My boyfriend and I are talking very seriously about marriage, and recently the topic of name changing came up. Now, I’ve never liked that it’s automatically assumed that when people get married, the woman changes her last name to her husband’s, end of discussion. If true gender equality is to exist, then a name change should be up to the couple to decide–and legally it is, but socially, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I understand the logistical reasons why making both members of a couple (and potential future children) have the same last name makes life a lot easier, and that’s why I think I’ll most likely be changing my name when I get married–but now that it’s looming closer (quite possibly within the next few years), I’m having trouble with the idea of letting go of my name.
I’m a writer. The first time I got published, it was under my name (which, in case you’re curious, is not my blog name.) I’ve held editorial positions at school, and my last name is listed with my work there as well. If I change my name, I have to continuously tell people to look me up under two different names. It splits me between my pre-married self and my married self, and I don’t like that.
Name changing fits well with the ancient practice of considering women the property of men. From birth to marriage, a woman used to be the property of her father, so she had his last name. When that property was essentially sold to the husband, she’d take the husband’s name. In a culture like that, this name change was like a brand on a cow. It meant, “She’s my property now. I bought her fair and square.” My boyfriend is not the sort who would think that way at all–but the tradition really does remind me of that time period.
Name changing also stinks a little bit of religion to me. In Christianity, a name change signifies a change in a person. That’s why babies are baptized with a middle name, formerly called a “Christian” name, and at confirmation, thirteen-year-olds choose yet another name, symbolizing their step into Christian adulthood. It’s why, in the Bible, Saul becomes Paul, and Simon becomes Peter as they each take on their new leadership roles in the faith.
Am I changing as a person by getting married? I’m changing my habits. I’m making a lifelong commitment. Maybe I’ll change over time, but I somehow doubt that at the moment I tie the knot, I’ll be permanently a different person from my single self. I’ll still be Nancy, I just won’t be single.
I know the other options to name changing: don’t change it at all, convince him to take YOUR name, or hyphenate. Each of these presents its own problems. I haven’t asked him what he would think about taking my last name. But to be honest, I don’t really want him to have that last name. I associate that name with my extremely flawed, deeply religious, conservative family, and I don’t want that to be his. At the same time, I don’t want to permanently change something that has been part of who I am since the day I was born.
Why do we put women through this? Why do we expect them to change their identity as soon as they get married? Would divorce rates drop, or would marriage rates increase, if women were allowed to just be themselves permanently?
This whole crisis was floating around in the back of my mind, but it came to the forefront today, because I just learned that my state requires a shit ton of paperwork and hoops to jump through if you want to do anything more complicated than replace your maiden name with your married one. I had hoped to tack my married name on to the end of my current one, and simply have an extra name without losing my old one completely. I’m not going to lie–I was kind of banking on that as a way to subtly maintain my identity. And now that I know that I probably can’t do that because my state is absolutely fucking ridiculous, I’m kind of freaking out. I’m not even at the point where I need to be dealing with this stuff, I’m just trying to get through the last finals week of my undergraduate education, but I’m pretty upset right now.
What do you guys think about the whole name changing thing? Feel free to leave a comment.
All opinions are welcome, just be respectful and think things through before posting.