron Grunfeld. “I even considered a pen name when I started writing but found it awkward to invent.” The wedding, then, was a chance to do what he had been wanting to do for awhile anyway. 

Practical considerations dominated the conversation, but at least one respondent, who wanted to remain anonymous, is changing his name to his wife’s for political reasons: “The name change feels like a really legit way to walk the talk.”

“I live in the Bay Area,” he adds, “and there are lots of dudes walking around calling themselves feminists whose facade crumbles pretty fast when challenged.”

While the male name-changers did meet some resistance from family members, by and large they reported little pushback from friends and acquaintances—although as Kadish pointed out, “that says more about our choice of acquaintances and friends than about society at large.” Living in liberal enclaves does help. 

Defenders of the practice of naming women after their husbands usually swear up and down that it’s about family cohesion and convenience. I’ve never bought those arguments—my mom and I don’t have the same last name, but no one was ever confused about our relationship to each other. But if family cohesion is paramount, why not change the husband’s name instead of the wife’s? That gets the job done without any implications of sexism. Hyphenating and making up new names are also good solutions, but one does have to admire the elegant simplicity of those who just invert the tradition and call it a day.