After eight months of marriage, my maiden name is still my legal surname.
To make a long story short, our paperwork was lost in the mail, then we moved to a new state and encountered an unforeseen six-month residency requirement. At times, I’ve almost been in tears, but I have since calmed down and am still researching avenues that will make me a legal Holmes sooner.
But in the meantime, I read about how Zoe Saldana and her husband Marco had no such worries. While I am used to actresses not publicly taking their husband’s last names, Zoe and Marco were adding a new twist: Marco would be taking his wife’s last name.
“I tried to talk him out of it,” Saldana said in an interview. “I told him, ‘If you use my name, you’re going to be emasculated by your community of artists, by your Latin community of men, by the world.’ But Marco looks up at me and says, ‘Ah, Zoe, I don’t give a [expletive].’”
And a host of progressives sighed, “Amen.”
So what’s the big deal with the name change anyway?
We Are a Family
I have eight siblings, seven of whom were adopted. They all had a different last name on their birth certificates when they came home from the hospital. Inevitably, six months after each of them came home, we would all load into our van, drive to the courthouse, and stand before a judge to finalize their adoption and their name change. No longer were they legally called by their birth names: They had been adopted into a new family, with all of the rights and privileges that being part of our family would hold. They were called by a new name, just as we are when we are adopted into the family of our God (Revelation 3:12).
Similarly, whether we were adopted into or born into our families, we were given our parents’ last name. We were marked as their children and given all of the rights and privileges that being their child would possess. And, usually, when we grow up, we don’t just drop our last name and choose another on a whim. We usually only choose another name when we become part of another family.
We Are One
When my husband and I decided to get married, we didn’t do so merely because we wanted to wake up next to one another every morning, raise a family together, or split bills down the middle. In our modern age, a marriage license is not necessary for these sorts of arrangements to exist. We were married because, as Christians, we knew marriage to be a covenant union sanctioned by God for his glory, for our joy, and for the good of others. In our marriages, we go from being separate units to one flesh (Genesis 2:24), one team.
More than just being a vehicle for our own personal joy and pleasure, or even for our own personal sanctification, our marriages are a picture to the watching world of the relationship that Christ has with his Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22–33). A name change is a way for us to symbolize that unified front, that unique bond.
We Are Different
So why didn’t I just let my husband deal with the hassle of changing his name on all of his documents and teaching a class full of fifth graders how to shift to a new name in the middle of the first semester?
Our marriages are a picture to the watching world of the relationship that Christ has with his Bride.
The changing of a surname isn’t a universal tradition, but speaking as a Westerner, the reason I decided to take my husband’s last name was to communicate not only that we are a new family and that we are a unified front, but that he is my head (Ephesians 5:23). No longer an independent unit, I am called to gladly submit to his godly leadership in my life.
This calling is not to say that I am a doormat for my husband, or that there is never room for me to have a contrary opinion or a point of disagreement with him, or that I do not have my own thoughts and perspective, or that he never listens to my advice or bows sacrificially to my wishes instead of his own (1 Peter 3:7). However, in God’s gracious providence, he has decreed that my husband is my head (1 Corinthians 11:3) and the leader whom I happily follow.
I wish the Saldanas well in their marriage and congratulate them on their beautiful twins, but I will still be trudging all over town in six months to change my name on my license, social security card, and bank statements.
I am looking forward to being a Holmes, and yes, it’s partly because whenever I am spelling it out over the phone, I can take a shortcut I never could with my more difficult maiden name (“Holmes, yes, like Sherlock”). But it’s also because the changing of our names as wives symbolically heralds the truth that we belong to a new family, led by our husband — a family whose focus is to mold itself into the pattern of the Father who calls us by name.