Wednesday, December 15, 2010

THE ODD RESPONSE - Name change after marriage

Bride-To-Be recently asked...

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?

Dear Bride-To-Be,

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..."


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was a really thought out reply. Thanks for taking the time to give me your two cents.

Its really informative and non bias.

Thanks :)

After The Wedding Name Change Kits said...

That is a fantastic response - most women just go with the flow and change their name as expected, its good for people to start questioning firstly if they will change their name, and perhaps secondly, what they will change it to if they decide to go for it.

Anonymous said...

This was a thoughtful response, but it seemed to just put a new spin on the reasons fo following an old tradition.

I'm also getting married this year, and my fiance and I want everything in our relationship to be equal from the beginning. Of course men and women have biological differences, but our last name isn't one of them. I think you should read everything you wrote above, but switching it so that the husband is considering taking his wife's name. Why not? The family will share one name, and will anyone remember or care 20 yeas down the line? Yet, most people would brush this off as absurd because a man is never expected or asked to give up his identity like that.

The system is unequal. I would not asse that an older woman who took her husband's last name hates equality, but I DO look at women who kept their names or hyphenated and think, "Cool. She can stand up for herself and her husband is supportive of that. They must have a strong, equal relationship."

For the record, my fiance and I are both hyphenating because it seemed like the most equal option for us. I think that changing your last name WILL send a message to your daughters - that you gave it some thought but followed thadition in the end, that their father never considered giving up his name for equality, and that they shouldn't grow attached to their own last names because someday they will disappear as well. And I think that last one's the most important - growing up in a household where my mother didn't change her name, it seemed so odd and patriarchal that other mothers did. Perhaps that's why I view most women's decision to change their names as a sign that they don't consider themseves equal partners, and that marriage is really about giving themselves up to their husbands.

Chrissie Williams said...

wow anon, thank you for the thoughtful comment...

i do of course disagree on many levels, but to each his/her own of course :)

it seems to me that you make a lot of assumptions about why a woman may change her name, that it's about "giving herself away" rather than doing what she thinks is best for her, her relationship, and her future children.

i don't think there is anything wrong with a man choosing to take his wife's last name if that is what they both decide to do.

would you assume that a man who chooses to do this is unequal in some way simply because he wanted his wife's last name rather than keeping his own?

by assuming a woman is following tradition blindly and "giving in" to her husband's requests - therefore living as a subordinate to him and his decisions as patriarch - it seems that a stereotype exists for you that says "if a woman takes her husbands last name, she is not his equal."

i find that idea somewhat absurd... likely because my husband began dating me because of my independent nature and ability to hold my own in a relationship.

i chose to take his last name legally while writing under my maiden name for a variety of reasons, but none of which were due to pressure from him about any of it. he has a 13 letter last name, and with my 8 letter last name it would be quite the hyphenate if we went that route... and when hyphenating, we have to consider our children (if we choose to have them).

what's to happen when little Jane Doe-Peitrolugallostein falls in love with John Thompson-Williamsburg? In order to have an "equal" relationship/marriage must they then re-hyphenate and be the Doe-Pietrolugallostein-Thomspon-Williamsburg family?

by assuming that a woman who keeps her maiden name after marriage "can stand up for herself and her husband is supportive of that and that they must have a strong, equal relationship" it is suggested that by not following tradition this woman is somehow in a "better relationship."

simply put, these assumptions are the problem (in my opinion) not the age-old traditions that propagate them.

if a woman chooses, by her own decision to change her last name i find her no less impressive than a woman who chooses not to, by her own decision.

but if we begin making judgments about either of these women based on their personal decisions, it's not a result of "a system being unequal" but instead of people being judgmental.

as you said I think that changing your last name WILL send a message to your daughters - that you gave it some thought but followed thadition in the end, that their father never considered giving up his name for equality, and that they shouldn't grow attached to their own last names because someday they will disappear as well.

i would hate for my daughters to think my taking their father's last name meant he was a stubborn bull who gave me no other option. through discussion, when asked, i'd tell them my reasons and make sure they know it's their choice when/if the time comes, and that i'd support them regardless.

Name Change After Marriage said...

When many women get married, one of the first things they often want to do is to change their last name. It seems as though it would be a long and complicated process, and in some cases, it is. In most cases, however, it is fairly easy and painless.

The first thing that you need to do when you are changing your last name is to get a certified copy of your marriage certificate. These are usually available about 20 days to a month after you get married. This will show both your maiden name and your husband's last name so that you can show that your name can be legally changed.

last name change said...

Hi! If you believe in “men and women are treated equally”, then you should combine you and your husband’s name. Like famous celebrity BRANGELINA. Isn’t it a good suggestion? Where both of you will remain with equal importance. No will dominate other.