Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Name Game

I'm late to this party--years late, in internet time. Still. There are a bunch of mentions (by mythago, Lauren, and Amanda, and I think the original might have been at Volokh Conspiracy, which I do not like to read, so take mythago's word for that) about whether people (read: women) "should" change their names when they marry. There is a predictable list of responses:
1. No, women shouldn't do it because it's patriarchal, signifying a change in "ownership" from father to husband.
2. Yes, women should do it because everyone in the family should have the same last name, and it's more convenient.
3. Yes, women should do it because What about the children???!!! (usually countered by people whose kids have different names and who manage just fine).
4. Yes, men AND women should do it, so everyone has the same last name, and picking a new name is a nice symbolic thing to do.
5. Someone should change his/her name, but it doesn't matter whether it's the man or woman who does it.
6. Hypenating works okay. But it'll be a pain in some official situations that can't handle hyphens.
7. No, why should I change my name?
8. Not only shouldn't anyone do it, the kids should get different last names so that all of the familial last names get passed along.
9. A variant on 4. and 8. is something like, "We chose X's grandmother's uncle's name, because otherwise it would die out."
10. One person changed his/her name because the other person's name was easier to spell or better-sounding.
11. One person changed his/her name because the person's family of origin was a horror show and the person wanted to be rid of every last vestige of that family.
12. We do it the way my spouse's culture does it, which is X.

I find the whole thing kind of fascinating. Ever since I was 15 or so, I decided I wouldn't change my name if I got married. I didn't see why I should--obviously, I was less than convinced by a variety of the reasons offered above. I would have considered choosing a new name to which both of us changed, but I really don't think I would have changed my name to my husband's birth name. In addition, if I'd had kids, I would have fought for some of them to have my last name, too, or maybe even my maternal grandfather's last name, which otherwise will not go any further. (My uncle only has daughters, and they're not about to challenge any conventions.) I suppose one could make arguments about how I have another man's name--my father's--and that's true enough, but I like my father, so that never seemed like a huge issue to me. (I'm named after my father--our first names are male/female variants of the same root--so I have even more of his name than usual.) I would have been just as happy with my mother's maiden name as my last name, even though that, of course, is my grandfather's name. It seemed like an endless chain, really, given the patrilineal aspect of naming conventions, so it seemed to me that my real options were (1) keeping the name on my birth certificate or (2) both my husband and I changing our names to some new name, either one we picked, one we created, or a family name from one of our families.

In short, then, for me, there WAS symbolism in only one of us changing names, and that version of it bothered me. That seemed unbalanced to me. Interestingly enough, most of my female friends who are my age did not change their names; most of my female friends under 30 or 35, say, have changed their names. I don't have much stake in what other people do--it's that live-and-let-live part of me coming out again--but I do get peevish when people are disingenuous about it, which is what's happening when someone tries to claim that (a) it's not that big a deal so (b) women should just go ahead and change their names to match their husbands'.


Blogger landismom said...

I've found my decision to keep my own name to be seen as much more controversial since moving back to the East Coast. I say decision, although like you, this is a choice I made as an adolescent, not one I waited until I was about to get married to make. When we lived in the Bay Area, it was remarkable that a woman changed her name to her husband's-where I live now, the reverse is true.

My kids have hyphenated last names. My MIL once asked me what they would do when they got married, and I told her, that's their decision, not mine. It's awkward, sometimes, that I don't have the exact same name as my kids, but the thing that matters to me is that the awkwardness is evenly spread.

I respect the right of other women to take their husband's last names, but I don't respect people who just do it because that's what everybody does, without thinking about the larger cultural & social issues that are involved. I basically will accept anyone's rationale for their choice on this issue, unless their rationale is that it's just what is done.

9:08 PM  

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