Saturday, February 19, 2011

Japanese women fight to keep their "maiden" names

As many of you know, when I got married at the age of 25, I didn't even think twice about whether I would keep my own name. Not that I was particularly attached to it, but I saw no reason why I should change mine if Mike were not changing his. I told him that I'd only hyphenate if he did it too. Then on his 40th birthday, right before Kieran was born, he shocked me by announcing that he wanted to hyphenate our names. (Of course, this took me some getting used to because our two G names together are a bit of a mouthful!) But I couldn't turn back after all that! We went to court to change our names and get a hyphen added to combine Chris' two last names.

I've noticed fewer American and British women keeping their names when they get married, to my dismay. Apparently, 71 percent of Americans believe that a woman should change her name when she gets married, and 50 percent believe it should be a legal requirement! As the article linked above cited, many women feel that they can be just as much of a feminist with their husband's name as without it. I suppose it is a reflection of the way American feminism is changing with the times--women are choosing to retain some of these long traditions. I have to admit that it's hard to defend keeping one's maiden name as a feminist badge when it's passed down from the father--it's not exactly an assertion of total independence. Probably the most equitable option is to form a new name, although then one gives up the lineage of the name.

Now some Japanese women (and one man) have filed a suit challenging a law that makes it illegal for them to keep their name upon marriage. When I lived in Japan, I knew a woman who married her long-time boyfriend, and he took her name when they married. They are the only couple I know who had the man take the woman's name. I imagine that the percentage of Japanese people who believe women should take their husband's name is vastly higher than it is in the U.S., although 37 percent of Japanese support the revision of this civil code. Even though it's been over 20 years since we left Japan, I find it hard to believe that women's status has changed very dramatically in that time period. I hope the suit succeeds, so Japanese women have a choice in the future!

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