Of course, Bennifer’s most faithful fans weren’t surprised. In 2003, during a Dateline special about her fateful first engagement to Affleck, Jen spoke proudly of her intent to “stay with Jennifer Lopez” professionally but change her name to “Jennifer Affleck” legally. J.Aff, she admitted, “doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but you’ve gotta make sacrifices.”
Polarizing and incongruous, the internet’s reaction to the name change says infinitely more about us than it does about the happy couple. But the discourse raised an interesting question: What’s in a surname? And frankly, why do we care?
Today, changing your name after marriage is a mostly symbolic move. But historically it’s always been a business consideration. For centuries, women legally ceased to exist after marriage. Taking your husband’s surname publicly communicated your status as a piece of his property. There was nothing cute about subsuming your identity to become one with your betrothed in name or law. It was just another way of stripping away your personhood and basic rights. “When women see our names as temporary or not really ours,” author Jill Filipovic wrote in a 2013 column for The Guardian, “it lessens the belief that our existence is valuable unto itself, and that as individuals we are already whole. 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.”
To put a finer point on how far we haven’t come, in 2017 researchers found that more than 70% of Americans believe a married woman should change her name. And approximately half believe it should be required by law, citing the age-old notion that “women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves.”