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Japanese Women Are Suing For The Right To Keep Their Maiden Names

12/14/2015 12:58 EST | Updated 12/15/2015 03:59 EST
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO via Getty Images
TO GO WITH Japan-law-family-women,ADVANCER by Harumi OZAWA This picture taken on December 12, 2015 shows a family strolling at a park in Tokyo. Japan's top court will rule this week on a pair of 19th century family laws that critics blast as sexist and out of touch. The Supreme Court will weigh in on the legality of a six-month ban on women remarrying after divorce and another law that requires spouses to have the same surname, in a highly anticipated decision set for on December 16. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO / AFP / YOSHIKAZU TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

Five women in Japan are suing their government for the right to keep their maiden, or birth, names after marriage, reports Reuters. The suit was originally filed in 2013 and rejected by the Tokyo District Court.

According to a 1896 law in Japan, spouses must take one of the couple's family names — and in 96 per cent of cases, that's meant women adopting their husbands' names. The exceptions appear to happen when there is no male heir in the family and the husband becomes his wife's family's "adopted son" to keep the line going, explains a 2013 article in Salon.

But now, women are fighting back against the rule, saying they feel they're losing their identities when they change their names.

"By losing your surname ... you're being made light of, you're not respected ... It's as if part of your self vanishes," said Kaori Oguni, one of the women suing the government, via translator to Reuters.

As Japan Times reported in October, some couples have even gone so far as to not get married — even though they want to — in order to keep their own names.

Even the U.N. has gotten involved, calling for a revision of the laws via the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, reports Japan Today. They've noted that Japan is one of the few industrialized countries where it's illegal for couples to have different last names. They've also pointed to other archaic codes, such as the law that states women (but not men) cannot remarry for six months following a divorce unless she was pregnant before the divorce. Both of these portions of the Civil Code (Articles 750 and 733 respectively), are being debated by the courts.

Traditions around the world with regards to surnames vary according to legislation, religion and culture, and in some places — including Quebec — it's as difficult for a woman to change her name after marriage as it would be to change names for any other reason. (As Maclean's pointed out, Montreal-born Sophie Grégoire seems to have only adopted the Trudeau part of her last name for political reasons.)

The rulings on the decisions are set to come down on Dec. 16 — without question, women across Japan will be watching with interest.


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