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Japanese Women Sue to Keep Their Maiden Names

Japanese Women Sue to Keep Their Maiden Names

A group of Japanese women filed a lawsuit earlier this week to overturn an archaic law that requires them to take their husbands’ surnames when they marry.  This is based in a line from the Civil Code that requires married couples to share their last name, which in practice forces women to give up their names, because only rarely do the husbands choose to take the wife’s name (usually this happens when the wife is from a noble family). 

The plaintiffs, four women and one of their husbands, argue that the law breaches a constitutional equal rights guarantee.  They are also demanding financial compensation for emotional distress.

“It’s like losing part of my self,” said Kaori Oguni, who married five years ago but privately uses Oguni as her family name.  “Marriage is supposed to be joyful… but I guess quite a lot of people feel agony about losing their names.”

Surprisingly, Japanese public opinion is divided on the issue.  In a recent government survey, 37 percent of respondents said they supported a revision of the civil code, while 35 percent were against.

Reading about this case is bizarre for me, because I’ve never questioned whether I would keep my last name; although it certainly should be up to every couple to decide what they want to call their family, I know that I would feel uncomfortable accepting a new last name if my husband wasn’t doing the same thing.

To require that couples share a last name signals an anachronistic kind of inequity, and it’s unsurprising that most wives feel pressure to take their husbands’ names.  The words of the women who filed the lawsuit are extremely poignant; one woman said that having to use her husband’s name for more than a half century was “like having a splinter in my heart.”  Let’s hope that this lawsuit is successful, and that this retired schoolteacher can officially go back to the name that she has always felt was hers.

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40 comments

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2:57PM PST on Feb 27, 2011

Go girls! I use a Maiden name/Husband name combination.

3:24AM PST on Feb 27, 2011

Way to go ladies!

Klaus, as a suggestion, sons would keep the mother/father hyphen. Daughters would keep father/husband hyphen.

In many Mexican communities, you take your dad's last name as the official last name. Then but there is a long train in front of that... your mom's maiden name, paternal grandmother's maiden, maternal grandmother's maiden name... so you'd have up to 5 last names.

Anyway, it's kind of hard to put forth a logical sense in this country, where divorced are high. So do you keep your ex's name or go back to the maiden?

6:21AM PST on Feb 24, 2011

I think some woman use a Maiden name/Husband name combination, no problem if my wife would have wished that. But what about my daughter, it would be a tripple name after marriage, continue this over generations, you might end up with a name a page long. Try to sign a document or a cheque!

4:08PM PST on Feb 23, 2011

why do we have to change our last name?

3:27AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Isn't it a choice? I have my maiden name that I have associated behind my cause, even though my pen name is Petra Luna. Why should I HAVE to change my name, thus having to change everything from my driver's license to my cause forms. I'll use the married name for such like buying a house together with my husband, and my maiden name for my business.

9:57PM PST on Feb 21, 2011

It's the ability to choose that makes the difference. Pick one or the other, or both hyphenate. Then the children when they grow up can choose their own way. It's the ability to choose.

10:33PM PST on Feb 20, 2011

OMG so it's NOT JUST ME.

I dont wanna loose my last name. I like it. I reaaally do. D:

It kinda sucks that I have to choose between my name and my future husband somewhere out there.

I wanna keep it, but I wanna share a name too.

Cant the new tradition be to come up with a new family name together? I'd find that even sweeter!

6:30AM PST on Feb 20, 2011

thanks for the article.

4:08AM PST on Feb 20, 2011

Wow!!

10:21PM PST on Feb 19, 2011

The "yes" vote was carried My wife has kept her maiden name and I have always accepted her right to do that. The only disadvantage is that I have had to explain on a few occasions to some ultra conservative people that we are legally married.Their is still a stigma attached to people who live together without benefit of clergy by some narrow minded people. There are still plenty around.

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