Japan's Legal Battle for Maiden Names

Cristen Conger

Per a 1898 law, Japanese women can't keep their maiden names. (Junko Kimora/Getty Images)

A Valentine's Day lawsuit filed in Japan challenges an 1898 civil law maintaining that women have to give up their maiden names when they wed. Four married Japanese women and one of their husband's brought the lawsuit, which the Sydney Morning Herald (via Jezebel) described as a "test for the rights of women, who continue to struggle against gender stereotypes and remain under-represented in politics and corporate boardrooms."According to the news report, the lawsuit coincides with the 2009 government takeover by the more liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

Unless a woman comes from royal lineage, she is legally compelled to assumed her husband's last name. The Japanese public seems split on whether to discard the archaic law, with a recent opinion poll showing 37 percent in favor of a revision and 35 percent opposed.

In the United States, women can choose whether keep their maiden names but few actually do. Only an estimated 10 percent of women go against the marital grain and keep their name intact at the altar.

But the issue isn't whether a woman should or shouldn't match last names with her partner; it's whether she can decide the matter for herself. For some, it doesn't make much of a difference either way, but clearly, for the Japanese women bringing the landmark lawsuit to trial, it does. One of plaintiffs, a 75-year-old woman who has been married for more than 50 years, described giving up her maiden name as "like having a splinter in my heart."

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