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Friday, 2 November 2012

Interesting problems some women face when they enter intercultural marriages

Whether to change or keep your name is a decision all women who want to get married have to make. Nowadays, in most countries (and certainly in Western European ones), all solutions are possible, including keeping the maiden name, taking the man's name, or having a double, or hyphenated name. But what if you’re marrying somebody from another culture?

Some fear that they will lose their national identity when changing their name. They feel that their name is the only thing that reminds them of their nationality, and this is especially the case when they already live in a different country and speak a different language.

Others, however, want to take their husband’s name…but can’t. The reason is simple. In some cultures, women have a female form of their surnames. This is the case with Polish. For example, if a man is called Kowalski, his wife and his daughter will be called Kowalska. It’s because the name is treated like an adjective, and the ending is adapted accordingly, like you would do in French (like for example petit and petite). In Polish, this only happens to names which end with –cki, or –ski in the masculine form, and the feminine form would be –ska or-cka.

In other countries, this is more complicated, because all female names have this ending. In Slovakia, I was very surprised to see Cindy Crawfordova or Julia Robertsova on the magazine covers. But let’s say, a Polish woman wants to get married in Germany to a Polish man called Kowalski. The authorities wouldn’t allow her to have the name “Kowalska” because technically, it’s not the same name. Also, Western cultures seem to understand this practice as a sign of women’s oppression: she is either seen somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife. This is not the case. Seeing a woman called Kowalski might not only seem grammatically wrong to Polish people, but you could argue that she now has to take the man’s identity together with his name. And even though she might decide to do this, and be called Kowalski, she should be given a choice how she wants to be called, together with the appropriate feminine ending.

Some couples face more complicated problems. For example, while in Poland they allow for non-Polish spellings of names, in some other countries all names have to be changed to match the country’s spelling rules. This is the case in Latvia. My friend Ilze is Latvian, and even though she wanted to take her husband’s name, she faced the two problems mentioned above. For example, if she changed her name, she would have to get a new passport. In Latvia, however, her new name would have to be spelled accordingly to Latvian spelling rules (and rendered in the correct feminine form), and then the name in her passport wouldn’t match her husband’s- technically, of course).Then, they could have considered Daniel taking her name, except he would have to take the feminine form of the surname, so it would be seen as the same name in Germany. So, Ilze decided to keep her maiden name.

I took my husband’s last name. I didn’t think that my name is all left of my Polish identity, and I didn’t feel like losing anything when changing my name. It just went with the practical reason: I wanted the whole family, together with the children, to have the same name. But it was my choice and I could make it. I wish everybody could have that choice, and could keep their names or take their husband’s name with the correct grammatical form if they so desired. 

What about you? Did you keep your maiden name or did you take your husband's name? Or maybe you went with both? 

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  1. I never wanted to change my name and I was lucky enough to marry an Italian who had no expectation that I would change my name. In the US it is still most common for the woman to take the man's last name (although it is becoming less automatic). In Italy, the woman keeps her own name. I did not feel that I needed to sacrifice my identity any more than my husband should sacrifice his. The only problem we have now is that our kids have his last name and so I need to take their birth certificates along when we travel to prove that they are related to me. Oh Well!

    1. Cool that it's common in Italy to keep your name. It certainly isn't the case in Poland. I however, considered keeping my name for a short time (I sort of like it, it's a very traditional Polish name), but I actually embraced my new identity as a married woman, even though I didn't feel that it substituted my one, but rather complement it. Also, by having the choice of keeping my name or taking my husband's name,I could give myself a name on my own. But yes, I like the many possibilities that women have now, except if they're Polish/Latvian/Slovakian etc and can't take their husband's name with the appropriate feminine ending. But I don't think this could change in the future.Also, I wanted to share this because it's a very special thing that Slavic (and seemingly Baltic) countries have and nobody knows about it.

  2. When I came here in Germany mid last year, I was asked by the government to choose only one, either my maiden name or my husband´s name, and I was told that I can choos eonly once. There was also a translator who was non-relative who testified that indeed, I understood everything, and the consequences.

    I always knew that I would choose my husband´s name once I´m married, unless probably it´s a very ugly name, thus the decision was easy.

    I made a friend here, she´s from Dominican Republic, and shoe chose to keep her maiden name mainly becuase she believes it would be cheaper. She say that there would be a lot of paper processing if she chooses her husband´s name, and since she didn´t want to spend that much, she kept her name.

    She didn´t really convinced me with her reason because for me, the amount that she´ll spent for the processing can just be earned.

    Like you, I too want my entire family to have the same name. I just feel it´s more intact.

    1. It's weird that in Germany you can only choose one, and you're right, I've never met somebody with a hyphenated name. In Poland, it is possible. For me, I just didn't want to explain to anybody why our children don't have the same name as me, I wanted this to be really simple. Hence my decision.

  3. Olga, you met someone with a hyphenated name: me ;-)
    In Switzerland you can decide to have the hyphenated name (then the first name is your husbands'name and the second your maiden name) or your maiden name and your husbands name together (without hyphenation). Obviously you can keep your maiden name (and your husband has to adopt it too) or your husbands name. You have all the options.

    1. You are right- I have thought about you but considered you Swiss, not German and I apologize :)
      Yes, It's great to have all the options! I wish there were even more options available!

  4. Well, if both partners don't like their names, they can choose another one - at least it's what they told R. and me when we married. I'm looking forward to reading some more replies to this post about Slavic (and Baltic?) names.

    1. Yes, I also hope somebody'll join in with their experiences and stories!

  5. I was quite pleased to be able to take on my husband's name as I'd been wanting to get rid of my maiden name for some time already. So there was no question of keeping it or hyphenating.

    I did face the gendered surnames issue and would have liked to be (masculine form, same as husband) in USA and (feminine form) in the Czech Republic, but since we got married in USA that was not an option. They could let me hyphenate, keep maiden name or take married name but not take on a totally different (in their view) name. The only way it would be permitted would be to do a legal name change on top of getting married, which was too cumbersome and time-consuming given the one day we had to take care of all my post-wedding paperwork.

    If we had got married here, of course, I could have chosen to take the gendered name, but the paperwork for two foreigners to get married in Prague or long-distance paperwork to get married in Slovakia was ridiculous. In the US all he needed was a valid passport.

    So in the end I have the same name as my husband, which works well in other countries but causes confusion sometimes here, because people expect me to be a man and don't know what to call out (how to decline a masculine name for a woman, that is). I get a lot of "Mrs...um...Melissa". Socially I go by -ová, since it is more natural.

    My daughter, by contrast, was born here so has the masculine name in her American paperwork and the feminine name in her Czech and Slovak paperwork. Technically she's the only -ová out of all of us.

    I'm still a little annoyed about the whole thing, but it seems to be less of an issue over time. People still ask me what vocative case to use and sometimes randomly address me by my first name, but it is less unheard of for women to take their husband's ungendered name now than it was eight years ago, I think. At least, I've met one or two women who did it on purpose... :)

    1. Hi Melissa, your case is exactly the one I wanted to address- after all, if a woman wanted to choose the gendered version of her name, why wouldn't it be allowed- and it is pretty visible (I think) that it is the same name, and you get the idea once you have seen more of these names. I think they did it quite well for the children, with one version for each passport- that way they can use whatever they prefer, depending on wherever they are!

    2. Czechs would have allowed me if we got married here, in fact before a certain point not so long ago they would have required it, but as an American my Czech paperwork (permanent residency) has to match my passport information. And honestly I can understand not being able to issue a permanent residency card to a name other than the one in the passport. I can also understand American officials not understanding the significance of the different endings. Still kind of irritating.

      In Slovakia, however, I actually am -ová, because they issued us a marriage license with the Slovak form of the name. Sadly the Czech authorities weren't willing to base my official name on that!

      My main goal was for us all to have the same name (without regard to male-female forms), and we do have that.


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