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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  • dim mak

    Married women in China are still formally referred to with their husband’s surname
    Usually it’s friends and relatives that will call them by their maiden name

    Plus, the linguistic mindset in Chinese make it sound very awkward if you were to replace someone else’s last name with your own, whereas Japan’s naming system is more like the European one

    But I get the commentors’ concerns
    I imagine the difference in Japan is that the issue can be politically charged
    The threat of divisive, western style feminism against traditional identity should never be discounted no matter how tolerant or progressive it may be

    Then again I remember meeting Japanese women who did use, and were referred to by their maiden names. Not to spite their hubbies or to make an ideological point, but in a casual, customary way, just like China

    So mebbe we not so different

    • Kate

      Western style feminism? Last time I checked, the majority of western women STILL take their husbands last name. Actually I get questioned on this a lot by Koreans, when I tell them my name (which is Korean). Its funny, most Korean men whom I tell actually respond with “I wish Korean women did that”. The idea of feminism isn’t “you must stand against everything male” its that women are given CHOICE to make decisions for themselves. The real meaning of feminism in regsrds to this issue is “women should have an option if they don’t want to take the last name of their husband and if thwy do, then whatever its their choice”. I actually like using my husbands last name, it sounds prettier with Kate then my maiden name and also, american women still face a lot of pressure from families to use the mans last name. My family would of thought it disrespectful and weird not to use my husbands last name.

      • dim mak

        That’s what they all say, in theory
        In practice I feel they go way overboard and in fact, do stand against masculinity just for the sake of being contrarian

        But that’s not really the point

        Western feminism brings all kinds of political baggage that has nothing to do with gender equality or “women’s choice”
        Notice how pretty much every feminist leans far left, even on issues not regarding gender

        Japan should reject this just to guard against the risk of slippery slope

        In Asia, unity, collective national interest and struggle for geopolitical supremacy should guide every decision, not “compassion” or “empathy” or whatever feelings westerners succumb to

        • Hongwu Emperor

          I agree. pro-asian anti-douchebags union now. what screwed asia in llate 19th century up until today is the disunity in front of western colonialism, imperialism and later NATO/US interventions during the cold war.

          Asia needs to unite. for good man!

    • Cyberia

      Speaking of feminism, why do you think that Japanese netizens are routinely more sexist than, like, every other Asian country? It’s almost as bad as western nerd culture.

  • Ruaraidh

    When will people understand, if it’s a good tradition you don’t need to legislate to uphold it. Traditions and religions should have to compete with opposing ideas on equal terms, then we’ll see which ways really work best.

    • TSDown

      It all depends on what defines a ‘good tradition’ and to whom. Every sphere of society may have their own traditions; wide acceptance of a tradition does not necessarily mean it is good. When a tradition goes unchallenged it could mean the arguments against were not persuasive or that its removal would be more detrimental than to allow its continued practice. The best of two bad options, so to speak.

      This is where legislation comes in because most developed nations function according to the rule of law. The rule of law — possibly on par with religious doctrine or the most firmly rooted cultural traditions. Key difference is that, depending on the country, neither religion nor tradition may hold water in the eyes of the law. If anything this article highlights the importance society places on legal recognition of what opponents argue is a right, which may or may not be fundamental.
      As pointed out in your statement, comparisons should be done on equal terms; however that assumes that what is being compared hold the same weight or significance in the eyes of those judging. Or in other words, equality.

      The past decade of war has shown that the act of juggling law, religion and tradition can make or break a country and its people but if the international community is of the opinion that the rule of law stand above all else, then there may be a need to legislate. Rinse and repeat.

  • Kate

    Women should simply have a choice. If they want to change, great and they don’t then great but someone forcing THEIR choice on an entire group is wrong. Every woman and man should decide what they will be called, it is after all their life.

    The netizen comments about Koreans and Chinese taking Japanese names is a bit prejudice. For some people, they want to assimilate into the culture thwy are living in, which means not constantly being singled out for having a non japaense name and being known as “the foreigner” in the room. Its no different then asians who immigrate to western countries and take an english name. And I’ve seen plenty of asians do that including Japanese. I always thought it weird though when the Koreans I worked with in Korea had english names…I mean they must of thought the foreign teachers couldn’t pronounce their korean name. I always asked for their real name. Anyway I think I’m going to pick a Korean name ^_^ Maybe Sohee 🙂


      Agree. However I have to say that the funniest ones are the Chinese people who take names like Apple, Starlight, Shiny, well you get my drift. I wonder if they know how hard people are laughing at their names. Sometimes people just try way too hard to assimilate and fit in it’s sad.

      • dim mak

        Those all sound like rad names

        • Brett

          You’ve been cracking me up recently. I think you’ve been hanging out with wiener and Terroir too long.

          • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

            I feel really sorry for an optometrist I know…

            Her name’s Rosy Dong…

      • TSDown

        Few people enjoy being laughed at because of their name. Those who do the laughing often do so because they have never been on the receiving end or plain enjoy poking fun at others because of their differences. They are probably picking something that they like rather than trying to please the milieu they are settling into.

      • linette lee

        Japanese like to use names like wood, vegetables, forest, field 木,菜,田…or today 今日, tommorrow 明日. spring 春, autume 秋

        That’s funny no? They like to use things surrounding them for names.

        I need a japanese name. lol.


          Maybe so, but those names are in the japanese language, where it’s normal to use to types of names. In english it isn’t normal to use those types of names so that’s why they get laughed at so much.

        • the ace of books

          How is that funny? Chinese names are the same…


    I’m really glad I don’t live in Japan. I’d never fit in there. I’d be the nail that stand out. I hate that everyone just seems so conformist, it’ll drive me nuts.

    • Joe

      It’s 2013 yet sometimes the country seems more conservative than ever..

  • …I personally think there should be a choice. Plus I’m not crazy with the whole family register thingy over there anyway. Divorce and custody is messy and sucks. If I ever miraculously get married, I know I’m keeping my name… and might even name my daughter after me…….

  • dummyuploader

    living in a country where people rarely have surname, i don’t get it when these people tried to impose this ban on separate surname, and as our parents used to said that each people have their own destiny, i think they should have the choice to keep their name if they want it

  • poko chan

    Yahoo Japan….Only Japanese netizens or kids write comments there…

  • PixelPulse

    Such strong feelings over a something as small as separate surnames, gosh golly.

    • the ace of books

      Yeah, I’m kind of amazed.

  • Cyberia

    OMG separate surnames is like THE WORST THING EVAR amirite? These stupid people arguing for it are LITERALLY HITLER.

  • Mr. Ed

    Wow. Some of those comments from the Japanese posters above are really disturbing. Xenophobic, anti-feminist, ultra-conservative, and more. It’s just a custom. People are acting like it’s a betrayal of the Japanese national identity if you do otherwise.

  • rollin wit 9’s

    A few people made a case and point about Korea and China. In China Im not sure why they do it like that. I personally know a family of four. Mom and dad have different surnames. 1 of the kids has dads name, one of the kids has moms name. It may be to avoid paying fines as they have 2 kids but im not sure. I never figured that out about china. Hopefully someone enlightens me on why this topic is up for debate in JPN.

  • Is it just me, or are the netouyo making even less sense than usual this time? Legal aliases? Tohoku Earthquake? Dafuq?!

    • besudesu

      It’s not just you. It’s definitely them.

  • MizKiwi

    If your marriage revolves around your last name, you might want to get your priorities straight

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