Brooklyn Peltz Beckham taking wife’s name highlights sexist anomaly in law | Marriage

While the $3m (£2.3m) wedding of David and Victoria Beckham’s eldest son, Brooklyn, and Nicola Peltz, the daughter of billionaire businessman Nelson, might not be an obvious place to look for a modern approach to marriage, the groom’s decision to take his wife’s name has prompted praise from some quarters.

He is said to have opted to change his middle name, meaning his surname is still Beckham. And although growing numbers of men want to double-barrel their name, or take on their wife’s surnames, the move by Peltz Beckham has highlighted an archaic rule that means it is more administratively complicated than the other way round.

Men in England and Wales who take their wife’s surnames, or people in same-sex marriages wanting to share a surname, are required to change their name via deed poll, whereas the change is automatic for a woman when she has a marriage licence.

Keir Harper-Thorpe, 54, wanted to double-barrel his surname when he married his wife to share a name with his stepson and avoid awkward questions about their relationship. He also wanted to send a signal to family who disapproved of the marriage that he and his partner are “us together equal”.

He has struggled financially and balked at the cost of changing his name via deed poll, and can’t meet the requirement for a reference from someone who owns property who has known him for 10 years, which means he has been unable to update his name on his passport or with his bank.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a luxury. I think sometimes official places need to catch up with how people in society are living,” he said.

Jon Hutchinson, 33, wanted to take his wife’s name to express “our discomfort with some of the traditions which just felt very patriarchal”, including the connotations of ownership associated with women taking on their husband’s name.

He said friends had welcomed the couple’s choice, but he has had to challenge authorities to have his new surname recognised, after choosing not to change it via deed poll out of principle. “I called and kicked up a fuss and talked about how it’s probably not adhering to the Equalities Act to say that there are different standards.”

Amy Foweather, a family solicitor at Harrowells Ltd, said the difference was rooted in a common law assumption dating back hundreds of years that a wife becomes the property of her husband upon marriage, which some institutions still follow.

“It became acceptable for the marriage certificate to be good evidence of a name change for the wife, but not for the husband, as they never did it and it would have been extremely frowned upon or forbidden within society.

“Whilst there may be some common law requirement buried deep down in the archives, the reality is, men have to ‘prove’ a change of name on marriage because historically they never did it and women don’t have to prove it because historically they had no choice,” she said.

Simon Duncan, emeritus professor at the University of Bradford, said the deed poll requirement served as an “administration barrier” and that it would be a good idea to remove it to speed up “glacial” progress away from the cultural association of the husband’s surname with a “proper family”.

Alternative choices are “still pretty uncommon”, according to Rachael Robnett, an associate professor at the University of Nevada.

“I think we will see a bit more flexibility in the next 10-20 years, but not much. In part, this is because heterosexual women and men continue to encounter stigma if they don’t align with the traditional arrangement,” she said.

Friends and family sometimes view couples who take the wife’s surname as less committed, or perceive the husband to have less power in the relationship, she said.

“This is probably why some women encounter pressure from their husbands to change their last name after getting married. It’s really hard to resist these entrenched norms to the point that some people don’t ever seriously consider other options,” she said.

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