A Woman by Any Other Name

A few years back I read a blog in which the writer admitted that she viewed women who took their husband’s last names after marriage as less intelligent, less educated. I was so offended by this that I haven’t been able to read her blog since. It coloured my view of her as intolerant and superior, and so although she may have a lot of other interesting things to say, I can’t be bothered.

If I’m honest, I was also annoyed that by disagreeing with her, I was lumped in with commenters who claimed  women who did not take their husband’s names were less committed to the marriage, would inevitably end up divorced, and were confusing their children. Those comments were just as offensive as the post. Because it was not her choice to keep her birth name I disagreed with–it was that she looked down on anyone who didn’t do the same.

My parents were surprised that I opted to take my husband’s name when we got married because they know I’m a feminist. My belief is that, as a feminist, I have a choice. And I couldn’t care less if others make the same choice or not. Get married, don’t get married. Have children, don’t have children. Keep your birth name, change to your partner’s name. Hyphenate, make up a new name, give some children your name and other children your partner’s name, be a Ms. or  a Mrs. And yep, I’m down with men taking their partners’ names too. Whatever. Do whatever you want. Personally I don’t think it makes any difference to anyone but the two people in the marriage, I don’t believe it reflects the level of commitment to the relationship (or a woman’s level of intelligence!), and I think it’s laughable that children would be confused by any of this (they can handle the truth). Seriously, is anyone really shocked these days by unmarried parents, common-law parents, divorced parents, married parents with different last names, married parents with the same last name, adoptive parents, blended families, same-sex parents, interracial parents? Seriously? And yet, I still see articles and blog posts about the name “issue”.

Yes, I get that some women object to changing their last names because it’s a patriarchal tradition. I completely understand and would not tell those women to make a choice other than the one that feels right to them. Though I couldn’t get too worked up about that personally, because if you want to get technical, most birth names are symbolic of patriarchy. My birth name came from my father, so…Perhaps your mother wasn’t married to your father and therefore you share her birth name. Okay—but where did that name come from? Her father? Yup: patriarchy. When it comes to last names, short of inventing a new one or becoming so famous you don’t need one at all, it’s pretty hard to escape the legacy of patriarchy. But just as keeping my birth name would not have implied my father still retained “ownership”, changing my last name to my husband’s doesn’t mean I’m “his property” either. Our marriage was not arranged between the families, there was no dowry, no bride-price, no goats were exchanged. It’s an equal partnership whether or not we share a last name.

I wore a veil at my wedding because I thought it was pretty and that this was probably the only opportunity I’d ever have in my life to wear something sparkly on my head. I also wore a white dress despite having lived with my husband for several years before we formally married because that’s what I wanted to wear. These symbols don’t mean what they used to. In fact marriage itself is not what it once was (which is why I don’t understand people arguing against same-sex marriage as if the institution itself hasn’t constantly evolved over the centuries—and thank goodness for that!) If you are that hung up on what marriage used to represent, instead of what it means to you and your partner right here and now, I’m not really sure why you would get married at all. And if you choose not to, more power to you! Isn’t personal choice great?

So why did I opt to change my name? It wasn’t because I worried about my children having the same last name. It wasn’t because I thought it would show greater commitment to my marriage. It wasn’t a political statement at all. I most definitely considered keeping my birth name, and can completely understand all the reasons to do that, as well as the reasons other couples make other choices. I think it’s cool when both partners officially change to the same hyphenated name (I admit I’m curious what the next generation will do if faced with combining two already hyphenated names—but I’m sure these couples will work out that little detail just fine. It’s hardly a deal-breaker.) I would have loved to hyphenate, but call me vain, our names just didn’t go well together. To be honest, I could have gone either way. But when it came time to decide, well, my husband’s name is slightly easier for others to pronounce and spell correctly. Really, that’s about as deep as my reasoning went. But it was my choice to make, and I made it, and if someone views me as less feminist or less educated or less something as a result, I think they need to reflect on what feminism really means. (Hint: it’s not “everyone who doesn’t do what I do is doing it wrong.”)

Frankly, I can’t believe what other people choose to do about a last name after marriage or when having children is even still a conversation. You do what feels right for you, for whatever reason, and I’ll respect that. I expect the same in return. It’s pretty simple, actually.

But please, don’t send me snail mail addressed to “Mrs. Husband’s First Name Last Name”, okay? I share my husband’s surname, not his first.

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4 Comments

Filed under gender issues, random

4 responses to “A Woman by Any Other Name

  1. We just got an invitation to a baby shower – apparently the addresser forgot what my first name is too. That’s one piece of etiquette that can fall by the wayside any old time now.
    You already know I agree with you. But yeah. I agree. And well said.

  2. Jenn

    Love your blog! Well stated! 🙂

  3. This is a topic I find interesting! What can be assumed about one’s choice is also interesting. You have made great points about what really matters though. I went the hyphenated “route” at marriage. I knew why it was important to me… what others may have assumed…so be it. I knew I did not want to lose my maiden name and wanted to respect the heritage I felt I was a part of. I have no problem going by just my married name. I did so for classroom teaching. But legally, it is hyphenated (and long, but oh well). And yes, I would feel like my identity was lost if I was Mrs. husband’s first name + last name. Does that still happen? In the end, I hope I have modelled for my children that they have choice to do what feels right. I often say to them that marriage and a wedding are two different things. I try not to say “when you marry…. When you have children… but say, “if you marry… if you have children. We live and make choices under so many expectations, don’t we?

    • Yes, I still occasionally get mail addressing me as Mrs. Husband’s First Name, and not just from the older generation… I also try to say “if” to my children when it comes to marriage and family (currently both declare they will not have children!) I even try to say “partner” or “spouse” rather than (potential) wife, because you just never know!

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