A Name of One’s Own: Why Japanese Women Are Suing for Their Surnames

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Four women and one man are fighting a 19th century law that effectively prevents Japanese women from keeping their birth names post-marriage.

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A lawsuit filed in Tokyo on Monday challenges a 113-year old rule that requires married couples to choose one surname per couple. In most cases, they say, women are the ones who change their names. Kyoko Tsukamoto, 75,  says she’s been waiting 50 years for the law to change.  “…I was born as Kyoko Tsukamoto, and I want to die as Kyoko Tsukamoto,” she says. “That’s my wish.”

It’s a wish that is — and has been — shared by women around the world. Japan is the only G8 country where women are still bound by restrictive naming laws.

In 2009, the U.N. called on the country to drop the archaic provision, calling it “discriminatory,” notes the AP. The same year, Japan’s center-left government said they’d review the law, an effort that’s since been stymied by political  in-fighting and opposition from conservatives.

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