“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or would it? Five Japanese people are suing their government over an 1896 law that requires them to take the same surname to legally register their marriage. One of them argues that, “By losing your surname…you’re being made light of, you’re not respected…It’s as if part of yourself vanishes.” A Japanese constitutional scholar contends that, “Names are the best way to bind families.”
I would like to offer that both perspectives fall short of convincing. While family heritage plays a large role in our identities, the surname itself is always borrowed from another relative. Sure, you can blend and hyphenate names, but how long does the name become in order to identify oneself fully? If marrying someone causes you to feel disrespected, then why are you getting married? If you are partnering, “becoming one,” with another person, but don’t want to share their name, is it not an indication that you are rejecting their family and heritage? On the flip side, simply suggesting that it is the “best” way is also a statement of opinion, along with fears of “destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.” How, exactly, are either positions to be quantified, or reconciled?
I know of only one way…When God created man and woman, He did not give them separate names. “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). They were collectively named “Adam,” meaning mankind. It was the man who gave the woman a different name, “Eve,” and defined her as the “mother of all the living.” So the idea of individuality is coupled with separation – distance.
If people are wrapped up in the idea of being their own person and separated or distinguished at a distance from their spouse, then what is the point of being married? Is it not entirely, then, a self-serving enterprise? How well do those marriages generally turn out? When two people desire to come together, the goal is not individuality, but oneness. Each brings their own uniqueness and heritage to the table and creates a new entity, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family” (Genesis 2:23-25).
Personally, I have dealt with divorce and remarriage, and the surname issue was a big deal for me. In my first marriage, I did not wish to entirely take on his name. I didn’t want it hyphenated, so I kept my maiden name as a second middle name, but made certain it was written on everything. It didn’t take me long to understand that my hesitation and uneasiness was because something inside me didn’t trust him or respect his leadership. After divorce and reconnecting with Jesus Christ, I set my focus on following Him, and He brought into my life the man who would become my second husband. This man also shared the same direction and desire to follow Jesus, and I trust him implicitly. He leads where I am weak, and is willing to be submissive to my strengths. I had no doubt that I wanted to take on his name. Though our relationship hasn’t always been easy, it has grown me and strengthened me more with each passing day. While it was his name from birth, I proudly claim it as my own, and I am closer now than I have ever been to being the woman that God made me to be – the woman I want to be.
Regardless of earthly names, titles, labels, roles or relative position – first and foremost, my husband and I are children of God and carry His name. We are His ambassadors, sent to share the love of Jesus and to testify to His kingdom. Our goal and desire is to be unified and of one mind with Him. My perspective will be different than those who choose to follow any other path, because we have a different filter and focus.
Marriage, for me, is not about a political or social movement, a whim, a flight of fancy, or romantic notions that any other human could “complete me.” As a follower of Jesus, I can call my marriage (oneness, unity, relationship, etc.) by any name and it will still be as sweet because it is defined by the One who created my identity.
Reference article: “Debate on separate spouse surnames heats up before Japan court ruling.” By Elaine Lies. Reuters, December 10, 2015. http://news.yahoo.com/debate-separate-spouse-surnames-heats-japan-court-ruling-002048548.html
Photograph courtesy of Rebecca L. Jordan, 2015.