Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Daughter's Hand for a Wedding

Traditions: those things we do because theyve always been done when we no longer have a reason for doing them.

Does that fit as a definition? I’m reading a post to a Facebook group in which a mother joyously announces her daughter’s engagement. It was a wonderful story, but a jarring detail caught my eye.

The lucky young man called her father and asked for her hand in marriage. Mom thought that was sweet.

But what does that imply? Asking for a hand in marriage is an old custom, a legal custom, that was necessary when the legal system viewed women as property of a man. When a woman married, her custody moved from her father to her husband. This act was signified by the woman taking the name of her new husband. It’s no longer done, but Betsy Smith would become Mrs. Joseph Clark upon marrying Mr. Joseph Clark.

Nowadays, the name change is limited to the last name. Sometimes the couple tries to finesse the issue by hyphenating both names, but that is socially awkward and people will default to one name, usually the last one on the hyphen, which I’ve always assumed is the male name.

As people marry later, that can cause confusion in the woman’s work world. It is not unusual for a woman to maintain her birth name as her professional name even as she changes for social venues.

Children receive the father’s surname. This happens in all situations. However, when the parents do not live together, children mostly remain with the mother. Great confusion arises when children named Johnson live with a mother named Williams.

An improvement would be for a woman to keep her name and children to receive her surname. If anyone needs to change a name, let the man do it.

As for the hand in marriage, it is an insult to an independent, legally competent woman to act as if her approval, her consent, is not enough. The counterargument is that it is only a custom with no real meaning. Why do it then?

Maybe because receiving the goodwill of the parents will be important to the success of the marriage. Why then does no one ask the mother?


Asking a father for a daughter’s hand is a tradition that no longer fits our society. Let’s allow it to die out.