Local couple breaking tradition

02:54, Nov 27 2013
Merging names
A NEW GENERATION: Mark Openshaw and Gillian Stein are shunning tradition by merging surnames.

On December 7th, after nearly a year of planning, my fiancé and I will exchange vows and publicly declare our love for one another.  

There are many reasons why our December wedding will not be traditional, but the biggest reason is that as we start our lives together, we will both be changing our last names.  

I grew up as an Openshaw in Cape Town, South Africa.  Gillian grew up as a Stein in Seattle, America.  After the wedding we will be officially known as the first generation of Opensteins in Wellington, New Zealand.

The idea behind the last name change was originally suggested by Gillian. At first I dismissed the idea outright because it just didn't seem rational. I had always assumed that Gillian would take my last name because this is what is traditionally done.

However, the more we discussed the idea, the more I grew open to it.  

Our friends were overwhelmingly supportive and it sparked several evenings of conversations. These conversations were predominately about the reasons behind the traditional name change versus a change that reflected our personalities and our future.  


Currently, it's estimated that around 90% of women in Gillian's home country take their husband's name after marriage, but a growing number of women around the world are choosing to keep their maiden name - our idea takes it one step further.  It also helped that our names combined well, although there were a few jokes flying around on variations such as Steinshaw and Shawstein.

At the core of subsequent discussions Gillian wanted to get across two values.

Firstly, she didn't agree with the roots of the tradition where a woman takes on the male's last name.  This idea stems from the 19th century doctrine of coverture, when women became the legal property of their husband after marriage.  

Husband and wife were considered to be one person, and that person was the husband.  Women were not allowed to vote or even open a bank account because their husband could do this for them.  

Secondly, she loved the symbolism of uniting our families by combining our last names.  Her last name is her identity and she didn't feel that taking on my last name would be a true reflection of her identity once she is married. The symbolism of uniting our names just as we had promised to unite our lives, takes an effort and commitment on both of our parts, rather than just hers.

I personally thought that the first of Gillian's values, in this day and age, didn't mean what it meant 100 years ago. However, I respect Gillian's views on this.  The second value I fully agreed with, and thought it was a great way of showing everyone the love we have for each other and our families.  The idea of starting a generation of Opensteins, where our principles and values are symbolised in a name, is a powerful idea.

For me changing my last name meant I had to think of all that is involved with the decision, from family disapproval, to dishonoring the memory of my late father, to having the experience that a woman has to go through in having to change all her identity paper work - it seemed a nightmare decision to make.

In order to make a decision myself, without the conflicting views of some people around me, I came to the realisation that I wanted my children to take on a name that was representative of both of us.

Having a combined last name is one more way we can show that we are united in our past and our future and in this for the long haul.