Monday, 12 April 2010

Should A Wife Take Her Husband's Surname?

At our church evening meeting yesterday we had, amongst other things, a Q and A session on what the Bible says the roles of men and women in marriage should be, led by Sean and Liz. Do listen to that when it goes up on the website later this week. It was quality stuff.

One of the questions went something like this: Is there a verse in the Bible which specifically demands a woman to take on the family name of her husband?

Sean asked me if I knew of any verses, so I got thinking and here's my two pennies worth.

Like Sean said, as far as I am aware, there's no verse in the Bible that commands a woman take on the name of her husband, but then at over 31,000 verses I'm not such an authority on the Bible that I would want to be categorical!

However, the world of the bible was clearly patrilineal, not matrilineal and so it was assumed that the father's name would be preserved and the mother's lost.

The pattern is given that the woman takes on the identity of her husband. He doesn't go to be with her, she goes to be with him. Even in times of great upheaval that principle didn't change.

The reason is not because the woman is somehow less than the man, but because, as Sean rightly said last night, marriage is a symbol of the story of Christ and the church. Christ doesn't get taken under the Church's wing, the Church comes under Christ's. A good Old Testament picture of this is the way Boaz and Ruth get it together.

Christ does not inherit the name of the Church, rather the Church inherits the name of Christ.

I don't feel at liberty to say that a Christian woman must take on the name of her husband, but given the weight of the Biblical precedent, I think there would need to be exceptional circumstances at play, before a bucking of the trend is considered.


Jon F from RFC said...

I might have some of the nationalities confused, but I can assure you that the facts are true.

In Japan, the man takes the woman's maiden name.
In some parts of China and South East Asia, the man and woman's name remain unchanged and the children take on the father's name.

Several years ago, in parts of India the child's name was composed of prefixing the mother's name, the village they came from and finally the house name ! They are the source of much amusement to many Indians outside that community, so frankly we rather they don't change their ways.

In the New Testament for example Bartimaeus the blind man whom Jesus healed - we know that he was Bar (the son of) Timaeus. In England you don't follow that naming convention, although it still is followed in other parts of the world (eg. Some parts of India, and South East Asia).

I might even go so far as to say that we don't necessarily have to take our cue from the Old Testament because that was the naming convention for the Israelites, but not necessarily relevant to us.

However there are a couple of biblical principles that are important and what is key is to see how we can make these principles Biblically relevant in a way that is meaningful in our culture. Within marriage (Eph 5:22-33), the key principles include the husband loving the wife as Christ loves the church, the wife submitting to the husband, the leaving parents and cleaving to the wife amongst others.In the West, some of the ways you can Biblically practice this in the culture is for a woman to take a husband's last name, having a single bank account etc.

The influence of feminism has meant several women have kept their maiden name. There are a few instances where the wife's maiden name might be one that is "dying out" and so reason to keep it. I wouldn't tell the church in Japan that they had to move to a western naming convention unless there is something distinctly non-Biblical about why men take the woman's maiden name. I haven't dated any Japanese women so not had to put a lot of thought into it ;-)

There are instances when our culture is definitely wrong, and we need to address that in a Biblical way eg. in some cultures where a man is valued over a woman.

My biblical conviction and the culture I am in tells me that in marriage, taking the husband's name is the way to go. I think a double-barrelled surname is distinctly feminine and I wouldn't want my son to bear that burden.

Finally, if you like long names, you'll love this Sri Lankan cricketer.

Richard Walker said...

That is certainly a very long name. :-)

I too have never dated a Japanese girl so as yet have never needed to have that discussion.

Thanks for taking the time to help fill out my understanding. :-)

Nya Jones said...

Great article!!