Kristine L Ming

Why I took my wife’s last name

Rory and Lucy Dearlove

These days many women keep their own name when they marry, and couples are increasingly opting for a double-barrelled or merged name. But men who take their wife’s surname are still quite rare. Kirstie Brewer spoke to three.

Rory, a primary school teacher from south-east London, left for the summer holidays in 2016 as Mr Cook and returned to start the new school year as Mr Dearlove. It caused some confusion among his class of seven and eight-year-olds. A few female teachers had changed their last names when they got married – but never a man.

“Why did you change your name Mr Dearlove?” asked one of the girls in his class, while Rory was on playground duty. “Because I got married. Look!” said Rory, showing the child his wedding ring. “But why?” she insisted.

“Because when you get married you can choose what name you want. You can keep your name, or both have the same name, or make a new name. I chose my wife’s name, Dearlove,” Rory explained.

“The stuff children see at school they accept as normal – changing my surname was a good chance to give them new ideas,” says Rory, who met his wife Lucy on dating app Tinder four years ago.

Changing his surname to Lucy’s wasn’t a difficult decision for Rory to make. “I wasn’t massively attached to the name Cook and it doesn’t make any difference to me for work,” he says. He didn’t mind being the one to have to practise a new signature. “I thought it would be nice for us to have the same last name, and I think Dearlove is a better one.”

Lucy, a radio producer, had already made clear that she had no intention of changing her name, like a growing number of British women. But she had expected Rory to keep his too.

“At first I thought he was joking,” she says. “It wouldn’t have mattered to me – he’s entitled to keep his just as I am entitled to keep mine.”

It did earn him kudos with her friends, though.

“They said it was really refreshing and really nice.”

While the eight-year-olds took the news of Rory’s new name in their stride, there were a few scoffs from the thirty-something men Rory plays football with. “That’s weird,” said one, casting him a funny look. “Modern men,” said another, rolling his eyes. But that was about the extent of the criticism and Rory just shrugged it off.

‘Another inequality in marriage’

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Getty Images

In England and Wales, marriage certificates list only the fathers of the couple getting married. There is no mention of the mothers. Some campaigners argue that the certificates aren’t fit for modern times.

“It’s a huge knock in the eye for mothers,” said MP Frank Field, one of a cross-party group of MPs led by Caroline Spelman, which put forward a bill last year to include both parents.

In 2014, after legalising same-sex marriage, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to address “another inequality in marriage which has not changed since the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign.” MPs then tabled bills in 2015 and 2016.

The new bill has its second reading next month.

It can be a bigger problem, though. I know of one man whose parents refused to go to the wedding when they learned that their son would be taking his fiancee’s surname. To them this was incomprehensible and proof that their son was a puppet controlled by his wife-to-be.

Rachael Robnett, a researcher at the University of Nevada, recently surveyed a cross-section of people in the US and UK and found that a man whose wife keeps her own surname is often viewed as “feminine”.

“People gave traits with negative connotations like ‘passive’ and would say things like, ‘She obviously wears the trousers,’” says Robnett. But people also gave more positive descriptors such as “nurturing” and “caring”.

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