What’s in a Name?


I’ve never been particularly fond of my last name, Rankin. It’s not bad, and I certainly don’t hate it, but it doesn’t quite have the spice and color that my mother’s maiden name has — Latorraca. That is a last name. But alas, that is not my surname. It’s not even my middle name. My feminist mother took my father’s last name when they married, as is the custom, and since my uncle has no children, Latorraca will soon die out. I have no problem with brides taking the last name of their grooms. If that is what you want to do, groovy. That’s your choice. What surprised me, and at this rate, it shouldn’t have, is that 50% of Americans still believe that a woman should be legally required to take her husband’s last name.¹ Really now? In 2012, half of all Americans don’t believe women should even be given a choice about their own last name? Oh goody.
Let me just state unequivocally that I have absolutely no problem with any woman who takes her husband’s name — my mom did, my friend Katherine did (sup girl!), and a lot of women I know do. If that makes you happy, great! It just shouldn’t be a requirement. The idea that once you marry, you should lose any legal right to your own surname is preposterous and drips of Victorian-era oppression.

Women used to have no other option than to take their husband’s names because legally, wives were the property of their husbands. Men owned women like they owned land, and the only way for women to have any chance at a financially stable and secure life was to marry and assume their husband’s identity. Well, praise Susan B. Anthony, because we are finally beyond those bull shit days. So what is the real point of taking your husband’s name at this point? If women are able to own their own property, pursue education, maintain high-powered jobs, and be responsible for their own financial entities, it is no longer necessary for a wife to take her husband’s name. She may choose to do so, but it’s just that — her choice.

Clearly, marriage is not something that is on my radar, but that doesn’t mean my boyfriend and I haven’t discussed what a marriage between us would look like (abstractly, of course). I am not comfortable taking a man’s last name — it just doesn’t jive with me. If Jason and I ever got married, I am not going to become Lauren Ryser (pronounced Reese-er). Oh my God, even seeing it is insane. I am Lauren Rankin — that is who I am. For me to take his name would feel like a renunciation of part of my own identity. It may not be that for the woman to my left or the woman to my right, but that is what it feels like to me, and I should have the legal right to remain who I am.

There are couples who join their names — they hyphenate their last names as a couple, or their children have hyphenated last names. But I have never known of a couple where the husband has taken the wife’s name. If it can go one way, shouldn’t it also occasionally go the other? Or maybe you could create your own new last name, together. If Jason and I combined our last names into one, it could be Ranker (obviously a no), Ryskin (reminds me of foreskin), Ryker (looks like the name of the prison in New York)… Okay, bad idea.

Look. You’re not anti-feminist if you want to take your husband’s name. But I’m sorry, this shit should not be required, and the fact that half of all Americans think that it should is troubling. Despite Michele Bachmann’s evidence to the contrary, the existence of a vagina doesn’t preclude the ability to think.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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