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Man Enough to Take Your Wife's Name?

Vivia Chen

May 22, 2013

John WayneI didn't mean to write a trilogy, but it's turned out that way. In the last two posts, I've been looking at the trend of women choosing to use their husband's surnames (click here and here).

I thought I had exhausted the issue. But then I heard from a Big Law partner, who offers another twist: Not only did he not expect his wife to take his name, he volunteered to take hers. So the former Neil Friedman became Neil Popovic. Presto!

Popovic, a litigation partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton's San Francisco office, sent me a copy of an article he wrote for Ms. magazine in 1994 in which he recounts his name change. Here's how he explains his decision in Ms.:

The idea of her taking my family surname, Friedman, seemed absurd: Both of us have always had serious problem with that sexist tradition—it smells too much of the days when a wife was her husband's property.

He goes on to say that he and his wife wanted a common name "as a symbol of our union." Then the eureka moment:

Logically, came the idea of my taking Susan's surname, Popovic. Sure, it seemed a bit bold, but it fits all our requirements, and more important, it gave us the chance to turn a bit of sexism on its head, to do some "affirmative action" toward a more equal society.

After 26 years of marriage and two grown children (they also bear his wife's last name), Popovic still sounds like a feminist crusader. "When women keep their names, that's seen as a sign of feminism," he says. "But men are never accused of being unfeminist when their wives take their names." And even though he changed his name decades ago, he says that people often say, "I didn't know men can [take their wives' surname] legally."

He contends he hasn't suffered socially or professionally for committing a uxorious act. "No one has said it’s wrong or stupid—some people consider it exotic," says Popovic. The worst snide remark, he adds, is that "some people will say, 'You did it because you're from Berkeley.' "

Popovic says his name change has worked to his advantage: "It can be a way for me to establish credibility with my feminist credentials." He also says that he's influenced about a handful of male lawyers to follow his lead: "It's usually when a younger colleague is about to get married, and my example is cited."

But Popovic insists that he's no radical. His primary motive is to just get the conversation going. "It's useful to raise the issue because it gets people to think about the significance of changing your name," he says. "There's no reason that one way or another is the right way to go. But people should think about it rather than just follow a tradition."

I think Popovic is right on point. There is no reason that the husband's surname should be the automatic default in a marriage.

Surely, you can't disagree with that, right?

Prior posts: Part 1-Women Are Now Taking Hubby's Name; Part 2-Top Reasons to Take Your Husband's Name.

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I think couples should just pick whichever name sounds better and go by it, or flip a coin or something. Those are the least sexist, and most equal options. Hyphenating gets too complicated in my opinion, and if you both just keep your own last names, what will your kids go by?

When preparing to marry, a few years before Attorney Popovic, the issue of last name came up for my fiance and me. Since my father had died when I was very young, and he was the only male of his generation in the family; and since my brothers and I experienced name changes when we were adopted by a step-father, I knew I wanted to bring my original last-name back when getting married. My fiance was not offended by that because he expected I would ALSO add his last name. I said that was no problem and suggested that he add my last name as well so we both would share the same, hyphenated, last-name. He refused.

Perhaps this explains, in part, why Attorney Popovich is still married, and my first husband and I are not, 8) Way to go Neil!

Popovic nails it. There is no reason (other than historic, women are property of the father or husband) to default to the man's name. Lawyers especially should at least make a thoughtful choice about what name both parties should take after marriage, rather than act like lemmings.

What a man! Bravo!

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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