Feminism / Staff Picks

Why I Will Never, Ever Change My Last Name When I Get Married

Gothy wedding dress

Gothy wedding dress

Someone recently asked me if I would take my partner’s last name should I ever get married. Hell no.

When I said no, they were straight-up confused; they were also confused about my views on abortion and anal sex as “virgin sex”–but we won’t go there.

I said I’d never, ever take the last name of my maybe-future-husband. Hyphenate? Sure. Change our last names altogether into a new name? Maybe.  I think this latter option is an excellent choice for many couples. As for women who want to change their names because of practicality: there are other names beside your husband’s–and read on, before you disagree.

I’m not suggesting said Future Husband take my name either–god forbid one even joke. I’m suggesting we consider the historical and cultural threads of this tradition before we blindly accept the roles society has drawn up for us. I’m saying you have a choice. I’m saying you should think about what you’re doing before you do it–and that’s it. I’m not trying to scold women or make people defensive; I’m simply lighting a fire under the issue. 

Please note: I am not engaged and I am not anti-marriage. Let me preempt trollish comments like, “You’re an ice queen,” or “you’re unhappy” by stating that I’m mega-happy-in-love with the most amazing man ever. He has a super sexy last-name, too.

The question, “Will you change your last name?” to me, seems silly and obvious; however, as I’ve observed at this ripe age of 27, while my peers are getting married and having babies, most people don’t view the Issue of the Surname as I do. Most people don’t give it a second thought.

A standard trajectory is as follows: You grow up. You get married. You change your name. Because that’s just what you do.…”out of respect,” “because you want to build a family unit” or “because tradition is romantic.” Believe me–equality and family units and respecting your husband has way more to do with the way you live you life than changing your name.  I don’t need to be married to know this.

While my goal here isn’t to generalize the taking of the last name as some “bad choice,” since “choice” is exactly what I’m arguing for, I do think women owe it to themselves to understand the reasons we do what we do and the gradual, deep impact it makes on society at large and the society we are creating for possible future children.

To be blunt: I think it’s literally bizarre that, in 2013, I have to defend myself in this matter; I’m no longer going to apologize for my beliefs.

Women Exist Because Men Do?
Strictly speaking from the point of view of male/female heterosexual couples, many of us were born with our father’s name and many of us will marry our father’s names away in order to take our husband’s.  In this way, we are always associated to a man. Without asking “why,” we simply accept our  marginal existences–we are always the linguistic property of someone else’s lineage.

If keeping your identity because you’re a Human Being and an Individual isn’t enough of a reason for you, take a look at historical marriage traditions in general. Perhaps you are unaware of your androcentricism–and that’s OK, because with books, research and an open-mind you can change that, not out of bitterness or revolt, but out of respect for the human race and your place within it.

Mesopotamia?
So, way back in ancient Mesopotamia, the value of most women was based on her bride-worthiness.  She was then acquired by a man, who’d pay her father for her. Of course, she was living in her Pop’s house until she and her Hubby had sex–because consummation and love are not one and the same. Or if you were a child bride, you’d go and be your future-husband’s household’s servant.

But wait! In many circumstance’s you’d be raped by your arranged-future-husband’s father, and if so, you were considered broken and sent back to your father. Yikes.

During this time, women were also used as marketable commodities; their sexual functions raised family money. And if you happened to talk back to your Hubby or not perform your sexual duties (that he’s also getting from his legally-available Concubine) you could be reduced to a slave.goth-wedding

If you’re thinking all of this sounds insane, you’re right! The fact of the matter is that these traditions inform many of the ceremonies and ritualized behaviors we perform today; would you knowingly perform in some way seeing that it had a direct lineage to something awful, sexist, racist or decidedly wrong?We’ve come far enough away from the times of slaves and concubines in America, right? We’re living in a completely different world, so old traditions shouldn’t matter, right? Wrong.
Today’s World
We’re still grappling with a number of barbaric global incidents: rape in India has jumped up 875 percent in the past 40 years.  Women are still suffering the pains of acid-throwing if they sexually “reject” a man.  Female genital mutilation? Still happening today. Guess where? In the United Kingdom. Women who are, today, being forced into marriages, are hiding spoons in their clothing to set off metal detectors.  Women like you and me are being groped in NYC subways.
These crimes are directly linked to the chauvinism and patriarchy set in place by many of the cultures we were raised within; just because you come from a big family with a set number of traditional expectations doesn’t mean you have to continue the pattern. You have a brain, I swear.And these beliefs–that women are objects, that women are defined by their relationship status–have to do with long-standing, mostly subconscious belief systems.
If you think society has gotten away from this idea, then why are you harassed on the street every day? Why are most women being paid less than men? Why are we sluts if we have sex, while men are applauded?Basics, people, basics.Daddy or Hubby?
It may seem romantic to be “given away” by Daddy or to start a new family with your husband’s name (because you love him SOOOO much!) but I am sorry: tradition does not trump truth. In my opinion,  tradition is dangerous. It is the cause for many of the behaviors we see today, including wars of religious and ideological reasoning.

Ladies: if the aforementioned media events are romantic to you, please decide whether you’d like to continue reading or seek the objective guidance of a Psychologist. It may be that you confuse abuse with love; after all, how can you distinguish when billions of dollars are pumped into Hollywood films like Twilight, where our “sympathetic vampire” Edward demands marriage before sex because he doesn’t want to taint poor Bella’s soul.The thing is: I can’t blame you for being romanticized. I was you. And sometimes I still fall prey. Hypocrite sticker totally applicable. You have a choice to be informed, or to be ignorant.And you choose to ignore the issue, it probably won’t affect you or even your children’s generation–but it will make an impact.Remember when it was just accepted that women not vote? That cute little story of suffrage. Why would women vote? That’s so fucking weird! Women? Voting? No way. Their husbands can vote for them, duh! That was only 93 years ago. Women in Saudi Arabia still cannot vote today.

Someone back in the day made the decision to fight for the right for the woman’s vote–gasp! It was unthinkable– and now you can press a button and play Citizen too. Don’t take history for granted; know that little pushes for change make an impact.Don’t think last names are insignificant or unrelated to the larger rights of women; it is all related to the same mode of thinking.The farther we get away from our brutal and unfair past systems, the farther we pave a healthy future.
Look, plenty of progressive, smart (and plenty of not so progressive and smart people) will not agree with me. I’ve studied gender and anthropology and these things mean something to me. I cannot expect the same from everyone.
However, if you’re living under a rock, get out. I believe if we can’t change the massive global injustice done unto women ever day, the least we can do is become accountable for how we add to the inequality.  Step one is to recognize that we have the power to speak up, change tradition and redefine partnership and love.How do I love thee any less simply because I want to retain my identity? How fickle and ignorant to expect this of me, and how steeped in historical injustice.
Hyphenation?
I am keeping my last name. Sure, I’d consider hyphenating because this way we’d be forming a new unit, but we’d be a unit made from me AND you. I’m not undoing my past; I built my life–and my career–with my name and I want to keep it.  I am proud of the mileage on my signature. It is true that it is my father’s name (which is why I fully support changing one’s name), but I have redefined it and carved it and made it my own, mostly because I was born without the choice.
I understand the people who will say, “But we’ve come such a long from the past!” The fact is we haven’t come far enough. tumblr_mpn4pe1DS61r44tv0o5_250
Even people close to me offhandedly remark, “That’s just stupid” when I tell them I want to keep my last name. That reductionist reaction is precisely the problem; we are so quick or hard wired to stick to our beliefs and our comforts, yet when something directly affects us, we start swinging.

When the issue of sexism (or racism) presents itself, it is easier to point at the change we have seen and assume that those of us who are still fighting are somehow unphased by evolution or growth. It’s not that: it’s that the daily newspaper is telling us that we still have a long ways to go.

I will never say that taking your husbands name is anti-feminist because I’m not concerned with that. I’m content with a woman’s ability–at least in this nation in many cultural communities–to have a choice.
I’m concerned that people are making uninformed decisions; it may be easy to say we are not Mesopotamians or other ancient peoples, and thus, traditions have naught to do with those barbaric practices.Firstly, untrue: simply read the newspaper.  And secondly, why? Why would you choose to accept the stamp of a brutal, oppressive history? Why not move forward in your love backed by a clean, new slate that recognizes equality and justice?
As women we are accountable for our history. We’ve spent so long having it mythologized, massacred, defined and written <em>for</em> us– let’s change that. And men: you should respect us enough not to demand this from us. Read a book.
Images: Tumblr
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7 thoughts on “Why I Will Never, Ever Change My Last Name When I Get Married

  1. In my family, hyphenating our last name was a highly intentional and symbolic act. As a donor-conceived person married to an adopted person, hyphenating symbolized self-creating our own nuclear family on the one hand and honoring the families that raised us on the other.

  2. I did socially but not legally. I would not do it again. I mostly did it because when I was little I got teased for my maiden name (Rash) and always wanted to get married and get rid of it. Then when the day came, I was too lazy to fill out the forms. Now I am glad that legally my last name is my own.

  3. Pingback: Feminist Wives: My Struggle With Wedding Planning | LUNA LUNA

  4. Excellent point! I didn’t mention that because there are a million variables in marriage and naming– but perhaps I should have mentioned it. I think wanting to change your name for practical reasons is a grey area; a friend of mine brought this up too. I can certainly understand why you’d want that option! I think I was more so referring to woman who blindly accept the name without giving it a thought. I really appreciate your comment!

  5. I agree with you- but what about the women (like me) who want to get rid of their last names for practicality purposes? My last name is long and complicated, and if I had a penny for every time I had to teach someone had to say it, spell it five times, and repeat it over and over I would be rich by now.

    I totally agree about not taking the man’s name in order to not always be tied to a man, I like the idea of morphing one’s name with the man’s last name, but in my case I would rather just take the man’s last name to make my life easier. Doctors, banks, jobs, etc. make it so much harder to have a hard last nam!

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