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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.