Should Married Couples Be Allowed to Keep Separate Surnames?

Should Japanese couples be allowed to keep separate surnames when they marry?

Should Japanese couples be allowed to keep separate surnames when they marry?

A recent government survey has shown that the number of people in support of a reform of the civil code to allow married couples to keep thier own surnames has declined, with equal numbers of respondents now being in favour of the reforms and against them.

While in Korea and China it is standard practice for women to keep their surnames upon marriage, in Japan, the woman marries into and becomes part of her husband’s family. Traditionally, this meant that she would no longer visit her own family, since she had broken all links to them, changing her name in the family register and erasing her original surname from the register since only one family name can be recorded.

As more and more women have careers in which their names are an important part of their success, it is only natural that some may opt to keep their surnames while still wanting to marry their partners. With the law as it currently stands, this is not possible, however it is technically possible for a man to take his wife’s surname.

Translated below is a popular article on the issue from Yahoo! News, along with the most upvoted netizen comments accompanying the article. It seems that many netizens see the proposal as a negative one, with opinion being overwhelmingly against allowing couples to take separate names.

From Yahoo! Japan:

Cabinet Office Survey: Equal Numbers of People in Favour of and Against Married Couples Keeping Separate Surnames; Trend Shows Decline in Number of Those in Favour

On February 16, the Cabinet Office published the results of the ‘Public Opinion Survey On Family Legislation’ which was carried out in December 2012. Regarding the introduction of an elective system of keeping one’s surname upon marriage, according to the results 35.5% of respondents accepted this, saying ‘I don’t mind if the law is reformed’, and 36.4% were against it, saying ‘Legal reform is unnecessary’, making the results more or less balanced. Those in favour of the reform have decreased in both this survey and the previous survey in 2006, demonstrating that in the current situation, the introduction of the reforms is not gathering momentum.

An elective system where spouses can chose to keep their surname rather than take a married name was included in an outline for proposed amendments to the Civil Code recommended by the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice in 1996. Following this, although both the LDP and the DPJ administrations had movements to investigate these reforms, opposition was deep-rooted, and the reforms never reached a stage whereby a bill could be submitted. In the survey held in 2001, 42.1% of respondents were in favour of the reforms, which was considerably more than the 29.9% of respondents who were against them; however, in the 2006 survey 36.6% accepted the reforms, and 35.0% were against them, making the results just about on a par with each other, and this time these results were reversed.

Among those who answered that they were in favour of a system where spouses could retain their own surnames, 23.5% of them said that they would want to keep their own surname, and 49.0% said that they would not.

Comments from Yahoo! Japan:


If a couple want to have different surnames, then that just means they don’t have to put them in the family registry.


If we have a system where a married couple can have separate names, then it would be the same is it is in China and Korea.


If this passes then Japanese people will cease to be Japanese. I’m completely against it!


Those who agree with this must be disgusting feminists and traitor bastards, right?


If you prefer to keep your own name then don’t get bloody married.


I’m against separate names. This is just going to end up in the destruction of Japan’s ancient family links. Rather than separate names, they should stop allowing foreigners resident in Japan to take legal aliases.


I want the abolition of legal aliases.North Koreans take Japanese names. They’re not even Japanese, but they take Japanese names. If you think about it, it’s strange, isn’t it?


All this means is that left-wing North Koreans will get rid of their family registers and try to erase their pasts. We absolutely cannot agree to these reforms.


If legal aliases are not abolished at the same time as the separate name law comes into effect, then it’s pointless!(`o´)


I don’t really understand the point of such a proposal being made in the first place. Does this mean that there are a lot of cases where couples have been troubled by not being able to have separate names?


It’s only zainichi North Koreans who are going to be happy to keep their own surnames. That’s precisely why the DPJ was moving ahead with it.


I’m completely against separate surnames.


The very idea is nonsense! I’m completely against it! Prime Minister Abe should also be against it.


It’s like it is in China and Korea. It seems like stuff like ‘gender free’ and so on just aims to destroy the system. There’s nothing in it for us Japanese.


Your surname is essentially the name of the family. When you become a married couple, you become a family. Therefore, I’m against separate surnames.


Separate surnames for couples will not suit Japanese culture. There is absolutely no need to go out of the way to change things.


I’m firmly against this law that will attempt to destroy Japanese family culture. The family ties of those in the Tohoki earthquake and tsunami are a beautiful traditional custom of the Japanese people, and is a very Japanese thing.


Why do people want separate surnames? I don’t get it. Does this mean that the assumption is that they’ll divorce? Dumb.


If you want separate surnames, how about not getting married?


I’m against this, at least. Because it’s a Japanese tradition.

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