Maiden Names

Maiden Names


In the modern west, it seems that there is an increasing refusal of brides to take the surname of their new husbands, and instead a determination to retain their maiden names. Even the Duchess of Cambridge, the new and popular bride of Prince William, second in line to the British throne, has opted to keep her maiden name, so that Kate is still legally Kate Middleton. It is an increasing trend, and one that is preferred because it seems to express women’s empowerment.

The smartest woman I know, my wife, has always thought this trend a bit odd. Why keeping a surname that one never chose (i.e., the name of one’s father) in preference to a surname that one chose, that of her husband, should reflect a woman’s empowerment never seemed to make sense. After all, no woman chooses her father. In our culture, she does choose her husband, so that taking his surname would seem to reflect her power to choose more than retaining a surname which she never chose. Kate was born a Middleton, whether she liked it or not. Her becoming a Windsor was entirely her own decision.

One supposes that the objection to taking the husband’s surname is rooted in the objection to a woman’s defining herself in terms of another person. Kate shouldn’t be “Mrs. Kate Windsor” because she is a person in her own right. Taking the husband’s surname smacks of an archaic and out-dated submission to a husband’s authority which is altogether out of fashion and considered more than a little oppressive. This refusal to be defined by another and to submit to oppression finds expression in the woman’s retention of her surname.

For those who take Scripture seriously, this is one more reason why a woman should take on the surname of her husband upon marriage. St. Paul speaks of the submission of the wife to the husband in Ephesians 5, as he does of the husband’s duty to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. In Paul’s day, the submission of the wife to her husband was expressed (in Corinth anyway) by the wife veiling herself when in public and in church. In our day, it is expressed in her taking her husband’s surname. The question then arises: of what does this submission consist? What’s it all about?

It is important to stress first of all what it is not about: it is not about a denial of a woman’s fundamental equality with men. When a Christian woman takes her husband’s surname, she does not thereby define herself in terms of her husband, but continues to define herself in terms of Christ. In marriage and in singleness, both men and women owe their ultimate allegiance to the Lord, not to any earthly person, including their spouse. The name change simply means that she now acknowledges the leadership of her husband in the Lord.

Clearly, submission does not imply inequality. St. Paul not only says that the husband is the head of his wife, but also that God is the head of Christ, and Christians have always insisted that God the Father and Christ are co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial. That is, Christ is ontologically equal to God the Father in every way. Submission therefore does not imply any ontological inequality, and the wife’s submission to her husband (or, come to that, their children’s submission to them) does not imply any inequality of value either. It does mean, however, that only one is charged by God to lead and to take the ultimate responsibility—namely, the husband.

What does this mean in terms of inter-relationship between husband and wife, between the leader and the led? How does this work itself out in day to day life? Bluntly put, it means that the husband must abase himself and die in his leadership, even as Christ died for His Church. The husband must put his wife’s joy and benefit before his own, and serve her, no matter what the personal cost to himself. This is manifested in a thousand little ways, starting at the beginning of their married relationship: when the marriage agreement is first made, he proposes to her, and that upon bended knee. It was thus that Christ served His own bride, the Church, for He served her on bended knee when He knelt to wash His disciples’ feet on the last night of His earthly life. The crown of leadership is the crown of martyrdom. Christian men have not exemplified this truth very well throughout the ages, I admit, but it remains true nonetheless.

I suggest, therefore, that Christian women should resist the modern trend of married women retaining their maiden names. In North America, glory to God, women are free, and free to choose their own husbands. Having done so, both wife and husband are called to lay down their freedom to serve Christ, and submit their own wills to His blessed and saving will. When both do so, they find that service to Christ is the perfect freedom. In submitting to His will, both find joy and inner liberation. They also find themselves increasingly at odds with the world around them. Part of this oddness consists today of the wife’s taking her husband’s name. It is a small thing, I suppose, just a matter of a few syllables. But small things can be very significant. Remember Christmas: the baby laid in the confines of the manger was small. But this baby was still the infinite Christ our God, and more significant than the whole wide world.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada in 1979 before serving Anglican parishes in central Canada. He converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and spent two years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. After ordination he traveled to Surrey, B.C. to begin a new mission under the O.C.A., St. Herman of Alaska Church.

The Church has grown from its original twelve members, and now owns a building in Langley, B.C., where they worship each Sunday. The community has planted a number of ‘daughter churches’, including parishes in Victoria, Comox and Vancouver.

Fr. Lawrence has written a number of books, published by Conciliar Press, including the Bible Study Companion Series, with verse-by-verse commentaries on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, the Early Epistles, the Prison Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, as well as a volume about how to read the Old Testament , entitled The Christian Old Testament. He has also written a commentary on the Divine Liturgy, entitled, Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. SVS Press has published his book on Feminism and Tradition, examining such topics as the ordination of women and deaconesses. He has also written a synaxarion (lives of Saints), published by Light and Life, entitled A Daily Calendar of Saints, recently updated and revised and available through his blog. He has also written a series of Akathists, published by Alexander Press, including Akathist to Jesus, Light to Those in Darkness, Akathist to the Most-Holy Theotokos, Daughter of Zion, A New Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska, Akathist: Glory to the God who Works Wonders (a rehearsal of the works of God from Genesis to Revelation). His articles have appeared in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger (the official diocesan publication of the Archdiocese of Canada), as well as in the Orthodox Church (the official publication of the O.C.A.), in The Handmaiden and AGAIN magazine (from Conciliar Press).

Fr. Lawrence has a podcast each weekday on Ancient Faith Radio, the Coffee Cup Commentaries. He has given a number of parish retreats in the U.S. and Canada, as well as being a guest-lecturer yearly at the local Regent College, Vancouver. He can also be found on his personal blog, Straight from the Heart.

Fr. Lawrence lives in Surrey with his wife, Donna. They have two daughters, and three grandchildren.