My name, loud and clear

I know the issue of changing your name after marriage is contentious, but I didn’t quite realize the magnitude of this until yesterday’s comment explosion at A Practical Wedding. Now I know the magnitude is 570 (and counting).

I also didn’t realize quite how much baggage we all carry around about the choice we made (or are about to make) regarding our name. And how when we flail that weighty baggage around we might whack someone in the face with it. And hurt them.

Or more likely, piss them off.

We’re all guilty of it, myself included.

The comment I read yesterday (and I’ll admit I couldn’t get through all of them, I have a day job) that irked me the most stated (in not exactly these words as I don’t want to pick on anyone outright) that “I am a feminist therefore I kept my name” (emphasis mine).

I don’t think it was meant to be provocative – it was buried within a very reasonable comment – but I felt this sentiment floating between the lines of many commenters and this was the closest I saw to it being said out loud: if you’re a feminist, you should keep your name.

I took my husband’s name. I didn’t suffer a lot of angst over it, though of course I felt a bit of sadness. My reasoning: a common family name means a lot to me. And I first made that decision as a child, well before I was aware of the mission for women to exert their independence through their name.  When my mother re-married, she took my step-father’s name and I insisted on changing my name too. Granted that was also partly due to moving to Canada – my Finnish last name would have been a challenge to say the least – but I knew I really wanted to have the same last name as the rest of the family. And so it was.

Frankly, it was easy for me to make the same choice for the family I am now creating myself. That doesn’t make me any less independent, in fact I think it speaks to my independence that I went with my gut rather than where the tide was pushing me. As someone in an academic field with very liberal friends, there was more pressure for me to keep my name than to change it.

Nearly all of my close friends have gotten married in the last couple of years and not a single one (besides me) has changed their name. I’ll admit that sometimes it bothers me to be the only one to have made the ‘traditional’ choice because it makes me feel like I am viewed as less independent and feminist. I know those things to be untrue about myself, but when I read things like “I’m a feminist therefore I kept my name” I realize where those insecurities come from; that belief is out there.

So let me say it loud and clear – I am a feminist and I took my husband’s name with pride.

P.S. I was motivated to write this post after reading Sarah’s smart and pointed comments on the topic at Little Pieces Everywhere.


Posted on September 29, 2011, in Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I’m with you here. I also changed (still getting used to it, keep saying my other name by accident and then looking quite a fool when I correct myself). I was under the impression that being a feminist meant knowing that I can make my own decisions for what is best for myself. I’ve got lots of reasons, but I also think they are sort of our own business and its strange how often I feel like I have to defend my choice or be considered a weak old-fashioned woman!

    • Exactly, it would be really nice if people gave each other the benefit of the doubt, especially other women, without all of us having to write an essay on why our choice still makes us a good feminist/good wife.

  2. Exactly. As far as this particular topic, I beleive feminism doesnt have anything to do with names themselves, it has everything to do about how we talk and ask people about their names. And with believing that all men and women have the tools to make the best decision for themselves.

  3. I totally disagree with that commenter’s statement. As you pointed out, feminism is about CHOICE. And I support anyone’s choice as long as they have the opportunity to make it.

    What struck me about the entire thread, and our conversations outside of it, is that it’s still such a hot-button issue. I find it amazing that we all have such disparate experiences when it comes down to changing your name. My experience, for example, is that I’m the only person I know IRL who has chosen to keep her name. And… that’s a little weird for me, in the same vein that it’s weird for you to have gone the “traditional” route.

    Hearing from so many people, though… I can’t really grasp why we’re not more supportive of each other. I don’t mean on an individual level, like you and me, but collectively. I hear so many reasons — my maiden name is important to me, I want a family name, I have a bad relationship with my father, I’m the last person in my family with this name, I prefer the way my partner’s name sounds over mine — that I can’t fathom NOT understanding that it’s a highly personal choice, and celebrating our individual choices together.

    • Exactly, every comment on that thread was a personal account of very specific circumstances and it’s not fair to stack our choices against each others’ because it will never be a fair comparison. Why is it that women make it so hard on each other? About weddings, about marriage, about parenting – the harder the task, the more we tear each other down. I do love how APW usually breaks that pattern, but on topics like this, there are still some slips.

      • I am late to this party, but I think this hits the nail on the head. I wrote a post way back when I first started my blog about why I was planning to keep my name, but it was completely from the “I” perspective. I am established in my career. I like my last name. We are very close with my family and not his. It was a royal pain in the patootie to change my name back after my divorce, and I don’t want to get a new driver’s license, new passport, new sign on my office door, etc., etc., etc.

        But all of my reasons are personal reasons, and the next person will have very personal reasons for doing something completely different. This debate blew up last year, too. I remember someone getting in my grill because I explained my reasons for not wanting to take Tony’s last name. This person was upset that Tony hadn’t offered to take my name, and then I felt like I had to defend his choice so that he didn’t come across as some mysoginistic a-Hole. But really, back off Beyotch.

        So, yeah. It’s a CHOICE, and different people will make different choices.

  4. This is one of those decisions you get flak (and judged) from/by someone no matter what you do. I kept my name and I’m getting called feminist (with a snear). My sister hyphenated and I’ve heard people say “pick a name!” You changed and feel like people are judging you for being traditional. It is a no win.

    I’m hoping to use this as an exercise to prepare me for other areas where I’ll get flak no matter what I do (ahem, children). You are having a homebirth? (judge). You are getting an epidural? (judge). You are co-sleeping? (judge). You let your kid watch TV? (judge). I’m hoping to get to the point where it all just bounces off me and becomes background noise.

    • I can’t believe people are calling you feminist with a sneer! urge to punch rising.

      But you’re right, we do need to grow thicker skins because parenting will be so filled with flak coming from all directions (not to mention other things). And that’s where I am grateful for this little online community, because I think it’ll make all the difference in weathering that.

  5. I love this and felt the same exact way when I read through APW the other day. I changed my name and love it. And I consider myself a feminist. Because, as all of you have already said, I had the choice and I honored that choice by making a personal decision. I work for a national environmental organization and, even though I haven’t changed it at work yet (and that’s just a logistical issue) people are stunned to hear that I changed it in my every day life. As if I am less of a woman for accepting a new name. It drives me crazy. Thank you for writing it more eloquently that I could have!

    • The pendulum really has swung too far the other way when women are made to feel bad for changing their name or (god forbid) staying home to care for their children. I hope that our generation can start to demonstrate that doing those things isn’t necessarily oppressive (having to work to the bone in your paying job and at home IS oppressive, but that’s a topic for another day).

      • I so agree. My boss calls the women at my work who decide to take extra time attached to their maternity leave “breeders”. Not mothers. Breeders, this negative connotation as if they are wasting their time overpopulating the planet when they should be fighting the good fight at work. It’s awful. I hope to be able to mix days at the office with some days from home when I have children but am definitely not getting the feeling that will be accepted (even though the org allows it-but that’s a topic for another day as you say!). We have swung too far.

      • I think so much of this depends on where you live and work. I live in Ohio and I am one of very few women I know with a hyphenated last name. There are even less who kept their maiden name. Most people in Ohio don’t even ask if you are changing your last name. They assume you are. My decision to hyphenate was treated as quite controversial, especially in light of the fact that I do want to stay home with my children. So many people assumed that someone *traditional* enough to stay home, who *clearly* doesn’t want a career, shouldn’t be clinging to their maiden name. The whole situation continues to bring up uncomfortable questions, assumptions and judgement. You’re right. Being a feminist should be about supporting all women in having the choice and making the right one for you and your family.

      • That’s interesting that even hyphenation is so rare there – sometimes I forget that I exist in a very non-conservative bubble and start to think that the movement for women to keep their name is as strong everywhere as it is here. From that perspective, the whole debate does feel more loaded because name change is expected. For me, it really felt like a choice and for that I am lucky.

  6. YEAHHH NINA! I am in the same exact place as you are – I never even considered it. I wanted to share Brian’s last name a year into dating, to establish us as Team Thislastname.

    To be honest, it hasn’t been a bad transition in real life. The only place I ever feel the fierce urge to defend my decision to change my name has been in good ol’ blogland, where some of the feminists can get a tad holier-than-thou.

    • Yeah I mostly see it in blogland too, though it translates a bit into real-life insecurity, and I have to let go of that. And mostly I have, but completely, so comments like that just roll off my back.

  7. I really appreciated this thoughtful post. I didn’t even try reading most of the comments this time – last time the topic came up we had the same comment explosion, and I kept up with that whole thing and it was exhausting! even with different people commenting this time, I think it’s a lot of the same stories. I like Meg’s initial point, that we should talk more about it as a list of choices rather than you-do-or-you-don’t, and that it shouldn’t just be something the woman has to decide, but men should have to consider as well (talking hetero marriages here). but of course the tendency is to share “this is what I did and why I did it” and even when it’s accompanied by the APW “but everyone should make their own choice” mantra, value judgments slip in without anyone really meaning–as you hilariously put it–to whack someone else upside the head with their flailing weighty baggage.

    I agree that the pendulum has swung too far when it comes to name changing and other “traditional” choices, but I also think reacting with anger at women who unintentionally whack you with their baggage isn’t helping either. I don’t think you’re doing that here, as I said I love this thoughtful post! but some of the stronger reactions to the post & comments have seemed.. less than helpful.. to me. We can’t just keep slinging mud back and forth, right? And those of us who are proud feminists who changed our names should speak up more, which is, I think, Meg’s point.. On twitter it seemed like those who felt judged in the comments just refused to speak up about their own choice, and that seemed entirely opposite of what the post was about..

    Of course here I am, a person who didn’t chime in at all on the name change post. The only reason I didn’t was because I felt I was repeating myself from the last conversation, but maybe I should have said something this time too.

    This hugely long comment all to say, I agree that it’s unfortunate how there’s such competition surrounding being a “good feminist.” And I don’t know what to do about it, except be a proud feminist and cheer on other proud feminists, and try not to whack anyone with my baggage..! Thank you for opening up this conversation over here. :)

    • “women who unintentionally whack you with their baggage” – Exactly! And I do think this particular comment was just that, unintentional flinging. And I am sure I do it too, because we make our choices based on our own value systems and they don’t always match up. So the more conversation we can have that is friendly and just approached with trying to understand each other, rather than trying to prove your own point, the better.

      • I wonder if it is people who feel insecure about their decision who fling the most. I went back and forth on my decision (ultimately keeping it as is) so I can completely understand why some women choose to change (I almost did too).

        The people who seem to take most offense to my not changing my name say things that make me wonder if they were completely comfortable changing. My aunt said to me (before I had decided one way or the other) “you’ll be confident enough in your identity to change your name right, you don’t have anything to prove?” I wish I had responded the way Sarah did, with “different people make different choices.” Of course since I’m terrible at on the spot witty, I’m pretty sure I mumbled something incoherent.

        My point is, maybe a lot of people who intentionally or unintentionally hit you with their baggage are simply trying to justify their choices to themselves. If that is the case, I am much more sympathetic to them and it is not going to bother me so much.

        To tie it back to this being a foreshadowing of what will happen when kids enter the picture, I think a lot of people who judge someone for NOT having kids are probably insecure in their choice to have them. Because I can’t imagine, even if a choice I’ve made is the best decision in the world for me, thinking less of someone for choosing something different. Maybe those who do judge never really thought they had a choice and so are threatened by others who exercised that choice.

  8. Nina, thanks for this. You put it so well, for us, for me, the most important thing is to share a name with the boy and our future kids. I still didn’t do it, it is like I am super attached to my original last name and not for any of those I am a super bra burning hate all men feminist reasons (don’t mean to judge here), it is just something I feel, it’s like irrational. It feels like the new name would sound strange , like that is not me. But I guess it is just a matter of getting used to it.
    But I mostly agree with Lyn… feminism should be about having the choice to do whatever is the best for you, that is the beauty of it, and why should we judge each other. That’s what has to stop. Like I said to Sarah on her post, just rub it off… there is a saying in spanish “a palabras necias , oidos sordos ” and I think it applies here. (The literal translation would be : to stubborn words, deaf ears”, but stubborn in a different sense, in a I am going to impose my own point of view way).

    • It really is such a personal decision. And it can be hard to explain our reasons – I’m not entirely sure why a common family name means so much to me, but it does, so I’m going with that. I think we just have to be more open minded that other people have different gut reactions and considerations than our own.

  9. I couldn’t be with you more. It’s one of the most personal decisions you can make. I am taking Isaiah’s last name – but not because I think EVERYONE should – just because my last name doesn’t mean much to my identity. I also think my ULTRA independence is part of the reason why I want to take his last name… One of the weirdest things to me about the discussion is that it happens BETWEEN GIRLS instead of between partners? Whatever you choose about your last name – it should be between you and your partner…it’s not JUST your decision. If you have to make a statement about feminism to the person you’re marrying, maybe you should reevaluate the commitment in general. If I felt that Isaiah didn’t understand my fight for feminism or the mild sacrifice to take his last name, I might have something to prove – but of course, he does. I just don’t feel like it should ever be, “F*ck you – I’m keeping my last name.” no matter what the final decision is, you know?

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