From Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-jackson/why-i-changed-my-last-nam_b_2855084.html
It was common for Europeans to have one name 1,000 years ago. I’m Jonathan. Full stop. But last names grew to symbolize relationships with society over time. They stemmed from clans and class and titles and towns. If you met someone called Goldsmith, that person probably smithed gold.
But a problem appeared: Servants, slaves, children, and women were a white man’s property, so they fell under his family name. Now, generations later, a black woman somewhere in Alabama goes by the last name Chadwick after her great-great-grandfather’s slave-owner’s grandfather’s hometown in England.
Chadwick, by the way, means “Chad’s dairy farm” in Old English.
We inherit this system, this process, and, if we don’t question it, we perpetuate it. It’s quiet. It’s subtle. And it holds small power asymmetries in place. In that sense, last names have the potential to stand for something much, much bigger.
I should pause to acknowledge that most couples who keep one partner’s last name don’t intend any harm — far from it — and there are a panoply of legitimate reasons why people make that choice. Many are simply trying to connect with family histories in the best way they know how, and I applaud them for that.
I also applaud people who tackle this problem directly. My parents hyphenated their names in the 1970s, for example. My mom was Camery, and my dad was Hoggatt, and I was born a Camery-Hoggatt.
Upside: Both families are represented equally.
Downside: This only works for one generation.
I married Rebecca Jones. If we hyphenated, we would have become the Jones-Camery-Hoggatts, and if our kids and grandkids hyphenate, they’ll have last names like Tutu-Smithersby-Rodrigues-Jones-Camery-Hoggatt, and that just seems irresponsible.
So we picked a new last name.