While back in the days, women adopted the husband’s name automatically after tying the knot, today the issue is a subject of a divisive debate
Sandra Wekesa @andayisandra
A couple exchanges marriage vows and rings, then the officiator of the wedding pronounces them husband and wife, and introduces the couple as Mr and Mrs so and so— and it’s automatically the man’s name. There and then, the bride not only gets a new title, but a new name.
Traditionally, this wasn’t a topic of discussion. After marriage, the woman without question would drop her maiden name and adopt her husband’s. But times have changed. And the question many soon-to-be brides are battling with is whether to change their maiden name or not.
Faced with this dilemma, David Mwangi and his then fiancé now wife Lilian Muhoro held several conversations around this topic before they tied the knot.
Finally, they agreed she would retain her name. Mwangi had witnessed his mother going through the process of changing her name on her documents and didn’t want to put the love of his life through the same struggles.
“I didn’t see the need for her to change her name because all that mattered was our love and the fact that we had a marriage certificate sealed it all. Subjecting her to the hustle of changing all her documents would be frustrating to her and I didn’t want her to go through that,” says David.
He argues that many would change name to have a sense of security. However, he says trust is what would keep a couple secure. “Why would you think of securing your husband’s property through acquiring his name? It is completely absurd and if that’s what your union is all about, then you should think twice,” he adds.
But Janet Wairimu still uses her father’s name, 15 years after marriage. “By the time I got married, I had made a name for myself professionally. I argued changing my name would be confusing. When you take your husband’s name, your identity dies.
Society begins to view you through his lens — you take his credits and his failures, his weaknesses and his strengths,” she says. She argues being a Mrs so and so is only one part of who she is and that should not solely define her.
A name is part of one’s identity and in this case, for the woman. There are women who the change of name would not affect their identity; they are comfortable and confident in who they are.
For others, the maiden name forms part of their profile, especially having built a career with their names before marriage, changing their name would then mean having to redefine/reintroduce yourself in many corporate forums. Others have “bankable names” especially those who comes from influential families such as Kenyattas, Odingas, among others.
Steve Mbuthia, a marriage coach, says to drop or not to drop a maiden name depends on the couple. There is no right or wrong answer. However, the couple needs to agree.
He adds that some couples feel that changing the name would secure investments that they develop and grow together; thus securing the ‘will’.
While changing a woman’s name boosted her man’s ego, the family coach notes that with divorce and separation being a reality that many couples have to live with today; some are opting not to change their names. They don’t want to have to go through the legal process of changing their name back should it happen.
There is no law in Kenya requiring women to change their names after marriage. However, Anthony Odeck, a family lawyer, says anyone is free to change names. “There is no limitation in changing your name. Therefore, if anyone wants to change their names upon marriage, then they should always feel free to do so,” says Anthony.
“After changing the name, you would also have to swear an affidavit stipulating the person’s identity on certificates and other legal documents before and after the marriage or name change,” he says.