Why are so many men afraid to take their wife's surname?

Hans Mackenzie Main wonders whether it's only the male ego that's to blame

30 September 2018 - 00:00 By Hans Mackenzie Main
Is it so wrong for a man to take his wife's surname even though he loves it?
Is it so wrong for a man to take his wife's surname even though he loves it?
Image: 123RF / Frantic00

The whole thing happened back to front. In the kitchen.

I asked if I could use her surname as a writer's name, one thing led to another, and we decided to get married. Then, after a day or so, following a Google search,
we decided to put the whole thing on hold. Turns out marriage, the way it was intended, may boil down to a title deed - and renting an entry-level marquee costs a fortune.

But I was married to using her surname as a writer's name and we decided to go through with that. It's a double-punch five-syllable tank of a surname ("terrific" and "strong", a fellow scribe described it) that blows my current surname (a short stab) right out of the water.

I'm thinking of making it my legal name, which will, in the world of men taking their partner's last name (whether through marriage or otherwise), put me in the same percentile of the male population who can pack a dishwasher properly.

I asked three married people what they thought of the concept. The first reply was from a man, strong-worded, loaded with virile phrases relating to seed and immortality. It was a shocking read.

A respondent touched on a fear some men may have that [taking their wife's last name] would sever the family bloodline

I don't think the respondent was entirely serious but I do think he touched on a fear some men may have that it would sever the family bloodline, thereby forgoing him the opportunity to till some piece of inherited land or say grace at the Christmas table. It's not a very realistic fear - I'm sure bloodlines can be traced without ID books - and really only something that should concern cattle breeders.

The second reply was more considered, delivered with the diplomacy of a tourist propositioned by a local to taste fried scorpion. "It's something to think about," it started out, and then, "it's a close one", before closing with "but I'll keep my own last name".

Reading between the lines, I got the sense my interlocutor admired my courage to even ask such a question. I half expected him to confess I'm a better man than he is, which unfortunately he didn't. His weighted reply, I think, points to many a man's position on things progressive - that is, if not entirely for it, or on the fence, at least next to the fence considering whether or not to climb up.

The third response I received was from a woman, who highlighted the real reason (deftly avoided in the other replies) I think men shy away from taking their partner's name. "I do kind of wonder who the breadwinner is in that relationship," she pondered in her e-mail.

A short search on the web confirmed it. Taking your spouse's surname after marriage scores low on the man-o-meter (ScienceDaily presented research into the matter under the headline, "What kind of guy would take his wife's last name?"), putting the fragile male ego front and centre as the stumbling block in the way of men considering taking their partner's surname, whether for phonetics, fashion or fun.

I didn't consider bread, or the winning of it, when I proposed to my partner that I use her surname in print, online and in real life on that fateful afternoon. It didn't occur to me that society would require a lengthy explanation from us as to why I took her surname, one that would probably have to be preceded by the perfunctory tale ("On Tinder, so .") of how we met.

My ego must have taken a leave of absence that afternoon, because I just saw a beautiful, strong surname

My ego must have taken a leave of absence that afternoon, because I just saw a beautiful, strong surname, put it next to mine and, in the arm wrestle of change and acceptance, chose change.

So I've tried to put the wheels in motion and called up home affairs multiple times, keeping things light, requesting flatly, as if ordering a meal, "Hi there, I'd like to change my surname please." The contact person is usually quite cordial, like I'm the umpteenth person who's requested a name change that very day, and says: "Hold on while I put you through."

Then the dial tone changes and my heart lifts at the thought that any moment now my life, on paper at least, will change forever. I will get a brand-new Smart ID and a brand-new passport. I will have to develop and practise a brand-new signature and get used to seeing that signature on contracts, leases and delivery forms. I make doodles of the new signature, starting with the first letter of each word written big.

Then the original contact person comes back on and asks if I'm still holding and, after I say yes, puts me through to the names department once more, where the phone just rings and rings and rings.