Married vs. Maiden Names

The issue of the newly wed name change* is one of those popular is a rather simple feminist issues.  I believe it is important, though, since it represents the core of what I consider feminism to be about: choice.  That is what I want to highlight before I tell you what I think about a woman changing her name upon marriage.  If you want to do it, that is fine.  I just ask that you think about why you are doing it.  Make sure that your reasons are yours and not what you think you should be doing.  Don’t just do it because it is our social norm.  If you aren’t sure, then wait.  If your spouse doesn’t understand, and it is enough to cause a serious rift, that might be a symptom of a deeper and more serious issue.

Now we move on to my opinion.  I think it is absurd for the majority of women to change their names when they get married.  Changing your last name to that of your husband is like admitting that you are the one adjusting and sacrificing for this relationship.  Why doesn’t the man have to change anything?  Why does the woman have to forsake the connection to the family that raised her, but the man must do nothing of the sort?  The woman hyphenating is a slight improvement, but not by much if the man does nothing.

Many would say, and may be as they read this, that this is just a name and might pull out a certain cliched, but still wonderful, Shakespeare quote.   Yes, names are just words, but, like words, names have power.  Why do you think so many fantasy novels and magick practices require new or secret names that are only shared

with a select few?  These name changes (in the marriage, not in magick practices) symbolize an imbalance that is often present.  This is why I say think carefully about the decision.  If you are sacrificing the name you have had all your life to your marriage, what else are you sacrificing that you do not need to?  What other parts of your independence are you giving up without noticing?  Love is wonderful and all, but it does blind.

There are situations when I would not blame a woman for wanting her husband’s name.  Those are when she just plain dislikes her own.  Maybe it sucks either by itself or when combined with her first name.  Or perhaps her family name reminds her of a crappy family and a time of her life that she wants to put behind her.  In circumstances like these I would want to change my name as well!  Or his name could just be kick ass.  I can’t blame a woman for wanting a sweet name.

I think you can guess my suggestions, but I will lay them out for you anyway.  My first suggestion is just don’t change your name.  What about the kids (if there are any), though, how will you decide their name?  You could hyphenate. I have a friend whose parents did this and she feels it is a bit of an affliction.  It would be awesome, though, for someone who wants a unique name.  I, for instance, wish to be a published academic and my unique last name, which is not hyphenated at the moment, will be quite useful.  I have another friend who has a very common last name and first name and gets calls all the time for interviews that are meant for an author of the same name.   If you wish to symbolize the new family you are creating by changing your name you can BOTH hyphenate your damn names.  That is what I have told my boyfriend we will be doing if we ever decide to get married** and if we wish for there to be any name changing involved.

Of course, there is the option How I Met Your Mother’s Marshal and Lilly had.  This is to make up a whole new name!  Such as the Awesomesauces or something else amazing.  This, of course, could make your life a bit of a hell, since no one would believe this was your real name. It could still be a lot fun, though.

So, what do you guys think?  What do you want to do if/when you get married?  If you are married, what did you do?  Also, if you have done it, how hard is it to actually change your last name?

*This is solely in regards to heterosexual marriages.  I do not know how this usually plays out in homosexual marriages (equal rights, baby).  If anyone knows, I would love to hear about it.

** I find it only a mildly romantic idea.  The marriage for people who live like I do is pretty much just a celebration of nothing changing.  Also, it has been commercialized to the point of nausea for me.  Of course, my disgust is mostly directed at traditional American weddings, which are Christian.  The handfasting I would have does still have a bit of appeal.  However, this is a topic for another post entirely.

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About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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3 Responses to Married vs. Maiden Names

  1. Sita says:

    To answer the last question first, I remember hearing/reading about the fact that it’s cheaper for the woman to take the man’s name when married. People who want to marry but either don’t want to change their names or the husband wants to take the wife’s name have to jump through all kinds of legal hurdles to do it and end up paying extra fees I think. Sad as it is, I’d bet that many people choose the traditional route not only for tradition but for economics.

    That being said–I don’t want to change my last name if I ever get married. I’m very proud of my heritage, and attached to my name. I like it, plain and simple. It has never made much sense to me to change my name just because I’m getting married. My choice would to keep my name (my name is already long, so hyphenating would be a pain haha), or have my husband take my name, or just keep our original names. It would present problems, sure, but if the relationship is strong enough to begin with, it should be something that could be worked through.

  2. csielbeck says:

    Great blog Tori! Very interesting posts, especially this one- you made some great points. Only a few weeks ago I ended up changing my name, although I waited a couple weeks after getting married to make sure I wanted to. I ended up choosing to keep my maiden as my middle name.

    I agree that changing your name is super annoying (Social Security, insurance, banks, doctors, emails, personal websites, and so many other places I have yet to discover…oh yeah and trying to remember my new name when introducing myself and signing things!) and it’s somewhat unnecessary. However I think my new husband has a pretty sweet name that sounds good with my first name haha, and since I’m so young and my career is just starting it’s not going to be too confusing. I appreciated that no one really pressured me into doing it, I just wanted to, and it was right for me.

    • Tori says:

      Thanks for commenting! I love when people do this sort of thing because they like it. It definitely isn’t a bad thing to change it because it is an awesome name or just to signal your new stage in life.

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