Thursday, August 07, 2008

Marriage And More Nonsense About Last Names

An.... interesting editorial appeared on this week. Authored by Rabbi Israel Krasnianski, it lashes out against the big problem that exists in our world... married women retaining their maiden names.

Now, personally, I think it's all a big bunch of nonsense. I don't really think it matters one way or the other what names a woman uses. To me, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for a woman to keep her maiden name and there are plenty of legitimate reasons to adopt the husband's. When Eeees and I got married, I told her that I had no objection to her keeping her maiden name if she wanted to. I had no intention of changing my name to her maiden name, but I could have if I wanted to as well.

However, I find it kind of funny when articles such as this one pop up from time to time. This particular editorial had quite a few "gems" that I'd like to share with you. Let's start with this one:

Many studies have shown, as a matter of statistical fact, higher divorce rates where woman retain their maiden names.

To be perfectly fair and honest, I don't know if this is true or not. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that it's true. It may well be true that there is a higher divorce rate for women who keep their maiden names after marriage, but as I learned in statistics classes, you can't just look at the raw numbers alone. There are any number of reasons to question this little factoid. For starters, do these studies take into account the overall rise in divorce rates across the population as a whole? Do they take into account cultural biases against divorce that may exist in various places? Is the divorce rate in Quebec much higher than the rest of the world? (In Quebec, a woman is not allowed to change her name upon marriage. She must retain her maiden name). In short, there are any number of factors that can explain a rise in divorce rates among women who keep their maiden name.

Even if you can conclusively prove that keeping your maiden name results in an increased chance of divorce, perhaps that's only the symptom and not the cause. What I mean is this: perhaps women who would keep their last name have a personality trait that causes them to favor keeping their names. Forcing (or encouraging) such a woman to "give up" her name is not going to change her underlying personality -- and I think we can all agree that the personalities of the husband and wife will play a far greater role in predicting a divorce than what last name she chooses to go by. In other words, it's entirely possible that cause and effect are being confused here.

This section caught my attention as well.

It is no secret that in other circles, the reason for deteriorating marriages, climbing divorce rates and the current shidduch crisis, is greatly due to the fact that the girls today are much more educated, knowledgeable and capable than the boys are. More than often times the bread-winner in the young family is the wife. Today with modern society and the plague of liberalism all around us, woman are no longer being taught to be mothers of children and good wives, instead liberalism is teaching them to become executives of large corporations and to try and become the man they were never meant to be!

I find it to be both extremely funny and sad that a sane person could write this paragraph. We encourage our young men to sit and learn, to eschew any education which might result in his having some marketable skills, all in the name of advancing Torah study. Since the young couple has to eat and the vast majority of us don't have wealthy parents or in-laws, the women go out and earn degrees and become the breadwinners of the family so that the husband can learn in Kollel. However, now we're decrying this as the cause for deteriorating marriages and for the shidduch crisis! Give me a break! You can't have it both ways! Don't create a situation where the women are forced to go out and work and then tell them that their doing so is the cause of broken homes and the shidduch crisis. To do so is simply wrong and unfair -- whether the underlying assertion is true or not.

Retention of the last name is indicative of this recent “style” of women's independence and when you enter into your marriage with a fear of losing your independence, then you are entering into this marriage shakily and with insufficient resolve! This unhealthy balance has brought much crisis and serious issues to the orthodox circles.

Or it could be indicative of the fact that it may simply be easier to retain your last name. Or perhaps the husband keeping *his* last name indicates a "ear of losing your independence" and "entering into this marriage shakily and with insufficient resolve!" I think that if that's the case, all couples should have hyphenated names. This way *both* parties go into the marriage with the knowledge that it is a partnership of both parts.

While I do sympathize with a girl’s desire to preserve a link to her familial heritage and her need to maintain her own reputation and her feelings for identity preservation, still, there is no doubt that this trend is founded on a feminist message which strays from the Torah tradition of marriage and makes a statement that women are not the husband’s property.

Words fail me on this one. A wife is not property. And don't start jumping on me about kiddushin being done in a manner that resembles the purchase of property. One of the surest signs that I own something is the fact that I can sell it. If I want, I can sell my house to whomever I want. I can sell my hamster to whomever I want. I can sell my dishes, books, etc. to anyone I want. I can't however, sell my wife. Why? Becuase I don't really own her. Yes, I have claims on her with regard to rights and responsibilities in marriage and she likewise has rights and claims on me - but that's not the same thing as ownership. Wives are not property.

Furthermore, the Torah teaches when one marries one must not merely leave her family, but ABANDON (“yazov”) all her family’s traditions etc for her husband’s!

I think Rabbi Krasnianski should go back to the beginning of the Chumash. The last time I checked, the Torah said (emphasis mine) "al keyn ya'azov ISH es aviv v'es imo v'davak b'ishto..." (therefore a MAN should leave (sorry... ABANDON) his father and his mother and cleave to his wife..."

Another "gem" is this one:

As for girls who can’t do this for fear of losing their independence (contrary to what marriage is), either you marry your husband completely, including his name, or go back to your father's house and use his name until you learn what marriage is and ought be.

Talk about condescending and rude! Someone who doesn't want to give up their last name for whatever reason shouldn't get married at all?! As if that's the be-all and end-all of marriage? How about asking the same thing of men? Perhaps we can state that if a man is afraid of losing his independence and isn't willing to marry his wife completely (by taking her name) perhaps he shouldn't get married. Is that ludicrous? Of course it is... but so is his statement.

Marriage, IMHO, is a partnership. Both the husband and the wife have to put in the effort and make the sacrifices and comprimises that are necessary in a marriage. One party alone can't do it. If both parties to a marriage are willing to do what it takes to make the marriage work, then it doesn't really matter what last names the parties go by. However, *if* you're going to stress (for whatever reason) the importance of the woman giving up her last name as a sign of commitment to the marriage, then the husband should be no less required to do so. If that's the case, I think both the husband and wife should have hyphenated names, thereby showing that they are both committed to the marriage.

The Wolf

Hat tip: How To Measure The Years and Frum Satire.

(Let's not forget -- the very template of a successful Jewish marriage involved a couple with different last names -- Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu.) :)


G said...


PsychoToddler said...





words just fail me on this one.

I was in semi-blog retirement, just reading your posts without much commenting, but this one is bringing me out. I feel like Michael Corleone here.

Aside from all the points you make, I mean, isn't the whole concept of the "surname" a goyish conceit to begin with? Are there surnames in Tanach or Talmud?

Didn't women go by Sarah bas Haran or whatever, anyway, even after they were married???

Is this Purim shtick?

ProfK said...

The custom of surnames is a fairly recent one historically and is not in full use even today in some cultures. Latino cultures have long had the custom of hyphenating and using the mother's maiden name. Some cultures, the Chinese for instance, use clan names rather than individual surnames.

But for frum Jews the use of the last name is irrelevant anyway. It is an outside identification mark rather than a Jewish one. Interesting note: even upon marriage a woman does not change her Hebrew name--she still remains Leah bas Mechel, arguing against any type of "ownership." Were she owned (and it pains me to even write that phrase) she would be known as Leah the wife of Baruch.

BJ said...

Quebec isn't the only place where women retain their birth surname on marriage. In much of Asia, a wife keeps her father's surname. Traditionally, in Scotland, a wife also kept her maiden name (which is why genealogy tends to be easier there than in England, where she took her husband's names, at least until the practice of taking the husband's name on marriage became prevalent in the mid/late 1800s).

Of course, the other interesting bit is that hereditary surnames are actually a recent innovation in Jewish history -- and they were generally imposed from the outside, often less than voluntarily. Also, I find the fact that the people making the 'must take husbnad's name for a strong marriage' argument are the most likely to see their 'real' marriage licence as their ketubah (surnames not in evidence there, IIRC) and use Ploni ben Ploni (no surname there, either....) when called to the Torah.....In fact, one could just as easily argue that using hereditary surnames is a goyish custom and should be rejected by all good Jews ;-) After all, Iceland manages to do without them....

SaraK said...


Anonymous said...

I heard what bj said, that the names were imposed upon Jews against their will. I heard that the Maharam Schik took his name because it's rashei teivos for Shem Yisrael Kodesh -- actually refuting the nonJewish name.

Critically Observant Jew said...

What about women who don't change their names due to immigration reasons - so that USCIS (formerly known as INS) wouldn't mess up their files?

As for hyphenated names, I don't think we'd like that - our name would be 20 characters long with a hyphen!

For people who know SQL: check this cartoon out

BrooklynWolf said...


I'm a database developer by trade. :)
That was very funny!

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

How's this for an idea?... Let the last name of the family be that of the breadwinner!(admittedly unpopular in the kolel world)

Critically Observant Jew said...

As for Imeinu and Avinu as last names - our foremothers and forefathers were Romanian?

Anonymous said...

I think I came across this rabbi's logic in graduate school when we were learning about psychosis. It was called praedicate thinking, the best example being a syllogism. "A chair has legs; I have legs: Therefore, I am a chair."

Anonymous said...

I think I came across this rabbi's logic in graduate school when we were learning about psychosis. It was called praedicate thinking, the best example being a syllogism. "A chair has legs; I have legs: Therefore, I am a chair."

I've always suspected that the Kollel version of this is:
My Father in law is rich, therefore fathers in law are rich, therefore when I am a father in law I will be rich.

Somehow It doesn't work quite like that

Lion of Zion said...


for someone who seems to be so busy you seem to waste a lot of time reading these nonsense sites.

i just wanted to point out 2 things

1) there have been cases in history when the man actually takes on the name of his wife's family. even r. shmuel salant. my post deals with this:

Click here for more

2) there are women (including chabadniks) who keep their maiden names because of the fact that they don't have civil marriages altogether (which is illegal in NYS) in order to collect foodstamps, etc.

A Living Nadneyda said...

" other circles, the reason for deteriorating marriages, climbing divorce rates and the current shidduch crisis, is greatly due to the fact that the girls today are much more educated, knowledgeable and capable than the boys are. More than often times the bread-winner in the young family is the wife."

I don't know which "other circles" he means, but in most Israeli Haredi circles, the women are expected to be both primary breadwinners and primary house-keepers, while the husbands hang out in yeshiva all day. I can a imagine a situation in which this set-up would be the cause of many more divorces, were divorce socially acceptable in those circles.


Shira Salamone said...

Sorry about my post's original title, which was unclear enough that I must have changed it 3 or 4 time since the link was published. The current version is "Orthodox husband opposes idea that wives are property." I want to make it clear to your readers that I support this post.

Concerning Mark/PT's and ProfK comments that surnames are "goyish," that's exactly why I insist that calling a married woman Mrs. Husband's-First-Name is against Jewish tradition and an insult to a married woman's parents. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally name their children after deceased relatives, Sefardim Jews after living relatives. By calling me by my husband first's name, you rob my parents of their time-honored right to name their own child in honor of their own relative.

Personally, I have no objections to being called me by my husband's last name, but anyone who calls me by my husband's first name is gonna get such a lecture that their ears will hurt. For openers, it's an insult to Jewish tradition, and, for closers, it's an insult to me personally. Getting married did *not* make me cease to exist as a separate human being. And the notion that I'm my husband's property--or anyone else's--is beneath contempt.

Wolf, thank you for writing this post.

Anonymous said...

0) Talk of losing sight of the forest for the trees!

1) If there is a causal relationship, which I doubt, I suspect it goes the other way. That is, if divorce rates are high, women will be more reluctant to accept the hassle of changing a name upon marriage.

2) We should always look to halacha for guidance. In religious prayers and documents, we refer to a married woman (or man) by the same patronymic (and matronymic, where applicable) they have borne since birth.

3) Although we do derive some halachot of kiddushin from a g'zerah shaveh with Avraham's purchase of ma'arat hamachpelah, the gemarrah is very clear that kiddushin is not a purchase.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Maharsh"a is known as R. Shmuel Eliezer Eidels. Eidel being his wife, who supported him after her father passed on.

Lion of Zion said...


thank you!
i originally wrote my post on this matter with the maharsha in mind, but i couldn't remember his name. i've updated it.

When A Husband Takes His Wife's Maiden Name

shabbat shalom and have an easy fast

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

wow. great fisking.

Gila said...

Very well said!

Here (Israel) a fair number of people I have met have taken on a new, combined last name on marriage. Of course, we also have that history of changing our last names in general....

Anonymous said...

This is something I feel strongly about, and think it is symbolically important.

However, I've wondered how hyphenated names would work farther down the generations: 2 children with hyphenated names getting marriedd would end up with 4-part surnames and each generation would make it worse.
Instead - How about each parent/partner keeps their original last name, and the couple add a new hyphenated portion to the end, chosen as a symbol of their commitment, or new family.

BUT, importantly, the children of that couple only take on the new portion. Then, if this method was popularly adopted, people being married would start with one name and follow the process that their parents employed?

(as suggested by aaron, adopting the surname of the breadwinner just wouldn't work. In these unstable times the main breadwinner is less likely to remain the same throughout the relationship).