What’s in a name? (A lot)

Since getting married, a lot of people have asked me if I feel “different.” I always say no. While my relationship feels a bit different, I am the same person I was before getting hitched. Yes, down to my name.
As I’ve written before, changing my name – even to a hyphenated last name – was never really an option for me. Didn’t want to do it. (So you can imagine my annoyance when I received this in the mail) I feel the same way about the ‘Ms.’ title. I’ve always used it, always will.
I’m thinking about this after reading Judy Berman at Broadsheet, who writes about how Time‘s Nancy Gibbs thinks that the “Miss, Ms. Mrs.” debate isn’t really necessary anymore.

Whether my children’s friends call me Ms. Gibbs or Mrs. May or any combination of the two, I view it as a sign of respect and don’t worry about the particulars. My husband never remotely suggested that he was bothered by my not taking his name; in fact, he’s accustomed to occasionally answering to Mr. Gibbs. My late father, a fine writer, thrilled to see that name in the pages of this magazine. All these identities are me: Ms. when I’m out slaying dragons, Mrs. when I’m in the company of those I love most, Miss when I want to stay home under the covers and daydream. Feminists a generation ago fought for the title and dreamed of Freedom and Choice and Opportunity; maybe the surest sign that they’ve won is not which title we pick, but that we can have them all at once.

But isn’t this the problem? That each title announces something specific about who we are, when the truth is every woman is more than the sum of her married or unmarried parts? Men are always ‘Mr.’, and in that way they’re always themselves. I understand the inclination to embrace all parts of yourself – but language matters, and titles that exist to categorize women by marriage don’t do women – or men! – any favors.

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  1. ck
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I chose his name because I wanted to. And I didn’t even take his whole name. I’m adopted anyways…so it gets even more confusing when it comes to who am I? I was born with one name but when I was adopted that name was erased forever. Then I lived with a name my adoptive parents chose for me. Now I chose to take a new name. CHOSE. But I feel like I get a lot of bad talk from feminists because of this. Just because I grew up with my father’s name doesn’t mean I necessarily have to keep it. For the record my hubby couldn’t care less whether or not I took his last name but I liked it. Am I no longer a “good” feminist?

  2. ck
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Same as me! I changed my name but I only go by Ms.

  3. ck
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    You can change your name though and still be a “crazy feminist” if you want to! :)

  4. Sass
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Auuugh! Its not just your father’s name it is YOUR name from birth. Just as a son takes his family name, mostly from the father’s side, and it becomes HIS name- not “his father’s”.
    I’m sorry to sound so frustrated because I know you’re not the first person in this thread to use this incorrect reasoning.
    I find it very dismissive (especially to women who have kept their own name as it is an important part of their identity- and often highlights their identity as a feminist) to say “well it’s not really your name anyway, its your father’s”

  5. Robinee
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I had a similar situation with car insurance. I added my husband before we were married in the event that he used my car for whatever reason. Even though it was my car and I was almost always the one driving it, the insurance company wanted to make him the primary driver on the policy just because he’s male.

  6. Radically-Yours
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Until I get my doctorate, I will be “Madame MyLastName” or “Mme. MyLastName” as Madame (or the English form “Madam”) can mean *either* Ms. or Mrs and it does not matter whether or not you took your spouse’s name or not. While Mrs. you are married and took your spouse’s name, Madame simply means “My lady” and is a formal honorific for any adult woman. To me, it is a much preferred honorific.
    So, married or not, that is how I ask people to refer to me. Non French speaking people tell me it sounds super formal like “Madam Justice” or “Madam Speaker”, which makes me smile.

  7. FW
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    My mother had her family history traced back to 1633 when her ancestor came over as an indentured servant. It was interesting, these people had a lot of kids, and early on some of the kids would die and the next kid if it was the same sex would get the deceased kid’s name. Seems, urmm… practical… I remember one guy had died at 20 years old and there was a notation saying that historical documents said he was “slain by Indians” my mom and I took notice of that, she said, “eh, he probably deserved it” I mean what a phrase frought with implications…
    Eventually one dude headed down south to Mississippi/Louisiana area a couple years before the civil war, and he’s the guy my mom descended from.
    The women though, the wives and moms, didn’t have their last names listed until my grandmother’s name was included in parentheses – and actually I think it was my mother who wrote it there. My grandmother’s maiden name was Smith. Which I think is crazy ironic, that the first woman in 250 or so years to have her maiden name noted just happened to have the most common surname possible.
    When I read through those pages it gave me a big time sense of personal history, and out of that I can feel a sense of purpose, a sense of a tradition to uphold. Sure, my tradition is that of the indentured servant and they guy who probably deserved to get “slain by indians” and an asshole racist who may have terrorized his grandchildren… but… ummmm…. what was my point again… oh yeah the women! I don’t know them. I really wish I did.

  8. Christina
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    I kept my last name and gave it to my first two children. My third has my husbands last name. We’re planning on one more child and he or she will have his last name. We would have hyphenated our last names to give them but it would be 18 letters long and we thought that was a bit much to saddle them with.
    I’ve never considered changing my last name. I did almost have my husband convinced to change his to mine but as an only child his parents would have freaked a bit, lol.
    I’ve never come across any major problems because of our differing last names. Oh, and I always go by Ms.

  9. jdv1984
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I hit liked when I meant to hit reply. Unfortunately there’s no way to unlike a comment.
    I will support your position that this is purely a matter of choice and completely feminist when women don’t take their husbands’ names reflexively, and men take their wives’ names just as often.
    Until then, sorry, no, but you are perpetuating the patriarchy. You’re just one woman in a long line of women who have done what the patriarchy expects of them.
    The personal IS political, however much you may not want it to be.

  10. Flowers
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    All the transgendered people I have ever known have changed their first names to match their gender identity, and the honorific was a side issue. I’ve never known a transgendered person to use SOLELY their honorific to indicate their gender identity.
    It just seems to me that some feminists don’t mind being identified as a woman (meaning “not a man”), but do mind being identified as a married woman or a single woman. I think having an honorific that solely indicates “I am not a man” is not better than one that indicates my marital status. I think we should all have an “I am a human being” honorific.

  11. Mama Mia
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    In Iceland they do something along these lines. The child’s last name is the name of the father, plus the word “dottir” or “son.” They don’t change their names at marriage. Therefore, in a single family, there can be up to 4 last names. So if you’re dad is named Ralph, your last name would be “Ralphsdottir” and your brother would be “Ralphsson”, your mom’s would be something different, like “Petursdottir” and your dad would be different too, like “Ornsson.”

  12. h*yaforchoice
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. To me, the idea that just because your mother wrote your father’s name on your birth certificate when you were an infant means that it’s YOUR name and should mean something to you is incredibly dismissive of people for whom, well, it just doesn’t mean anything. Obviously, many people feel incredibly connected to the name their parents gave them, but I think it’s unreasonable to argue that all people should feel connected to that name just because they’ve had it for a long time.
    I feel absolutely zero connection to my surname despite the fact that it’s been sitting there at the end for 21 years. My dad has that name b/c he was adopted by his mom’s new husband (who, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that great) when he was 6. I’ve often considered changing my name to my maternal grandmother’s maiden name simply b/c I’d like to know what it feels like to have a name with some (good) personal historical meaning. All this, and I have a great relationship with my parents. I can only imagine that someone who didn’t might welcome changing their name to that of the family they chose instead of the one they were saddled with at birth.
    It’s also important to realize that the idea that your name should have meaning to you (and not change) because it’s the one you were given a birth and have had for a long time has HUGE implications for trans people. Regardless, I believe a name has greatest power when it’s one you’ve chosen. Whether you decided to keep your name because you feel personally connected to it and it’s YOURS, or you found a partner you love and you want to symbolize your togetherness by making your name the same as hers/his, or you simply find a name to which you feel more connected (for whatever reason) than the one you were given at birth, the importance is in the choice.

  13. jellyleelips
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    A lot of women change their names, I think, because they honestly haven’t thought about it. Now that I’ve been immersed in feminist environments for a few years, I forget that there are issues I am concerned with and viewpoints I have discussed that never, ever occur to most people. To some women, asking “why did you change your name?” is like asking “why did you and your husband move in together?” It’s just assumed to be a normal, “natural” part of marriage.

  14. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    it’s not “incorrect reasoning”, it’s HER reasoning. there’s no one correct way to deal with this issue.
    my last name is my grandfather’s, and i’m taking it as my middle name when i get married in two months because i miss him and it ties me to him. my fiancé is also taking my last name as his middle name. we’ll both be using his last name as our last name, in part because it’s an italian name (we’re both mostly italian), but after my ancestors went through ellis island, their name got changed, and i’ve never had a name that matched my ancestry.
    and, please remember, there’s a lot of ways to honor someone with a name. my daughter’s first name is the most common female name on my side of the family, and she has my last name as a middle name, and my ex-husband’s last name as her last name.
    this is a complex issue, one that there is NO SINGLE RIGHT ANSWER TO.

  15. cyanideandsugar
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I am planning to marry my significant other after college, and I have had a discussion about this name changing issue with seemingly every person who knows we are planning to marry. My two options are: keeping my own name, or we both hyphenate. He doesn’t care to hyphenate,so I am keeping mine. Kids will be hyphenated. But I do wonder, what will our kids do when they have kids? How many names can a person have? Simply choosing one or the other of their hyphenated names to pass on doesn’t seem right to me. That would force them to choose if they identify more with my last name or his last name. Does anyone have other ideas about this? (Please don’t suggest giving the girls one and the boys the other. That’s just plain divisive and goes against the point, in my opinion.)

  16. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    oh, please.
    the entire point of this movement is to give women more choices in how to live their lives. it’s ridiculous to empower women to make choices about their lives, then say only specific choices are acceptable.
    the problem isn’t what *she’s* doing, the problem is other people who make assumptions about *you* based on her actions. that, however, is not her problem.

  17. mamram
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. I would be uncomfortable with my boyfriend rejecting his own identity in favor of identifying himself as “associated with mamram.” If he felt strongly about changing his name, he could change it to anything else, but mine would be kind of out of the question. I do not intend to insult anyone’s choice, but the idea of having a partner who changed their name to mine seems kind of…dependent? I know some people are all about uniting lives and identities with their partners, and that’s great, but it is important to me that I maintain a discrete identity, and sharing a name would infringe on that. I think that is just as valid as wanting to change one’s name.

  18. mamram
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Oops, this was meant to be in response to SillyCat.

  19. Emily
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Me too! It sounded like fun to change my name at the time (I’ve was never all that attached to my old one), and I don’t really think of my new last name as HIS, more like OURS, though it’s weird to me that his parents have the same name.
    I take the whole creating a new family part or the marriage seriously, to me that’s what my marriage is about. This probably comes from being semi-neglected, and growing up without feeling like I belonged or that my “family” gave a shit about me. So being part of a family that loves me is totally new and awesome and having a shared name is one way I celebrate that. At this point though I am rather fond of my name and wouldn’t change it for anything, (plus it would be more complicated professionally) The whole reason for name change is extremely personal to me and I wouldn’t give a shit even if it made me a “bad” feminist. Fuck it, put it under my un-feminist guilt pleasure.
    But title is completely public to me and directly informs the public how to relate to me (something my last name does not do on its own), so I’m pretty anal about insisting on Ms. and not mentioning my marital status unless it’s relevant. (I like to refer to him as my partner). That’s how I view this whole name change/ title stuff anyway, but I totally get it why others feel differently.

  20. mamram
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Oops, this was meant to be in response to SillyCat.

  21. mamram
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. I would be uncomfortable with my boyfriend rejecting his own identity in favor of identifying himself as “associated with mamram.” If he felt strongly about changing his name, he could change it to anything else, but mine would be kind of out of the question. I do not intend to insult anyone’s choice, but the idea of having a partner who changed their name to mine seems kind of…dependent? I know some people are all about uniting lives and identities with their partners, and that’s great, but it is important to me that I maintain a discrete identity, and sharing a name would infringe on that. I think that is just as valid as wanting to change one’s name.

  22. Hara
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I think taking the husbands family name is like being branded. I don’t want to give his family line credit for who I am -
    Sounds crazy and selfish to some, but, frankly, i don’t care.
    I kept my fathers last name, though I thought of combining my mothers maiden with it~ her maiden name has 26 letters in it….I let common sense make that decision.
    My (now ex) husband and I made a deal before we knew the sex of our child. If it was a boy, we would use his name and if a girl my last name.
    I had a boy. It was my first real compromise.
    It has not ever been a problem to have different last names.

  23. mamram
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    My incompetence is astounding.

  24. Sass
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    “Incorrect reasoning” was not the right phrase for me to use, I realised that as soon as I submitted the comment and I apologise to Jenabayne, but it came out because I was frustrated with that particular argument.
    Your post is very meaningful and of course identifying with a name that one has chosen for oneself, be that your partner’s name or one from another family member is just as valid as identifying with the name you are born with.
    I’m not against changing your name for any reason but I stand by my statment that “well, your name is really your father’s name” is at the least an illogical argument (directed only at females, my boyfriend’s name is always his and never his father’s) and can be offensive (to me anyway). It diminishes all the achievements I have made in my own name.
    I hope I’m not coming off as aggressive, I certainly don’t have a problem with any other commenter- that particular phrase just rubs me the wrong way.

  25. calyx
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    So how many husbands are willing to change their last name to their wives’ last name? Yeah… not many. Funny that.
    If I can ever legally marry my partner, we should totes have a fight about who gets whose name. …Or not, really.

  26. whoawhat?
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    In Quebec, it is against the law to change your name when you get married. My mom has her maiden name, as did my grandmothers on both sides. I don’t understand why a women would change her identity and become someone else just because she is married. I totally agree with Jessica’s choice.

  27. LaRose
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    When I married, I traded my clunky birth name that no one could pronounce for a surname that is unique, simple, and pleasant to the ear. While I definitely preferred the idea, in theory, of keeping my birth name, aesthetics and practicality tipped the scales in the other direction.
    The name change reflects a patriarchical culture only if you decide to see it that way. I know I am a strong, independent woman who doesn’t derive her identity from husband or marriage, and I don’t need to keep my birth name to prove that.

  28. Jack
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I can’t speak for her experiences, but I would imagine that she came to the decision to change her name after a lot of thought and deliberation. I’m sorry you don’t agree with her decision, but you don’t have to. She decided to change her name independently, of her own free will, and the fact that the practice came about as an artifact of a patriarchal, patrilineal culture doesn’t change the fact that it was her decision to make. She wasn’t “perpetuating the line of patriarchy.”
    On the other hand, if she had chosen not to change her name despite the fact that she wanted to, because of you and people like you who claim that you’re a bad feminist for doing something like that, it would not have been perpetuating patriarchy, but it would have been something quite like it. It would have been giving away power over her own destiny to someone who has no right to have it.

  29. km stitchery
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    my husband and I both hyphenated our last names together. So imagine my annoyance when some relatives wrote to us as Mr and Mrs argh!!! That is like a slap in the face, it’s identity stripping to address letters that way!

  30. Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I know this debate has been had over and over and over ad nauseaum, but I do have something I want to add:
    If you choose to take your husband’s name, yes, that is a choice. It is your choice and it is a choice that should be respected. But that does not make it a FEMINIST choice. It doesn’t make you a bad feminist, not by a long shot, but it is not a feminist choice. No one is calling YOU a bad person for making that choice, but it is a choice made under the conditions of the patriarchy, where women have a choice between keeping their name and changing it to their husband’s, but men keep their name by default.
    I’m always astounded by the amount of women who justify their name change in a feminist forum because their old name was “too ethnic” or “too hard to spell”. Certainly that’s a reason to change one’s name, a good reason, even, but it’s not a feminist reason. How many men have those same names and would never CONSIDER changing them?
    My last name is Smith; I am Japanese/white and my partner is Chinese American with a Chinese last name. I will not change my name to his, despite the fact that it’s boring, despite the fact that it causes others to question my authenticity as an Asian American and taking his name would be a “get out of jail free” card. I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to pass my name on to my children, and I’ve decided that I probably won’t. This kills me to say because I think that one of the most powerful things I could do as a feminist would be to pass on my own name and upset the patrilineal system, but I can’t in good conscience make the choice for my kids that they will have to go through the grief of being Asian and named Smith. This is a choice that feminists (especially white ones) should be respectful of, but it is not a feminist choice and I am fully aware of that fact.
    My two cents.

  31. zes
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    This post came at a very good time for me; I had a very upsetting brush with the same problem yesterday.
    In July my synagogue wrote to me and my new husband as Mr and Mrs His-firstname His-lastname. I didn’t even get a first name! And this is a synagogue whose own rabbis are a married couple, and she uses her birth name – AND she performed the wedding!
    I didn’t say anything when a friend of mine, who married shortly after me, addressed a wedding invite the same way; it was her wedding and I didn’t want her to feel awkward (I will tell her if she does it again). I wouldn’t even have been so mad if they’d call me Mrs My-firstname His-lastname, at least then I’d have ANY name of my own. So, I sent a polite and even humorous initial email asking them not to do it.
    After another letter addressed the same way came my way this week, I said the same thing again much more strongly, because by now I was very angry. Even so, I went out of my way in my email to say that I wasn’t judging women who take their husband’s name, and that I was offended for three reasons:
    1. I already asked them to stop doing it (and I do pay membership fees).
    2. A religious organisation has a particular obligation to prove it is free from patriarchy.
    3. When you take someone’s name you take their identity, and that’s dehumanizing, and as a Jewish institution in particular they should understand the mindset behind this.
    Their response, which came yesterday, written by a female admin: “We suggest that you could have taken the time you spent writing that email to do something nice for someone.” The old, ‘but what about all the starving babies in Sudan’ argument, coupled with ‘we don’t like the way you made your point so let’s focus on that, instead of the point itself’.
    I don’t know whether to go to another synagogue or not, as the next nearest one is 50 miles away. As a lodestone of community it is really important – it’s a rural area where there are hardly any Jews so it’s really nice when we come together. And they do have a female rabbi, and the male one is awesome. What do you think?
    Anyway thanks for this change to vent and ask a community of smart women for their view. And credit to my husband for cheering me up with hilarious impressions of the self-righteous people at the house of God who don’t like being questioned – one positive of all this is it reaffirmed how lucky I feel to be with him.

  32. zes
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Robinee – actually that is quite likely sexism against your husband. They want to put him as primary driver because men are seen as being higher-risk (even though this is mostly true under age 25). Then they can charge more.

  33. zes
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Just for the record, Miss and Mrs are both contractions of Mistress, which means simply, “woman citizen” the way Mr, a contraction of Mister, means “man citizen”. The distinction is under 400 years old when they began to separate out. Reasons I’ve seen given were, because more parish records were being kept, and, regional variances in dialect.
    Hence they are as much a symptom of bureaucracy and accent as patriarchy. The latter after all is a lot older than 400 years. If you are going to reject something, know what you are rejecting.
    As we don’t pronounce “Mr” as “murrr” the way “Ms” is pronounced “muzzz”, I think the most equal thing to men would logically be to write Ms pronounced Mistress, to correspond to Mr pronounced Mister. But I would prefer all women to be Ms pronounced Miss, as I think this sounds nicer (and has no connotations of being, well, a mistress). Any thoughts?

  34. SillyCat
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Your comment definitely made me think, so thanks! I guess for me, I expect dependency to be part of my life-long relationship. I am incredibly dependent on my boyfriend and I know that he is also extremely dependent on me. Part of our marriage will be an erasure of our discreet identities and our merging into people who fundamentally depend on each other to complete their sense of self. (To be honest, I think we’re already there, marriage will be merely the public recognition of that.) I just consider myself lucky that there is a common, traditional way for publicly demonstrating my renouncement of my singular identity; I wish there was the same for my boyfriend. I understand that people view relationships and marriage differently, that’s just my opinion.
    Lastly, I have to admit to a real aversion for not “allowing” women (or men) to make choices for themselves. I also think marriage at its heart is about compromise and being willing to make someone else happy at a cost to yourself. Not to comprise who you are, but certainly not to cause the person you love to do that to themselves. I personally would not feel truly married without changing my last name and my boyfriend (despite his original discomfort) was kind enough to accept that (and all the accompanying teasing and judgment from his fellow feminists). That’s just me, though.

  35. Emily
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    All these identities are me: Ms. when I’m out slaying dragons, Mrs. when I’m in the company of those I love most, Miss when I want to stay home under the covers and daydream.
    I think Ms. Gibbs actually alludes to quite an important point. That is, we live in a social world always in relation to others. I’ve toiled with the name thing for a long time, but I can never come to a solution – because their isn’t one. I like Ms. but women choose Mrs. and Miss (or allow others to call them that way) and change their last name for deeply social reasons. It’s about your family, your significant others, and the values/culture/whatnot you’ve inherited (whether questioned or not). As much as feminists talk about empowerment and autonomy, it never really is just US, alone in the world making free choices (as free as we like to think we are).
    Another thing that always get’s me in a pickle is that MY last name that I love and never want to change will always be my father’s and his father’s and his father’s. And my mother’s maiden name (which she admits wishing she had kept) – as much as I’ve thought about the romantic gesture of changing my name to her’s – will always be her father’s, father’s, etc. name. Alas! The ongoing legacy of patriarchy!
    But, I like Gibbs’ perspective, and I don’t judge women who change their last name like I used to. Because this world is social historical and complicated. AND there are so many other pressing issues to worry about in this world that move beyond the insulated concerns of supposedly autonomous feminist white middle class women (like myself!).

  36. Unequivocal
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Jessica, this is your blog and that means it’s your decision how to handle it, but are you at least considering a site rewrite that will take care of all of this buggy code, user-unfriendly posting protocol and similar issues? Feministing is flat out broken and needs to be fixed. The content is great and the community is awesome, but the functionality is just lacking, and problems like this seem to be increasingly prevalent.
    Not my intent to derail this thread – normally I’d just send an e-mail, but I’ve already done that several times.

  37. SillyCat
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    When a woman makes a choice, as an individual, how to define herself and her identity for the broader society, I believe that is invariably a feminist process. In reality, by your reasoning, no choice in this case can truly be a feminist one. As you point out, naming in general is founded in the patrilineality of our society. For example, a mother choosing to keep her own name but give her husband’s to the children, can be seen as merely dislocating herself from the patrilineal lineage which her own children will perpetuate, and to some extent from their genealogy. This was particularly a problem in the Middle Ages, with widows returning to their paternal families to remarry and further that family’s dynastic interests while their children were kept in their husband’s family. Thus, to some extent, maintaining an identification with the husband’s family rather than the birth one historically allowed women to maintain ties to their children.
    Keeping my father’s name is no more a feminist choice than taking my husband’s. In fact, the latter, in which I choose to name myself rather than allowing a paternal figure to name me, seems infinitely more feminist than the former. The entire modern situation, in which a woman can consider all her naming options and then with her own initiative choose one among them for herself, seems to me to be an inherently feminist moment, regardless of the choice she makes. It is the choosing process, I would argue, that is imbued with feminism rather than the end result.

  38. Sweet Pea
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    That’s what happened to me. I didn’t think twice about changing my last name. A year later after finding feminism and being forced to think about what changing my name meant, I really regret changing my last name.

  39. LaRose
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Actually, I have known men who change hard-to-pronounce or otherwise problematic surnames. A male in-law with a long, difficult last name simplified it by cutting off a syllable; a male acquaintance with the last name “Cock” exchanged it for the less embarrassing “Cox.”
    It’s just a name; if you don’t like it, change it; if you do like it and don’t want it changed upon marriage, keep it. There’s more to being a feminist than what you choose to do with your surname.

  40. LaRose
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Actually, I have known men who change hard-to-pronounce or otherwise problematic names. A male in-law with a difficult mouthful of a surname simplified it by lopping off a syllable; a male acquiantance with the last name “Cock” exchanged it for the less embarrassing “Cox.”
    It’s just a name. If you don’t like it, change it; if you don’t want to change it upon marriage, keep it. The point of feminism is that you have a choice. It’s like choosing to stay home with children instead of having a job outside the home. It is most certainly a feminist choice as long as you acknowledge that you DO have a choice.

  41. elsmith7
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    I actually didn’t address the “father’s vs. husband’s name” issue specifically because I felt others had done it adequately above, but I agree with those who say that your name is your name (certainly we never claim that a man’s name is “just his father’s name”).
    “In reality, by your reasoning, no choice in this case can truly be a feminist one.”
    This is actually a very good point… seen in that way, my choice to keep my name is a defiant reaction to the system (which, to be honest, it is) instead of just me liking my name. I guess to be more specific, every choice we make is saturated in patriarchy, but there are choices that challenge that patriarchy and those that do not, and I would maintain that the ones that challenge it are feminist choices. (This doesn’t make other choices UNfeminist, just outside of feminism.) To pick another example, choosing to shave my legs is my choice and doesn’t affect my feminism, but it’s not a feminist choice. I would consider the choosing moment you describe to be a feminist moment if men gave the same amount of thought to those same choices and chose among them in a rate anywhere approaching that of women, but unfortunately we’re not there yet. So I have to say I still disagree, but you’ve given me some interesting food for thought. (It might not seem like it, but this whole discussion has actually made me way more sympathetic to those who do choose to change their names.)

  42. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    who decided what was a “feminist choice”? was there a meeting and i missed it?
    besides, i think what you mean to say, rather than “feminist choice”, is “feminist decision”. which i still think is B.S., but is at least more clear. choice, as in the act of choosing, can only be a good thing for women, as far as i’m concerned, even if others make a different decision than i would have.
    i love all these other people deciding what i should do with something as personal as my name. obviously, you’re all far more qualified than i am to make the decision about what *i* should be called.

  43. pzm
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    My dad’s last name is a swearword in his home country and his partner’s last name is an extremely common and boring name in her home country, so they gave their two boys completely unrelated last names.
    My name is different again because when my parents were married my father took my mothers name and that’s the one I ended up with.
    It’s a world of possibilities!

  44. Veronica
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve never liked “Miss” because it connotes youth and we young people take a lot of discrimination based on our age. I’d rather people not be able to guess my age group by my title. I’ll be a Ms. now and a Ms. should I decide to get married.

  45. Mama Mia
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    My parents made up a completely new last name when they got married. They chose their nickname for each other and made it their last name. That was 40 years ago.

  46. elsmith7
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Not really, but thanks for the sarcasm. You can and should choose what to be called, and I can and will respect that choice and agree with you when you assert that it was the best choice for you. Full stop.
    I do on the other hand disagree with the concept of “choice feminism,” or that any choice that a woman can make is necessarily feminist, but resolving that conflict doesn’t seem likely here.

  47. rhowan
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    “In Quebec, it is against the law to change your name when you get married.”
    Actually, it’s not illegal, it’s just that the option to change your name isn’t included as part of the marriage process. Anyone who wants to change their name (male or female), for any reason, has to go through the same legal process. Details in the Wikipedia.

  48. i_muse
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    it’s not just her choice. If he feels uncomfortable with her taking his name, that is a valid feeling that ought to be respected.
    I too would be creeped out, but I’m a woman, so I doubt a man wll ever want to change his name to mine.

  49. elsmith7
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    Possibly a better example/clarification, since I seem to be being taken the wrong way and this is entirely my own fault for my poor wording:
    I’m a feminist, and I decide to spend a year abroad in Japan. This is not a feminist choice. It’s not an UNfeminist choice, and it has no effect on my feminist street cred. It’s just not a choice that is driven by feminism.
    I do apologize for sounding like I think I’m the arbiter of everything that is and isn’t feminist. I’m really not that self-centered and I know that my opinion on this is just that.

  50. Rina
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    This is what I am planning to do. I don’t know why your friends and family did this, but maybe they’ll have similar reasons to me. I don’t care if my children have “only” their father’s surname. I have only my father’s surname, and it doesn’t bother me. It’s my name now (well, it has been my name all along, obviously). I don’t like the look of double-barreled names because I feel that they’re too long. Them having my surname as a middle name would put me in an inferior position as their parent (like, “I guess we should recognise who your mother was, but only in the portion of your name that no-one ever uses to refer to you by, because it’s not so important”) – and if they just had two surnames, most people (where I live) would assume the first one is only a middle name.
    There are two reasons I think that our children should have my partner’s surname instead of mine. Firstly, although my surname is common, I always get asked to spell it. My partner suffers from a similar problem, but at least his name is shorter. Secondly, although it’s unlikely, I worry about a situation where someone might refuse to believe that he is their father when I’m not there. People seem more willing to accept a woman who has a different surname to her children being their mother than the other way around.

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