WHY THE WOMAN TAKES THE NAME OF HER HUSBAND

Depiction of young Jesus in Nazareth, anonymous artist, c. 1930 (from here)
Depiction of young Jesus in Nazareth, anonymous artist, c. 1930 (from here)

Most mornings, while I shave the hair of my face, I listen to a local radio station, WMAL. Supposedly, WMAL provides Conservative talk radio. Whatever it is I often listen to it, and I usually find myself grimacing, grumbling, and grousing at the hosts of “Mornings on the Mall,” Brian and Larry.

Why the grimacing, grumbling, and grousing? What follows is an example. This morning Brian and Larry had found some excuse to discuss the merits of the groom taking his bride’s last name. As usual, the discussion did not delve deeply into subject. It seems how we feel is all that matters, but is it? Our forebears had reasons for the things they did. Because they had to work hard to survive, they did little thoughtlessly. So why did they think it important for a woman to take the name of her husband? What reason did they have?

The history of the Jews provides the context. The Bible explains the wisdom of their traditions. Here are a several articles that describe the Jewish wedding at the time of Jesus. Each of these articles seeks to explain various passages in the Bible by relating them to the Jewish wedding customs of Jesus’ day.

In those ancient times the roles of sexes were well-defined, and people desired children, as many as they could have. Women bore children and cared for them. Men provided for their wife and their children.

When a man took a woman to wife, his family formed a bond with his wife’s family. Consider the nature of communities. In a time when people traveled little, you might be related to almost everyone you knew.

The word family had a wider meaning in both Aramaic and Hebrew than it does in English today. The Hebrew ah and the Aramaic aha could be used to refer to those who were brothers, half-brothers, cousins, and even other near relations. Extended family networks were both insisted upon and essential for survival. To have these ties and be dependent upon them was every Jewish person’s duty, and an absolute necessity for survival. (from here)

Hence, introducing a new member to the family was a big deal and the subject of much dickering and discussion. When a young man went out to find a wife, his father, mother, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins all had good reason to take a big interest. Who was this young woman he planned to bring into their community, perhaps even their home? And when a young man came looking for a wife, the young lady’s parents and relatives wondered whether that young man was the sort who could be trusted with their precious daughter, niece, or cousin.

What were typical homes like in Jesus’ time? describes the typical homes of Jesus’ day. Unlike our homes, those homes were places where people lived together and worked together as part of extended families. Now imagine the problems. How would a young woman signal her desire to be accepted into her husband’s family? How would young man approach the reverse problem. When he proposed, he was asking to take a precious young woman from her father, mother, and all the relatives who had cared for her and watched her grow into a young lady.

  • The young lady solved her problem by honoring her new husband’s family and taking her husband’s name.
  • In addition to paying a dowry, the young man solved his problem by going back to his father’s home and adding an addition, a home for his new bride.
  • And both families celebrated the marriage with a wedding feast.

Does the Bible say a woman must adopt the name of her husband? Do we live in the same sort of communities today? No and no, but if we stop to think, we must admit there are still a great many similarities between us and the people of Jesus’ time. In fact, many of us long to be part of a family, and we don’t know how to satisfy that longing. Perhaps, instead of being so modern or only considering our feelings, we need to review the lessons of the past. What worked? Why?

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21 thoughts on “WHY THE WOMAN TAKES THE NAME OF HER HUSBAND

  1. That was interesting Tom, thanks. Tradition can really be a wise teacher. I think there is a tendency for people to reject everything their parents and grandparents did, assuming their elders were just stupid and uninformed. Young people always think they know better. Most of us quickly grow out of that and discover the error of our ways, but culturally, the times we’re living in, it’s as if that is no longer a phase, but now a way of life. So many are completely rebelling against tradition, rejecting eons of human experience. That is a bit foolish to say the least.

    There are sound historical reasons and traditions for why a wife might take her husband’s name, but I tend to think more along the lines of, back away from someone who has that big of a chip on their shoulder. If taking a husband’s name is going to erase your very identity or threaten your sense of self or something, then you aren’t just carrying baggage, you need a bellhop.

    The former mayor of my town made her husband take her name. I probably don’t need to rather snidely explain what a delight she has been for the entire community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When we are young, we begin our lives with the wisdom we were taught. In our time, the conventional wisdom spurns tradition. As dumb as it sounds, too many of today’s elders have taught their own children and grandchildren to ignore experience and wisdom gained in the past.

      We fill our lives with busy work. So few take the time to examine today’s assumptions. If they did, they would be shocked. Here is an example. That thing Progressives worship — that thing we call progress — depends upon gains made in the past. Those who worship Science must also respect the lessons learned in the past. Sir Isaac Newton said it best.

      If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. — Isaac Newton

      Everything we know we know because someone discovered it in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom,

    This is the 21st century in the USA. Four out of ten children born today are born and raised by unwed mothers. Who knows for certain how many more are being raised by single mothers after a divorce? Some mothers don’t even know for certain who the father is or was.

    Forget about the old traditions of marriage you old codger. Today’s modern world is far superior to ancient times and traditions. Our new knowledge and use of technology in science and medicine is far superior to ancient times and has made our lives are far more enjoyable and rewarding. For example, we can now phone someone from our watch, hear up to date news, commentary, opinions, and make decisions and twitter our opinions on any matter in milliseconds. We can fly to the moon, travel to another continent in hours, buy and sell in seconds.

    Who cares who the father is anymore? Being born is all that matters because each new person born will be a new consumer. All that really matters when he or she matures is what brand name phone they will select.

    Wise up, forget old traditions, go buy yourself a computer wrist phone and listen to some more advertising or opinions of people who know the only importance of a name, and that is brand name recognition. Nothing else, traditions included really matters anymore in the USA.

    Check out these statistics and decide for yourself what happens when we disregard the past traditions and advice. The future is all that matters. What is going to be the future result of our disregarding past traditions and advice, you can now see and hear on your new superfast wrist computer and decide for yourself which name is more significant.

    The mother or the father name makes no difference, only the name and credit rating on the credit card is what really matters, or does it? One thing for certain, someday history will judge whether we were wise or foolish worrying about whether a father’s name ever meant anything in life.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Old codger? Sniff!
      😀
      Thanks for a thoughtful comment and that link. That link is quite informative and also depressing. But if we don’t know a problem exists, what can we do about it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom,
    Do not get depressed. Just keep praying and,doing what you do best. None of us old codgers will ever solve all the problems in the world, but we will keep on trying because we know that is the right thing to do . If just ten of us old codgers does one right thing in life to benefit just one person, perhaps the world will be spared for our children and grandchildren.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I always thought the woman took the man’s name because of Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve sinned, God place Adam as head of the household to guide woman. That is the way I understood it,

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  5. novascout

    Given that Adam and Eve both sinned, it seems a bit arbitrary to put Adam in charge. Of course, there’s also the point that they didn’t have last names.

    Scout

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  6. @lafayetteangel
    @novascout

    I believe lafayetteangel is correct.

    Genesis 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)

    16 To the woman He said:

    “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
    In pain you shall bring forth children;
    Your desire shall be for your husband,
    And he shall rule over you.”

    What we desire does rule over us.

    In context, I think God intended that the concern of women for their husbands and children would give focus to their lives and limit their impetuosity. Consider how God cursed men. We work too, and if we are good for anything, we too work for our families.

    When a woman accepts a man’s name, she accepts him as a suitable mate. She says: “His family is my family, my children are his children. I will accept his love and place myself in his care.” Thus, a woman chooses to give her man her love, honor, and respect.

    Marriage is a voluntary bond. The Bible does say a woman should submit to her husband, but the Bible also says a husband should love his wife just as Jesus does the church. The Bible says a man should love his wife just as he loves his own body.

    Ephesians 5:30 New King James Version (NKJV)

    30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

    Until the two become one in love, God has not sanctified their marriage.

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  7. novascout

    If a man chose the woman’s name upon marriage, would that then similarly indicate that he accepts her as a suitable mate and give her concomitant love, honor, and respect?

    The Garden story in Genesis says nothing about naming conventions. These vary immensely across the many cultures in which Christians and Jews live. I don’t ascribe any particular significance to whether a couple elects to use one partner’s family name or another. In most cases in Western cultures (I guess Iceland would be an exception), the insignificance of this choice is magnified by the fact that a wife retaining her family name results in choosing her father’s name over her husband’s. Both are male-rooted. Perhaps one approach would be for a newly married couple to choose an entirely new surname that would signify them as a married couple.

    Scout

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    1. Scout:

      There is the idea of ‘leaving’ and cleaving.’

      We are reminded of an anchor of truth in that God named Adam, but Adam named his wife Eve. The woman taking the man’s name is more than a courtesy. It is the agreement and recognition (whether believed or not) that there is a divine order and structure to marriage, and that Adam was the federal head of the human race.

      The two shall be one. Many women keep their maiden name, ie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, but still recognize the more excellent way.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. novascout

    Hillary Rodham was Hillary Rodham until she decided that there was political advantage (either for her or for her husband or both) if she bolted on his name to hers. This took place well after they were married, if I recall correctly. If not, I invite correction.

    Scout

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      1. “Proving what?”

        LOL, perhaps proving that we are to put our faith in scripture or perhaps even in the wisdom of our ancestors, and not in women or (men) ? 😉

        There is an “advantage” however, to wives taking a husband’s name and it has a lot to do with family membership, with protection, and with the legacy we leave our children. If everyone just chooses their own names, it breaks a bloodline there, it makes tracing your roots more difficult, and it make identifying family connections more challenging. Far from the world of politics, I do enjoy an “advantage” from having hubby’s name, it indicates who I belong too, what the relationship there is. There are emotional, social, and financial benefits that I am rather grateful for.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. ColorStorm said: “There is the idea of ‘leaving’ and cleaving.’” And that is so true. And as you say, it is about protection, about children. It is about belonging.

          When I was growing up, I lived in a house where everyone’s last name was the same. As a military family, we traveled a lot, but that remained consistent. There were people to whom I belonged.

          A name is a symbol. Think of the Stars and Stripes. Whereas a name is verbal symbol, the flag is a visible symbol. When we are overseas, what does that flag say? Doesn’t it say home? Here is an outpost of our people, the people to whom I belong. When a child hears his last name, he hears family.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. novascout

        I wouldn’t use the word “proving”, but I was responding to ColorStorm’s comment about Hillary Clinton’s decision to start using her husband’s name. I don’t think she was “recognizing” the “more excellent way”, as CS posits, but was making a calculated political marketing decision.

        Scout

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  10. One practical reason for a woman taking her husband’s surname, and then giving that surname to any children that result from the marriage, is to tie the children to their father in an unambiguous, visible way. Because the mother incubates and gives birth to the child, the child is very visibly tied to her, but the tie to the father is less apparent. Giving the father’s surname to the child is a way of declaring that bond in a way that everyone can clearly see.

    True story: About forty years ago, when divorce and remarriage were not nearly as commonplace as they are now, I spent about a year living and working in a very small blue-collar town in northeastern Connecticut. In the summer, the church I belonged to decided to do a Vacation Bible School for all the local kids. It was very well publicized, and dozens and dozens of kids showed up. For a full week, the kids were there all day every day, playing games and learning songs and doing crafts and listening to Bible stories; and at the end of the week, we put on a program for all the parents. Because I had nice handwriting, the VBS director assigned me to make name tags for all of the children and their mothers and fathers. He handed me a list of all the children’s names (which was all he had; for some reason, no one had thought to ask for the parents’ names on the registration forms), and he told me to make the parent name tags say, “Mrs. [Name], mother of [child’s name]” and “Mr. [Name], father of [child’s name]”… which I dutifully did. When the parents arrived for the program on Friday night and we attempted to tag them, it was a disaster — it turned out most of them had different last names from their children. My carefully-lettered name tags were largely worthless. As I said, this was forty years ago, and it was a real shocker for someone like me, who prior to that time had led rather a sheltered life.

    I know I’m hopelessly old-fashioned and an uptight traditionalist, but I miss the days when everyone in a family had the same last name. It made things so much simpler and less confusing.

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