I'm currently engaged (to be married 2011) and I started thinking about my last name. Traditionally, the wife takes the husbands last name. However; I am not really what you'd call traditional in any way and am worrying (maybe to much) about the message that taking it really has. I don't really feel that names are all that important..its the people attached to them that matter the most (a rose by any other name..) but its MY name. I feel sort of weird having to give it up. Also.. I want to bring my future children up in a household where men and women are treated equally (a safe-haven from the outside world where that is not the case).
What kind of message would be taking my future husband's name send to my future daughters? Sometimes I think I'm thinking too much about this and my thoughts get all jumbled together.
Its just a name... I guess its just one of those things where I feel like its unfair towards the woman. Why does she have to be the one to give up her name? Who decided that the son is the one who is to carry on family names, you know?
Anyway, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do yet but I'd love some perspective. Will it even matter 20 years down the line?
I know very well what it feels like to be "nontraditional" and yet still at the mercy of societal expectation. As brides we're expected to want it all, frilly white ball gowns to chocolate fountains, letterpress invites and a limitless budget. And at the end of the day, we're supposed to be excited about "taking his name" and all it entails. We feel as though we're supposed to enjoy our new signature as much as we adored scribbling our crushes name next to ours in 8th grade.
But at the end of the wedding day, at the end of the engagement, and on the cusp of marriage, changing our name might feel like "too much."
After all, we changed our marital status, our w-4s at work, and our lifestyle for him... for the marriage and in light of all the newness, giving up yet another aspect of our identity feels like a huge sacrifice.
Some people may say "it's just a name." But I don't agree, it's part of our known self, part of the person we became, part of the person he fell in love with. It's more than just a word, it's the last name of our parents, it's our lineage.
As women who seem to be getting married later and later, it's also our professional self, our pen name, our work experience all rolled into a name we've gone by for as long as we can remember.
And so to answer your first question, I don't think you're over-thinking this. I tend to think most people under-think it, they don't question why we do these things in our society and so they follow blindly with what is "usually" done without considering the outcome. Here's some general info on what global name-changing practices are from Wikipedia. Oddly enough, some of the areas considered to be less concerned with equality are the areas in which women usually retain their maiden names.
But I applaud you, for going against the grain and questioning your personal motives, your future-husband's, and the outcome it may have for your family.
Pay close attention to your wording when you think about this, as you asked...
"I feel sort of weird having to give it up."
I think this feeling of "giving it up" is a normal gut response. It feels like something is being taken from you. But I think when we open our minds a little broader, we might find rather than surrendering our former name, we're instead gaining a new one. And that is actually pretty cool, it's a fresh start and a symbol to those around us that we've entered a new stage in our lives, where we're building a family out of choice rather than the one we were given at birth.
You then mentioned...
Also.. I want to bring my future children up in a household where men and women are treated equally (a safe-haven from the outside world where that is not the case).
This is where I could go on FOREVER discussing the man/woman equality issue. I think men and women should be treated "equally" in that they deserve the same respect, equal pay for equal work, human rights etc. But at the end of the day, men and women aren't "the same." Of course there are stereotypes we both fight against, but in spite of these we have our differences physically/mentally that have been documented and proven. Ideally, we raise our children in an environment where they feel they have equal opportunities regardless of their sex, but similarly we must all know our biological differences.
That said, your children will learn equality based on your actions and your husband's actions, not based on your last name. You're gaining a "family" name in taking his, you're avoiding the "why don't you share a last name" question at every future dinner party.
I think in taking your husband's name, the message you're sending your daughters is that you wanted to, regardless of your reasons. Because at the end of the day, you don't "have to." There's no law that says you must take his name, and no one can fill out the appropriate paperwork to see it through except for YOU.
And if that is the message you're sending, is it really so bad? Isn't part of equality about doing what we want to do without restriction, whether our reasons are based on ease, tradition, or making our own way?
There are always the options to hyphenate, to not take his name, to choose a new name for the two of you, for him to take your name... But I think it's important to determine if those choices say something about you that simply taking his name wouldn't.
At the end of the day, it's a personal choice, and not one to be taken lightly, your name is attached to your identity, your past. But marriage is about your future, it's about agreeing to make a permanent change in your life by accepting compromise, sacrifice, and a hope for getting more in return.
(Also feel free to mention to those daughters of yours that it was a woman who grew them in her belly for 9 months, I'm sure that piece of information will say a lot more about your differences and equality than any old last name ever could).
And when you consider all that you'll gain, ask yourself if the name will matter in 20 years as much as it seems to matter now. Do you look at your mother, or her mother or any other older married woman and think, "Wow, she's Mrs. His-Last-Name, she must not be treated as his equal and probably thinks feminism is a bad thing."
I bet you probably won't.
I bet it will be something more like this...
"Wow, she's still married?! I wonder what they're doing right..."