香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 女性、結婚 姓で考える /東京

December 27, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Considering women and marriage through the lens of the surname
香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 女性、結婚 姓で考える /東京

I increasingly use email during the course of my work, and I sometimes inadvertently type in the wrong name. For example I might accidentally call someone whose last name is Fujimoto as Fujiki -- which contains an extremely similar second kanji character -- or use the wrong first character for the surname Mifune.

Sometimes, I realize my mistake after I have sent the message, but there have likely been other times that I remained unaware of the error.

Occasionally, I will get a return message saying something like, "My last name is Fujimoto, not Fujiki." And while it is obviously impossible to read someone's feelings through email, there are times when the tone of such a message suggests the person has been somewhat offended.

Because mistaking someone's name is clearly impolite, I respond by apologizing and saying something like, "Please forgive me. I have been experiencing the onset of farsightedness due to age, and I made a mistake reading your name on your business card."

In every instance where I have received such a message, it has been from a man. Most likely, their surnames are something very important for them. In that case, then, I think that they should be able to imagine to at least some extent the feelings experienced by women who must change their surname following marriage.

Presently in Japan, 96 percent of marrying couples end up using the husband's surname.

The assertion that a man and woman who are marrying may choose whose last name to adopt is a mere formality, since women don't really have a choice.

A friend of mine once said to me, "My family believes very strongly in the divination associated with the number of strokes used in the kanji of one's name, and my first name was chosen after careful consideration of the total number of strokes in combination with my last name. But changing your last name following marriage changes the entire number of strokes -- and a fortune-teller told me after calculating the number of strokes in my new name that it was the least auspicious figure possible."

At the urging of her relatives, my friend ended up using different characters for her first name. She once smiled wryly and said to me, "Both my first and last names ended up changing."

Many people advocate for men and women being able to choose separate surnames following marriage, as working women find it professionally inconvenient to change their names. However, I assume that there are also numerous women without jobs who have no desire to change the family names that they have become familiar with, and/or who are fond of the combination of their first and last names.

For this reason, I find it odd to assume that it is unproblematic for non-working women to change their surnames after marriage.

Sometimes, women at my clinic say to me with a smile, "My last name has changed." In such cases, however, I assume that it is the marriage itself that they are happy about -- not their new family name.

I once saw a man say with a straight face, "Every woman is happy about changing her surname to that of her husband." This statement caused me to reconsider the following questions: What does it mean to be a woman? And what does it mean to get married?

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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