What’s in a Name?

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to get married. I cannot believe the degree to which people think they are entitled to judge and offer completely unsolicited opinions. I’m not talking about my family and friends. That I expected; moreover, they care about me and are a part of my life. But even passing acquaintances and near-strangers feel the need to inject themselves into the situation.

What do you mean there’s no ring? He needs to get you a ring!

January, you mean this January? Are you crazy/stupid/knocked up or something?

What do you mean you’re having the ceremony at the same place as the reception?

Your boss is officiating? Really? That’s so weird.

You mean your brother is your fiance’s best man, right? You’re a girl! He can’t stand on your side!

What do you mean you’re wearing sneakers? You can’t wear sneakers to your own wedding!

All of it is pretty ridiculous, but it pales in comparison to the variety and vigor with which I get unsolicited opinions about whether I should change my name. Now, I have a strong opinion about what is right for me on this subject, but I honestly couldn’t care less what other women decide for themselves. This is 2010, and here in the US, women have a lot of choices. Gone are the days where you automatically became Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName, when my grandmother replacing her middle name with her maiden name was positively scandalous. But it seems no matter what women choose, someone has to put on their judgey face about it. You only need to look at some of the comments on this post on A Practical Wedding to see it, and that’s on an explicitly “safe” post on a blog full of… well, practical people.

I am planning to keep my last name, for a variety of reasons. Yes, it’s a feminist thing, but it’s more than that. My name is my identity, and while I am excited about moving forward in life with my soon-to-be husband and growing together, I have also been this person with this name for twenty-nine years. I’m not MyFirstName HisLastName; that’s actually his grandmother. I’m me.

I also work in politics, and for better or for worse, your name is your currency in this business. I am far enough along in my career that I have invested quite a bit into building up that currency. I don’t want to play the one-name-professionally, one-name-privately game, and my name is long enough that I don’t want to hyphenate it for practical reasons.

As odd as it sounds, part of my desire to keep my name is because I am proud of my ethnicity. Yes, I’m third generation and don’t speak the language, but it is something that is culturally significant to both my mother’s and father’s families. I appreciate my fiance’s family heritage, but I do like that someone can hear my name and immediately know where my family is from. That sounds silly to a lot of people, but coming from a city that has a rich ethnic history and living in this particular ethnic neighborhood, it is something that’s important to me.

Also, I just really like my name. Well, my first name was the most common name for many, many years and is a dime a dozen. But my last name is quite pretty. It looks nice, it sounds nice; it’s a really great name. Fiance agrees but has no interest in taking my name. He’s the last male in his family’s line, and we agreed that in the unlikely event that we have hypothetical children, they will take his name. And I am ok with that.

Now, this is what works for us. How it affects anyone else is beyond me, particularly those people outside of our family, but that hasn’t stopped people from commenting on it every chance they get. I’m a lesbian shitass for not following tradition and threatening my husband’s role as The Man by not taking his name. And what about The Children that we may or may not have anyway? The school will think they come from a Broken Home. Or GOOD FOR ME, said with a sigh of relief, like it would have been absolutely abhorrent to do anything different. Or else I’m a bad feminist for not saddling these same hypothetical children with an eighteen letter, hyphenated last name to acknowledge our blended relationship. And on, and on, and on, and on.

Surprisingly, my own family cares little about this. They love me, they love him, they’re just happy we’re making it official after “living in sin” for two years. It’s those same near-strangers who seem to be the most vocal about it. I clearly have no problem talking about this topic, at length. I think the reasons why women choose to keep their names, hyphenate their names, change their names, or make up new names alltogether are endlessly fascinating in their variety and which factors they find to be most important and how their potential spouses feel about their choices. But I just don’t get the Judgey McJudgerson attitude that others pass around without even considering that they’re talking to a real person with real feelings and needs.

So when these people give me the third degree, I smile, answer calmly, and silently remind myself that they’re not invited.

By BaseballChica03

Political hack. Word nerd. Stays crispy in milk. Oxford Comma user. Blogger since 2001.

7 replies on “What’s in a Name?”

I kept chuckling as I read this post because can relate so much to this! Most people seemed so perplexed when my fiance and I decided together to be engaged, and a lot of them don’t understand why I didn’t jump at the chance to have another piece of jewelry. (Really – that’s how one or two people have put it, like I should have taken advantage of the opportunity for someone to “have to” buy me a ring.) And my best friend, who is male, is going to be my man of honor at our wedding. We’re not getting married in the near, near future (shooting for May 2012, so we can take our time and not have to plan anything while I’m finishing my thesis and taking oral exams this spring), but I’m anticipating getting met with more confusion as we start planning things – my aunt has already asked my mom if she’s tried to talk me out of wearing a purple dress; my mom ignored the question. We’re leaning towards both hyphenating our names but disagree on which order sounds best, and we’re not having kids so we haven’t had to consider how our decision may affect anybody else.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your story, and I hope you keep us updated on how everything goes. And congratulations! :)

First of all, thanks all who offered well-wishes. It is much appreciated!

@finaglemethis, what do you do, if you don’t mind sharing? I’ve found the biggest expense by a long shot has been the food. Photography would probably be a close second if my lovely cousin hadn’t agreed to do it for us for free. I understand why some people need to do a whole big thing, but we mostly wanted to just get it over with (how romantic) and get on with our lives. We’d have eloped to City Hall if I didn’t think my family would have been so upset about it.

@OpheliaPayne, I am absolutely determined to do something that will work for us. For as much as it’s more than just “our day,” it really is mostly about our families, too. I understand making concessions to them, but on the other hand, we are not fancy people, and we don’t like being the center of attention. So… it is not going to be what a lot of people expect of a wedding, I think, but it will still be ok.

@HelloKitty and MrsVerdalliance, for sure! I am done caring what other people think about my wedding conforming to their norms about what weddings should be. They don’t live my life for me!

Because the ritual of marriage is imposed by society. It is a way to control people, women more so, to keep order among the masses. That’s why people make it “their” business. Although we American like to claim it is about the couple only, that is not true. Marriage and children are the two topics that “outsiders” feel it is okay to give you their two cents’ worth. Toss back those pennies I say.You do right by smiling and answering calmly. These battles are not worth fighting. Copgratulations.

I think that wedding sounds awesome, and your plans and challenges sound a lot like mine were. (“What in the hell is a Unitarian, Ophelia?!?!”) I changed my name b/c I gave into pressure from everyone else, and I still kind of regret it. I had a pretty good writing resume under my old name, which was interesting and unusual.
You have the wedding you want, and ignore all the bastards who tell you otherwise.

That’s awesome and very well said. I don’t see why people get their panties in a knot over what other people want to be called. I have a very unique last name that I’d be sad to replace with something not equally as awesome.

More than that, though, I loved the things people are “criticizing” you about with your wedding arrangements. I work weddings all year round (and actually hate them), and every week (including tonight) I sit there and think about all the money they’re throwing down the drain for one night, and how the focus is lost. Why make it cookie-cutter (even though they think they aren’t). Make it your own, and make it – like you said – practical. Plus, tennis shoes rule.


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