What’s in a name?

After all, a feminist by any other name would smell as sweet.

So yesterday on Jezebel, they brought up the issue of taking your husband’s name when marrying, particularly as regards to the impact it may have on your salary.

This has long been a loaded issue.

First off, there’s the issue that getting married can have any number of implications on a woman’s life–it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type of situation. If you DO get married, it’s generally assumed that you’ll get pregnant and leave the workforce, so why bother promoting? If you DON’T get married, you’re assumed to be frigid or defective. That’s the short version; I think most of us are familiar with the long version, so we’ll settle for that recap.

So there’s already the social issues with getting married. Then there’s the whole feminist bit, where, when you get right down to it, marriage is patriarchal and implies a sense of ownership over a woman, there’s the religious history, and of course there’s the current issue of marriage equality.

But set all this baggage aside. Say you’ve decided you’re getting married. Now there’s the conundrum of what to do with your name. On the one hand, if you take your new husband’s name, that’s ceding the patriarchal establishment of him owning you, you becoming part of his family, etc. On the other hand, the last name you have is probably your father’s last name, so it’s not like that’s any less patriarchal. Are we really winning any victories by keeping one man’s last name over another? If your parents were modern and hyphenated, that’s cool. So do you hyphenate too, thus ending up with a triple hyphenated last name? What if you end up with kids, so they end up with a super-duper-hyphentastic last name?

I’m not passing judgment on any of these options. I do not hold any one as the best choice. I also think it’s absolutely imperative that each person decide for themselves–some women are eager to shed their history and start fresh with their husband’s last name. Some are deeply attached to their last names and will not give them up for anything. Some just want to go with the flow and change their name. No choice holds more value than any of the others. It’s what works for you (and your husband) and makes you happy.

But me? I don’t know that I’m anywhere near getting married. I don’t know if I’ll EVER get married. But both of my parents are deeply important to me–I can talk to either one of them about anything, and I’ve had a close relationship with both of them for a long, long time (if admittedly tumultuous at times). I love them both very much, and I consider myself a child of both of them, and they are both so important to who I am today.

When my parents divorced, my mother took her mother’s maiden name, because that’s who she felt most identified with. I don’t want to hyphenate my name, because god knows we already have a troublesome enough last name as it is. So, I’ve been thinking about doing what my aunt and uncle did–taking a syllable from each last name and combining it into one.

My sister took her husband’s last name when she married, which means that I’m not alienating myself from her by changing my last name, which is the only thing that would’ve given me pause. By combining the last names of my parents, I’m giving a nod to both of them. Right now, I feel uncomfortable in my last name because it doesn’t represent both of my parents–it’s only 50% of who I am.

I guess this whole self-absorbed musing on my last name was my way of coming around to say that as I grow up, I’m understanding these little feminist decisions we have to deal with. To some women, giving up their last name when they marry is huge–it’s surrendering who they are, where they come from. Since I don’t have a strong cultural history attached to my name, or even a strong sense of family history beyond my grandparents, I don’t have the same kind of investment in my name. In a way, taking someone else’s name would ease my burden over feeling like I’m only partially representing who and what I am with my name. If I shared something of both of my parents in my name, I think the idea of giving that up upon marriage would be very different.

It’s funny–I am nowhere near marriage (hell, I haven’t even had a relationship since 2008, and I haven’t had one for more than six weeks since 2007. I think I’m actually veering FURTHER from marriage the later in life I get), yet it seems like it keeps coming up as an issue that I think about in a social analysis context constantly. Maybe it’s because three of my friends have gotten engaged in the last two weeks (seriously guys, stop it. You’re freaking me out), or maybe it’s just because marriage has become so deeply politicized. It’s hard to not keep coming back to something that managed to get so soured by some cultural wrong turns.

Regardless, it’s gratifying for me to feel like I can truly understand what might motivate people to make decisions that they make, such as keeping their last name. I’ve always grasped the concept, but it wasn’t until I started, in my mind, thinking of myself by the last name I’ve made out of my parents’ combined names, that my name really began to matter to me. And now I get it.

That’s the cool thing about this whole feminism thing, and this whole growing up business–my world just keeps getting bigger, and the things I understand just keep blossoming. Of course, with each new discovery, I can see exponentially more waiting just around the next corner. It’s kind of exciting.

Happy weekend, everyone!


04/16/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized.


  1. Princess replied:

    Funny story, I just did a translation of an article discussing the growing population of “secret marriages” in China, where both women and men have been hiding the fact that they’re married from their co-workers so that their bosses don’t think they’ll lose their competitive edge to babymakin.

  2. H replied:

    Both of my siblings middle names are my mother’s maiden name. I have no clue why they stopped doing that when I came along. It seems like a good idea though.

    I’m doing the hyphenated thing with Grimes’ last name, but I’m probably going to drop the hyphen just because I’m all about aesthetics and I don’t like how hyphens look. “Viola” and “Grimes” is pretty ugly when you try combining the two, so that idea is out.

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