Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?

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Today, it is not unusual to see a couple that is married and the woman does not take her husbands last name.  Many reasons are cited for this, most of which are not based on the idea of marriage, but individualism. Too often, however, this practice demonstrates attitudes toward marriage that of themselves, usually are a source of problems in the marriage.

Sometimes a woman may have a professional career and is known by her maiden name. When she marries there is a concern that clients will no longer recognize her with a new last name. In some Hispanic cultures, such as Puerto Rico, it is common for someone to be given a hyphenated last name that includes the mother’s maiden name and the father’s last name.

Likewise, many in the Women’s Liberation Movement see taking the husbands last name as making her subservient to a man. Some even go as far as calling themselves not a woman, but a womyn so as to not identify with men at all. In any case, the idea of taking a husband’s last name comes from the Bible and, like all Biblical teaching, there is a moral reason for it.

No matter what anyone says, most people who reject Biblical teaching do so because of unbelief and pride. Unfortunately, in doing so, they often miss the logical application that the Bible has for every person’s life. Many times in Biblical counseling people want to know how to fix things, but they do not want to recognize the source of the solution. In those cases is is often necessary to point out the logic found in the Bible so they can see with their own eyes that it is not a book for ignorant people who cannot think for themselves. So, when it comes to examining whether a woman should take her husband’s name, consideration should be given as to why God said it should be done. With that in mind we will seek the answer from the Bible.

Just about everyone knows that the Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were the first human couple. The Bible teaches in Genesis 2:7-24 that Adam was formed by God first, then not long after he formed Eve:

(Genesis 2:7-24 KJV)  “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. {8} And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. {9} And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. {10} And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. {11} The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; {12} And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. {13} And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. {14} And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. {15} And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. {16} And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: {17} But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. {18} And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. {19} And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. {20} And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. {21} And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; {22} And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. {23} And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. {24} Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Emphasis added)

The first thing to note is that God created both Adam and Eve, but Eve was created from the rib of Adam. This causes Adam to recognize that she is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” and this new relationship, marriage, is considered to be a “one flesh” relationship.

When we think of a one flesh relationship, it is more than just two people deciding to live together, it is a process whereby they give up their former allegiances and form a new allegiance with one another. This allegiance entails clinging to one another only and beginning the process of weaving their lives together to form one life. This means that everything else in life, except for their relationship with God, comes second to their one flesh relationship.

It is this one flesh relationship that creates a marriage not only Biblically, but historically. The word marriage according to Webster’s 1828 dictionary is:

MAR”RIAGE, n. [L.mas, maris.] The act of uniting a man and woman for life; wedlock; the legal union of a man and woman for life. Marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity,and for securing the maintenance and education of children.

Of particular note is the Latin roots of the word, Mas and maris. Mas is a word that denotes a man and maris denotes a woman. In most cultures, Maris is better defined as mother and some link it to the name Mary, as in Mary the mother of Jesus. This feminine indication can also be seen in the use of the term mare in horses. Mares are defined as a female horse of three to four years old, or of breeding age.

Other terms used for marriage are matrimony and monogamy. Matrimony takes its root in the word matron, which indicates a mother. Adding the -mony to matron, meaning one, makes the word describe a “one mother” relationship. Likewise, the term monogamy is derived from two terms mono, meaning one, and -gamy.

Gamy is the root of the word gamete. A gamete is described in biology as a male (sperm) and female (ovum) reproductive cell. Gametes also have the ability to reproduce through a process called meiosis, the process whereby the cells divide to create a copy of itself. One fertilized egg cell divides into two, which divide into four and so on.

The significance of this in marriage is that it signifies that one man and one woman, a male and female, can create offspring by the physical joining of flesh. Neither two males nor two females can join flesh biologically to create a child so the idea of marriage in that sense would not be biologically considered to be a marriage.

This brings up another point. Husbands and wives create children through mating. This too is a another derivative of the term gamete. With this in mind, when a husband and wife are first married, the marriage is “consummated” through the joining of flesh. The term consummated is a combination of the terms consume and mate. Simply stated, it is the process whereby the husband consumes or takes the wife through mating.

This idea of consummating the marriage is found in our state laws concerning marriage. Until recent times, in most states a marriage could be annulled if it was not consummated. This is because the marriage was not considered to be complete until the couple physically joined flesh. This concept of consummation is prevalent through most cultures and found in Biblical teaching. Likewise, two men or two women cannot consummate a marriage because they are not biologically able to.

It is important that when considering the intimacy of the relationship between a husband and wife, a wife taking a husband’s name is but one way that a couple demonstrates their oneness. Likewise, this sharing of a name signifies a union in all aspects of a couple’s life.  Practically speaking this practice started with Adam and Eve. We see this is Genesis 5:3-4:

(Genesis 5:1-2 KJV)  “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; {2} Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”

Notice that God called their name “Adam.”” In other words they were Mr. and Mrs. Adam. These titles refer to their titles: Mr. is the abbreviation for Mister and Mrs. is the abbreviation for Mistress. Although today, when people hear the term mistress they have ideas about a woman who is in an adulterous relationship with a married man, especially in France. However, that was not the original use of the word.

When a wife does not take her husbands name, it leaves doubt as to where they stand in their relationship. Are they married or just living together? What about the children? Whose children are they? Some may say who cares, but in doing so they are saying they do not care what image it projects on society or what God has to say in the matter. God addresses this in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 when he says to “abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Likewise, Biblically speaking, we are taught that the marriage relationship is an earthly model of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:24-32). The husband represent Christ and the wife represents the church. As the church, which consists of believers, we are the bride of Christ. As the bride of Christ, we not only take upon us the name of Christians on this earth, we also are given a new name by our groom Jesus (Isaiah 62:1-5; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).

The question we have to ask is that if a wife is not willing to take the name of her husband, how much has she really given of herself in total devotion to him? Inversely, if a husband is not wanting his give his name to his wife, how much is he really willing to give himself in total devotion to her? Likewise, if we are not willing to claim the name of Jesus, how much have we willing to give of ourselves in total devotion to Him?

We should present ourselves as living sacrifices unto God which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2). In doing so, God will transform and renew our minds not only in how we approach our relationship with Him, but also our spouse. And that will result in a relationship that is totally blessed.

Finally, to answer the question “Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?” No, she does not have to take his name. However, if she is totally devoted to him, why wouldn’t she want to? (Romans 10:11)

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8 Responses to Does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?

  1. carol helton April 16, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    What woman is significant for keeping her own name when she married instead of taking her husbands name?

    • Dr. Michael Williams April 16, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks for the response Carol. There are many women that have kept their own name, especially in the entertainment industry. The point is that when striving to be in a one flesh relationship, the only thing that should ever come between a husband and wife is Christ. And He is the foundation and example of the relationship. Thanks again.

  2. Gregory Smith December 31, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    It was well reasoned until utter compromise overtook the wisdom at the end.

  3. Dr. Michael Williams January 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the comment Gregory. Not sure what your reasoning is, but in the end I tried to communicate that we do not have a commandment that we are ordered to obey concerning this topic because of our freedom in Christ. However, for the reasons provided in this article we should want to have a wife share her husband’s last name. Hopefully people are inspired to do do so, not because of intimidation of the law, but because of the leading of the Spirit and love of Christ. Thanks again.

    • Gregory Smith January 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm

      Many failures have resulted as well, because of the “freedom in Christ,” clause.

      • Dr. Michael Williams January 2, 2017 at 1:08 am

        Freedom in Christ is the direct result of the gospel. Legalism is sin that destroys faith, which in turn destroys lives even to subsequent generations. Most people over 30 we have counseled over the past 16 years have had their faith shipwrecked by people in churches that have been like the Judaizers of Galatians – telling them that now that they were saved, they had to keep the law or rules. They tried to make them conform their behaviors by the intimidation of the law and rules of how they should behave instead of inspiring them to grow closer to Christ so the Holy Spirit changes their heart, which changes their behaviors because of their love for Him. Nearly everyone of these people have told us a story of an event in their lives where someone in a church shoved hypocritical legalism into their lives that was a turning point that made them reject the church. This resulted in disastrous things happening in their lives, which set their children up for failure as well. They come to us when their lives are destroyed and we lovingly show them that living for Christ is not working to try harder to be good, but being faithful in being immersed in His Word and prayer and fellowship with likeminded believers so that they grow to have a new heart like David asked for in Psalms 51. That is what makes their behaviors acceptable to God, because their motovation of faith based in love, not by the law or abitrary commandments made up to make one conform. This is why we are told to have the mind of Christ so that everything we do is based on our faith in what He did for us. The focus is on inspiring them to change by changing their heart, not intimidating them to change by changing their behaviors. Sadly, the latter is the number one reason people leave the church. I describe this in great detail my book, Grow closer to Christ in 30 days.

        Romans 6:15-23; Romans 8:1;17; Romans 14:1923; 1 Corinthians 10:22-31; 2 Corinthians 3:11-18; Galatians 5:1-6; 1 John 4:19.

  4. Ruth Peniston January 24, 2017 at 2:30 am

    What about a woman keeping her name and adding the husbands name.

    • Dr. Michael Williams February 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      Hi Ruth, that is an interesting question as I know in many cultures, the woman does that exact thing. One of my good friends in the Army was from Puerto Rico and his mother’s last name was Delgado and his father’s last name was Delgado (No relation). Therefore, his last name was Delgado Delgado. Needless to say, it made for some interesting teasing, but he was a good sport.

      The point of my article was that although we have no commandment to adopt the husbands last name, there was a theological reasoning behind the cultural practice in many circles. Personally, I have no problem with this, but when you look at the fact that as believers we have a new name in heaven I do not personally see any symbolic representation in keeping the maiden name (Isaiah 62:2; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). The focus is leaving behind the old life and becoming a new creation. To debate this further would be tantamount to debating how many angels would fit on the head of a needle and getting mad if someone disagreed. Sadly, many people will make this into a “must do” argument and leave out the fact that as God changes us into the image of His Son, our thoughts and desires change, which convicts us PERSONALLY to live for Christ in ways that many others may not even have considered. Simply stated, I personally would have a problem, but unfortunately, many people today do not do so because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Instead at least every one that I have known that made to decision to do this expressed some desire not to lose their own identity. I would politely disagree as it reinforces my proposal that our new identity is in Christ, not the person of our past. Either way, I still love them as a brother in the Lord.

      Thank you for your thought provoking comment. For those who may read my thoughts on this matter, please do not interpret my words to mean that I am judging anyone to be wrong if they kept both names. I just would choose otherwise and my wife would as well. This does not mean that either of us love the Lord any less. Just how we express it may be different as it may be when we express our love to our spouse.

      Blessings, Dr. Mike

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