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Monday, July 27, 2009

What's In a Name?

Right now I am no where near getting married, but I decided a long time ago (before I defined myself as a feminist) that I was not going to change my name if/when I get married.

My mom kept her name, which I remember causing a lot of confusion among my friends growing up. It seemed so normal to me because that's what I grew up with. But I would always feel a little upset when my friends called my mom Mrs. Sundstrom instead of by her own name, not that they knew any better at first. When I was very young, I didn't understand why my friends just assumed that my mom shared my dad and I's last name. As I aged, I came to understand that it was societal convention that the woman has the same last name as her husband.

Going into late elementary school and on, I would sometimes get asked if my parents were divorced when my friends found out that my parents had different last names. Because in my conservative community (and in the rest of society), the only way that a woman can have her maiden name is if she is divorced from her husband.

Certainly my mom had some influence on my decision to not change my name, but once I started learning more about feminism, I was finally able to express some of my real motivations behind this decision.
I do not want to change myself when I get married. My name is part of who I am. And part of who I am is also an independent woman and I feel that as an independent woman, I should not have to change my name to enter into a partnership with a man.

Via a tweet from Ashely at Small Strokes, I learned of an article at The Globe and Mail entitled, "I took my wife's last name." The author goes through his decision to take his wife's name upon marriage and the struggles that he faced, both within himself and from friends and family.

In discussing why he chose to change his name, he says...

I did it because I love Mona - because I wanted her to know that I didn't expect her to become anyone other than herself. It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up.

I think that this reason says a lot about what kind of person this man is and about how much he respects his wife and her values. He starts the article by saying that the decision was completely his, that his wife didn't even ask him to do it.

In today's society, I feel like a woman's decision to keep her name is not as uncommon as it was even when my parents married about 27 years ago. Some people still hold the expectation that the woman will change her name, but it is certainly more socially acceptable to keep your name.
But even when it is not uncommon for a woman to keep her name, it is almost completely unheard of for a man to take his wife's name. Why?

I think that some women don't want to change their name because it would show a kind of dependency on a man.
So if a man changes his name, is there an assumption that he is dependent on a woman? And why would that be so wrong? In any relationship there is a certain amount of emotional (and other kinds) dependency on the other person. But men would never admit that by taking his wife's name.

Every woman has the right to keep her name and every man has the right to change his name. And just because I have decided to keep my name doesn't mean that a woman who decides to take her husband's name is wrong or anti-feminist.

4 comments:

Jaime said...

I blogged about name change a bit back, it was in response to a scathing piece against name change in the Guardian (honestly I think it was an excuse to attack a woman who is disliked rather than anything to do with feminism) and the only conclusion I can come up with is do whatever makes you happy, if someone wants to take their partners name then great, if they don't then great too!

With this one I wonder why did it matter to the husband that they shared the last name? Is he changing himself by taking her name? The need to justify (although I do understand why people feel that need) the name change bothers me more than the actual name change.

Quercki said...

When my husband and I got married, we chose a family name and both changed our name. I suspect that in the U.S. that Homeland Security makes that option MUCH harder now.

A man I didn't marry told me that I'd have to take his name so that he'd "know the children were his."

Dawn. said...

Every woman has the right to keep her name and every man has the right to change his name. And just because I have decided to keep my name doesn't mean that a woman who decides to take her husband's name is wrong or anti-feminist.

Well said. I completely agree. I decided when I was in high school that I would always keep my birth name. I don't even like calling it a maiden name. But I also have no problem with people who chose to take their spouse's name, no matter what their gender is. I think it's a personal decision, but I also think it should be discussed well in advance as a couple. My partner is really disappointed that I would never take his name, even though we have no intention of getting married anytime soon. It's odd because he is a very progressive man and he has some explicitly feminist values, except for this. He has a very traditional view on it and he said it's ultimately my decision but still seems disappointed by it. Oh well, too bad I told him.

Lauren O said...

An ex-boyfriend once said that women who don't take their husbands' last names don't really love their husbands. I started asking him questions about that view in hopes of showing him how ridiculous it was.

He said the woman needs to change her name because it's important for all members of a family to have the same last name. I asked him why he wouldn't change his name to achieve that goal. His response was, "Because then I would never be able to show my face in front of other guys again." If changing your name is so humiliating, why do you expect women to do it? Women have to humiliate themselves to show they love their husbands? Or is it just that it would be unthinkable to take a woman's name because then you would be more like a woman, which is obviously an inferior state of being?

The best part is that his last name was Smith! No offense to any Smiths out there, but it's not exactly the most interesting name in the world. Taking that last name makes it automatically harder for you to get any name recognition in your career field.

Anyway, yeah, we didn't date for too much longer after that.

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