Zoe Saldana: Why some men taking their wives' last names

Actress Zoe Saldana has revealed that her husband, Marco Perego, took her last name in 2013. What does this say about gender roles in marriage today?

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Zoe Saldana and Marco Perego Saldana at the 2015 Oscars.

What's in a name? A lot, according to the internet. Actress Zoe Saldana has sparked heated debate about the tradition of women taking their husbands' last names after revealing to InStyle magazine that her husband, Marco Perego, took her surname when they married in 2013. 

"I tried to talk him out of it," she told InStyle in an interview for the magazine's July issue. "I told him, 'If you use my name, you're going to be emasculated by your community of artists, by your Latin community of men, by the world.' But Marco looks up at me and says (in his Italian accent), 'Ah, Zoe, I don't give a [expletive].'"

Mr. Saldana isn't the only man, celebrity or otherwise, to take his wife's last name. Todd Fink, formerly Todd Baechle, of the indie band The Faint took the last name of his wife, singer Orenda Fink, when they married in 2005. 

"I just thought she should still be Orenda Fink," he said in an interview with Yahoo! News. "It's easier to spell and say Fink than my name. I couldn't think of any reason except for expectation not to change my name instead of hers. So I did. I like change."

Saldana and Fink's decisions don't reflect a common trend by any means – men who adopt their wife's last name are still considered extremely rare. But it is a sign of the changing ideals of a culture that places a growing value on equality for men and women, both in society in general and within marriages. Modern marriages are increasingly viewed as a partnership between two equals as women grow less financially dependent on their husbands: 70% of women with children age 18 or younger are working mothers, compared to less than 50% in 1975. Well-educated women in high-earning occupations are significantly more likely to hold onto their maiden name, sometimes solely for professional reasons. 

The rise of same-sex marriage, which has no established standards to go by when it comes to one partner taking the other's name, has also contributed to shifting views of gender roles in marriage. 

"A lot of LGB [lesbian, gay, and bisexual] couples reject the idea of changing their names because of the sense that the name-changing practice has roots in a gendered, sexist marriage institution in which women literally became their husband's legal property and lost their identity under the law," Luke Boso, an associate professor at Savannah Law School, told The Atlantic

Many women who choose not to take their husband's name in heterosexual marriage do so for similar reasons. 

"When women see our names as temporary or not really ours, and when we understand that part of being a woman is subsuming your own identity into our husband's, that impacts our perception of ourselves and our role in the world," writes Jill Filipovic in an opinion piece for The Guardian. "It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone's wife or mother or daughter or sister." 

While brides adopting their husband's surname is no longer taken for granted, it is still by far the most common choice for newlywed couples. A survey by TheKnot.com revealed that 80% of women took their husband's last name in 2013, with only 10% keeping their own name. The remaining 10% of couples presumably either chose to hyphenate or created an entirely new surname for both husband and wife. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.