Husbands taking their wives' last names: Why does the law discriminate?

Husbands taking their wives' last names: Why does the law discriminate?

by Ann MacDonald, December 2009

It is fairly common in this society for a wife to take her husband's last name upon marriage. In most states, the law makes it relatively easy to accomplish. But what if a husband wants to take his new wife's name? As Californian Michael Buday found, it is somewhat more complicated.

Buday wanted to honor his wife-to-be, Diana Bijon, and her family by changing his last name to her last name. However, he quickly discovered that it is more difficult for a man to take his wife's name that the other way around. With the help of the ACLU, however, Buday recently won his case against Los Angeles County and the state citing gender discrimination.

The Name Change Process Varies by State

The process to change a name is legislated on a state basis. In California, Buday would have needed to pay a court fee of more than $300, run a newspaper ad for several weeks, and go to court for a judge's approval. By comparison, for a California woman to change her last name to that of her husband, she can pay a smaller fee - between $50 and $80 depending on the county -and do the change right on the marriage license.

In fact, a man's name change is not even considered part of his marriage. Rather, it is a name change, independent of the wedding that is occurring.

Many other states require steps and fees similar to those in California for men to change their names. In fact, only six states currently allow either partner to do a change a name under equal conditions when they marry. If you are a man looking to take your wife's name, count yourself lucky if you live in one of these enlightened states: Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York or North Dakota.

What happened to Buday and Bijon?

The couple married in August of 2005 and both kept their "maiden" names. At least one California lawmaker has already proposed legislative changes that would address the issue going forward.

Names of the Future

While it is still fairly rare for men to change their names, and common for women to change theirs upon marriage, the trends are changing. Today, many women keep their maiden names. Others hyphenate their names, keeping both their original and husband's names. In some cases, husbands and wives both take on a hyphenated version or come up with a unique alternative.

So are you ready to get started on your name change, click here for more information.