When I got married I took my husband’s last name. At the time most of the married ladies I knew in my generation had kept their maiden names. Same with the women I knew who were slightly older. My mother’s generation, however, took their husbands’ names.
Eventually more of my acquaintances got married and I knew a few more ladies using their husband’s name, but I still kept reading stuff about how women who change their names are ridiculous. These stories are usually not quite that blunt, but the subtext is clear; it’s a stupid, sexist tradition that needs to die and you can’t be a proper feminist if you become Mrs Husband’s-Name. When I think about it, it’s true that the people who I know who changed their name seem to be a bit more traditional than I am. So it is kinda weird that I did it, but is it truly ridiculous?
There are really good reasons why some women keep their name after marriage. I don’t think changing is something everyone should do. Some women feel that they’ve lived with one name thus far into their life and they just have no inclination to change it. Cool. Some women have great achievements, academic or otherwise, and public work under their name. They’ve got amazing SEO and a professional reputation. They don’t want to start from scratch with a new name when marriage coincides with a strategic point in their career. These reasons are beyond fair. None of them applied to me.
I do think that there’s too much emphasis on what women are going to do with their name after marriage, as opposed to the emphasis being on the couple in question needing to have an open conversation about it. Why is the onus only on the women? If a couple are interested in sharing one surname between them, it’s not just the woman who has the option to change.
Maybe one partner has a boring name while the other’s is more interesting, or rare. Maybe the names work really well together double barreled, or even blended into a new name. Maybe one has a funny last name that’s been kind of embarrassing to grow up with and they don’t want their kids to have deal with the same bollocks. Maybe one person’s name is associated with someone or something they do not want to be reminded of. Like, an absent father or a famous serial killer. Or it’s a well respected family name in your location and it would be advantageous for both partners to use this and forever be associated with it. These things could all viably affect the choice of surname for a couple, and could be equally applicable to the man’s name or the woman’s.
Maybe this is easier if you’re not a heterosexual couple. Then you can really discuss the pros and cons of sharing a name vs keeping your own names without the weight of tradition and societal expectations messing with your head as much.
I just think it’s worth a conversation. Incidentally, I think it’s a bit weird when a woman double barrels her name with her husband’s and the husband just keeps his own name. I mean, not my monkeys not my circus, you do you, but it just seems like one partner has done a lot more compromising than the other. It’s also a little strange when women say they only took their husband’s name because they want to have the same last name as their kids. Sorry, when did you decide that the kid automatically gets his last name? Did you even have that conversation?
I can see how the possibility of future children could affect the surname decision. Imagine knowing that you wanted to name your first son Michael, perhaps after a mutual friend who introduced you both. Well, if one of you has the surname Jackson, just how interesting do you wanna make little Michael’s life? I did know one couple that kept their own names and created a new surname for their kid based on cultural and ancestral names, but they did mention that they had some intricate questioning at the airport on family holidays. I guess authorities needed to make sure they weren’t kidnapping a kid.
Let’s get back to the point: Are you a better feminist if you keep your last name? I mean, it’s probably your father’s last name. Way to smash the patriarchy. You could make a point and take your mother’s name. But then, that’s her father’s last name. And your grandmother’s maiden name was just her father’s last name. You see where this is going, we’re not getting anywhere.
I can see how using your father’s last name before switching to a husband’s has some pretty outdated ownership connotations and doesn’t really fit with our modern concept of marriage. We haven’t really figured out a new societal norm that does fit.
Growing up I noticed that men seemed to have more of a connection to their surnames than women. Men would get nicknames based entirely on their surname, sometimes they would even call each member of a friend group by their surname instead of first names. This didn’t happen so much with the girls, and I suppose it may have had something to do with women being brought up to think they’ll probably be changing their surname at some point, so it’s better to shape your identity around your first name instead. I totally did this.
Essentially, you just have to wing it and find something that works for both of you. You don’t have to share a name. My husband never gave a toss what my name was going to be. Never asked me to change or expected it at all. But I thought it could be a nice way to tie us together in an obvious way to the outside world. Coz essentially that’s what marriage is. A big flag to wave like, “hey everyone, we’re together, it’s decided”. It sure as hell doesn’t change your relationship dynamic from the inside.
What were my reasons for changing? Well, superficially I liked my husband’s last name and I like the way it sounds with my first name. This is probably the biggest reason for the change if I’m completely honest. If my husband had have been Mr Dick, I can assure you I wouldn’t be self-confident or mature enough to handle Frankie Dick as a moniker. I’m giggling already.
My husband wasn’t interested in changing his name at all and this was completely fair. Without going too much into a story that isn’t mine to tell, many years ago he was asked to change to his stepfather’s name when his mother remarried. He refused. Not because he had any problem with his step father, quite the opposite, he simply felt he was too old and used to his name to be changing. Everyone else in his family changed, so he’s been alone with his birth name for quite some time. He’s also older than me and has forged his adult identity with this name. His name is his, he’s made it that way.
I am only getting to that point now. When I got married I was nobody. I mean, I’m still nobody, but back then I was a youngish adult in a new country attempting to create a career and a life for myself. It was just me and my husband. I didn’t have family around me. My family name didn’t hold any huge cultural gravitas or significance. In short, I liked the fact that changing my name to match my husband linked me with him and made me part of his ‘world’, for lack of a better word. It made more sense for me to associate myself name wise with my husband, rather than with a family who lives on the other side of the planet.
Now though, that’s changed a little. I feel I’ve created a connection with my new name. That’s probably an age and experience thing more than anything else. God forbid anything ever happen to my husband or our relationship, but if I ever remarried I don’t think I’d change my name again. Never say never, but I feel like my identity is now set. I’ve grown up and my name is part of that.
It is my name though, not my husband’s. It’s as if in marriage he gave me my own copy of the name to do with as I please and I’ve gradually beaten and molded it into a Frankie-shape. It matches his, sure, but it’s mine now. I’m not my husband’s property any more than I was my father’s property when I carried his name. I’m linked, but not absorbed.
There are plenty of other ways my relationship challenges traditional gender roles, but name-wise I guess I’m traditional. For me, that’s ok.