When I dated men, I always asked their opinion on the topic, partially because I knew I could never be with someone who expected me to take his name. But the truth is, even with the feminist spirit alive and well in this country, the majority of women still take their husbands’ names.
The obvious reason that women take men’s last names makes sense to me: if you want to share a last name with your partner, picking one name is logical. I’m not a big fan of hyphenating names because, as one of the above articles points out, it’s only good for one generation. If someone with a hyphenated name marries another person with a hyphenated name, what do they do?
In my experience, even couples who keep their own names upon marriage still give their children, if they have children, the husband’s last name.
At some point I realized that when a person signs a marriage license, she or he can declare whatever new name she or he chooses. Based on this information, I decided if I ever got married I would legally change my name to Pink Purple Crockpot, as a middle finger to the whole system (and also because it sounds awesome).
So when I began dating women, this line of thinking got more interesting. First, I decided Pink Purple Crockpot just couldn't work for me. Also, I no longer have the privilege of choosing whether or not I want to play into this name changing system. There is no room for two women – there’s no man’s name to take. Making decisions about this tradition became, for me, more than just a fun way to combat patriarchy; it became an actual problem that requires a sensible solution.
Call me a romantic, but I have a real desire to share a last name with my Hypothetical Future Partner.
For me, if my partner or I picked either of our names for both of us to share, the decision would feel symbolic of our relationship. If I took my Hypothetical Future Partner’s name, would it mean she has more power in our relationship? That she wears the pants? That she’s the man? That she won the coin flip? If she took mine, how would I feel about asking her to switch? And, given the hope that my Hypothetical Future Partner and I both have good relationships with our families, how could either of us decide to leave our family names for the others?
It’s interesting being a woman dating a woman, because we've both been socialized into the assumption that our last names would someday change. From a young age, it’s acceptable, even encouraged, for a girl to start doodling Mrs. Name-of-crush-here on her notebook. (And that’s to say nothing of a culture that asks women but not men to name their marital status simply by the title in front of their last names.)
So here I am, in a system that stems from a tradition that has no place for me and my woman loving ways, wondering what I’ll do with my name if I ever get married, knowing that even that simple thing – marriage – is a thing only some people and some states believe I deserve.
Who can blame the lezbos everywhere for keeping their own names, for not buying into any system that has marks of oppression all over it?
But I still want to share a name. I don’t want to make a new name out of nowhere. I don’t want to take and I don’t want to give, I want to share. So my solution is to fit my Hypothetical Future Partner’s name together with mine, just as we’ll attempt to fit our lives together (hypothetically of course). A little give and take. A little of her and a little of me. Compromise.
How does this work in the heterosexual world? Shit, I don’t know. But if people always chose the simple, easier road, we’d be in big trouble.
I understand that professionals that have careers prior to getting married would keep their names. And if you believe that your husband should be the head of your household, then yes, take his name. But otherwise, why not carefully consider the name you’ll (hopefully) be living with for the rest of your life, and be open to doing something nontraditional?
The same questions should be posed about how a proposal works, why only a woman wears an engagement ring, and why a man is told that he can kiss the bride at the end of a wedding (aren't they kissing each other?).
Just because I’m in a situation where I have to devise new strategies with my Hypothetical Future Partner, doesn't mean heterosexuals, particularly those who believe in equality of gender, can't or shouldn't question the systems in which they are included.
If a name is so unimportant, why not give it up for a new one?
Or, as I've argued, if a name is so important that it tells others about who you are – and who you and your partner are together – then why not choose it wisely?
What do you think?