Recently a friend and I got into a debate on Twitter after he mentioned that a woman wanting to hyphenate her last name with her husband was a relationship deal-breaker for him.
Obviously I thought it was ridiculous, which was why we got into a debate over it. I couldn’t understand why something as frivolous as a name would cause him to throw out an entire relationship- especially if that relationship was a healthy one- all because she wanted to maintain an important aspect of her earlier identity.
I was sitting with a friend a while ago and I remember her making a similar comment about a few women she knew who had hyphenated their last names. She questioned where all these women were getting the idea from because “it’s not biblical.”
I had to stop for second and think to myself, well;
1) There is no mention of instructions around last names in the Bible
2) There are plenty of literal things in the Bible that we do not literally live out. (For more on that, see Rachel Held Evans book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”.)
This does not take away from the authority or sacredness of the text, but there are clear universal, prescriptive ordinances in the Bible alongside clear descriptive advice indicative of the cultural and situational context. It will be easy for someone to read this and suggest to me that the “leave and cleave” principles apply to this as well as some of those other complicated texts on submission.
However you would spin it, there were no last names in the Bible.
It was always “such and such” of a particular area. A person was distinguished by the area that they came from or by their job. Biblical names were not Esther Jones or Matthew Johnson. Surnames is a recent tradition that came about in the Middle Ages and were adopted by different countries as the years have gone on.
So to highlight a marriage tradition that came much later and refer to it as being a biblical mandate is a bit of a stretch. It is the couple’s choice.
And given this fact, my friend has a right to his preference. But I can’t help but find myself jumping to this unnamed woman’s defense because I wouldn’t want for her or him to miss out on a very healthy, beautiful and loving relationship all because of convention.
I think that the idea of mutual submission should be lived out in practical and meaningful ways. Keep in mind that I think a woman taking her husband’s last name is a beautiful thing. I also think a woman hyphenating her name with her husband’s last name is a beautiful thing. I have a friend who was married and never took her husband’s last name at all. That, too, was her choice and he respected that. He only wanted her. I know plenty of marriages that are in shambles and the woman has her husband’s last name. I know plenty of beautiful, healthy marriages in which the woman hyphenated her last name.
So I beg to ask the question, what’s important here?
For more on “last names”, check out The Last Name Project, a series profiling individuals and couples about how and why they decided on their last names.
And check out Khristi’s book, The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness, in which she offers up a cultural critique of myths surrounding singleness in the Christian community.