Can there really be a surname revolution taking place, with husbands taking their wives’ second names?
The Internet predictably exploded after Guardians of the Galaxy actress Zoe Saldana told In Style magazine that her husband, Italian artist Marco Perego, has decided to take on her exponentially more famous surname, effectively becoming Marco Saldana.
What does this flipping of the traditional script, with men doffing their last names for their spouse’s, mean? Are we entering the realm of Brad Jolie or Sean Theron?
It would not be unprecedented. After all, celebrities from Jay-Z to John Lennon to Jack White have either adopted their wives’ name, or at least hyphenated to include it, and some lay folk are following suit, though still with a level of infrequency that elicits attention, not all of it positive.
It seems that not all men are quite so progressive as the newly-anointed Mr. Saldana.
Australian Justin Hosa, for example, encountered some friendly ridicule at his decision.
“There have been a few disapproving people and many people are under the impression that my wife pressured me into taking her name,” he told the Telegraph in 2011. “It was a mutual decision, and I am proud to now be Justin Beverstock.”
In 2012, a man known only as Philippe S. became the first to take advantage of the country’s Gender Equality Law, which allows men to seamlessly adopt their spouse’s surname.
Here in the United States, only around nine states allow this, with the rest requiring the sort of wrangling and jumping through hoops of a standard name change, which can take months and cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in legal fees. And even when it’s allowed, it’s not seamless.
Floridian realtor Lazaro Ding, neé Sopena, found himself accused of fraud and with a suspended driver’s license after he followed the state’s guidelines to swap out his last name, which consisted of a social security card, marriage certificate, and $20 at the local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Everything went smoothly, until a year later, when he received a letter from the DMV yanking his license.
After legal avenues proved unhelpful, Ding and his lawyer did what any unjustly persecuted citizen does in this day and age: they called the media, which made it a headline news item. 48 hours later, he was driving again.
Similarly, Robert Everhart, neé McCarthy, of Pascagoula, Mississippi, had to appeal to the ACLU after being denied a new driver’s license under his wife’s name and told he’d need a court order, since it wasn’t a “traditional” request. He was eventually granted the change.
“I know most people think I rolled over and took my wife’s name,” he told the Associated Press. “But she’s the only surviving kid with her parents, and everybody said my name wrong. It was a dual reason. Now all I have to do is worry about people misspelling it.”
Even with these examples, however, culturally it’s still a bleeding edge concept.
“We unfortunately haven’t seen this becoming a trend,” admits Kristen Maxwell-Cooper, deputy editor of wedding publication The Knot. “It’s just highly untraditional, even for celebrities. There are a few examples, but from all our studies 90% of brides take their spouse’s last name, with the other ten percent keeping their own name. It’s really not something that we’re seeing.”
“I don’t see a lot of men taking their wives’ names, but it is being done,” agrees etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. “It’s not traditional. However, I don’t see anything wrong with it, because people change their name all the time.”
Tradition aside, Whitmore thinks the decent thing to do is let the husband and wife make the decision.
“It’s a decision that’s between the couple that should be just between them and no one else.”
So, is Saldana’s husband a gender equality trailblazer, or at least partially executing a PR masterstroke?
“Absolutely,” Maxwell-Cooper laughs. “She’s got such a great brand built on Zoe Saldana, why not take her last name? People are going to immediately know who that is. I mean, we’re talking about it right now. It’s been all over the news. I definitely think it’s a power move. I think it’s a brilliant move, if we’re being frank.”