What’s in a surname that I should change it when I marry?

Sherrie Han // June 5, 2018, 5:54 pm


“Are you going to be changing your name after marriage?”

Without hesitation, I said no.

I was first presented with the possibility of officially changing my surname after marriage at the pre-marital counselling course at my church. Before this, I’d never considered the possibility of adopting my husband’s surname, which meant doing a deed poll and legally adopting my husband’s surname.

There didn’t seem to be any reason to change my surname. Administratively, it would’ve been a hassle to change my NRIC, passport, bank documents and other articles of identification, not to mention having to present my deed poll whenever my identity had to be verified with any older documentation.

Plus, my husband-to-be didn’t mind whether I did a deed poll at all, so the matter was left entirely up to me.

But I found myself wondering why my instinctive response to the question was an immediate “no”. Of course, as an independent, modern woman in Singapore, it felt so strange to even consider giving up my surname in favour of my husband’s.
It was as though I was needlessly giving up a part of my identity. What would my parents think?

Marriage, to me, meant becoming one with the man I loved, a union in which we would encourage each other to be the “spotless bride of Christ” in preparation for His return.

Giving up my surname was a powerful statement about the unity and permanence of marriage.

As I thought deeper about marriage, I came across an article on Facebook describing various feminist struggles against patriarchy and how women through the ages fought to keep their own surnames. The tone of the article was proud and strident, and it struck a chord in me.

The zeitgeist of our time is autonomy. As millennials, we are often told, directly or indirectly, that we are “captains of our souls, masters of our own fate”.

But the truth of this statement is rarely questioned – so much of who we are has come from standing on the shoulders of giants who have willingly sacrificed and laid down their own rights and privileges for our good.

The struggle to give up my surname was really a struggle to be vulnerable. There was a risk that I would regret giving up a part of myself and a risk that I would be embarrassed and hurt should marriage not work out in the future.

Yet, giving up my surname was also a powerful statement about the unity and permanence of marriage. I realised that to give up my surname in favour of his was to express faith in the institution of marriage, as created by God for our good.

Marriage as a covenantal relationship seems increasingly outdated in our day and age of risk-management and convenience. I believe that arrangements such as pre-nuptial agreements and open relationships are signs of how marriage has been devalued in this day and age.

But it doesn’t have to be. We are empowered to serve and love each other as Jesus did. He chose to give up everything even in the face of rejection and betrayal from the people He loved – the very things I was afraid I might face in the future.

Because of His act of great love and eternal commitment, He put His name on us, His bride. A name that reconciled us back to Father God, and will endure forever. And if Christ could give so willingly, I knew then that so could I.

And with that, I decided to formally adopt my husband’s surname.

Sherrie has been married for nearly two years now and is a proud mother of a new-born baby.