Friday, March 13, 2009

Name Changing

I usually keep this to myself, but hey, I'm feeling a little counterhegemonic.

If you are a woman in a heterosexual marriage who changes your name when you get married, I think a little less of you (as I do for the husbands who support/encourage/require such a change). Sorry, it's true. In the long run, it doesn't really matter, because you may have many other excellent qualities that will make up for the fact that you've chosen to do something I find to be incredibly stupid.

The reasons women give for changing their names are ... wow, I have to find different ways of saying "stupid" if I'm going to write this post.

1. "My husband's name is better/shorter/prettier/whatever than mine." Mm-hm. My friend whose last name was Stryjewski changed her name; her brother never changed his.

2. "Why shouldn't I take my husband's name? After all, right now I have my father's name." Well, that's between you and your parents. But the longer you have your name, the longer it becomes a part of your identity. When you parents gave you your father's name at birth, yeah, that would have been a great time for you to change it, if you could. But by the time you're 18 and can change your name, you've had your father's name for 18 years, and it's YOUR NAME. You've been interpellated, I guess. (Yeah, my Althusser is way rusty.)

3. "How will people know that I'm my children's mother if we don't have the same name?" Hm. Gee. I don't know. Every day when I go stand outside my kids' school to pick them up, I wear a sign saying "WIFE OF HUSBAND'SLASTNAME" so that my kids know whom to run to. Thank the FSM that they're old enough now to walk themselves home, because once I forgot the sign and my kids wandered around the schoolyard for hours, and Child Protective Services was called and it was A Thing.

Oh wait, that didn't happen.

When I call the school or the pedi or something, I say "Hello, this is Wendy MyLastName, Eric and Sophie Husband'sLastName's mother." If you have a common "easier" name (See #1) you probably have to say that anyway. Here in SE Mass, chances are if your name is Medeiros, for example, you will probably have to say "Hi, I'm Jane Medeiros, Ashley Medeiros' mother." As opposed to Jacob Medeiros', Samantha Medeiros', or Joey Medieros' mother.

The fact is that divorce is common, and plenty of children have last names that are different from their mothers. When people express the desire for all members of a family to "have the same name" for convenience sake, they're really making it much more difficult for those who don't have the same last name. By using the issue of names to trumpet a 2-parent family that fits a social ideal, are women subtly marginalizing those who don't have that 2-parent family that fits the ideal? My daughter and I don't have the same last name, by my husband's and my choice. And her friend Kaylee has a different last name from her mother (who remarried) and her friend Rachel has a different last name from her mother (who also remarried). Is it really important for us to be able to look at a family's names and judge whose biological parents are still married to each other? When did that become important?

Basically, women change the names they have had for over 18 years to the names of their husbands because they don't want to challenge the status quo. This is why I reserve a little bit more disdain for the upper middle class women who have tons of social capital already but don't want to give up this little bit extra in the name of understanding the varieties of family structures there are out there.

I probably have more reasons why name-changing is so offensive, but I can't remember them right now. I'm sure if anyone comments, it will be to challenge me, and then I'll remember the other arguments. :)


Sarah said...

I'm with you- and also think less of women who keep their names but give all their children their husbands' names.

(My husband and I both changed our names when we married. I suspect most people assume I changed mine, but try to refrain from randomly clarifying the point.)

Wendy said...

"I'm with you- and also think less of women who keep their names but give all their children their husbands' names. "

LOL, that's me. But in my defense, I actually got my husband to agree to give our son my last name. And also in my defense, I was severely depressed before and after my son was born. Maybe with clearer thinking I'd have done differently.

Libby said...

yeah, see, I wish we'd both changed our names. Because I did want us all to have the same name, and I saw no point in giving my kids his name if I didn't have it. In retrospect there are/were better solutions, and I did take the easy one. (And, it did sound better with my first name, and I did make the father/husband argument. After all, I did choose this name, something I can't say about my birthname.)

For me there are just way bigger battles to fight. But you have every right to think less of me...

Wendy said...

Libby, of course there are bigger battles to fight. I think it's precisely because it *is* so easy to have a different name from the rest of the family that I think it should be done (not legally, of course).

Laura said...

Heh--love this! So, my last name is Blankenship. I knew from the time I was like 12 that there was no way I was changing it. I am, in fact, the last Blankenship in the family since my father was the only boy and I am the only remaining child. My husband's last name is Blank. Yes, seriously. So yes, it would have been much, much easier to change my name, except that I have a sister in law named Laura. At family gatherings, my husband's grandfather would explain that I would change my name when Laura got married, that I was just doing it so that people wouldn't be confused. She's still not married. :)

My kids both have my husband's last name, but I've told them both that they're welcome to use my name when they reach 18. I sort of wish I'd pushed to have one of them have my last name. We did discuss it, but it just seemed more complicated than it was worth.

My husband gets called by my last name fairly often. My kids' friends often call me Ms. Blank. I don't always correct them, but I think I should more often. If they called me something like Ms. Jones, of course I would.

Wendy said...

Laura, my kids have my last name as a middle name. This satisfied me on a few levels. I don't have a middle name, and I didn't want to give my kids middle names that signified ... what? I've never been sure.

The funny thing is that before I talked my husband into having our son have my last name, he kept saying "Well, he will be the last Husband'sLastName." I didn't find that persuasive, and then 2 years ago, when we went through all my MIL's and FIL's stuff when she died and he moved, we found out that Husband'sLastName isn't even "his." His grandfather took his stepfather's name when he emigrated to the US in the early 20th century. LOL!

Anonymous said...

You forgot the inevitable "But it was really important to him, and I didn't care." Hmm, why could that be?

Jackie said...

My husband and I both changed our names, to an entirely new one-- do you think less of us too?:) I'm very satisfied with our choice, and while I think people who only knew me before might think I changed my name only, I disabuse them as quickly as I can. I have also told the story many times to my students over the years, and almost every time they say, "Wow, I didn't even know you could do that!" I've had a few female students say they are going to do the same, which always warms my patriarchy-blaming heart!

Doug K said...

my wife changed her name, only because we were emigrating to the US on my visa application. If memory serves the forms then (1989) did not provide for the wife to have a different name from the husband. It certainly wasn't her choice, put up a good fight..

My eldest son should have his mother's name, he's virtually a reincarnation of her father..