From Cambodia to Japan

A Cambodian Student Looks at Life in Two Different Worlds

Your surname or my surname?

So if you are married to a Japanese citizen, by Japanese law, you have two options regarding your surname: (1) either change it or (2) have your spouse adopted yours.

That' s one fascinating fact about Japanese civil code. All legally married couples are required by law to share a surname. Siblings, likewise, have to share a single family name. Although the law grants equal rights to both spouses to decide whose surname to retain, in practice, it’s the wife who usually chooses to surrender her maiden name, and takes the husband’s.

In recent year, there have been calls from many Japanese women right groups to change the law so that married couples can assume separate family names. Critics of the law describe it as a discrimination against women, and that it interferes too much into citizen’s personal life.

Cambodia's case

Cambodian culture is strikingly different from Japan in term of family naming.
In Srok Khmer, there’s no law that forces married couples to have a single surname. Husband and wife generally retain their maiden names respectively after marriage, although it’s customary that children inherit surname from their father.

In certain cases, however, children adopt their mother’s surnames instead of their father’s. For example, when couples divorce, the mother who win children’s custody sometimes registers children with her surname.
Even when the couples are not divorced, children sometimes have different surnames. For example, an elder brother might take his father’s surname, while the younger brother will take his mother’s. This is because, unlike in Japan, there is no law that requires couples to decide the surname of their children when they marry, or law that requires all siblings to have the same surname.

There are also cases in which children share both parent’s surnames. For example, if the father’s surname if “Sok”, and the mother’s is “Chan”, then the children’s surname could either be “Sok Chan” or “Chan Sok”. The reason why such practice exists is mainly due to the fact that Cambodian culture, unlike Japanese, doesn’t place importance on a single family name.
Do you think Japan should change the law by allowing married couples to have separate family name? Or do you think Cambodia should create a law that require married couples to share a single surname?

***For articles related to the Family Name Issues in Japan, you can go here:

1. Keiko Watanabe, The “Double Surnames” Issue in Japan, September 17, 2006
2. Discussion forum: Japanese surname after marriage

11 Responses to “Your surname or my surname?”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Law is not important as long as the couples are contented with their joint decision - whetehr to adopt whose surname.

    There is no such answers as 'Cambodian should' or 'Japanese should' here, to me. We conform to our culture and seek ways to comfort ourselves.

    Enjoy, the brilliant Khmer poet  

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  3. # Blogger khmerization

    Great article. But I don't understand when you said "have your spouse adopted yours". You mean that if we married to Japanese girls or men, can they take our foreign surname? Or you mean, we must adopt Japanese surnames, regardless of whether we are a man or a woman? As far as I know everybody who wanted to be a Japanese citizen must adopt Japanese surname.  

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  5. # Blogger samantha ith

    Who cares about the name! Whatever the couple decide on. It's a personal thing. Its a head ache to change last name back after divorce. Kids can take father or mother last name. the japanese people have lot of pride, most cambodian people doesn't have much pride. So the law was made has something to do with it.  

  6. # Blogger samantha ith

    I love what u said. I agree.  

  7. # Blogger samantha ith

    Out of all race, khmer people have the lease almost pride out of all. Almost to zero. They should love of who they are whether poor or rich. Love their own people.  

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