Feminism | Posted by Jamie N on 02/24/2010

The Name Game

Even if you’re only a little bit of a feminist, getting married can be tough. I knew that some of the more archaic traditions could be nauseating but I found myself affronted with some good ole’ fashioned deep seated sexism when the topic of weddings roles around to last names. Are you taking his? Keeping yours? Hyphenating the two? Or GASP the worst…is he taking yours?

I chose to keep my last name. I’ve identified myself quite a bit with it and it just seemed like another silly tradition to ignore; how wrong I was. I constantly face problems with this, any time we both sign our name and then choose the married box inquisitive looks are to follow. But more than just the annoyance of people’s disbelief that we were actually married is the deep and sincere reaction it brings out in people.

Just last August a study from the University of Indiana and University of Utah found that of the 810 women polled 70% thought that a women should take her husbands last name and half of the women went as far as to say they thought it should be illegal not too.

What this tells me is that there still is a lot of work to be done for women’s rights. The perception of women as the quiet nurturer is the very stereotype that is used against us; as if it’s somehow easier for women than men to let go of their pre-married selves.

I think more marriages wouldn’t end in divorce if women weren’t expected to literally change who they are as soon as they’re married – to quietly sublimate who they were before they became someone’s wife.

Brian and I thought about other choices. Hyphening our names just sounded weird  and to be totally honest he hates his last name. The main reason he didn’t do the (GASP!) big one and change his name to mine was because only seven states offer the option for the husband to change his name on the marriage certificate. In most states the process for the man to change his name is very humiliating and degrading and I would never ask him to do that.

If it was just about a name, society wouldn’t make men feel so horrible doing it, but the tradition is rooted in ideas of male ownership over women and how she now “belongs’ to her husband, bought and sold like any ole’ commodity. Those ideas might not be as blatant as they used to be but it’s roots in submission and power shifts go so deep and potentially inhibit communication, honesty and mutual respect. So we’re staying the Navarro/Snider family and people will just have to deal.

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  • Liz @ at 11:45 am, February 24th, 2010

    I chose not to change my name when I got married — I was still myself and felt it would be bizarre to change something as fundamental as my name. My sister didn’t change her last name either, which must be a reflection on my mom’s teachings. I must say that even though my mother in law still can’t “remember” that my name is still the same, I have never gotten a look from anyone or had them imply that my husband and I weren’t really married. But I must say I live in a Northeastern city that’s not so very conservative…

  • Devin @ at 11:54 am, February 24th, 2010

    I didn’t change my last name. My name is so important to me; it’s who I am. My husband, before we got married, assumed I would hyphenate. I looked at him with shock and asked him if he would consider it. He was confused and asked what I meant. I looked at my love, who majored in American studies with an emphasis in gender studies in college, and told him that unless he was willing to consider hyphenating his name, I would not consider hyphenating mine. He accepted this, did some soul searching and determined he was not comfortable with it. And so it’s left at that.

    That being said, my MIL last year for 4th of July sent our invitation to Mr. & Mrs. his last name. I phoned her, upset, and asked why I hadn’t been invited. She indicated that I had been and I refuted that Mrs. his last name had, but that I hadn’t. She seemed shocked to realize that even though I hadn’t changed my name (which she knew), that I didn’t want to be referred to as Mrs. his last name.

    And we live in Southern California. I guess it’s just a generational thing though. :)

    But it’s so nice to see other people who aren’t apologizing for keeping what is important to them.

    Next question though. Do you plan to have kids and if so, whose last name will they receive?

  • Morgan @ at 12:17 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I’ve thought about this before and (I am not married) but I don’t think I will change my name. As many of you already said, I also feel like my name is who I am.
    As for the last question asked I definitely don’t know! I have a hyphenated last name, so already really long, so if I had my hyphenated last name plus my partner’s last name for my children…that would just be so long.
    My parents (before having me, my sister and my brother) thought about two of us having my mom/dads last name then the other having the last name that wasn’t used with the other two. They decided against it but I guess that would be an option.
    However then it seems like it separates the family.
    Tough issue.

  • Jaime @ at 12:23 pm, February 24th, 2010

    We definatley want kids but it’s far off enough that we haven’t really talked about whose name they’ll take, like I said he still might take my last name then the problem would be solved.
    But if not, then its something we will have to talk about and honestly at this point I have no idea where my husband stands.
    I do know though that a family can still be close with different names and identies, my husband has a different last name then his mother due to divorce and they are two very close people!

  • Lauren @ at 1:14 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I’m not married and, although in a serious relationship, nowhere near being married anytime soon. But this is a topic that has popped into my mind on more than one occasion over the last few years and I am torn. I don’t take issue with the idea of a woman taking her husband’s last name (especially if it’s something that they are both happy about) and even have a cousin whose husband took her last name – and kept it even after they divorced! But I, like Jaime, associate SO MUCH with my last name. It is such a part of who I am, maybe even more so than my first name, that I can’t imagine myself being Lauren Someone-Else’s-Last-Name.

    I can understand how, from an administrative standpoint, being married and having two different last names could be a pain. If the last names don’t match up on paperwork, there’s immediately an issue, etc. As for everyday people’s opinions on the matter, I’m not sure why they care. Is that what our society has come down to now? We judge one another’s character by whether or not they take their husband’s last name or not? Quite frankly, I think there are better things to be worried about, but perhaps that’s just me.

  • Juliet @ at 1:25 pm, February 24th, 2010

    The ironic thing is that women literally don’t have their own last names in western society anyway – the male last name has always been passed on, the wife adopts it and the children inherit. So last name always belongs to the men in the family, through birth or marriage. When I am looking at my ancestors there is a male unbroken line that can be traced all the way back, but it is incredibly difficult to learn about the women because they have a different original last name every generation – they don’t have an unbroken line of their own. I think it’s a dreadful cycle that erases our history.

  • A.Y. Siu @ at 1:31 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I was going to take my wife’s last name, but the protest from my parents and her parents was so terrible that my wife insisted I just keep my name so that to avoid “bad blood” at our wedding.

    It really is awful that even most “progressive” or “feminist” het men feel fully entitled to keep their names while it’s up to het women to worry about taking their husbands’ last names or keeping their own birth surnames. Hyphenation is okay, but it makes the names extremely long, and it also doesn’t force the man to give up anything more than the woman does.

    Look at the scenarios:

    1. Man keeps last name. Woman takes man’s last name. (Man does nothing)

    2. Man keeps last name. Woman hyphenates her name. (Man does nothing)

    3. Man keeps last name. Woman keeps her own last name. (Man does nothing)

    4. Man changes his name to hyphenated name. Woman also changes her name to hyphenated name. (Man does no more than the woman does)

    5. Man and woman decide on a totally different last name to both change their names to or somehow fuse their last names. (Man does no more than the woman does)

    6. Man takes woman’s last name. (Man actually does something the woman doesn’t have to do)

    I’ve seen 1-5, but I’ve never actually met any couple who has done #6… the one where the man does more than the woman does.

  • Frisbie @ at 1:52 pm, February 24th, 2010

    Note the name I’ve used for this post. It is not my first name, but my last. It is what I go by amongst friends and how I’ve managed to set myself apart from the crowd since gradeschool. I love my last name — it’s fun, unique, and better yet, easy to remember. When I was a journalist, I insisted on my byline reading K.J. Frisbie so the last name would be the main focus. Frisbie is more than my name, it is my identity.

    I was recently engaged and have now begun down the path of the modern woman’s dilemma: to keep, change or hyphenate. How simple this task must have been pre-1960. Fortunately, my future MIL kept her “maiden” (and how demeaning is that while we’re at it?) name, so I don’t expect push-back from that direction. Nor do I expect any from my family: They know how cool Frisbie is! (My mom hyphenated though.) Still, I am having a hard time with this.

    Let’s be honest: Hyphenating is a bitch. Besides, Frisbie-Bunten doesn’t have a nice ring to it. So, I’m really stuck between ALL or NOTHING. I either go for it, take his name and continue on with Frisbie as my nickname or I keep Frisbie and deal with the explaining on forms and proving my children really belong to me…

    I’m hopeful though–I see plenty of women these days with their names’ intact or their husband’s tacked on. This growing precedent only makes it easier for the next generation of married women. So perhaps I won’t have as many issues as the women who came before me. Issues aside, there is something within me that wants to honor “tradition” (read: social norms) and take my love’s name. I am not likely to make this decision until right up to the last minute — probably in line at the bureau!

    If only his last name wasn’t Golf!

  • Toongrrl @ at 1:57 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I feel guilty: I want to be Mrs. Jessica Victoria MADDOW

  • anitabot @ at 2:06 pm, February 24th, 2010

    This is a timely article for me as I am recently engaged and have been asked this question. I don’t know what to do yet. My last name, while I like it and feels like me, is 11 letters long and hard to pronounce and my bf’s is only 4! So I’ve actually thought about changing it just for that reason… but then I thin I’m just changing it so it’s easier for *other* people to pronounce. I obviously have no problem with it. Another issue for me is that as I am of south Indian descent, the way a family name is carried is different – it’s not one last name that spans generations – it’s just your fathers first name (of course, again paternal), but due to that I have no real attachment to my last name – it means nothing other than I am my father’s daughter… but do I just want to be my husbands wife? It’s a complicated issue for me, but it’s great to hear stories from other people.

    I do know of a couple who changed both of their names to a new one of their choosing. :)

  • S @ at 2:34 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I’ve been married for close to 4 years and I still get comments from people since I did not change my name. My husband was fine with it; what is important to him is our marriage, our partnership; not my last name.

    The comment that irks me the most is when people say, “You didn’t change your name? Oh, you’re one of those.” My response is always, “Of of those what?” I always throw it back at them – would you ever change your name? I haven’t met a man yet who would.

    As for my MIL, it was very difficult for her. Through the grapevine, I heard her complain to multiple people about how I would not change my name and how (get this) I’m ruining feminism. I don’t get that one.

  • Amy CT @ at 4:36 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I wouldn’t ever change my last name. It’s not just because it’s who I am, but it’s because of the principles, I guess: if I’m going to commit to spending the rest of my life with someone, I want to know that they will accapet my beliefs, and that’s one way I can see of proving it. Does that seem a little… extreme?

    I know that the only reason my mother changed hers was because she detested being an “Elderfield”.

    (The “CT” in my screen-name are for my middle name and surname, not a double-barrelled surname. Just… in case people wondered!)

  • bak @ at 4:38 pm, February 24th, 2010

    Me and my partner have agreed to combine our last names to create a new name!

  • ACW @ at 4:49 pm, February 24th, 2010

    @Juliet: THANK YOU.
    I had no problem taking my husband’s name when I got married, because my father’s name is always misspelled/mispronounced. I completely dropped my maiden name, and use my first/middle/new last. An employer once took 20 minutes to explain to me how what I’d done was ‘wrong’ and that I should have dropped my middle and kept first/maiden/new last. I respectfully disagreed; my mother honored her sister when she gave me my middle name and it was more important to me than keeping the name that had been passed down through the men in my family.
    Now, if my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother hadn’t taken their husband’s surnames, I might have considered keeping my name… but to me, taking my husband’s was no better or worse than keeping my father’s.
    My sister took her first husband’s and felt she lost some of her identity, which she regained in the divorce. With her second marriage, she chose to hyphenate because she’d made considerable efforts to get everyone she knew to recognize her as Ms. (Maiden name), and didn’t want to go through two years of re-introducing herself. People constantly stumble over her hyphenated name, or simply refer to her as Mrs. (Husband’s surname).
    I also once worked for a husband-wife team who had kept their individual surnames. I thought it was great that she still used the name that was printed on all her diplomas and degrees; I thought it was a sign of equality in the marriage and partnership. It was only after witnessing her countless wide-eyed deferrals to her husband’s ridiculous ideas/demands and emotional tirades that I realized that a name is JUST A NAME and doesn’t mean a thing when the foundation of a marriage is flawed. While I agree with the topic of this post in theory, I also feel that, as a society, keeping our father’s surnames is a lower priority than ensuring true equality in daily interactions.

  • Tea @ at 5:47 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I’ve never really considered changing my name. My mother didn’t change hers, so, to me, that’s the norm.

    I have my mother’s maiden name for my middle name and my father’s last name, and I tend to identify by both, although, when seeking anonymity (like my facebook account) I’ll ignore the middle name, which is Greek and extremely uncommon (i.e. when googled, I’m actually related to all of the results). However, I’m not sure I’d want to do the same to my children. My last name is a very mundane adjective, and while I like it for me, it doesn’t really flow particularly well.

  • rockergrrrl @ at 6:34 pm, February 24th, 2010

    My mom kept her last name when she married, and I plan on doing so as well. I have her last name as my middle name. I don’t see the point of going through all the hassle of legally changing my name just to fit into some arbitrary societal norm.

    One thing that I find interesting and very exemplary of our culture is that when my mom books hotels, they often refer to my dad as “mr. (mom’s last name).” and at parent’s days they would make name tags with mr.(dad’s last name) and mrs. (dad’s last name).

  • Alex F @ at 6:39 pm, February 24th, 2010

    I like my last name, haha. Forbes…It’s different, but not too hard to pronounce and stuff. Plus no one can make fun of it (Seriously, Forbes? One kid tried to call me Four-Girl for a awhile. LAME!) So unless my future-hubby has a REALLY cool name, I’m keeping mine!

  • Bree @ at 8:09 pm, February 24th, 2010

    That’s Utah for you. If you’re married and you don’t take your husbands name, they call you by it anyways. You belong to him, and so you go by his name. I feel my last name helps make up who I am, and I’m not going to erase that for a husband. I know a couple (who I deeply admire) where both of them took on a completely new name so that they match, but neither one of them had the advantage.

  • Emily @ at 8:30 pm, February 24th, 2010

    Just for knowledge purpose, what are the 7 states that allow a man to change his name to his wife’s?

  • Julie Z @ at 9:24 pm, February 24th, 2010

    @Emily – the 7 states are California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and North Dakota…or so says wikipedia =)

  • Zoe @ at 10:32 pm, February 24th, 2010

    Although marriage is far, far away in the future for me at this point in life, I’ve already decided to keep my last name. My mom did it. When I asked her once why she didn’t change her last name, she said that it would sound silly if she changed it. I personally love my name, the whole way through. I’m not going to change it just because of marriage.

  • Sophie @ at 10:35 pm, February 24th, 2010

    When my mom married my dad she kept her own name for a few reasons, some serious and some not.
    First of all, in her government position people know her by her unmarried name.
    Secondly; in my moms (and my) culture, it’s customary for the woman to keep her last name, and control the property.
    Thirdly; my mom didn’t feel like going through the trouble.
    The last two reasons are true to some extent, but usually she only mentions them when people ask her why she hasn’t taken my fathers name.
    “He was a commercial fisherman. I didn’t think we would be married this long.” My mom jokes that she thought that it wouldn’t be long before he was lost at sea.
    Lastly, my mom thought that my dad had a fairly generic last name (it ranked at the 15th most common last name as of 2000). Unless it was something exotic, she didn’t really want to go through the trouble of changing it. As she explained to a school secretary while registering my little brother, “If it was something exotic, I would have. But not for Harris.”
    I cannot imagine getting married at the age of sixteen, but if or when I do, I will keep my own name. Not only because of tradition and culture (even if my surname doesn’t reflect it.), but because I simply like it. If the guy I marry doesn’t like that, then he obviously isn’t the one for me.

  • Zoe G @ at 4:00 am, February 25th, 2010

    Finally! I was hoping someone would write an article like this! My mum kept her name and I definitely plan on doing to the same. I just don’t see the point in stripping away your identity to replace it with your husband’s! All that trouble of changing it on every profile/account you own, for what? It’s a tradition that should have died out with corsets and girdles. I’m 14 and a *LONG* way off from getting married, but I know I’m staying Zoe G.!

  • Andy @ at 7:04 pm, February 25th, 2010

    Wow, I did not realize that this was such a big thing for women. I guess I never understood that men expected women to change upon marriage. I thought they were getting married because they loved her for who she is. So dropping a pre-marriage life seems strange to me.

    I knew the origin of the tradition but thought that these days it was more about family unity. Everyone behind the same name, together, unified. That’s why my mom took my dad’s surname and why she hasn’t changed it since the divorce. The last name to me is like it is in the movie Cheaper by the Dozen 2, with the Bakers and Murtaughs. Even though my parents divorced, when they were together there was a distinct sense of unity.

    And then what name does the kid get? Do they have some dorky hyphenated name that sounds funny and annoys anyone who has to read their name aloud?

    This article did make me think, but ultimately I really don’t think I could marry someone if we didn’t have the same last name after tying the knot. Even if that meant coming up with our own last name together. (And no I would never take her last name because it’s emasculating).

  • Lucia @ at 10:23 pm, February 25th, 2010

    @ Andy
    I understand most of your points, but you couldn’t handle taking your wives last name because it’s emasculating? If you think your name is what makes you a man, you’re sorely mistaken.

  • Nancy @ at 2:03 am, March 1st, 2010

    It seems the only fair way out of this is to pick a fresh surname for yourselves when you get married. Something you both agree on. I think keeping your maiden name is retarded – cos it’s your dad’s name or your grandfather’s name.
    Until then, I’d base your decision on whether your husband’s name sounds better than yours and act accordingly. If your maiden name is “Dungface” then change it, if your husband’s name is “Bottomlover” then don’t take it.

  • Amy CT @ at 6:47 am, March 1st, 2010

    @Lucia HERE HERE! :)

  • Cari Noga @ at 9:10 pm, March 2nd, 2010

    Juliet correctly mentions that even a married woman who keeps her birth name(a term I prefer to maiden name)still, in 99 percent of the cases, will have a man’s name – her father’s. There is also the question other have raised about the name children will receive when the couple has different names. Patriarchal lineage does have to be deliberately broken and the only way to do it is to give children mothers’ names. In my family my son has my husband’s last name and my daughter has mine. So we’re even-steven, and there’s a chance, if my daughter keeps her name when/if she marries, to actually start a matrilineal tradition. Please read my website, http://www.matrilinealmatters.com, which advocates for nontraditional name choices.

  • JAG @ at 2:22 pm, March 5th, 2010

    Fascinating! I’m so sorry that I’m coming late to this conversation. Although I’m a self-identified feminist myself, and so is my husband, I found it way more psychologically and socially difficult than I anticipated to keep my name when we got married. I love my name, I go by it at work, and it’s a big part of my identity, but at the same time, it did feel like I wasn’t making as substantial a commitment to my husband and his family, somehow, by not taking his name. (To be perfectly honest, this feeling was exacerbated by the fact that my husband’s brother got married the same summer, and HIS wife took the family name. Sigh.)

    Ever since I made my choice, moreover, I find myself far more secretly judgmental of other women who choose to take their husbands’ names. Actually, even more than feeling judgmental, I feel like the sisterhood has betrayed me and left me hanging out here by myself. (Have I mentioned that I live in Ohio? Yeah.) Plus, the name issue often feels like a passe, “2nd-wave”, unfashionably old-school expression of feminism.

    And no, I don’t know what would happen name-wise for any hypothetical future children. We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.

  • Jaime @ at 6:49 pm, March 5th, 2010

    Why I hear your comments about continuing the patriarchal line with keeping my birth name I think it can’t be overlooked that, I am a Navarro! I hear amazing stories here of mothers before who have resisted this tradition and started a new line with there names but that is not my story, I have my fathers name and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m more sad that my mother was just expected to give her name up and she and my father never even talked about it.
    I don’t think there is a right answer here and I hope my article doesn’t suggest that, I think what is wrong in the situation is the expectation, the assumption that it’s easier for women to do. My argument is for communication between the spouses about why your doing this and what it means, because it does mean something.

  • Harry Helmus @ at 2:49 am, March 8th, 2010

    thanks, Keep up the Great work :)

  • Grace @ at 11:38 am, April 22nd, 2010

    My husband and I went through this too. We wanted to have the same last name so we ended up sharing. We both have a hyphented last name made up our our previous surnames. I’ve been called everything from “anti-religious” to feminist (not bad). Also my MIL still address male to Mr. and Mrs. First name of husband and our last name. It wasn’t hard for him to hypente or humiliating, btw.

  • Grace @ at 11:39 am, April 22nd, 2010

    *Mail not male. Freudian slip!

  • Sarah @ at 7:26 pm, May 9th, 2010

    Interestingly, I just had this discussion with my boyfriend, when I said if we got married, I’d quite like to keep my last name. I’ve done a fair bit of delving into my family history lately, and whilst I once couldn’t wait to change it (mostly due to a rocky relationship with my Dad), I’ve become rather fond of it. I feel connected to my ancestors, some of whom have inspired me no end, and as this generation is all women, I would feel sad to let it go.

    My boyfriend used the ‘tradition’ argument, which I immediately obliterated (so were human sacrifices. we got over that.) But one that really struck me was this whole idea of ‘family’, and the idea that in some ways it would feel like I was slightly excluded somehow. Obviously I wouldn’t be, but I can understand the implication of it.

    I asked if he would be prepared to take my name instead, but he’s worried that it would upset his Dad, and of the stigma attached to it (whilst I understand that we should fight it, living with it in a testosterone filled military environment everyday would be difficult.)

    I don’t really see this as a refelction of misogyny on my boyfriend, more of a reflection of the ideals society instils in us. And I think that on some basic level, he feels my rejection of his name might be a rejection of him and his family.

    So, although I haven’t made an absolute decision, at the very least I will continue calling myself Ms. (he got a bit uppity about this- “How will people know that you’re married”, “I could ask the same of you”, “I’ll be wearing a ring!”, “…so will I”. Argument successfully won.

  • Lorraine @ at 12:40 pm, July 13th, 2010

    I am “so unorthodox”.
    Now in my late twenties, I married at 19 and jumped at the chance to take my (now ex) husband’s last name. I had bad associations with my “maiden” name, and had never liked it; my ex-husband had a hyphenated last name, the first part of which was his mother’s maiden name. This name was actually really awesome, and I really liked the fact that it came from his mother, who had chosen never to marry. I was also very close to her, and not close with my dad.

    HOWEVER, we have now been divorced for years, and…I still have his name (no kids)! The connection I feel with this name compared to my “maiden” name is far greater and more positive; all of my degrees appear in this name, and everyone I have met since the age of 19 knows me by this name. It truly feels like MY name. As an aside, it rhymes with my middle name and now all three of my names (first, last, middle) are (1)French in origin, and (2)8 letters. Strange.

    Now to the good stuff.

    Not only has my family taken years to adjust to my decision (some on my dad’s side were quite bothered that I didn’t “take the name back”) but you can imagine the conversation with serious boyfriends I have had about my plans to keep my name.

    Boyfriend: So, if we ever got married, what would you do about your ex-husband’s name? Would you change it?

    Me: Hmm…I don’t think so. It’s actually my name and I really like it.

    Boyfriend: Wow, I wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to keep your maiden name, but I have to admit that I can’t help but be bothered by the fact that my wife would rather have her EX-husband’s last name than my own!

    Me: It really has nothing to do with your last name. It has to do with the fact that I’ve had this name my entire adult life and I really like it and want to keep it. I didn’t change it because I “wanted my husband’s name”; I changed it because I liked the name and had more positive associations with it compared to my maiden name.

    Boyfriend: Hmmm..well I guess that’s understandable. It’s your choice of course, but I hope you understand it’s not my preference. It will be kind of embarrassing explaining that to people.

    Me: I don’t think that will be a problem.

    Boyfriend: WAIT A MINUTE…what happens when we have KIDS?! They’ll know that their mom chose her EX husbands last name over their own father’s!?!

    Me: Yep. And hopefully they’ll be stronger feminists for it.

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