No, women shouldn’t change their names when they get married. Let m...

Jill Filipovic makes sense.

Your name is your identity. The reasons women give for changing their names after marrying don’t make much sense.

On one level, I get it: people are really hard on married women who don’t change their names. Ten percent of the American public still thinks that keeping your name means you aren’t dedicated to your marriage. And a full 50% of Americans think you should be legally required to take your husband’s name. Somewhere upwards of 90% of women do change their names when they get married. I understand, given the social judgment of a sexist culture, why some women would decide that a name change is the path of least resistance.

Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real. There’s a power in naming that feminists and social justice activists have long highlighted.

Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world.

When women see our names as temporary or not really ours, and when we understand that part of being a woman is subsuming your own identity into our husband’s, that impacts our perception of ourselves and our role in the world. It lessens the belief that our existence is valuable unto itself, and that as individuals we are already whole. It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone’s wife or mother or daughter or sister. Men rarely define themselves relationally. And men don’t tend to change their names, or even let the thought cross their mind. Men, too, seem to realize that changing one’s name has personal and professional consequences.

... men don’t grow up with that sense of psychological impermanence. They don’t grow up under the shadow of several thousand years of gender-based discrimination.

Even the small number of women who do keep their names after marriage tend to give their children the husband’s name. At best there’s hyphenation. That’s a fair solution, but after many centuries of servitude and inequality, allow me to suggest some gender push-back: Give the kids the woman’s last name. [emphasis mine]

How do you feel about keeping your own name in marriage? For my first marriage I took my husband's name, and even used my second name instead of my first name with it, because it sounded better with his last name. When I got divorced, instead of returning to my maiden name, legacy of a deadbeat dad, I selected a new last name. My husband to be even gave me a helpful suggestion, when I was having trouble deciding which of two role models to emulate, Susan B. Anthony or John Gardner. When I married the second time I kept my name, and he was perfectly fine about that.

How do you feel about your last name? If you're single, what do you plan to do? If you're married, do you wish you'd done things differently? Were you bold enough to keep your name?

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Replies to This Discussion

Many people's hyphenated names come from family blending, but yours is from taking two new honorable names by bold choice!

How would I feel if I were getting married, and there was such strong social pressure to take my spouse's last name? Disrespected and "erased" to a significant extent. As a guy I have that male privilege -- which ought to be universal across genders -- of knowing I won't be judged "less committed" for keeping my identity.

The Quartz article that Ms. Filipovic mentions points out:

In general, we are happy with the idea of molding our self-image in a whole number of ways, including how we dress, look, and talk. And having the right name is a big deal — affecting expected gradeslikeabilitysuccess at job applications, and likelihood of having your Facebook friend request accepted. So why the double standard when it comes to marriage?

I never wanted to change my name and I never did. Partner and I lived together for some 12 or 13 years and we both used our own names. Then something happened that made us decide to get married - and I kept on using my own name. There was a little pressure - some companies decided that it was time to delete my name and most of them reversed action when I told them to do so. Some men began to take notice that I used my ´little girl's name´ - meisjesnaam in Dutch - and they stopped when I asked if they used their little boy's name. I've also heard people throw dirt on the quality of our relation - my fundie father was one of them - but when you've been happy together since 1977 they shut up after some time.

The name a girl is given at birth is usually not her name but her father's.  Perhaps we should start naming girls after their mother, like Baby Girl Marthasdotter. 

I was actually thinking something to that effect, if I have kids.  If my wife and I (assuming we got married) kept our original names, the girls could get her last name, and the boys could get mine.

When my manager at work got married a few years ago I got really frustrated having this discussion with the women I worked with.  She changed her name, but her reasoning for it was essentially that "this is the way it's always been!".  She also mentioned that it was a way of unifying their family.  Fair point, but even if that was your motivation, there are other options: your husband could take your name, you could pick a new name and both change your name, or you could both hyphenate.  She mentioned that she had discussed it with her fiance and he'd said he would be offended if she didn't change it.  If the person I was marrying said that to me I'd know I was making a mistake in marrying him.  Of course it was her decision to make, but I was decidedly the odd man out for even suggesting that there was a choice to be made.

I'm not sure if I would change my name or not.  My name ties me to my father and I don't have a good relationship with him, so I would consider changing it to break that association.  It's definitely something I would give serious thought to before doing it, though.

Meh, yeah.  "That's the way it's always been," is one of the worst reasons to do anything.

Right there with you, on the fiance part.  If I was female, and a guy would have a sticking point over something that stupid ... well, it would just be another problem, on top of that fact that I would have to be a lesbian, no matter what my hormones told me to do, if I was female with anything approaching my existing mindset.

The issue with your father sounds like name-change-at-marriage would be a handy social excuse for something you want to do, anyway.  Heh heh heh.  I can see the conflict.  You're opposed to something for sociopolitical reasons ... but you want to do it anyway, for other reasons, and you don't want people to think that you're caving to social pressure.  Sucks.




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