The decision that a bride makes concerning keeping her “maiden” name, a term that itself seems rather antiquated, or adopting the name of her new husband would not seem to be a topic that would make international headlines. However, when the woman pondering that choice is doing so because she is marrying George Clooney, the media websites and those gathered around office water coolers seem to pay more attention.
The former Amal Alamuddin, whose resume and list of professional accomplishments clearly make her a leader in her field and an individual of note regardless of her romantic life, is now listed as Amal Clooney on her law firm’s website. With this simple change online, the world was notified that the new Mrs. Clooney made a choice that a small but vocal percentage of her peers say is part of an outdated and paternalistic system. She took her husband’s last name (“Mrs. Clooney took his name; would you?” Jacquie Wilson, CNN.com, October 14, 2014). While ninety percent of women still make this choice following their weddings, Amal Clooney’s circumstances are ones that studies show more often lend themselves to a wife retaining her own surname.
Recent research has shown that women who marry at the age of thirty-five or later – and Mrs. Clooney is thirty-six – are more likely to keep their own names (“Why should married women change their names? Let men change theirs, Jill Filipovic, The Guardian, March 7, 2013). This may be attributed to the notion that these women have had more time to develop their own identities and achieve life goals that are connected to the name they have had since childhood (“Why I’m not changing my last name for marriage, The Huffington Post, April 18, 2014). They also are more likely to own property, a business endeavor, or maybe even a celebrity status for which a name change would create confusion. How many famous actresses in today’s Hollywood have adopted their husband’s names, at least for the purposes of film credits? Not many.
“The definition of ‘family’ has evolved so much over the past ten to twenty years,” shares family law attorney Tony R. Bertolino, managing partner with Bertolino LLP. “We are no longer looking at the situation of generations past in which a young woman leaves her parents’ home to get married. We now have women who are high achievers in their chosen professions who are waiting longer to get married, same sex couples whose legal rights are expanding, and men and women who are bringing children from previous relationships into a new marriage. All of these factors are having an impact on the decision to share a last name.”