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

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Wisdom4Today with Dr. Mike

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.

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

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 husband’s 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 not to 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.

The First Humans

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)

Marriage Defined:

The first thing to note is that God created both Adam and Eve, but Eve was created from the rib of Adam. This caused 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 (Gen 2:24). 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.

One Man One Woman

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.

What is Their Name?

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 to 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 are 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?

For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (Romans 10:11)

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This article first appeared at Wisdom4Today.org in February 2012
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Dr. Michael L. Williams

Dr. Michael Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today.