What’s in a Name?

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rosen Georgiev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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13 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. That idea of adding the married name to your existing name is a practical thought. I guess that should solve the issue. Anyways these days many career oriented women maintain their maiden names. Btw, what’s in a name.. it’s just an identity to this body by other bodies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I lived in a different state I’d definitely just do that. It’s what my mom did, and I always thought that made the most sense. Unfortunately, my state requires you to go to court if you want to do that, and spend hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. They seem to treat anything other than hyphenation or a complete replacement of your old last name with the new one as if you’re a criminal trying to hide from the law. From what my boyfriend and I have been reading, since 9/11, states have been much pickier with what you’re allowed to change your name to. Not all of them are like this, but I happen to live in one that is.

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      • I am surprised to know that the 9/11 had such an impact even in names. In the country I live, we don’t change the maiden name at all. Very few people do that. We just add the last name to the maiden name. I guess I understand liberty in a very elaborate sense now.

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  2. I did not change my name when I married…it’s MY name and I couldn’t part with it. Granted it’s a super long ethic name that no one can pronounce, but it’s mine. I couldn’t hyphenate either, as my husband has a long, hard to pronounce name of a different ethnicity, and no one would have been able to say that mess without their brain exploding. Fortunately my husband didn’t care what I did.

    When we had our son, I gave him my husband’s last name just for reasons of tradition.

    The only problem I’ve ever run into is that people tend to think I’m divorced, because my son has a different last name than mine. I don’t care…my name is mine and I wasn’t going to give it up just because I got married. It’s never made sense to me why women do that, but to each their own.

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    • That’s interesting that the conclusion they jump to is divorce. I guess that just means that currently divorce is a more common reason for the different last names than your reason–which I completely understand and relate to. Good for you for doing what makes sense for you. I feel like if more women did that, it wouldn’t be seen as unusual.

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  3. In law school, plenty of women asked their colleagues about what to do about their names. You have several other options, like personally doing one thing but professionally publishing under your maiden name. That has its own headaches, especially if someone writes you a check with the wrong name on it…

    From my (male) perspective, keeping your name is just fine. There are plenty of other ways to commemorate your pledges to each other. Plus, tradition is relative. In Spain, they combine names in a particular fashion. In Scandinavian countries, one’s last name used to be whose kid you were. This persisted even in Christian times. That, and if someone wants to quote tradition you can simply tell that person that he or she isn’t in your marriage.

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  4. I think it’s up to the individual. I changed my name to my Husbands when we married, I couldn’t wait to change it because my maiden name was long and I was forever spelling it out to people, where as his is short and easy to spell! I did feel a bit strange changing it at first though, being called by a new name took a bit of getting used to but I love it. I can understand that a complete change isn’t for everyone tho. When my friend got married she combined her maiden name with her husbands name. She did it because there are no males in her family to continue the name and she felt it wasn’t right for it to be lost. I say do what you feel is right. Any children you have can have a double barrelled surname if you don’t change it, just makes them more unique!

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  5. My husband offered to take my name, because he has lots of brothers carrying his family name, but my family had only girls. I thought about it, but eventually decided to take his anyway. Why? My name, although not an unusual or ethnic name, was constantly mispronounced and misspelled, even by by close friends. His name was easy, almost never misspelled, and had the added bonus of being closer to the beginning of the alphabet. So I’ve spared myself and my kids from a lifetime of people never getting our name right.

    Of course, I had not established a professional reputation at that point, so that wasn’t a consideration. But I do know lots of women who continue to use their maiden name professionally, but adopt their husband’s name or a hyphenated name for personal stuff.

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    • I’m happy to hear that there are guys out there willing to offer to take the woman’s name. I see what you’re saying about pronunciation, spelling, and placement in the alphabet. I’m used to having a pretty tricky name too (not my blog name) so while I’m very attached to it, it might be nice to have a name other people can spell.

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  6. I think you answered your question. We put women through this because we haven’t divorced completley from tradition yet. It won’t happen until more and more individuals will do it until it becomes too big to suppress. I think that the ideal situation would be to choose a new name for the new family. Marriage is a creation of something new, not a sequel to someone’s families.

    Oh, the fun and joyous world of paperwork! Goddamn it

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more with your point about marriage being a creation of something new. That’s an interesting idea–creating a totally new name. I’m not sure how it would be chosen, but it makes a lot of sense.

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