Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Names

A few days ago I ran across this blog post against women changing their names by M. LeBlanc while surfing the web on my cell phone while riding home in the car.  It got me thinking--not about not changing my name, but about the fact that I've never really written about this subject.  So here goes.

As a minister performing weddings, it's still pretty rare that I see women keeping their original names after marriage.  And looking around at my liberal church, I see only a small percentage of the women there made this decision--I think maybe two of the married women in heterosexual marriages.  So even in liberal circles, it's still the minority option, by far. 

When I got married I kept my name.  The three major arguments against name changing that were presented to me at the time were the "it makes things complicated" and "name-changing shows your commitment" and "it can make things really complicated when you have children; you want your whole family to have the same name." The "it makes things complicated" before children, I thought, was pretty minimal compared to the complication of changing one's name on diplomas, social security card, passport, driver's license, and more.  And, in fact, there have only been one time it made things complicated beyond an occasional simple statement to clear up confusion of, "no, we're married, I kept my name," and that was when getting health insurance in Michigan, and they made us produce a copy of the wedding license (no other state's insurance companies required this for medical insurance). As for showing my love or commitment, I suspect that if my husband had required me to change my name as a symbol of my love and commitment, then he wouldn't be the feminist man I fell in love with. 

My personal reasons for wanting to keep my name were that with my father having no sons, and my father being an only son, and his father being the only male son with a male son, our name was dying out in this branch of the family tree.  It's a name with a lot of history, good and bad, but that's my family history, and I feel attached to it.  I liked that the name I have was the name I'd built a history of relationships and professional associations under, and that seemed like a reason to keep my name, too.  And at the time of our marriage, my husband was considering changing his name.  It seemed a little ridiculous to change my name to a name he was thinking of shedding. His last name has his own personal history attached to it, but nothing else from other generations that he's attached to.  He had been thinking of dropping it and going with his middle name, which does have family history.

And then we had a child, and the whole issue got opened back up again.  While it hadn't been important for either of us that we have a common name, it was important to both of us that our child have our name.  But, again, my husband was still thinking of shedding his last name and going with his middle.  We decided to give our daughter two last names--my last name and his middle name.  His middle name is a family name in his family, but also in my family.  In fact, it would have been my middle name if I was a boy.  Now, just about everyone seemed convinced that this would make our lives complicated if our daughter had a different last name than her father, and somewhat different from mine.  So I called up a colleague who had done something similar when naming her son, and she assured me that there had been no hassle.  The schools have gotten so used to having children with all sorts of family configurations that they've learned to sort this stuff out.  And sure enough, with our child now in the schools, we've had absolutely no problems.  Sure, he sometimes gets called Mr. Landrum, or by his middle name.  I sometimes get called Mrs. Morrison.  But this has a good function: it helps us weed out the telemarketers. 

So bottom line, women, is do whatever you want, but don't listen to the arguments from the other side.  I don't think everyone has to make the decision I made.  It's fine to go ahead and change your name.  But if you don't want to, don't listen to all those arguments.  It's your decision, and it really won't create any issues in the diverse world we live in now.

1 comment:

adelev said...

I also did not change my name when I got married and I heard many of the arguments for why I should that you did and used many of the same arguments as you for why I chose not to. I would like to add one additional argument on the side of not changing your name: Making this choice provides an example that is sorely needed. As you pointed out, even in liberal groups very few women do not change their name. Shortly after I got married I witnessed two little girls talking about getting married and changing their names or not and one said, "Don't you have to change your name? I think it's a law or something." I believe girls growing up need to see perfectly ordinary women who love and are committed to their husbands and did not change their name. I feel every woman who chooses not to change her name is one step closer to a day when both men and women can change their names or not when they get married and no one thinks a thing about it either way.