The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What’s in a Name?

Recently, a few articles have been written on the topic of women changing or not changing their last names upon marriage. I have long questioned the same system.

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?



  1. Well, since my last name isn't _actually_ mine (my father was adopted and was given his step-father's name) we both decided it made sense to pick hers since she has an emotional connection (and I don't) to our surnames. The trickiest part of this will be having the same first AND last name. Thankfully our full first names are spelled differently and we have different middle names/initials. @_@

  2. This was a well written and very thoughtful post. With no easy answer. I took my husband's name with pride, pride that might be distasteful to many modern women. I was forming a family unit with him, and I enjoyed the echos of tradition of becoming a Mrs. Those aren't traditions you get to enjoy as a lesbian. You have to start making your own; that perhaps will be cherished for 100's of years to come. Should we all, hetero and homo sexuals, have the same traditions so we're "equal"? I don't think so. It's ok to be different. That is the soul of diversity.

    1. Thank you for your response! It sounds like you made a thoughtful choice, and ultimately that's what I hope for everyone. I do think we can have different traditions, but I also have a hard time with a tradition that has no room for me in it.

  3. I was torn between choosing my husband's last name, or keeping my name, because I'd already lived with it for so long! When it came time to sign up for the marriage license, the lady at the courthouse said to me: "Well, you kind of need to choose now, because it will be liking moving Heaven and Earth to try and get it changed later on." Of course, my husband could have always taken my last name, but he liked his well enough, and wanted to keep his. In the end, I went with my husband's because it was considerably shorter than mine, and went through the long process of changing my name on various billing accounts, etc.

    One of my uncle's has a common law marriage, and has been with my aunt for over twenty years. They each kept their own last names, and when they decided to have a child, they said that if they had a girl, she would take my aunt's last name, and if it was a boy, my uncle's last name. Turned out they had a girl first, so she and later their son have their mother's last name, and my uncle's last name for a middle name.

  4. Such a great post as well as comments! If there's one thing Simpson has taught me well, (I might just narrow that down to select-professors/staff, Kelsey, you would know exactly who) it is to value the difference in opinions and think about them critically. I'm nowhere near a name-keep or name-change milestone in my life but I have thought about this for a long, long time before I even realized the ever-spanning dynamic of a last name. Would it be too shallow and thoughtless to want to keep my name simply for the phonetics? It's not super poetic, but I like it. But I also want to keep my own name because I absolutely love my family and all the Caswell's is in it and where we come from and what we stand for, I'm exceptionally proud of the family I am a part of.

    The idea of using my last name for my middle name sounds like a great compromise if my future and hypothetical partner is passionate about names as well.

    I heard of an acquaintance of an acquaintance once who modified her last name to turn it into her child's name in honor of keeping it in the family. The last name was Haton (pronounced hat-en) and they modified it to "Hattie," to name their daughter. I thought that was a very unique way to preserve a name.

    In the end, I'm hopefully someday marrying for love, and if we do it "right" or at least get close, the name should be the least of our worries.

    -Danielle Caswell

  5. Where's the Romeo & Juliet quote?! :)
    -Danielle (again)

  6. Bluehost is ultimately the best hosting company with plans for any hosting needs.


Any comments which are deemed strictly to hurt or insult are subject to deletion at the decision of the authors of Her/Story.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...