When I got married, one of the things I did was drop my father’s name and adopt my husband’s name. I went the whole nine yards which included getting a new ID with the new name.
A few years into marriage, it’s not something I think all that much about. But recently, I was getting served somewhere and in the process my name change came up. The person serving me was a young guy, younger than me by a few years. For the life of him, he couldn’t understand why I would change my name and especially so “early” (in his view) in marriage. He even went as far as to vehemently state that if he got married, he wouldn’t allow his wife to do so. To him, it was an unimaginable and unnecessary risk.
There was an unspoken question in everything he was saying.
What on earth gave me the guts (or made me naïve enough) to do something like that?
In the months leading up to our wedding, I was in the thick of transitioning from dating into marriage. One of the things that crossed my mind was my surname and what to do with it. To maintain my maiden surname and keep everything as is, using my marital surname as and when necessary. To hyphenate my maiden and marital surnames. To drop my maiden surname entirely and adopt my marital surname. These were the options I was looking at.
As with everything relationship, there’s a ton of opinions out there about what a woman in my situation should do. Every single one backed by an intriguing blend of logic, emotion, and paranoia of all the things that could go wrong.
I happened to like my maiden surname. Given that my first two names are about as common as names come, it was nice to have at least one name that was somewhat uncommon. Even if meant that every so often, I had to spell it out to people or correct records when someone decided to baptize me with their version of it. My marital surname, on the other hand, rivals my middle name in how widely used it is. So there was definitely a part of me that was angling to keep my maiden name if for no other reason than that.
Rather than wade into the sea of confusion that is human opinion, I went to God one day and asked Him what He thought about the whole thing. The Holy Spirit led me to Genesis 17, where God changes Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. The context of this name change is the institution of a covenant between God and Abraham (plus his descendants).
Throughout the Bible, names significantly denote identity and purpose. The same holds true even in the present day. Case in point, most Kenyan communities have traditional guidelines on how children should be named – typically after specific relatives on either side of the family based on order of birth. Often, this practice is done with good intentions (or to avoid family drama, let’s be honest). But what gets lost in the process is the spiritual significance of naming someone after another. Or taking up a family name, in the instance where a woman marries into a family and it goes without saying that she adopts the family name.
If you study people named after others, perhaps even yourself and the person you’re named after, there’s a high likelihood of certain similarities in traits. Things like looks, personality, strengths, weaknesses/flaws, etc, end up shared between the two people. Jokes are cracked about it. It’s chalked up to coincidence and serendipity. But there’s so much more to it than that.
When God took me to Abraham and Sarah’s story, He began to explain to me a crucial aspect of my transition into marriage. Yes, there was the covenant between God and the two of us. But in addition to that, there was the transformation that marriage would bring my way in so far as my identity was concerned. And so, my name needed to change to reflect the significant shift in season and to herald all that God was releasing to me in marriage. In taking my husband’s name, I was embracing the role God was giving him in my life to be a catalyst for and a steward over what God had in store for me.
Somewhere along the way between dating and marriage I came to the realization that our marriage was primarily dependent on God, not on either of us. Notwithstanding the role we have to play as individuals and as a couple, there’s a weight that only He can carry and we need to let Him do so. We need to trust Him to do so.
So many of us, Christians included, enter marriage with failure at the back of our mind. We may not say it out loud but we have all these contingencies in place mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even physically in so far as the decisions we’re making. Decisions designed to protect us in the event things don’t work out.
Given the rate of divorce, again, even in the church, I can understand why this would be the case. Yet, aren’t we called to live a life of courage as believers and not one of fear? Because inadvertently what all our safeguards say is that we don’t entirely trust God to have our back so we put in place our own backup plans.
As I shared last month, going into marriage God’s way is not a guarantee that everything will work out the way you expect it to. But if we’re going into marriage as petrified, if not more so, as non-believers, then what does that say about our God and our relationship with Him? What then, is the point of doing things the divine way, if when all is said and done we’re exactly where everyone else is?
Out of all human relationships, marriage undeniably requires one of the highest levels of trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in your spouse. Trust in your marriage. But also trust in God. Trust in God to do that which neither you nor your spouse can do for each other or for your union. Trust in God to uphold you both and your marriage when the storms of life come raging your way. Trust in God to transform you both into better spouses for one another throughout the rest of your lives. Trust in God to circumvent every aspect of self-sabotage you knowingly or unknowingly got into marriage with. Trust in God to make quick work of the spiritual, mental and emotional baggage you both carry having lived thus far in an imperfect world. Trust in God to lay you both bare and continually transform you into Christ-likeness.
My decision to change my name was not based on how much trust I have in myself or my husband and our ability to sustain a healthy marriage for the rest of our lives. For all the love and respect we have for one another, we’re two very fallible human beings who are prone to failure.
No. My decision was based on the how much trust I have in God, the One constant who never changes through the seasons of life. He’s the rock on which I stand, on which we stand, on which our marriage stands. He is the source of my confidence in the institution of marriage.
Divine marriage will require you to lay down your understanding of life and lean on God instead. Utterly, desperately dependent on Him. Every. Single. Day. As you acknowledge Him in everything you do in your relationship, even stuff that seems nondescript like changing your surname, He will direct your path. And He’ll never steer you wrong.
God’s hands are wide open, beckoning us to find rest in His heart and mind for us in marriage. But will we say yes, wholly and truly with every fibre of our being, to trusting Him?