According to a survey published in the journal Gender and Society in April 2011, half of Americans think women should be legally required to take on their husband’s name after marriage. These results show that despite gains in gender equality, many people remain extremely traditional when it comes to relationships.

For many women, the decision to switch last names is a no-brainer, they do so willingly. But for others–especially women who have build a name for themselves in their careers–a name change may not be what they really want to do.

The tradition of changing a woman’s dates back centuries and typically signaled a woman’s lack of legal authority over her affairs. In the U.S., the tradition dates back to the 1800s. Back then, “U.S. common law abided by the doctrine of coverture. Under coverture, a married woman had no rights to her own property or to make contracts in her own name — and indeed, she had no right to her own name at all. Her husband took on all legal rights for the couple.”

Despite the unfairness of such laws, “coverture didn’t fully fade from the U.S. legal system until the 1960s and ‘70s; remnants included laws in some states forbidding women from taking out their own lines of credit.”

In spite of the history behind changing names, many women think it’s the best option for a family, especially when they have children. Many moms want to have the same last names as their children and feel that changing their names is the easiest way to show family unity.

In recent times, many women have been trying to bridge the gap between keeping their identities and joining with their husband by hyphenating their names, but some men see this as a rejection.

Whatever option a women chooses, one thing is clear: Changing one’s name is both personal and political and the debate on whether it’s necessary or not, wil continue to rage on.

Do you think women should be legally required to change their names after marriage? 

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