Today’s letters

March 7th, 2010

The letters in today’s Globe magazine were an interesting lot. As you might imagine, plenty of them chose to take on “The Ms. Myth,” an article about how most women continue to take their husbands’ last names. The first one got at the thing that most bothered me about the article — the idea that if you take your husband’s last name, you are automatically a “Mrs.” Not so. I’m a “Ms.,” and have been through three last names.

There’s the usual “Last time I checked, my maiden name came from my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., so forgive me if I can’t see how keeping it and not taking my husband’s name is some feminist act” response, as well. This used to make sense to me, until some writer pointed out that this idea presumes that women don’t actually have last names, we are given them by men. No. All three of the last names I have been known by felt like me, and a good part of the reason that I took my first and second husbands’ last names was because I was ready for a change in identity, a new last name to mark a new phase in my life.

My birth name, incidentally, was “Lent.” The same issue that featured “The Ms. Myth” on the cover also featured an article on Lent that was highlighted on the cover as “Lent is for Everyone” or something like that. (Sorry, I don’t have a hard copy and can’t read the tiny cover script online.) As you can imagine, that amused me no end — the reason I took my first husband’s last name, Pearce, is some evidence that Lent is not for everyone.

And it didn’t have to do with any feeling that I ought to take my husband’s last name, or certainly any feeling against my parents or my father of blessed memory. It was Robin Lent I was tired of: tired of being a child, tired of my socially alienated self, ready to grow up and enter a new phase of my life. Which is why, when I got divorced, the notion of returning to my birth name wasn’t even an option. I was Robin Pearce. It didn’t matter where I “got” the name: it was mine. I don’t feel as though my clothing is any less my own because I don’t spin the wool, weave the fabric, and sew it myself — it’s mine because I wear it, and it expresses who I am. So too with my last names.

It felt so much like me that I hesitated a bit before taking “Abrahams” when Mr. Improbable and I married. But I did, because, again, it seemed that a major life transition was underway: not only was I getting married after a long time of being single, but I was getting my doctorate and already planning to convert to Judaism. I liked the idea of us both having the same last name; it made us seem more of a team somehow. And I wanted a Jewish last name to go with my new identity as a Jew. (Although, if he’d been named “Lipschitz,” I might have reconsidered. And I do go to a Reform temple so liberal that our current president’s last name is “McIntosh.”)

Lent, Pearce, Abrahams — different names, all mine, all denoting different phases of my life. I wonder if changing one’s name were more common in this culture, if it weren’t bound up with marriage traditions, but something that people could simply do or not do as they see fit, with no feminist/patriarchal/family baggage around it, who would? And when?

When in your life would you have changed your name, and what to, and why?

(There were also some letters about my February 7 response to the woman who was overcome with emotion — not repulsion, as the headline said, I didn’t write that — about her granddaughter’s amputated leg. More on that later, because I’ve already gone on much longer than I planned to with this name business!)


41 Responses to “Today’s letters”

  1. phira on March 7, 2010 1:14 pm

    I actually heard a story about a couple who chose a completely different last name for each of them when they got married; I really liked that idea. Because it’s true; my current last name is my dad’s last name, and even if I switched it to my mom’s last name, that would be my grandfather’s last name, etc.

    For me, I like my last name, and I think it suits me. I definitely don’t see an issue with the choice to take a spouse’s last name; it’s a choice we should all be able to make.

    Right now, though, it’s extremely easy for women to change last names when they marry, but extremely complicated for men. That doesn’t make sense to me at all (well, it does because I was a women’s studies major, but I mean in terms of an egalitarian society). So while I don’t see a woman taking her husband’s last name as an ANTI-feminist act, I DO see a woman refusing to do so as a feminist act.

    As for when I would have changed my name and why, I used to want to change my name to Crystal. But I was in 1st grade, so I think it was a phase thing. I also was considering changing my last name to my mother’s maiden name; I’m estranged from my father and much of his family. While I like my name, I do resent the fact that I have to carry his last name. But I’m aware that my siblings and paternal grandparents would be so angry with me that it would be easier for me to just deal with the fact that I have my dad’s last name.

  2. jane on March 7, 2010 2:26 pm

    Tyne Daly, as the mother on the now-off-air TV show Judging Amy, was getting remarried late in life. Her granddaughter asked her if she was going to change her name (again) and she said no. She was asked why and she said something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here) “this is the name I became an adult with. I became me with this name.” I thing Robin A. very much echos this sentiment with her post, and I like it very much. While I agree for egalitarian reasons it should be equally easy for men and women to change their names, I have enjoyed my switch into my adult name. It is with this name I became the mother to my children, and I simply can’t imagine having a different last name than they do (be it my husband’s name or anything else).

  3. Jerry on March 7, 2010 3:50 pm

    I would have made my nickname ‘Jerry’ my official first name at birth, because my real first name has such unusual spelling and pronunciation that after my dad (who had the same name) passed away, I started making it ‘Jerry’ (and leaving off the ‘Jr.’) on all of my bank accounts, credit cards, etc. The IRS and the DMV are the only ones who still have the old name.

    Oh, and it’s my email address. Occasionally uniquity is good.

  4. liza on March 7, 2010 4:20 pm

    When I was 7, my mother married her second husband. I was asked to choose a last name for my sister, then 3, and me – either our original name or our step-father’s. I gave it quite a bit of thought and decided to keep the name I was born with.

    When I married the first time, my husband wanted us to have the same name in order to “feel like we were a family.” Having made the decision once, I felt it was made for good. He was bothered. His parents were bothered. I finally told him I’d be very proud if he wanted to take my name. Within a few seconds, he’d backed off of the whole idea.

    When I married the second time, my husband didn’t even bother to discuss it with me. I don’t think he cared, and I did. We like to say that we both kept our birth names.

  5. JP on March 7, 2010 7:22 pm

    I changed my name when I got married. Well, I added my last name to my middle name, and made my husband’s name my last name. I had some misgivings about changing my name not being feminist. But really, being a feminist is about doing what’s right for you.
    I wanted us to have one family last name. And I always thought couple should go with whichever name was “better.” Better to me meant easy.
    He was willing to hyphenate with me, but preferred to pick a whole new name (as I had a difficult name). I didn’t want to saddle our kids with a difficult, hyphenated name, nor did I want to put him through the hassle of changing his name. As others have noted, it’s ridiculously difficult for men. It was enough for me that he offered.
    I didn’t join the patriarchy, I didn’t marry a patriarchal man.
    I did keep my birth name at work, so I rarely use my legal name. They’re all me though.

  6. ATF on March 7, 2010 7:41 pm

    I’m still single and 30 at the moment. I’ve given this a lot of thought over various relationships and in general. And I’m going to keep my last name if I ever get married. I love my name, especially my last name. It is who I am and I sincerely have no desire to ever change it.

    I can see the argument from both sides, as I do most I can imagine. The way society is constructed is that we take the same last name to form cohesive family units in the minds of others. And I’m cool with that. Whomever I marry can feel free to take my last name if he wants. It’s one of the better ones out there as it is. I think it’s silly that it’s weird for men to take their wives last names. I just don’t see the big deal. “Oh, it’s Mark Suchandsuch now. Yeah, got married a few years ago”.

  7. Shulamuth on March 7, 2010 8:54 pm

    I’ve never changed my name, although I did demand, at about age 12, that people USE my first name (Sarah) instead of the nickname my folks had stuck me with (Sally — and I went to a “Dick, Jane and Sally” school and had curly hair, so it was a trial).

    I married at 33. The main reason we both kept our original names (as opposed to a combination, or new choice) was that both of us felt we’d established ourselves as grown-ups under the names we used, and that was who we “were”.

    When we first got an internet account, though, it was shared, and the login was taken from a combination of our names. Although I’ve been widowed 15 years, I still use it, and I know that some people assume it’s my last name. You can’t win for losing.

  8. Shulamuth on March 7, 2010 8:57 pm

    Just remembering — when my husband’s ex (and the mother of my [step] children) decided to change from using my ex’s last name (a couple of years after he and I married), she chose for many reasons her mother’s maiden name, “Winter”. I remember trying to convince spouse and kids that they should take as last names “Summer”, “Fall” and “Spring”, but got no takes.

  9. Eager Ears on March 7, 2010 9:19 pm

    I’m another person that loves my birth name — if I ever get married I will definitely keep it, both for professional reasons, and because its meaning is special to me. It means something like “pure of heart” in another language, and purity of heart is really important to me, so I love having that be in my name. My middle name is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, so I also have a name heritage from her.

    However, I can totally understand that other women would decide to change their names — it’s interesting to see people’s different reasons. My Mom changed her name and didn’t care much — she says that she just went from one always-pronounced-wrong name to another!

  10. Stupendousness on March 7, 2010 10:34 pm

    I changed my name when I got married. I had wanted to change my name since I was 15 and had a male classmate who talked about changing his name as soon as he turned 18 (he hated his family). I realized I could change my name to whatever I wanted without having to marry.

    I had never identified with my birth surname and even felt disconnected from my first name (still do, and my siblings have a nickname for me and I go by a name I actually like online, so my first name feels a bit formal to me). In junior high and high school, my brother, just one year older, was often called by our last name because he was in football, so I started to think of our last name as being more his. My father, though I love him dearly, is a bigot and his whole side of the family is even worse, along with many other things I don’t like. I don’t keep in touch with them at all. I was happy to be rid of the name and the associations I had with it.

    There’s a very frequent question or comment that people, usually women, make about those of us who change our names. “But your name is part of your identity! How could you shirk off a part of yourself like that?” That’s just it though – that name never was me.

    So I don’t feel that I am less of a feminist for changing my name. However, I chose to make life easier for me and wait until I got married, which I did at age 22. Like I said, I love my dad, and I think changing my name out of the blue would have hurt his feelings. I guess that might make me less of a feminist in some people’s eyes, but I don’t care.

    I met my husband when I was 19, so we’ve grown up together. His family was completely accepting of me from the very beginning – inviting me to all family gatherings and such. They are such kind and accepting people, so I feel more connected to them in ways that I don’t my own family.
    Taking his name when we legalized our commitment was easy for me to do, emotionally I mean. It fits me and feels right on me. My husband did not care at all what I did. We didn’t even have a discussion about it really because he didn’t feel that his input should have any bearing on my decision.

  11. Stupendousness on March 7, 2010 10:42 pm

    Oh, and I know of two couples off the top of my head in which both changed their names to something different, not hyphenated. One couple blended their birth surnames into one name, and the other took on the term for a subatomic particle as their surname. Pretty cool…I was a little jealous actually.

  12. Amy R. on March 7, 2010 11:01 pm

    My boyfriend and I have almost the same last name — think Motti and Mutto. I joke that if we get married, I’d hyphenate because Motti-Mutto would sound hilarious, but I would probably take his name. It’s only two letters, it’s the same ethnicity, and, hey, my signature would even stay the same. But maybe all this is just because my option right now is so close to what I already have.

  13. Gnatalby on March 8, 2010 4:33 am

    If I had married my first serious boyfriend (sidebar: thank god I didn’t) I would have taken his last name since it would be an upgrade from my cumbersome ethnic last name of difficult spelling.

    Plus his last name is really, really good.

    But now I have two degrees, so I will never change my name, because I think it would be weird to have diplomas that are for someone else whose name I no longer share.

  14. Molly on March 8, 2010 7:56 am

    I read this in the letters section:

    “We could always go back to using our first names and places of residence or our professions.”

    And I realized that that’s pretty much what Spouse and I did…we’re musicians, and the last name we chose means “song”.

    We wanted to have the same last name, and our original last names were three syllables each, so hyphenation would have been cumbersome, and they didn’t combine gracefully.

    The only downside is that people tend to assume we’re related by blood, since we have the same last name. This is vexing because people seem more likely to assume that two opposite-sex people of similar age are probably married, but since we’re the same sex, we’re sisters. (Or worse, mother and daughter…I’m older, but not THAT much older!)

  15. akmom on March 8, 2010 8:06 am

    Shortly after we got engaged, I mentioned something about changing my name, and my dear one was surprised. He had assumed that I wouldn’t.

    I agree that feminism is about making the choice that feels right to you. To me, it was that I was choosing to share the rest of my life with this man, and sharing a name felt natural to me. I know people who chose a whole new name together, and I think that’s a fantastic option, but I didn’t feel like I needed to do that.

  16. JoGeek on March 8, 2010 12:41 pm

    I think names can be an important aspect of changing life phases. At the end of high school I got involved with a local BBS (yes kids, there was social networking on computers before the www) and chose a user name that reflected who I wanted to become. Gradually my circle of friends shifted to those who knew me by my new name and it felt more like me than the one I was born with. Maybe it comes from having grown up in an online world, but nearly all my current friends have two names (birth name and online nickname) or more. The chosen name often seems to better reflect who they are, and they change when the person goes through life transitions. It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds, although I have to sometimes make sure I’m calling a friend by the right name in the right setting, depending on if other people there are friends or family.

    I haven’t legally changed my name, but I don’t think I’d take my current S/O’s last name if we married. We’re both closer to my family than his, so it’s possible he’d take mine, or we’d each keep our own, or we’d come up with a third option and both change.

  17. Shulamuth on March 8, 2010 1:04 pm

    Molly, despite different last names, people used to assume that my husband and I were siblings all the time, because we looked quite a lot like each other and because the kids (who look much more like their biological mother) called us “Dad” and “Sarah”. So it’s not just same-sex (although I agree it more often is).

  18. occhiblu on March 8, 2010 2:24 pm

    I’ve never particularly liked my name (first, middle, or last), but I can’t imagine ever changing it. It’s what has designated *me* since I was born. It’s on my diplomas, it’s on the books I’ve edited and the articles I’ve written, it’s what everyone has called me from day one.

    I’ve changed a great deal over the course of my life, but I like the idea that all that change has been done by one person; my name holds the past, present, and future me’s together and, paradoxically, reinforces the fluidity of identity. I think it’s miraculous that the person who did all those weird and wonderful things in the past is still me, and that I will do even more weird and wonderful things in the future, and I will change my mind about things and reinterpret past events and probably change my whole outlook on life, and yet I will still be bound up in the same body and hold the same name. Changing my name would feel like a rejection of our human ability to grow and progress and adapt and learn.

  19. RP on March 8, 2010 2:36 pm

    I have a unique name, and never wanted to change it (outside of occasional passing desire to change my middle name to my mom’s birth name). One offshoot of the uniqueness of my last name is that I can’t imagine sleeping with someone with the same last name as mine – it seems rather incestuous. I mean, everyone with my last name *is* related to me after all!

    One advantage to having a different name than one’s spouse is that any phone calls to “Mr. Me” or “Mrs. Him” can be answered by “I’m sorry, there’s no such person here – goodbye”.

  20. Clare on March 8, 2010 7:38 pm

    I did not change my last name when I married. I like the idea of a family sharing a name, but I resent the assumption that the woman is the one who has to change her name for this to happen. It is patriarchal; assigning something a name is the first way to lay claim to it. My husband didn’t understand my refusal, until I suggested that he take my name if sharing a name was that important to him. Every objection he had to changing HIS name were the objections I had to changing MY name. I would’ve gladly combined our names, or added his if he’d added mine. I liked that symbolism: new names and new life for both of us. He was set on our sharing his name, though he did come to understand and support my reasoning.

    And yes, my last name is the same as my father’s last name. But it is the name my parents chose to give me when I was born, which makes it mine.

  21. akmom on March 8, 2010 9:11 pm

    Clare – I agree that the assumption that the woman must change is a poor one. In our case, it was me who felt that it was important that we share a name, so I felt that the burden of change was on me. If we had felt equally strongly, or if he were the one with the stronger feelings, we might have come up with a different solution.

    I just read yesterday’s magazine, and almost spit my drink out onto the letter claiming that choosing to change one’s name is a sign of immaturity. I think that the critical bit here is that it’s a CHOICE, and that people have all kinds of reasons for making whatever choice – whether it’s changing someone’s name or not. Denigrating anyone’s choice in that way is obnoxious.

  22. bluemoose on March 9, 2010 10:02 am

    I wish this discussion, right here, happened more often. It would make me feel better about the fact that there are no women from my (small, liberal women’s collge) class year who have kept their birth names after marriage. A few have hyphenated. Most of the ones I’ve talked to about it changed their last name to their husband’s because he wanted it, it was important to him, and it was “easier.” I’m sorry, but easier is, to me, a cop out. We were being taught to think critically when I knew these women first, but the promise of a wedding (!!) seems to drive a lot of critical thought into the closet.

    I, personally, have grown into my name. I grew up with friends and family using a diminutive form of my middle name, and now, professionally, use my full three part name. I am proud of what I’ve done with it, I want to someday publish under it, and my name just fits — the parts fit together, and it has become me.

    I completely understand those who do not feel that way. But “easier” … well, it just chafes.

  23. Fillyjonk on March 9, 2010 12:12 pm

    a good part of the reason that I took my first and second husbands’ last names was because I was ready for a change in identity, a new last name to mark a new phase in my life.

    THANK YOU. This is exactly why I changed my name, and I have often felt very judged about it — nobody really seems to buy this rationale. I tried to explain once that my husband’s last name is significantly identity-constitutive for him — people use it when talking to him, he uses his initials frequently, he identifies with his full name in a way I don’t. That’s why I changed instead of him — I don’t identify strongly with any of my names but I was ready to shake things up, whereas his original full name is very bound up in who he is. I got pushback on that — like how come I don’t identify with my name strongly enough that I’m not willing to try on a new one? Er, I don’t know, because I don’t.

    I’m not saying I didn’t have a twinge about it, but it was the same twinge that you get any time you differentiate yourself from a younger, parent-based identity. It was, essentially, the twinge of approaching my 30s — which is exactly what I thought it ought to commemorate.

  24. Ajay on March 9, 2010 3:36 pm

    My husband’s father and uncle both changed their names as young men, from a distinctively Russian Jewish surname to the blandest, least ethnic name they could conceive of. This was in the 1940′s, I think just before they joined the navy. I kept my name when we got married, but we always planned to “restore” that original family name when we had children. Well, children weren’t in the cards for us, so we each keep our birth names.

    I still get grief for not taking my father-in-law’s choice of surname!

  25. Allstonian on March 9, 2010 4:06 pm

    I came of age in the feminist early 70s and always assumed that I would keep my own name, but when I finally got married, quite late in life, I realized that I wouldn’t mind changing my name if my husband felt strongly about it. To my amusement, he did – he felt strongly that I should keep my own name! He has an undergrad minor in women’s studies and a sensitivity to women’s issues, and is also a writer with an interest in identity issues in general. He felt that my birth name was so unique and so well suited to who I am (thanks, mom!) that it would be a shame to change it.

    I’ve actually know of a couple of men who changed their names when they married. The one I knew best told me that he’d never liked his birth name, so he took his wife’s name, much as other commenters above did.

  26. Eeeeka on March 9, 2010 4:26 pm

    I wanted to combine our last names when we got married to “Limerick.” Somehow he didn’t like that idea so much. :)

    I changed my name when I got married mostly because it didn’t occur to me not to. I wasn’t overly attached to my last name, though I did keep it by adding it to my middle name. (The RMV has *no* idea what to do with someone with two middle names.) He didn’t ask me to change it, and I didn’t really care. Looking back now, it felt like a change of person a little. I was going to be someone a little different now, so making a little change seemed warranted.

  27. Elizabeth on March 9, 2010 4:38 pm

    My brother and sister-in-law changed their last name (to a made-up one – they looked for a combination of their names, but it was impossible to come up with anything that didn’t sound dreadful), seven years after they married, when they were expecting their second child. She had taken his name, but never felt comfortable about it. I had just gotten married a month before and had taken my husband’s name.

    My mother was [i]devastated[/i]. She still doesn’t understand, although she has come to accept it (this was eleven years ago). She felt that it was cutting off my father’s name – now no one will carry it into the next generation. I might actually have made a different choice when I married if they hadn’t picked that timing to do it, although I’m not sure about that. I’m sure she would have had an easier time with it if they had done it at marriage, instead of so many years later.

  28. JP Gal on March 9, 2010 4:55 pm

    At a garage sale once when I was much younger, I found an old photo a woman from the 1800s. She was seated alone and on the back was written, with a quill pen, “Daughter of [name]; Wife of [name]; Mother of [name].” That woman’s name never appeared; just her father’s, her husband’s, and her son’s. It made me very sad.

    I’ve always looked at this issue through a pretty simple lens: so long as most women are changing their names when they marry and most men are not, it’s significant and we can’t pretend that it’s not gendered or political. Sorry! But reading your post, Robin, and the letters here, I’ve realized something new.

    In this country, at least, women still grow up immersed in the expectation that we will marry and take a new name. Maybe, because of that, we never really feel like we “own” our names in the same way men do. After all, men expect that when they become adults, they will have the power to bestow their names on others — a whole family, in fact! — while on what popular culture still defines as the most important day of our lives (argh), when we become adults, we are expected to give up the identity under which we have done our life’s work up to that moment. This has never made a lot of sense to me, but then again, I grew up knowing that I was gay and therefore would never marry (hah!), so I never expected to change my name. And when I did get married, we both kept our names.

    But if I’m right that in our culture women and men have different views of and relationships to their names, no wonder so many women have written here that it was just “easier” and no big deal to take their husband’s name when they married. But wouldn’t it be cool to have the power to give your name to someone else? And why don’t we expect men to show their love by taking our names, since that seems to be what most of us expect of ourselves?

  29. Clare on March 10, 2010 9:41 am

    My immigrant great-grandmother is buried under her maiden name — it says on her tombstone something like, “Anne Smith, beloved wife of John Jones.” Many graves have this wording. I asked my dad, and he said in the Irish Catholic community in the nineteenth century, the Church gave sacraments to people under the same name throughout their lives. So, last rites were given under the baptismal (ie maiden) name. My Irish grandmother, who married in the 30s in this country did change her name legally, was known within her neighborhood by her maiden name. [During the famine in the 1840s, many British observers noted that Irish women retained their birth names upon marriage, and found this yet more evidence of the barbarity of the Irish.]

    I think in Quebec, women do not (are not legally allowed? I’m not sure) change their names, which was also true in France and maybe even Italy during the 18th/19th centuries. And I know many Italian women who have not taken their husbands’ names. And the Hispanic custom of using both parents’ names as the surname, with a married woman adding her husband’s name as “de XXX” if she choses is another custom.

    I like JP Gal’s analysis that women in this country grow up with the expectation of changing their names, and often associate name change with loyalty to the husband. I have had more than one person assume (and tell me to my face) that I must not love my husband and would more easily leave him since I did not change my name.

  30. Amy on March 10, 2010 10:01 am

    To Amy R from another Amy – my husband and I had almost the same last name too – Smith and Swift – not only hilarious if hyphenated but also a mouthful. We’re the Smifts now and I love it. We thought about him just taking mine (Swift, we agreed Smith was too boring and didn’t like the woman-changes-by-default thing) but for us giving each other part of our name and combining was the perfect symbolism, and now we have a nifty and unusual name. So, Motto! Mutti! Consider it! ::grin::

  31. akmom on March 10, 2010 1:16 pm

    JP Gal, you make a great point. On the other hand, I didn’t particularly care for my birth surname and *really* didn’t care for the man it came from, so why would I want to give it to anyone else? I’ve given names to my children. My daughter’s first name is a family name shared by my mother, her mother, and her grandmother. Her middle name is my first name. Both children share their father’s surname, which I chose to share as well.

    It’s a choice. Whatever someone’s reason is for their choice, don’t knock it.

  32. JP Gal on March 10, 2010 2:29 pm

    Hi Akmom,

    Thanks for your response. I’ve been a fan of yours for as long as I’ve been reading Robin’s blogs!

    All things being equal, sure, it’s probably best not to knock another person’s choice (although Robin invited a conversation and I thought I was conversating, not knocking!). But when all things are NOT equal (you may disagree with me here, but in my experience women are still expected to take their husband’s names when they marry and are criticized when they don’t, and folks are bewildered when a man takes his wife’s name when he marries), doing what’s “easiest” by definition perpetuates that inequality. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do what’s easiest and best for you (after all, we all need to pick our battles and live to fight another day), but surely you agree that our “choices” and our very concept of what options are genuinely open to us are very much influenced by custom, culture, and conditioning?

  33. akmom on March 10, 2010 4:42 pm

    JPGal, thanks! I always look forward to reading your thoughtful comments, as well. :)

    I admit, I’m feeling a little defensive.

    It’s not my experience that women are expected to take their husbands’ names any more, necessarily. In fact, my own husband was surprised that I wanted to take his name. I know numerous women who kept their own names, and several couples who took a new name together, and I don’t think most of them got much grief. I know some people who found it a little unusual when one couple took a whole new name, but unusual in a ‘hey, that’s pretty cool’ way, not a ‘what are you, nuts?’ way.

    I agree that our choices are influenced as you suggest. On the other hand, I would argue that changing my name wasn’t particularly easy. It was, in fact, a pain in the neck. So much so, that 13 years later, I still have one bank account in my birth name. I actually got flak from people because I chose to change my name. Thinking about my kids’ friends’ parents, I think there are more families with ‘non-traditional’ choices than those who share the father’s surname. I don’t live in Cambridge or somewhere particularly forward-thinking, either. I feel hopeful that by the time my children get married, people really won’t give two hoots about the choice that a couple makes about names, as it should be.

  34. JP Gal on March 10, 2010 6:30 pm

    Hi again, Akmom!

    I realized after I wrote my response that you might feel that I was criticizing you, and that wasn’t my intent at all. Your thoughtful description of the names you have chosen for your children and why you took your husband’s name certainly persuaded me that you made a wise and good decision for yourself and your family.

    I was talking more about all the women I have heard say about this issue (and countless others) that they changed their names because it didn’t matter to them and it did to their husbands, or because it was just easier that way. Until reading Robin’s post and the comments, I really didn’t understand how it could not matter to someone! And that’s why I jumped in and wrote my first comment.

    And then your use of the word “choice” in your response triggered a whole avalanche of responses in me, which I tried to summarize rationally and succinctly, without going off topic entirely. Which I could easily do again and at length at this moment, so I’ll stop here. I, too, hope we get to a place where all couples do what’s best for them and are enthusiastically supported by their friends and families — in the naming department and everywhere else, too!

  35. Stupendousness on March 11, 2010 1:18 am

    …so long as most women are changing their names when they marry and most men are not, it’s significant and we can’t pretend that it’s not gendered or political.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with you there JP Gal. Your point that women are basically raised to not be as attached to their names as men are is a valid one, but I’m not sure how big of a contribution it is to the individual woman’s thought processes.

    I know for me, I grew up with a lot of “We are the [Smiths*], and you are a [Smith], and this is how we do things in this family.” Or, “You’re just like a [Smith]!” There was actually plenty of family-identity-birth-surname reinforcement from my parents and siblings during my childhood. (Nonetheless, I, personally, still didn’t feel much attachment to the name itself.)

    I don’t know, maybe it’s a part of little girls’ fantasies? Those same little girls who dream about their wedding days and plan it out before they’re even 18. I never did that, and I never had the thought “Someday I’ll be Mrs. John Doe! *sigh*” I was aware of traditional gender roles from a young age and didn’t like them, so questioning all of the attachments came natural to me.

    That’s the root problem – gender norms are still enforced, and name-changing is one small part of that. My personal experience, living in central Texas, is that I was not expected to change my name and no one cared what I did. So this particular tradition is changing, and I think in the majority of the U.S. I hope. A thorough survey would be nice eh?
    In any case, I changed my name and lots of people have asked me why (usually with a tone to their voice that means, “Are you crazy?”). Which would be strange if we were still living in a solidly pro-name-changing country.

    *Real name was not Smith.

  36. occhiblu on March 11, 2010 2:30 am

    There has been a study:

    Newly minted brides should do more than vow to love their hubbies for a lifetime, say the majority of Americans. Some 70 percent of the respondents in a new study feel they should also take their spouse’s surname – and 50 percent say that it should be a legal requirement for a woman to take her spouse’s last name.

    While many of us don’t feel pressure one way or the other, it’s pretty empirically proven that the pressure still exists for women to change their names. Strongly.

  37. Stupendousness on March 11, 2010 5:46 pm

    Yes, others have pointed that survey out. I cannot find a written report of that survey directly from the surveyors. 815 respondents is not an impressive survey sample to me, not when there are millions of American adults and views on this sort of issue vary greatly by region. I want better data.

  38. Robin on March 11, 2010 8:12 pm

    This is a really fascinating discussion! I felt like I more or less stated my piece in the blog post, so I haven’t commented much. But I am now compelled to. Because you know what I was seriously not expecting to happen when I chose to take my husband’s last name?

    That a man with my name, from the same town my husband was born in, would be convicted of child rape.

    There are some days Google Alerts tells you things you would really, really rather not know.

  39. JP Gal on March 12, 2010 10:03 am

    Egad, Robin! We really are living in the TMI age.

    Stupendousness, methinks thou dost protest too much. I believe things are changing, too, but the truth is that the majority of women in this country do take their husband’s names when they marry, and some don’t even know that they have a choice. Robin’s story is a bit unusual, as my experience has been that women who marry later in life tend to keep the name they had before their marriage. But take a look at the birth announcements on boston.com today. There are five. In all five, as far as I can tell, the opposite-sex couple is married, the wife has taken the husband’s last name, and the baby has been given the husband’s last name. Some have been given the mother’s “maiden name” as their middle name, as several commenters here have also done. Why isn’t there one child with his or her mother’s last name, or even a hyphenated last name?

    But my point was never about statistics, but only to share my experience on this issue, just like all of the other commenters. I’ll continue to be mystified that women given up their names today just as we had to when we were the property of men and had no choice. But I do understand it a bit differently now, thanks to this column and all of the comments. I hope folks reading my comments might think about the issue differently, too.

  40. Noel on March 17, 2010 2:08 pm

    I agree with JP Gal that the pressure for a woman to change her name once she’s married is very real and present.
    I chose to keep my name, as I knew I always would.
    Because of this, my marriage is second-guessed any time my husband or I try to do anything on behalf of the other. He cannot get a parking permit on my behalf because we do not share the same last name. I cannot check us into a hotel room under his name because we do not share a surname.
    Once he was pulled over for speeding, and when the officer saw the registration in my name and asked who I was, my husband responded that i was his spouse. The officer then said “Oh, so you married one of those ‘independent’ women? I told my girlfriend that if she didn’t want my name, then we wouldn’t get married.”
    Basically insinuating that my husband is emasculated because I didn’t change my name to his.I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard women say they took their husband’s names because “it’s easier” than having different surnames.

    All of this wouldn’t bother me if the number of men taking their wife’s name were in proportion to women taking their husband’s names. But that’s not the way things are.
    Until those of us who choose to keep our names have the same privilages and ease in society as those who do not, this will remain a very real issue.

  41. tg on March 18, 2010 10:10 am

    I wish the process for changing names were much easier for all parties who wished to do so. (In my state, we could have simply signed the marriage certificate with whatever new names we wanted.) The legal part would have been easy, but the follow-up painstaking (imo). Three months before my wedding, a coworker who sat behind me was married and changed her name. She was on the phone every day talking to a bank, soc. sec, DMV, mortgage holder, and on and on about changing her name. It seemed endless and more work than it was worth for something neither of us felt very strongly about changing.

    My name is unique. I saw the trouble my grandmother ran into with another woman with her name and similar birthday and the same medical provider getting records occasionally mixed up. There is a woman with my first name, my husband’s last name in a neighboring town, so I’m glad I kept it.

    That was just my choice, though, and I want everyone to be able to make the choices they want.

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