the marital name game
October 26, 2003 07:52 PM

I can hardly believe we've never talked about the topic Vic posted today: would you [or did you] change your last name if you got married?

If you are married, did you take your husband's last name? Or, if you're unmarried, do you plan to take your husband's last name? Why or why not?

How about Mrs.? Are you, will you ever, be "Mrs." anyone, or is "Ms." the only title you will will ever take?

In general how do you think this naming thing should be handled? Last names, children's names, etc.

I'm not married, and I don't know if I ever will be. I don't recall ever thinking about being named a "Mrs. So-and-so" as a little girl, though I certainly thought about being married, having kids and all that - maybe my mother trained me that way. The question of naming for me has always been how to deal around the name. Am I Ms. Johnson forever? Mrs. or Ms. Something-hyphen-Something? Something else entirely?

The name-changing thing is, of course, another symptom of the patrilineal, man-as-default syndrome. To do something other than exchanging a father's last name for a husband seems like an unnecessary rebellion against the How Things Are to a lot of people (most, even?), but it's not - it's a subtle way to shift us to thinking about women and men in a different way, to think about relationships in a different way.

There is, however, an aspect of the name change that I like, and this is why I think I'd choose to make some name change rather than to keep my name exactly as-is if I were to get married. Part of the traditional name change is a symbol of leaving one family to start another, becoming part of a husband's family.

Well, I don't believe in being assimilated by a man's (or woman's) family, but I do think there's value in a household choosing a single name. A big part of what marriage would mean to me is a fusion of families into something larger. So, I think a hyphenated name is the right choice for me. Yes, this could mean that children of hyphenated families have to deal with a very complicated name in the future, but you know - I think my children, if I ever have any, would be creative enough to come up with a solution to that problem. And hey, maybe their kids might have eight last names to choose from. Could be fun.

I've seen the hyphenated name convention work well for my married gay and lesbian families, too. It's egalitarian, but it also recognizes the decision to become a household, a family as well as two individuals - recognizes the decisions for both partners, no matter their gender (and it could just as easily work for polyamorous families, too - they might adopt a triple last name, even). I like the formality, the ceremony of that. It makes the family the same, except in cases like previous marriage or adoption - where kids might come into the picture with their own names (in which case, I think the kids ought to have a role in choosing how to align their name with the family).

As for "Mrs." - well, there I don't care as much for the ceremony of naming. A man has no married honorific to identify him as part of a family, and a woman does. This is unequal, period. I occasionally am called "Mrs. Johnson" (and my partner "Mr. Johnson", which obviously amuses him) today, and I just correct people to "Ms." (versus "I'm not married"). While the master and mistress connections of Mr. and Mrs. are fine, it just annoys me that there's a differentiation between women and men here. It's another sign that a woman is still in part defined by her marriage and family, and a man apparently isn't.

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your wicked thoughts

I've never even considered changing my name--it's unusual but easy to pronounce, and I'm passing fond of it. That of course, isn't the only reason. My father is the oldest of 5 children, but he's the only son to have children, and we're both girls. If we both marry and change our names, then my our name comes to an end, and I can't bear for there to be no more [lastnames] in the world. Names have power, and it seems a shame to just let one peter out for lack of Y chromosomes.

I will admit, though, that in restaurants I always use the last name of the partner I'm with--both their last names are easier to spell than mine.

these are the thoughts of Natalie on October 26, 2003 10:31 PM
















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