It's a Lot of Work for Men to Take Their Wife's Name

I've found a number of articles and studies lately that mention how difficult it is for men to take their wife's name upon marriage. As the paper below notes, while this initially looks like a form of discrimination against men, it really is a form of procedurally imposed discrimination against women; in most states, women are not entitled to have a husband take their name with the same relative ease that they are allowed to take their husband's. By making it so difficult and expensive for men to take their wife's names, even the most liberal men are discouraged from considering such a thing. Thus, the tradition of women only taking their husband's name continues on and on.  [I'm now imagining my Civil Procedure professor shouting out "TRADITION" and dancing in a parody of Fiddler on the Roof he did in class several times]

Some snippets on the subject:

"When I decided to take my wife's last name, I was shocked by how different the process is for men." By James Kosur, Business Insider (Dec. 19, 2015).

"Little did I know, the name change process would not be simple because of my gender.  .... If I was a woman who had been recently married, I would have presented my marriage license to the court, paid a name-change fee, and moved on with my life. A close friend tells me she remembers paying around $60 and submitting a simple form alongside her marriage certificate to change her name. Within weeks her name change was official. I paid $300 for a newspaper ad and spent hours in court and visiting with a newspaper ad sales representative in order to change my name. The change took more than a month to complete."  (Kosur describes the process as it currently exists in Illinois

Vintage Bride/Groom. By Jean L. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at

Vintage Bride/Groom. By Jean L. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at

Deborah J. Anthony, A Spouse by Any Other Name, 17 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 187 (2010).

"Currently only nine state statutes explicitly allow a man to change his name through marriage with the same procedures as a woman. Interestingly, it has been allowed in Maine since 1980 by Attorney General opinion rather than statute. California was the most recent to join that group in 2007, as a result of a lawsuit filed by a man named Mike Buday, who desired to change his name to that of his wife but was prohibited from doing so outside of the court process. Rather than fight the lawsuit, California amended its law with the Name Equality Act of 2007, which became effective in 2009. The legislature noted the importance of names in Sec. 2 of the Act: “[T]he choice to adopt or not adopt a new name upon marriage or registration of domestic partnership is a profoundly personal reflection of one’s individuality, equality, family, community, and beliefs.”

It should be noted that some states’ laws are not explicit, but may be interpreted to apply to both women and men, and that male name change at marriage may be allowed at the county level. This results in what Emens identifies as “desk-clerk law,” where the law essentially consists of whatever the person at the desk says it is. This results in interpretations that are incorrect and/or discouraging of unconventional choices, with results being highly inconsistent from one employee, and one county, to the next. 

.... What at first appears to be discrimination against men is in reality discrimination against women: the status quo represents a legal sanctioning of the social norms that subsumed a woman within the husband’s identity. Because taking their husbands’ names at marriage was never really a “right” of women, but rather a requirement, the “right” actually inheres in the man. In essence, women are still denied what men have always enjoyed: the right to have a spouse adopt their name at marriage. This is why, in a society that has almost never legally favored the female over the male, and where men have always had the common law right to change their name whenever they chose, they are nevertheless not permitted to do so at marriage."

Michael Rosensaft, The Right of Men to Change their Names Upon Marriage, 5 J. of Const. Law 186 (2002).

"[C]ourts have gone beyond the restrictions listed in the statutes and rejected name change applications due to public policy or just their own whim. For example, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied the petition of a man who wished to change his name to '1069' for no other reason than the court did not think such a name conformed with their ideal of social norms. With so much discretion given to, and sometimes taken by, the courts, there is no assurance that any application will necessarily be approved. It might be argued that many judges would automatically allow name changes for marital purposes. However, a groom taking his wife's name is not a widely accepted practice, and judges have denied applications where they did not think it fit certain social structures. For instance, some courts have denied gay couples' petitions to have the same last name. This example is not so important because it directly applies to marital name change statutes, but because it shows that giving discretion to courts means that they are free to apply the social norms that they find acceptable. ...And lest one think a judge would always approve a man's wish to adopt his wife's surname, at least one Florida judge was resistant to this idea when he told Dan Cipoletti that he 'needed a better reason than getting married to change his name...'

Other evidence tends to show that Congress supports the right to control one's name upon marriage. In 1964, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which holds that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to their sex. The Sixth Circuit has applied this statute to marital name change. In Allen v. Lovejoy, the court invoked Title VII when a woman was fired from her job because she refused to go by her husband's surname after marriage and wanted to sign her own maiden name to company forms.  The Sixth Circuit stated that a 'rule which applies only to women, with no counterpart applicable to men, may not be the basis for depriving a female employee who is otherwise qualified of her right to continued employment.' In addition to Title VII, Congress has added a section to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that is specifically gender neutral and states:'A creditor shall not refuse to allow an applicant to open or maintain an account in a birthgiven first name and a surname that is the applicant's birth-given surname, the spouse's surname, or a combined surname.' Clearly, considering the Sixth Circuit's construction of Congress' intent in enacting Title VII and the additions Congress has made in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Congress feels it important that a spouse who wishes to either change their name upon marriage or keep it the same not be discriminated against. While Congress has not specifically addressed the issue of a man changing his name upon marriage, it is more likely that this is due to the practice being relatively infrequent rather than it not falling in line with their aforementioned policies."

This article also has a fascinating Equal Protection analysis of the issue. I highly suggest you read it!