Reflections on a Wedding Tradition

One of the things I love about being a wedding photographer is learning about all the different traditions I have the opportunity to document. Many are rooted in history and religion. One that I’ve been thinking about lately is the tradition of American brides taking their husband’s last name when they get married. I know this isn’t a rule and that this practice has been on the decline since the ’90s, but the fact remains that many, many women still choose to take their husband’s last name.

It got me thinking: What is this tradition? Will I change my last name when I get married?

Historic Roots

From what I’ve gathered, there are two primary reasons American women began taking their husband’s surname. The first reason has to do with the law, and without getting too historical, it was about inheritance and the couple being viewed as one in the legal system. The other reason is more spiritual, centering around the idea that men and women were united as one both legally and spiritually. I’m not a scholar on Western naming history, of course, and I’m sure there are many, many reasons women choose to take their husband’s name, including promoting family unity and starting a new chapter in their book of life.

Senegalese Culture/Tradition

I come from a culture where women don’t change their name when they get married. Children are given their father’s name when they’re born and that’s it. Growing up, we learned that this is because your parents brought you into the world to do great things, and so you honor with your name. It carries on the history and life your parents have given you. The idea is that you don’t replace what your parents gave you. Of course, you can never replace the love your parents gave you, whether you decide to change your name or not.

But really, even thinking about it feels weird, especially as I get older. I was raised as Sofi Seck. I have accomplished so much with this identity. I’ve traveled the world, graduated from college, learned new languages, started a business. The thought of changing my name feels . . . foreign. The Senegalese tradition of keeping your family name is one that I love. I’ve learned to never say never, but when I get married, I think I’ll take Seck into my new marriage. You know what they say “Something Old, something new . . .”

No Right or Wrong

Some women keep their maiden name. Others make their maiden name their middle name and still choose to take their husband’s last name. Some hyphenate their maiden and married names, and some couples  create an entirely new mesh of both of their last names. I love is that there are so many options. The best thing is there is no wrong answer. There’s no wrong way to celebrate your love and honor your heritage in marriage. You just have to do what feels right to you and you don’t apologize for being yourself. After all, there’s only one you!

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Stay Fierce!