Should women adopt their husband's surname upon marrying? "It's up to her" is the obvious answer, but I'm curious as to what the most reasonable decision for an engaged couple would be. A quick disclaimer: none of my conclusions should be imposed on anyone, of course! I'm merely interested in how they might address the question.
Now, one option would be for the married couple to retain their distinct family names. But this might be awkward if they have children: whose name should the children get? The mother has a distinctive link in virtue of bearing the children. Meritocrats might thereby favour her right to the family name. Egalitarians might use the very same datum to argue that the father should be compensated for lacking this historical connection; perhaps a symbolic connection to his surname would help bring him closer to his children? (I don't really think either "connection" is particularly significant compared to the non-symbolic acts of actual parenting, but let's bracket that for sake of this comparatively trivial discussion.) Perhaps they could alternate, if planning several children, or flip a coin. But however it goes, the symbolized disunity seems unfortunate -- not the end of the world, of course, but it would seem ideal for the entire family to share their "family name". (I imagine that alternatives might also get administratively inconvenient at times.)
The flipside of the problem, of course, is that it seems unfair to ask just one partner to replace their surname with the other's. For the woman, especially, this symbolic act may be associated with oppressive patriarchal traditions. So, if a one-way sacrifice must be made, it might be most reasonable for the husband to instead adopt his wife's surname. On the other hand, this may be socially awkward precisely because of its untraditional nature. In any case, again, either way seems less than ideal: one's family name reflects their roots, and it seems unfortunate to have to give this up entirely upon starting a new family. (Though of course if either partner doesn't give a hoot, then there's no problem.)
Some opt for hyphenization to combine the two names, which has nice symbolic value but is clearly unsustainable. (Won't somebody think of the children? What are the next generation supposed to do when they want to marry? Give birth to a triply-hyphenated monster?) This option also suffers from the more general objection that hyphens are annoying.
The ideal solution, I think, may be to follow Mother Nature's genetic example and merge (parts of) the two names into one: hence a partnered "Smith" and "Jones" might become a family of "Smones". Nice symbolism, perfect equality, and no hyphens -- what more could you ask for? ;-)
While on the topic of gender symbolism and controversial trivialities, I guess I should also address the vexed question of generic third-person singular pronouns. Here a merging solution seems impossible, and efforts to explicitly include both genders (e.g. "he or she", "s/he", etc.) are too ugly to use in writing that's meant to be read.
I take it that the pronouns "he" and "she" can be used in a gender-neutral sense to refer to a generic third person. Nevertheless, feminists could have a legitimate complaint about always using "he" in such contexts. For even if technically gender-neutral in denotation, the connotations are clearly another matter. And if such use has the practical consequence of alienating female readers or reinforcing male privilege, then that's plainly a problem no matter what the dictionary says.
I usually try to mix them up a bit, rather than using either generic pronoun exclusively. That seems a decent enough compromise. (I'm also a fan of singular "they", at least in contexts where it doesn't sound too awkward to my ear.) But let me propose a better ideal: writers should use the generic pronoun that is oppositely gendered from themselves.
The great advantage of this policy is that it is naturally proportional and self-correcting. If there is a predominance of males in one field, then the writings will be correspondingly dominated by female-friendly pronouns. (This might not have any significant effect, but it can't hurt.) If the gender balance changes over time, the risk of "matriarchal bias" is naturally mitigated (however slightly) by the male-friendly pronouns used by all the female writers who are taking over the field.
Does such a pronoun policy deserve to become the new politically correct norm? (It might need at least one exception: if the gender imbalance is very excessive, it might be appropriate for the minority group to express solidarity by use of their own gendered pronoun.) What do you think?