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Is taking your husband's name an outdated tradition?


Zara Phillips has always been the most unconventional member of the royal family.

She's the only one of the Queen's granddaughters without a title, she spends most of her time working with horses rather than swanning around on a yacht - and she proved she was the Royal Rebel when she went and got her tongue pierced.

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when she announced, just a couple of days after her wedding to England rugby star Mike Tindall, that she'll be keeping her maiden name - at least for work purposes.

She said: "I'm very much Mrs Tindall and will be privately and I'm sure publicly as well, but just for professional [sic] and sponsors I'm going to keep Phillips as well - I'll keep both of them!"

While there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about a married woman choosing to retain her maiden name, it got me to thinking that if Zara, whose family is defined by tradition, accepts that it no longer makes sense to change your name as soon as you've got a ring on your finger, then why do so many of us still assume that married couples should share the same surname?

If, like Zara, you've worked for years to build up a successful career, taking your husband's name can be a risky move.

Your name is a crucial part of your professional identity - changing it means that you'll be rebuilding your personal brand from scratch.

Nevertheless, most people still assume that a woman will relinquish her maiden name when she ties the knot.

Which is strange considering how badly we react to name changes in just about every other context.

Remember how we struggled when Marathon changed to Snickers? Or when Opal Fruits became Starburst? When Oil of Ulay became Oil of Olay? Or when Jif became Cif?

So why, when a woman decides that she doesn't want to take her husband's name, are people so often suspicious?

I've heard numerous tales of older people (usually in-laws) deciding that a woman who wants to keep her maiden name must be a man-hating feminist whose reluctance to take the family name is evidence that she's half-heartedly entering into a marriage that's doomed to fail.

Then there's the argument that it's 'selfish' to keep you name if you're planning to have children because different surnames are 'confusing'.

Given that blended families and unmarried couples with children have become so common, this is particularly unconvincing.

I know from personal experience that children are seldom fazed by having parents with different last names - my daughter and several of her friends happily accept that mummy and daddy don't share a surname.

Anecdotal evidence aside, the number of couples who decide to compromise should be telling us loud and clear that plenty of women are no longer comfortable with ditching the name they've had since birth.

Some newlyweds join their surnames and create a double-barrelled name, while other women, like Zara, decide to use one name for work and another for home.

But that dual-identity business causes so much confusion with paperwork, passports and bank cards that it seems like more trouble than it's worth.

Aside from those of us who are desperate to get rid of a surname they hate, I have a hunch that many more women would opt to keep their maiden names if they weren't worried about offending their new husband or ruining the romance of their big day by walking back down the aisle with the same old name.

And as more of today's double-barrelled children grow up and marry each other, it seems to be that this particular tradition is destined to die out - either that or, in a couple of generations, half of us will be saddled with quadruple-barrelled names.

Of course, there is an alternative: men could change their names instead.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that would never catch on.

What do you think?