A Rose By Any Other Name

Firstmute posted “Marriage: Sharing Whose Name, Exactly?“ on November 29, 2011. The piece is thoughtful and persuasive. However, my point of view is different and rests on the idea that as postmodern feminist theory evolves, so does the name game. I hope to add more ideas and perspectives on this debate.

On the eve of the 21st century, a new generation of professional women entered the work force. With them, a trend in feminist surnames was emerging: the taking of their husbands’ last names as their own. Is the trend a shift backward? Or does it indicate the completion of a cycle?”¨ Despite what people may think, the trend certainly symbolizes a desire for simplicity. The past three decades witnessed a deluge of information, new technology, and societal upheaval. As a result of this chaos, time seemed to speed up. Modern professional women were looking for a way to streamline the complicated issues they are confronted with each day. Identity is just one of those issues.

As a young lawyer, I adamantly did not want to take my fiancé’s last name. I wanted my identity and my career to remain intact and separate from his. Fast-forward a few years later to a different fiancé: I was giddy at the prospect of waiting on line at the DMV to get my husband’s surname emblazoned on my driver’s license. What changed?”¨ On the surface, I thought it was simply because my husband’s last name was monosyllabic like my maiden name. The ring of my name did not change. A deeper examination revealed that I was beginning a different phase of my life and evolving into a new (and hopefully improved) version of myself. I became softer. Maybe even a little more patient. I was growing up.”¨ Once I was frightened of becoming someone’s wife or mother. I never wanted to become someone else’s anything. I just wanted to be me. But slowly my fear of background relegation began to dissipate. I started to relish the idea of taking on the role of wife and mother. I was becoming aware of my true identity and, ultimately, my place in the universe. A transition such as this is often fraught with angst and fear as one struggles to pull away from the person formerly known as “me.”

Once thought of as something people just did after college, marriage came to symbolize so much more. Marriage is the coming together of two individuals to form a powerful unit better able to navigate time and space. Marriage is the creation of something bigger than oneself – a concept that the younger me could never appreciate. Marriage is an equal combination of characteristics of two people, where weaknesses are diminished while strengths soar. Marriage is about flourishing, not overshadowing.

Today, professional women rarely keep their maiden names for their careers while reserving their married names strictly for their personal lives. In a world dominated by chaos and confusion, the use of two different names became too convoluted. Even less popular is the hyphenation method.”¨ And even less popular than that is the blender method – the blending of two names into one confusing last name devoid of any history. Typically, once a professional woman gets married, she will simply tack her new surname on after her maiden name with nothing more than a space to herald her new identity. After a sufficient amount of time has passed for colleagues to become familiar with the new surname, she will unceremoniously drop the maiden name.

The idea of bucking the surname norm to assert feminist individualism started in the middle of the 19th century. Lucy Stone was the first American woman to keep her birth name after marriage, leading to the moniker Lucy Stoners for all those who followed her. Women in my generation didn’t have to shun their husbands’ names to earn the “stoner” label. In 1921, Ruth Hale, a journalist, formed the Lucy Stone League. Seeing an impossible social task, the league slowly disbanded. Since its inception, it has been revived three times. Now in its latest revival, which started in 1997, the league touts “equal rights for women and men to retain, modify, and create their names.””¨ Despite the efforts of the league and its predecessors, a woman’s right to adopt her husband’s family name as her own continues to be a widely practiced tradition. According to a 2005 study conducted by Diana Boxer, a professor of linguistics at the University of Florida, the vast majority of women surveyed had taken their husbands’ surnames for the sake of family unity. Ms. Boxer depicts this as a failure of the feminist movement because “societal traditions and gendered hegemony are so hard to overcome.”

Consistently viewing this tradition as harmful to a woman’s individual identity is antiquated. Instead, the return to tradition should be celebrated as a marker of the strength of feminist ideals and achievements while simultaneously honoring family values.”¨ Women in America are successful. The acceptance of multifaceted roles such as wife, mother, and professional allows women to express themselves in ways never thought possible. It used to be that when a young woman was brought to the altar, her name was all that gave her any sense of identity.”¨ This is no longer the case.

Professional women do not have time to focus on a symbolic gesture when this world has entrusted us with more important tasks. Women make discoveries in science and technology. Women mold our society with legal opinions and social commentary. Women produce legislation. Women color our world with art while providing the soundtrack to the stories we write.”¨ While doing all this, they continue to define our future as nurturing mothers. It is precisely because of this ability to create and nurture as applied to their roles in American society that women have also made more choice for themselves.”¨ When a newly engaged woman starts thinking about her surname, she has many options. Not only is it a testament to honor and tradition that modern women are adopting husbands’ surnames, it is also a wink and a nod to the notion that a woman’s identity inevitably becomes entangled with her husband’s. Instead, she can continue her life’s work while gracefully fashioning a coexistent life as a wife and mother. If power is choice, then the feminist name game proves just how powerful women are.

I did not examine the genesis of my husband’s surname nor my maiden name until we were expecting our first child. We wanted to grace our daughter with a moniker that combined the heritage of both families, so I began to research our lineage. My Germanic maiden name, “Marsch,” means exactly what it sounds like, marsh. This indicates that my paternal ancestors lived near or made their livelihood from the marshlands. The surname Kerr is descended from the Scottish Kerr clan, a border clan that often lived in and made their living from swamps”¦

Published by

January

January Kerr studied government and legal theory at Lafayette College. She earned her law degree, cum laude from the New York Law School. After a decade of practicing securities litigation, she decided to focus her life on raising a family. It was through the birth of her daughter that her creative fire was rekindled and she rediscovered her passion for writing and philosophy. Ms. Kerr writes creative non-fiction and focuses on post modern feminist thought and esoteric philosophy. Her writing is further characterized by metaphysical connections and transcendental thought. Through etymology (study of word orgin), epistemology (study of knowledge) and metaphysics (study of nature of being), she hunts through the past to explain the present and gleam the future.

80 thoughts on “A Rose By Any Other Name”

  1. I don’t really agree with this article at all, and I find it really insulting.

    First of all, no matter how much you try to twist changing your name as “feminist,” it’s still about a woman having to make a change in her identity that a man doesn’t have to change. And in a society where over half of the population still thinks women should be required to change their names (look it up), let’s not act like it’s the more difficult route simply because you have to fill in some forms at the DMV and call your bank to a get a new card. It’s the cop-out option, and the fact that so many women initially don’t want to do it but are talked into or “grow” into it suggests it’s less because there are lots of women who enthusiastically want to take their husbands’ names as it has to do with social pressure. “Feminism is about choice!” is a nice platitude but it needs to come with the acknowledgement that society makes it a lot easier to make certain “choices” than it does others. They’re not made in a vaccuum.

    And a lot of the language in here is quite anti-feminist, such as the framing of independence as “immature” and patience and wanting to be a wife and mother as “mature.” Really? Wanting to have your own identity, or not being interest in marriage is immaturity, and you only are truly “grown-up” when you accept that your identity is tied to a bunch of stereotypically feminine values? How is this any different from numerous rom-coms that show independent, self-assured career women only being “truly fulfilled” when they find a man and drop out of the workforce to have lots of babies?

    And the arguments you give to make it supposedly feminist just show that women have accomplished a lot in other areas, but that doesn’t really say anything about this particular issue. The fact that women have accomplished other things doesn’t make the sexist institutions that still exist less sexist. When women got the right to vote, it didn’t make the fact that women were still barred from so many careers less of a problem, for example. In fact, the fact that women are still STRONGLY ENCOURAGED by our society to change their names upon marrying men shows that we still have really far to go.

    I don’t know why people need to write these essays anyway. Why can’t people accept they can do or like problematic things without having to turn in their feminist cards? Actually, by and large, they do when it comes to smaller things like, say, wearing high heels. But there are sooooooo many essays out there like this, with women changing their names and justifying why it still totally makes them feminist. Why is this? Because on some level, they do understand how inherently problematic this institution is? Then just admit it (as is the first rule of how to like problematic things and still be a social justice activist), because doing otherwise insults the intelligence of the rest of us. My mom changed her name; I consider her no less of a feminist for it. But she admits it it was more out of convenience than anything else, and that it’s a pretty anti-feminist tradition.

    1. First of all, no matter how much you try to twist changing your name as “feminist,” it’s still about a woman having to make a change in her identity that a man doesn’t have to change. … It’s the cop-out option, and the fact that so many women initially don’t want to do it but are talked into or “grow” into it suggests it’s less because there are lots of women who enthusiastically want to take their husbands’ names as it has to do with social pressure.

      There is no “having to” and a man “can”, hence, I at least, can see where the feminist feelings may come in. In the past there was no choice, and now there is a choice. Same with marriage itself. Previously, women became property; things began to change in the 18th century but it took until the 20th century for women to have the same rights and choices as men. That doesn’t mean marriage is inherently anti-feminist because of its history, and neither is taking a name. Pregnancy might as well be anti-feminist by the suggestions you appear to make because women don’t all have abortions and are doing what was, in the past, expected of them and what they had no choice in.

      Much as you’ve spoken about offence, it’s not much better by calling the action of taking a name to be a “cop-out”. So what? Women don’t put much thought into changing their name until they’re presented with the possibility. A lot of people change opinions, or do more research when they’re posed with the situation itself, rather than simply a hypothetical situation. There may be women who change their names due to social pressure, but it’s important to remember that not all do so because of social pressure, they do so because they choose to.

      I don’t know why people need to write these essays anyway. Why can’t people accept they can do or like problematic things without having to turn in their feminist cards? Actually, by and large, they do when it comes to smaller things like, say, wearing high heels. But there are sooooooo many essays out there like this, with women changing their names and justifying why it still totally makes them feminist. Why is this? Because on some level, they do understand how inherently problematic this institution is? Then just admit it (as is the first rule of how to like problematic things and still be a social justice activist), because doing otherwise insults the intelligence of the rest of us.

      Why do people write about anything, then? Because we’re trying to figure out how we feel, to articulate the actions that brought us to where we are, to share experiences. I don’t think there is so much a justification of why these processes are feminist, so much as an explanation. Feminism is quite fluid really. Concepts change, as do attitudes. It doesn’t have a Bible as such, and has grown through people writing essays, exploring what they feel and sharing. Without doing so, feminism does itself no favours. I can appreciate this topic gets you riled up, but it isn’t helpful to demand of others that they say what you feel about the issue. We’re now at a point where we have, relatively free speech. The institutions of marriage and name taking have been problematic in the past, that doesn’t mean they must be problematic in every facet these days.So many people here have said their choice was a personal one, too and to keep banging on about how their choice and how they’ve arrived at it insults your intelligence, almost undermines that.

      1. “Having to” was a poor choice of words there,  but I think you ignored my point about how, while we might technically have a choice, choices are not made in a vaccuum. It depends on the woman, but overall we live in a society where there is an enormous amount of social pressure involved in encouraging women to change their last names, and discouraging other options (such as hyphenating or, especially, the man taking the woman’s name instead). Again, if you look up the polling on this, in this day and age over 50% of people in the U.S. think women should be required to take their husbands’ names. As in, by law. And the fact that they can’t actually use legal means to do this doesn’t mean such people can’t use social pressure (negative stereotypes about women who change their names, insisting on referring to married women by their husbands’ names even if they haven’t changed them) to push it on women, and a lot of women do change it for reasons related to that pressure. That doesn’t mean that women don’t do it for other reasons, but yes, it is the overall easier and “cop-out” option. I really have trouble believing that the vast majority of women who change their names to their husbands’ all came to conclusions that didn’t have to do with social expectations. The fact that there are exceptions doesn’t dispute the larger rule.

        As for your “problematic institutions don’t always stay problematic,” the reason that happens is because those aren’t inherently problematic. There is a huge difference between something like marriage, which historically was used for sexist reasons but is not (in its basic definition) inherently sexist, and the social expectation that women change their names after marriage, which is inherently unequal and since it’s based on a sexual inequality that isn’t “natural” (like, say, physical strength), how can it be anything but sexist? Which is why the author’s argument for this not being the case fails right out of the gate.

        Also, really, “free speech”? I’m not telling her she isn’t allowed to write it. I’m asking why, and in a larger sense, asking why there are so many essays out there just like this, and positing that perhaps the reason so many women feel uncomfortable with this choice is because they understand on some deeper level that it’s not a very feminist one. (Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to make it – no woman is obliged to put aside personal concerns for the sake of the larger feminist movement, and even if you’re choosing it because of social pressure there’s something to be said for picking your battles – but they should be intellectually honest about it.)

        It isn’t just a matter of this issue getting me “riled up.” (Although, way to dismiss based on tone!) It’s that there are a lot of other issues – many of them addressed in the original article she’s responding to and in the comments for it – that are being glossed-over so the author can feel good about her choice.

        1. Yes, I ignored the point about choices not being made in a vacuum, because it applies to so much of life. There are, generally speaking, influences, history and pressures relating to all choices.

          It’s worth pointing out, perhaps, that we don’t live in the same society (going on your point of quoting US statistics). Here in the UK, there just isn’t the same attitude. It doesn’t particularly surprise me that over 50% of people in the US think women should be required to take their husband’s name. You may have trouble believing that women come to the conclusion to change their name without pressure of social expectations, but it undermines them to call it a “cop-out” option. I also struggle to see how it is the easier option. Changing name requires a lot of paperwork. Keeping a maiden name requires nothing to be done.

          Hmn, my feeling is that marriage was inherently sexist. Women were property. They were legally defined as belonging to someone else and lost much (if not all) of their rights when they were married. Being widowed was often celebration for women: they became people again in the eyes of the law. This didn’t apply to men. They were always people in their own right. These days, those problems have been rectified, though it took until the 20th century to do so. The changing of names is different. Yes, there were expectations, but even as far back as the 18th century (if not early) it was by no means unheard of for men to be required to take their wife’s last name.

          Yes, free speech. Perhaps it wasn’t the best wording. My point is that it’s important to be able to talk about these things and I don’t think the discussion over changing names, for instance, need be restricted. It’s a topic that affects many women, so naturally, many are going to share their experiences. The sheer number of articles like this may appear annoying, but it does also go a way to suggesting a growing awareness, and that seems like a good thing. I still don’t see the action of changing name as inherently anti-feminist, or rather, against the feminist movement. Or as such, what there is to be “honest” about. Feminism is evolving, this is possibly another evolution.

          I don’t feel the point about being “riled up” was dismissive. It was an observation. If it was wrong, so be it. I don’t feel the author is glossing over anything, either. She’s exploring her choice and being presented with different interpretations of that choice. If the author feels good about her choice, then good for her, it’s her choice.

          1. I think you’re missing what I meant by “inherently” sexist.

            Marriage was originally about property, but now, it isn’t. The concept of marriage, regardless of whatever history it has, is simply recognizing a romantic relationship as more “official” than it was before and conveying upon it certain legal benefits. That isn’t a necessarily sexist concept.  But the notion that one partner should change their name and that partner (assuming it’s an opposite-sex marriage) should be the woman? Yes, that’s an inherently sexist institution.

            Re: cop-out – I don’t think that shuffling paperwork is really equivalent to social pressure that women get to change their names, and the assumption that if they’re married that’s what’s been done. Also, at least in the U.S., the “paperwork” side of it tends to be considerably easier if you’re changing your name as a woman getting married than in just about every other name-change situation (even, in some cases, when a man tries to change his name to his wife’s).

            Anyway, the notion about it being against feminism: Did you read what I said about this in my post? It doesn’t mean you hate feminism or you’re disqualified from being a feminist. We all have tough choices to make, and nobody can be the perfect feminist. I just wish that women could make anti-feminist choices without having to explain them away as not being that, especially when it involves more or less insulting women who make different choices (such as calling them “immature”). And while people can be happy with their choices, again, there’s no reason why she had to write a long post justifying it in feminist language purely so it could get on Persephone. All your stuff about “women sharing their experiences” is pretty meaningless, because you’ve still failed to address why this particular experience is one that needs to be shared. Even if it’s about a popular feminist discussion, that doesn’t mean it was a really interesting or new contribution to it.

  2. I’ve had this name for so long that I can’t imagine using any other. I was married briefly when I was young and the only reason I changed my name was because I felt like it was expected of me. And even then, I never changed it legally; my driver’s license and Social Security number will still under my maiden name and I just used my married name for things like utility bills and banking which, oddly enough, didn’t require any ID with my married name on it.

    I like my maiden name. It’s simple and I’ve never had to spell it for anyone. It was also my mom’s maiden name because she married a man (my father) who had the same last name. And because my father is an evil human being, I consider myself as having my mother’s last name rather than his. (Out of 20+ grandkids, only 3 of us still have this last name–me and my uncle’s two kids. All of my aunt’s kids got their fathers’ names.)

    My only regrets with names is giving my oldest child her father’s last name. We weren’t married and he stopped being a part of her life when she was about a year old, so she grew up with this name that she felt no connection with. (Now that she’s an adult, they’ve reconnected but it still irritates me that she and now my granddaughter have his last name when I’m the one that did all the work.) Fortunately, my youngest child does have my last name and she is being taught that changing your name when you get married is an option, not a requirement. And my son has my ex-husband’s last name but he hates him so much that he has considered changing it.

    Having said all that, if I ever get a book published, it’ll be under a pseudonym, probably my first name and my grandmother’s maiden name, simply because my name is pretty common and I know there’s at least one author and a motivational speaker with my name.

     

  3. When I first got married, I just wanted to change my name because it was a simpler name. I’m not particularly fond of my father and my maiden name seemed to always get messed up. I know a lot of people keep their married names even after divorce, but I did choose to go back.

    When I got married again, my husband wanted to take my name, but again, it’s a bit of a cumbersome name. His name is already his mother’s surname (as a middle name) and his father’s surname, so I didn’t want him to replace his mother’s surname with mine or do a hyphenated thing. We figured we’d just make up a new name, but we haven’t found one that we like yet. So for the time being, I’m my old surname (as a middle name) and his surname, but even after a year and a half I forget it’s changed half the time, a bunch of my accounts have yet to be updated, etc. I do feel that I have to use the ‘old’ name professionally since I have so many things tied to that, and I agree that that is yet another variable in the decision-making process. In the age of Internet search, it does become important that people can find your accomplishments online in my field. Luckily, I have used a nickname for many years that I can try to ‘brand’ heavier, so that the real name matters a bit less.

    I think when these discussions come up they do tend to run very anglo-centric, though. I’ve had a lot of friends from around the world who definitely view the name change thing very differently that I do. I feel that this topic varies quite a bit depending on the culture/environment that you have, and that’s a huge factor.

     

    1. I actually like my married name better than my maiden.  Being strapped with a name like “January” is difficult enough, yet when your last name is “Marsch” the heckling intensifies and one is often subjected to calendar girl name calling.  A  simple name like Kerr (especially bc its means the same thing as Marsch) is much easier to go through life with and the first name is still unique enough to stand out.

  4. This post is giving me many conflicting feelings, on one hand I am a newly-married who took her husband’s name, a decision I agonized over from the moment we got engaged until a few weeks after the wedding. On the other, I know that there are a multitude of reasons that women keep and change their names, and judgement for either decision is equally wrong.

  5. My name is my own, and you can pry it off me when I’m dead and buried.

    It’s long, hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and I have fought long and hard to make it mine. It’s my father’s name; but I love my father, and am proud to be named for him. I’ll change my name for a partner only if they’ll change their name for me. No one-way streets.

    it is also a wink and a nod to the notion that a woman’s identity inevitably becomes entangled with her husband’s.

    Except women who drop their own name to take their husbands’ aren’t getting “entangled”. Entangled would be a hyphenated name, or an anagram, or taking a whole new one. Instead they’re being subsumed.

    1. @Dr. Song, I used to believe that taking the husband’s name was subsuming to women but now I believe that it fosters a peaceful coexistence.  For me, I have finally grown into the person I want to be and for me, changing my name was a positive tool for me to get there.  I didn’t want to identify myself as the person I used to be and my maiden name was very symbolic of that person.  Again, not for everyone.  As to the entanglement issue, yes no matter what name we choose we are inevitably entangled with our spouse.  However, the key to the entanglement is always knowing where the knot starts, so as to not get lost in the entanglement.

       

      1.  I used to believe that taking the husband’s name was subsuming to women but now I believe that it fosters a peaceful coexistence.  For me, I have finally grown into the person I want to be and for me, changing my name was a positive tool for me to get there.

        This is the issue here: you generalise in your first sentence and then refer only to your own experience in the second. And there is nothing wrong with your experience, but you can’t say that your way of dealing with the name-change issue “fosters a peaceful coexistence” for every woman. Firstly, there’s no ‘co-‘ if it’s not an issue for men.

  6. Interesting post. I never felt any great attachment to keeping my father’s name rather than my husband’s. Whichever way you cut it, whichever choice you make, unless you actively pick your own name then there’s some patriarchy involved somehow.

    And since I knew after he proposed that my partner was the person I wanted to grow old with, switching my surname felt like a way to show the world that I’d actually made a fairly big lifechanging decision. I never regretted it, except for the bit about having to practice a new signature. It’s like when I got my PhD I ran out and had my bank account and passport changed to put Dr in front of them.

  7. Ach.  I can’t get on board with this, because name changing/retaining are, in many ways, far from just a symbolic gesture. It’s an active choice as to how you are presenting your identity to the world, and what moniker you use to interact with it. Yes there’s symbolism, but you use your name on a daily basis. It’s a tangible, practical, functional thing as much, if not more, than it’s a symbol of your identity (or a part of your identity). I’m not saying it’s not important to make a choice in your name — it is, and your choice is your beeswax, and it’s not my place to tell you what to do with your name. But that we (women) tie ourselves in knots over what it means and how we’ll be perceived and the piles and piles of paperwork that we need to wade through to change everything from our driver’s license to our library cards, while men skedaddle along without ever giving it a thought, should give us pause for thought.

    Not only is it a testament to honor and tradition that modern women are adopting husbands’ surnames,

    I don’t get what you mean by “a testament to hono[u]r” — could you elaborate on that please?

    it is also a wink and a nod to the notion that a woman’s identity inevitably becomes entangled with her husband’s.

    Winking and nodding that women’s monikers get shifted, harder to trace, and defined primarily in relation to her partner?  Not something I’m on board with.  Linguistically, the flip side of this is that men are either not entangled with their partners, or men’s identities become the basis of a joint identity.  I’m not saying that this is what every or even most women who take their husbands’ surnames think, or that’s the basis they’re working from, but that’s the (symbolic?) consequence of a one-sided change.

    As for name-changing being unimportant because we’re contributing to society in ways that historically we haven’t? Nonsense. For one, women’s accomplishments in nontraditional fields (and, for that matter, recognition that traditionally women-dominated fields are integral to a functional society and should be adequately respected and compensated) are still under-present (ie, women don’t contribute at the upper levels of most public spheres at the same rate as men do), under-appreciated, under-recognized, and underpaid. We *don’t* inhabit the upper reaches of business, science, law, art, etc anywhere near parity, and when we *do* get there, our accomplishments are often pooh-poohed, ignored, or attributed to us having an easy ride to the top solely on account of our gender. It also discounts the fact that historically, there are *many* women who laboured in these fields without any recognition whatsoever, often as their husbands’ lab assistants/transcribers/etc or as an unpaid hobby (in writing/arts type fields). We *have* been contributing to all those fields for hundreds and hundreds of years, just no-one bothered to pay attention or write down or take women’s efforts to create art/do science/etc seriously.

    And if our names were unimportant, wouldn’t women *keeping* their name have no impact on the perception of their contributions to society?  It’s less work to keep them the same than it is to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to change them.

    Furthermore, not all women are mothers, or ascribe to be, and it rankles that motherhood is continually equated with womanhood. It’s that very attitude that has informed and reinforced women’s exclusion from many of the public spheres that we’re in the process of chipping away at — an about face *back* to “the pinnacle of womanhood is mothering” is regressive and risks undoing a lot of hard work women and men have done to get women’s contributions respected. Yes, *some* women view motherhood as their most important role, but that distinction needs to be made *by the individual woman*, not by societal edict. And certainly, mothers’ contributions to the public sphere need to be respected the same as non-mothers’ contributions — which, to my mind, means that they need to be treated as “contributors to public spheres of life” rather than “mothers” or even “women.”

    1. testament to honor references the marriage vow and the  idea that when two people come together as one they are honoring each other.  There are many ways to honor your husband, taking his name is just one.  This does not mean that if you keep your maiden name you are dishonoring him.  I think some of my personal decisions are being generalized or taken too literally.

      I do not believe that “women’s monikers get shifted, harder to trace, and defined primarily in relation to her partner?”  I understand why you would think this way.  For me, I was finally growing into the woman I wanted to be.  Taking my husband’s name facilitated this, for me.  I am more independent now than I was before I got married.

      With respect to current state of women in our society, I am just an optimist and prefer to see the glass half full.

            1. It was a joke… But I believe that men give up many aspects of their single life to evolve into a better husband (or at least, they are supposed to).  It might even be argued that men give up more than women when entering into a marriage.

              1. That whole argument is based on gender roles, that men are the more independent partner before marriage, that women value relationships more than men, and that there are specific roles for “husband” vs. “wife.” Not all that feminist of a conception of marriage, I would say.

  8. Hmn, I keep coming back the word “professional”. It could simply be my interpretation and not the intention of the article (or mentions in the replies), but it is almost as though a professional’s choice is seen as more significant or important than a non-professional’s.

    1. I already wrote the internet equivalent of a novel and decided to leave it out, but I totally read that into it too.  It helps maintains the “professional/unprofessional :: male/female :: workers/mothers” dichotomy too.  January’s clear that mothers’ and womens’ contributions to the public sphere are important, and I’m not saying she isn’t!  But the focus on “professional”  (and what qualifies as professional?) choice makes me raise me eyebrows a bit.

  9. Nope.  Sorry.  Kept my name, and it was for EXACTLY this reason:

    “Professional women do not have time to focus on a symbolic gesture when this world has entrusted us with more important tasks.”

    I have better things to do than gathering up a bunch of documents and hanging around the DMV for hours.  I also had no patience for calling all my banks, financial accounts, relatives, etc to let them know my “new name”, then settling in for months of customer service calls for those that invariably need reminding.  Seriously.  I’m a busy-ass person, and that all sounds like a pain…and it’s one more burden that women are supposed to bear with a smile, to merrily “just take care of” with a skip and a wink, never letting men know how much more work we have to do just to be “normal” by society’s standards.  It’s unfair, and I just won’t do it.

    Call my stance “symbolic” if you want, but it’s my choice and I’ve made it.  And yes, it doesn’t help that now I have a reputation of being “difficult” in my husband’s family for the wacky choice of wanting to keep being myself instead of Mrs. Him (even though my family, obviously, doesn’t find him “difficult” for refusing to take MY name)…honestly, the whole thing is unfair, and totally pisses me off.

    1. I’m definitely with you. Not only do I resent the moniker “Mrs,” because linguistically, with the simple addition of an apostrophe it looks like “Mr’s,” but I resent the disappearing of my self when it comes to name traditions. From addressing things with “Mrs. and Mr. [His full name]” to the idea that I am the one who is more “changed” by the process of marriage (since my name changes but his doesn’t), I am determined to never change my name if I do get married.

      I do think this raises the point that in most all circumstances, we’re keeping our father’s name…but personally, even though I have no emotional attachment to my family, and I’m not particularly fond of my last name, it’s my name goddamnit! To me, it is a part of my self, and I’m not changing that for the sake of some glorified antiquidated societal construct.

      But this is of course my personal inclination, and others are welcome to feel differently.

  10. This topic is, of course, extremely personal and women should, of course, make the choice for themselves. In that vein, I’m trying not to get angry about this piece. Your name. Your choice, great.

    But because I vehemently kept my maiden name, it’s a choice that I am forced to justify by random inquiring strangers and new acquaintances at least once a week. It makes this very touchy for me. As such, I’m going to admit that I find a few things in this piece insulting.

    Firstly, there is the implication that getting comfortable with a name change comes with maturity and the preparedness of becoming a wife/mother. If that was the case for you, great. But I truly hope that is not being extrapolated to other women. There was nothing immature or fearful about my choice to keep my last name. Rather, it was through growing up and being proud of exactly who I am that I realized that changing my last name would be something I would regret.

    Secondly, this sentence: “Professional women do not have time to focus on a symbolic gesture when this world has entrusted us with more important tasks” really strikes a condescending chord with me for those of us who do not consider name changes a “symbolic gesture” but something we feel passionately about. As a professional woman who is working every day to ensure that girls have less obstacles and more opportunities than I, I can say that I absolutely have the time to focus on something like this, while simultaneously focusing on “more important tasks.” And I do not follow where you make the connection that returning to traditional name choices is feminist. Again–choosing to change your name is fine. It’s something each woman can do or not do, but just because a woman makes a choice, doesn’t make it inherently feminist.

    Furthermore, I simply don’t understand the tone here of women “returning” to traditional name changes as if the majority have ever done anything but. Maybe I exist in a different world, but the vast, VAST majority of my peers changed their last names. In my world there was never a trend to nontraditional choices, so there cannot be a counter trend. I’m an outlier in my social circles.

    Finally, the whole argument here rests on the premise that women are freely making a choice. Again, in my experience, my peers are not keeping their names as they get married because they are just doing what is expected. They taren’t making a choice because they don’t know there is one. Honestly, when I have to explain our different last names, I’ve had people say, “You can do that??” They didn’t even know it was an option.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that if you feel comfortable with your choice to change your last name, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that making that choice is necessarily feminist and that people who choose differently than you are immature or focused on an unimportant topic.

    (Edited typos.)

    1. Absolutely, the fact that you have to justify keeping your name is wrong.  This was just my story and why I chose my husband’s name.  I am in no way judging other women or suggesting they follow my lead.  In fact, my emphasis on the “choice” means that women have many options, all equally valid for a myriad of reasons.  Just like you get grilled for keeping your last name, Ten years ago, a woman would often get grilled on why they chose to take their husbands’ name.  I am just remarking on what I see in my world and respect that this is not what you see in yours.

      Again, my focus on “professional women” (and maybe I should qualify this as just in New York, but I’d like to think its happening all over) is not meant to be elitist or implicate anything else negative.  I wrote what I knew about.  One day I hope to expand the piece to include women in all walks of life.  I am curious to know where A.Lynn lives and am shocked that some people did not even know that keeping your name was an option.  I find it so interesting that we live in such different worlds.

      My feminist argument is based on the fact that women have so many choices when it comes to this issue.  Choosing your name is a feminist ideal, not the actual name you chose.  But again, this issue is different for everyone and I believe that my choice to take my husband’s name was  a feminist one.  I in no way meant to imply that women who keep their names are immature.  Again, this is an immensely personal topic and I was commenting on my decision and what I see around me.

      1. I’m not sure on how your feminist argument for taking a husband’s name could be incorporated into my own personal thoughts on my situation, but it delights me that you’ve found a way to take something that seems so negative to me and reclaim it in a feminist manner.

  11. Great topic. People can make choices about married last names for all kinds of reasons. I first realised women took men’s last names when my ballet teacher got married, and I was APPALLED at the unfairness. I think I was 6 or 7. I didn’t take Mr. Donovan’s name at first. Later, I regretted that, because I like the name Donovan and my last name was common and boring, so when I relocated for a job a dozen years later, I made the switch. (I wound up moving back to Kansas City and confusing everyone.)

  12. Typically, once a professional woman gets married, she will simply tack her new surname on after her maiden name with nothing more than a space to herald her new identity. After a sufficient amount of time has passed for colleagues to become familiar with the new surname, she will unceremoniously drop the maiden name.

    Is that true? Do you have any numbers on that? Even if so I imagine it’s not culturally invariant – having two surnames is pretty uncommon in Ireland (where I’m from) and if a woman is going to change her name, in my experience she usually does it after coming back from her honeymoon – in my mother’s case, she didn’t change her surname after marriage, but only after she had children.

    I do think this is one of those ‘debates’ – like the ‘mommy wars’ – which pits women against each other while men sail along unconcerned. Beyond saying “It would be nice if you were aware of the cultural history of your choice, but choose what you like as long as you don’t bother me about it”, I’m not interested.

    1. I do see that happen a lot at my workplace…people using the two names for a while, and then dropping the maiden name. And some women just keep the maiden name for work, although they have changed it legally to their husband’s name and go by that with their kids’ teachers and such.

      1. I think this is an interesting point because everything that has anything to do with me is interesting.  I never intended to use maiden name/married name, BUT I ended up keeping my maiden name on accident on Facebook (it refused to believe that my married name is an actual name).  And I really, really am happy about that.  It allows me to have two separate online identities, one for work that is professional, and one for myself, which is more personal.  There’s nothing on either one that I would be totally mortified if it got out, but I don’t want to, say, have my students looking at pictures of me on the beach, or right after giving birth, or whatever.

        1. I wonder if some men would like the option of a professional name and a private one? Not that many of them would think of it, I guess.

          One of my co-workers has been married for a long time and he and his wife both hyphenated, which I remember impressed me when I interviewed him. :)

              1. The only time I’ve ever heard a man mention it is when he has a double-barrelled surname and wonders whether he’ll pass it on to his children as-is or not. And of course there’s the other men who look at you sideways if you even suggest that you perhaps, possibly, maybe might not want to take your hypothetical husband’s surname.

            1. I actually think the male surname issue is evolving, albeit very slowly.  I am aware of several men entering into heterosexual marriages deciding to hyphenate their name as well.  This trend seems more common abroad but I do think this next generation will see more husband’s changing their names, especially with the rapidly increasing rate of “stay at home” Dads.

    2. @QoB – I do not have statistics on this trend.  Again, these were just my observations after spending 10 years in the practice of law.  Almost every woman who got married during my tenure in the legal field, eventually took her husband’s last name.

  13. I wanted to add, too, that I see what you are saying – that for some women, choosing their husband’s name is a feminist act.  It was for me.  It helped me with my career, it is a unique name that makes me less forgettable, I am stronger with it than I was with my maiden name.

    So I think your point that postmodernism allows for women to grab hold of the reigns of more “traditional” roles and own them (whatever that means for each person) is spot on.  I just think that the system itself is screwed up.

  14. I’m with the other replies, in that changing name is a personal decision. It’s also not just a dilemma for professional women.

    Out of interest, I’m in the midst of reading Wedlock, and it would appear that a lot of women in the 18th century (and I’m presuming, it persisted) kept their maiden names, but it wasn’t choice, it was what their father’s chose, so as to continue to name. It was an interesting reminder that for all the history of marriage and the possibilities with names, that really, if there’s any should, it should be that it is a personal choice.

    1. Changing one’s name is an immensely personal decision.  I agonized over the decision with two separate engagements at two different points in my life  and came up with two very different outcomes.  I agree that individual choices should not mean something to other people.  But they do.  We live in a society that boxes us into categories based on decisions that we make everyday.  We may not like it, but this is the world we live in and until we can change it, people (not just women) will continue to be defined by their choices.

  15. I agree with Susan that this post was interesting, but I can’t get on board with it. My biggest problem with the argument comes in here:

    Instead, the return to tradition should be celebrated as a marker of the strength of feminist ideals and achievements while simultaneously honoring family values.

    The decision a woman makes about her name shouldn’t be anything to other people. It’s her decision to make. I’m always fascinated by hearing the process by which others have come to their decisions, and I have and will probably continue to talk about my decision at length. If you want to talk about how you think your process honors family values, that’s fine, but I am incredibly uncomfortable about throwing out what other woman should and should not be doing with their own names.

    1. Any time anyone talks about honouring “family values” I get uncomfortable, both because of what it’s meant in the past and because it always seems to end up requiring people – both men and women – to subsume their individual identities into the family’s hivemind mentality.

      And you’re absolutely right – it’s no one’s business but our own what we do with our names.

      1. Me too.  Which is why it’s so important to take a little phrase like that back from the far right and put it where it rightly belongs…

        I in no way meant to judge or ridicule women for the decisions they make in their lives.  I wrote this piece after retiring from ten years of practicing law in NYC.  I limited the piece to “Professional” women because that is what I knew about.  During this decade, I rarely saw a woman keep her own name after marriage.  If a woman used her maiden name, she was usually from an earlier generation.  This was just my experience and yes, the is a very personal issue.  Yet how many personal decisions must be made before someone can define it as a trend?

    2. Again, this was just one girl’s experience in one profession.  I wrote about “professional” woman (not hookers but lawyers!) bc that is the demographic I was exposed to.  I would love to venture out there and see what trends are evolving in other fields and demographics and  I hope to expand the piece one day.

  16. This was an interesting read, but I am not totally on board.  I should preface this by saying that I am a woman who took her husband’s last name, so I clearly have weighed out a lot of the pros and cons of it – but if the system says that a woman should give up her name for her new husband’s, that system is screwed up.  There are all sorts of reasons to do it, but that doesn’t mean the system isn’t screwed up.  It’s screwed up.

    The problem isn’t that women shouldn’t be returning to traditional values – many women find great fulfillment in being a wife and a mother – but that the system itself requires *women* to change while men are…just bringing us into the fold.  Of course there is nothing wrong with the idea of identity changing, becoming entwined with the person you marry, but why is it just women that are supposed to do that?  Does that mean that men stay the same, do not become entwined?

    I tend to stay out of this debate because I really believe that each person chooses what is best for them, and that can be empowering, no matter what the choice ends up being.  But I can’t look at the system of one person being expected to change something that is a part of their identity, and the other person expected to continue unchanged, and say that it is a-okay.

    1. Wow!  I know this piece often hits a nerve but way to get the ball rolling.  I will answer each and every question/ comment/ complaint as soon as possible.  Thanks for reading and jumping into the fray.

      – January

    2. I absolutely agree that the system is screwed up.  And one day I will post my diatribe on living in a patriarchal society when our history illustrates that we were meant to be a matriarchal one.  This piece is more about beating the system with a smile and making it work in our favor, without trying to change it.

Leave a Reply