Married or Maiden?

When a man and woman leave their parents’ homes (well, in most cases) and join together in a union, there are many traditions which are observed. This will depend on the cultures where the Adam and Eve hail from and it is true to say that sometimes some of the traditions expected just come out of the woodwork – it is likely that both the Adam and/or Eve may not have heard of them before but suddenly they are compelled to comply in order for their union to be recognized by society. While society evolves and things are said to change, it is such occasions as those when unions take place that time seems to stand still, time even seems to turn back.

One of those long-standing traditions is the bearing of names. You may ask what’s in a name but when it comes to matters matrimonial, a name swings the weights in a homestead. In many a culture, it was and still is tradition for Eve to leave her maiden name and take up her husband’s name; in the same vein, children will inherit their father’s surname (and will probably only use their mother’s maiden name when they are of age and need to use it as an answer to a security question at the bank!).

It is obvious that names are very much a part of one’s heritage and identity, regardless of whether one is a woman or a man. What is also obvious is that in many instances, assuming one’s husband’s name takes care of a lot of hassles that would otherwise arise – having the same surname legally makes it easier to be acknowledged and recognized in society and relevant institutions. Whilst societal expectations may tend to remain the same, the laws in many countries are becoming flexible and allowing couples to either keep their own names, or to use both the husband’s and wife’s surnames, to use the husband’s surname and even in some situations, to use the wife’s surname.

Now, that latter situation does not happen to be the Kenyan situation. You can imagine the shock on the faces of relatives and guests if the newly-weds were announced as Mr and Mrs. HerLastName at Paradise Gardens or one of those popular wedding locations in Kenya; I imagine the geriatrics would go into cardiac shock! There would confused silence, people exchanging looks, with the mouths agape, not sure if they’d heard right.

In Kenya, it is not uncommon to find Eves who take up their husband’s names but keep their maiden names for professional purposes; in many instances, Eve will have built her name professionally and would not want to lose the recognition or to bring any confusion in her professional life due to the change of names. It is even more common to find Eves carrying both their maiden and married names, mostly by hyphenating their names (any Adams out there of Kenyan descent out there who’ve done this at the risk of being considered not to be of sound mind ;)?) . A good friend of mine looked forward to getting married to the Adam she had fallen in love with; she was undecided about whether or not to give up her maiden name and take up her husband’s name. Unfortunately, her family lost her father before the wedding; it was a tough time for her but one thing seemed to be reinforced – she wanted to keep her father’s name as her surname. She could not imagine losing the identity that she had gained from her late father’s more than titular heritage and so she decided to adopt her husband’s surname as her second name and keep her father’s name as her surname.

Unsurprisingly, there is a feminist school of thought out there that reiterates that the notion of women giving up their maiden names to take up their husband’s is emasculation of Eve. The argument goes that it is a woman’s prerogative to (use and) change her mind and the same argument is advanced for changing her name.

Some argue that taking up a husband’s surname is a symbol of showing how committed one is to being in the union and to honoring one’s spouse. However, it is also arguable that bearing a man’s name does not necessarily mean that the commitment expected in the union will be forthcoming; life is never quite that simple. Jose Bergamin quoted that “tradition simply means that we need to end what began well and continue what is worth continuing”. There is a lot of significance on matters relating to name-bearing and it is important to appreciate and understand what that significance means for both Eve and Adam.

What’s in a name for you (except if it is Schweinsteiger or Gyan ;)?

Have your say.

By Joyce


22 thoughts on “Married or Maiden?

  1. For most us common folk there is usually nothing special in a surname. Ego is what comes between an Eve changing her surname to reflect her newly married status, hyphenate or remain with her papa’s surname. The modern Adam is not too keen on her adopting his name after all that is the one of the recipes for financial downfall especially when divorce comes around.

    I rest my case.


  2. Before pre-nups, nyericisation and all those what-nots of nightmarish union taking on the husband name was an honour. Well, the times they are a changin’ and men/women have changed too. Honour has changed too.

    A man just doesn’t define a woman any more. Yet I wish it was always thus. See,marriage is meant to be a till-death-do-us-a- apart thing. It doesn’t take death to separate the two today and so the convenient thing for many would be not to hinder the post separation progress. Then there is the law and all that stress associated with changing a name. Just try amending the skewed leg on one of the ‘k’ on Kidikibudi at the registrar and you will get the point.

    I say name change matters I say it doesn’t matter. It all depends whether you are in the union for keeps or kama nyinyi ni wapita njia.

      • I completely concur with Kidikibudi’s last line. And to add to it, just like the Adam and Eve define their marriage and all they are the ones who give the Name change the weight. As long as their is clear communication and unity between them then it should be all good…. or not.

  3. GhaflaGuy, Kidi* and Danas, thanks for weighing in and keeping it 44.

    @Kidikibudi, just a simple question – if taking on a husband was an honor, what was taking on a wife considered to be :)?

  4. Is this what its come to, debating whether or not to take a man’s name, a man you plan to spend the rest of your life with? Really?

    Joyce, your friend needs to remember how children are named in most of our cultures, after parents, and grandparents and all manner of relatives, thats what keeps the name alive, generation after generation. And the memory we carry with us always, name or no name.

      • I’d already given the answer – A RIGHT

        Please convince me it is any other way. I might be receptive

        Unless I didn’t understand you at first, under no circumstance whatsoever is a man expected to take on a woman’s name.

      • Aha, now I get it – a right. Suffice to say that we shall not ‘descend’ into that discussion ;). I haven’t met anyone who has taken on the wife’s name….

  5. Unless its one of those names that open doors-Moi,Kibaki, Kenyatta i say keep your name!!!

      • :)i like this one @Miss Julz, although i may not agree with it.
        My take is that a name change makes no difference / does not make the union stronger…so i am not sure what is all this fuss about changing one’s name.

        And we have @ ALex reminding us about how children are named. Well,this was about Eve adopting Adams name ,not what to call the kids.

        I do not know but this reeks of the old order where the man ‘owns’ the woman. Aren’t we supposed to be in a partnership. I think any man forcing his Eve to take up his name has his priorities misplaced.

        So would i chnage my name? I would not because i believe in it but if Adam thinks the world of it,i would do it for him……it is called looking for Amani kwa nyumba.

  6. Can project44 tell us where we will meet these Adams whose name we can even contemplate taking? Have you seen the ‘masaccre’ on the dating arena ?

  7. @Mimi & Bezingo, thanks for weighing in. Regarding where the Adams and their names are, we are still working on the GPS coordinates ;). Keep hope alive

  8. Love the piece im a first timer….Yes to changing names, no to opinion, you are your daddy’d daughter, his DNA is yours so you will always be your daddy/ mummy’s daughter…remember Ruth Naomi saga..your people will be my people?(im not that religious) i just like the souind of that on my comment:):)

  9. My fathers name represents my identity. the name Mwangi represents superman (yes i still think dad is superman) love, security, safety, peace. . . its more than the name. if my husband’s character represents the same things, i dont see why i wouldn’t change the name Mwangi…

    • Welcome to Project 44 and thanks for weighing in! Gets one thinking about the notion that Eves (not all, some) look for ‘their dads’ when searching for a spouse…..

      • i will admit i am one of those… 🙂 i look out for the values that i admire in my dad in men…but i dont expect a dude to be like my dad, those are two different people, with different entities.

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