I’ve been married for a little less than a month now, and one thing to note is that I haven’t changed my last name. I very much doubt that I will in the future, unless given a very compelling reason.
The name change issue came up fairly early in our engagement. One day, Mike said to me that I was going to be “Mrs. His-last-name.” It sounded very strange to my ears, and I reacted a bit strongly to it – though I immediately apologized for that. But the bug was in my ear, so to speak. Part of why I reacted the way I did was the simple assumption that I would be changing my name. I don’t think this reflects negatively on Mike, necessarily; almost everyone had assumed that I would. It’s a societal expectation that tends to go along with marriage. But it’s one I think needs to change.
I understand that marriage is about becoming a family unit, so to speak, and that having the same last name is part of that. But I dislike the very patriarchal assumption that it’s the man’s last name that ought to reign supreme; it really seems to hearken back to a time when a woman would pass directly from the control of one man (her father) to another (her husband) and that a certain “ownership” was indicated by her last name. While that isn’t necessarily the case any more1, I think that historical baggage still exists.
Even in modern day, when it’s not so much an issue of ownership, I still consider the name change to be rather unfair. Changing your legal name isn’t a simple process, and comes with a variety of annoyances. The fact that it’s normally expected that a woman will jump through the many hoops – and only the woman will do it – without complaint rubs me the wrong way.
There is also the fact that I really like my last name. It’s a very uncommon one – I have yet to meet someone who has my last name that isn’t related to me. It’s also at the very beginning of the alphabet, and I admit that I really enjoy being able to tell anyone with an alphabetical list, “I’ll probably be first or second.” And simply, it’s been my name for my entire life – almost thirty years at this point. It’s part of who I am, and for the most part I like who that happens to be. At the time, I didn’t think that marriage would fundamentally change either my identity or my relationship with Mike.
I explained all of this to Mike, and he understood where I was coming from. We considered several options, such as hyphenating (which created something that sounded very silly to both of us); I also suggested that we could both change our last names to something entirely new to keep it fair. Mike didn’t particularly like that idea either, which I think helped drive home to him why I was balking at the whole process. I tried to keep the discussion open, however, since I didn’t know how important it was to him2. A couple of months before the wedding we were walking home from the bus station and as a random change of conversational topic he said, “I think you should keep your name. You can always change it later if you need to.” And that was that.
A month in to it, I’m going to say I was right; I’m still the same person3 and our relationship is the same loving partnership it’s been for the last five years of living in sin. I’ve had a few people assume that I’ve changed my name already; I don’t let it bother me, since I understand that it’s still the societal norm. If I get the opportunity to correct them gracefully, I do.
This is not some sort of judgment on the majority of married women out there (including my mother and my best friend) who have changed their last name. I think it’s a personal choice, and it’s up to what you want, what you feel comfortable with, and what meaning it has to you. To me, it’s something of a feminist statement, but one of the things people tend to forget about feminism is that it’s about choice – in a broader sense than just abortion rights. It’s about making sure women have choices, and that they can execute those choices in whatever way is best for them, regardless of whether you would make the same decision. I made my choice for my reasons, like everyone else. I feel lucky that I live in a time where it was my choice to make.
1 – The chillingly creepy “purity” movement aside.
2 – Another lesson I’ve learned is that it’s all about compromise when something is really important to your partner. This is why, for example, I wore a poofy white dress at the wedding and not a scarlet pirate frock coat.
3 – Probably to Mike’s relief, since I imagine it would be a little disturbing if the woman he loved spontaneously changed in to someone else just because she had a ring on her finger.