Celebrity

Opinion | Forget the Affleck-Lopez wedding. What about that name change?

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The most shocking element of the marriage between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Was not that it happened — nearly two decades after they called off their first engagement — but in the casual sign-off to the bride’s announcement to fans.

“With love, Mrs. Jennifer Lynn Affleck.”

Over the past several decades, especially among brides of higher income and education levels, keeping one’s name has come to be understood as a feminist act: a declaration of equality and a repudiation of patriarchal traditions when the surname-change tradition originated. So for Lopez — highly paid, inordinately successful, a global brand in her own right — not to keep her name seemed like a statement.

From the outside, her choice might look like yet another nail in the coffin of a certain #Girlboss-y understanding of female progress — one that defined itself via individualism and autonomy, self-definition and a celebration of one’s solo accomplishments. Or the move could be a further reflection (or maybe verification) of the vibe shift toward gender traditionalism that appears to be bubbling up in the broader cultural landscape.

But Lopez — er, Affleck — is hardly alone. Even in 2022, it’s still commonly expected that a woman will take her husband’s name after marriage, while the reverse remains extremely rare. In a recent survey of 877 married heterosexual men, only about 3 percent took their wife’s name after marriage. Of the 97 percent of men who kept their own surname, 87 percent said their wives took it on, too.

Perhaps JLo’s decision needn’t be read as reactionary or trend-driven. If anything, it reflects a singular security in her own identity.

Jenny from the Block” has been a top-tier businesswoman and a global icon for decades. After her dozens of films, eight studio albums and iconic appearances in the dress that helped invent Google Searchit’s hard to imagine that anyone encountering her — new last name or not — will become confused about who she is or what she has accomplished.

It is similarly unlikely that Jennifer nee Lopez will be subsumed into her husband’s identity. A singular image from the first iteration of their relationship was of Affleck literally kissing her posterior in one of her music videos. And from the beginning of their rekindled affair — Bennifer 2.0 had been back and flourishing for a year pre-elopement — she has continued to lead the media coverage and set its tone.

After all, the newsletter through which she announced her nuptials, deftly controlling the narrative in a way she wasn’t able to 20 years ago, is still called On the JLo.

In a 2021 op-ed column in the Boston Globe, the lawyer and journalist Kimberly Atkins Stohr argued that taking her husband’s name after marriage was a feminist act in her own right: “The core of feminism is the idea that women ought to have agency over their own lives and make their own decisions based on what is right for them. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be free to make that choice for themselves without judgment. … My name, my choice.”

This approach is appealing. Not necessarily for the decision made — to change or not to change — but for the act of ignoring others’ expectations. Not everything needs to be a statement, and not every moment must be one of public self-definition. Rather than focusing on brand management or signaling, one could simply choose to focus on what a wedding, at its best, is meant to celebrate:

“When love is real, the only thing that matters in marriage is one another and the promise we make to love, care, understand, be patient, loving and good to one another,” Jennifer Lynn Affleck wrote. “We had that. And so much more.”

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