Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Ongoing Debate

I had a conversation yesterday about the practice of a woman taking a man’s surname as her own after marriage. The woman I was talking to had chosen not to take her husband’s name and we were chatting about the discomfort we both felt with the idea of doing so. We talked about people we knew who had chosen not to do so, men who had chosen to take their wife’s name and a clever couple (with mercifully short surnames) who had combined their two last names to create a new surname they both used.

Aside from the fact that it seems like a sign of subservience to accept a husband’s name as your own, I suppose my discomfort is also rooted in my attachment to my last name. It is long and unwieldy but I was raised with a paternal Grandmother who had a strong sense of history and spoke of the origins of her own family as well as my Grandfather’s a great deal. Ironically, the fact that she very much adopted my grandfather’s last name is what gave me such an attachment to it. She was frequently known to say, “Remember you’re a (my last name)” and then would proceed to declare what qualities one was required to have as a member of this family. She had ambitious ideas regarding what qualities this name denoted and the honor we, her grandchildren, should consider our possession of this name to be. All this in spite of the fact that she didn't much like her in-laws. Go figure. She constantly reinforced the idea of family as a community, as a continuing thread. I’m first generation American and my attachment to my last name also relates to my sense of having a tie to that history. My middle name is my mother’s maiden name, which I suppose was her way of asserting a claim on my identity. The women in my family have a wierd thing about names.

I found an article on the subject at Wikipedia listed as married and maiden names. There are cultures with different traditions regarding his practice, many include some part of the woman's last name remaining a part of her name which is then passed onto the couple's offspring. I would want my children to have my name (if and when I had any)... which would require a break from Western tradition. Then again, I have a complex ten letter last name. Forcing a hyphenate or a bizarro middle name on a child might be inconsiderate. My Grandmother, however, who was so posessive of the name she married into would probably have loved the idea.


  1. I gave up my last name when i married and i did it without much thought. Why? Because it's the way i had always dreamed... It was kind of a prince charming kind of thing. It's just what you're supposed to do right?

    But now i'm getting divorced and i'm going back to my maiden name. This means extra work for me (that he doesn't have to bother with) to change it back and not to mention the added expense.

    But that said i loved my married name. I can't explain why but when people called me "Mrs. P...." it just made me feel more married. Maybe that's partly due to the fact that my mother in law does not have my husbands last name. I say that because most woman hate being referred to as "Mrs. NewLastName" because they think of thier mother in law.

    And now, i'm not sure what i'm going to do next time. I am one of 4 grandchildren. I am the oldest, there is one man, close to my age, then two young girls under 10. I know full well that if my brother passes away we have others to carry on the last name BUT my brother is #4. Yeah, that's right, people still do that, name thier son exactly after his father. So if something were to happen to my brother i would keep my maiden name and have myself a "John H" just to keep the name alive.

  2. So glad I found this old post of yours. My boyfriend and I have been together for four years now and marriage is a prospect in the sooner-than-later future. I'm nervous because of this whole name business. I didn't think I had a choice in the matter until I read a thread in the You Grow Girl forums on the subject of keeping your old surname. I brought this up with my boyfriend rather casually, asking him if he would feel offended or uncomfortable if his fiance refused to take his name. He wasn't quite sure how he felt, but I know it would cause a big hubbub with his family and I sense that he really would feel hurt, but also I don't think he would try and force me to take his name either, he's too nice a guy.
    So why do I want to keep my surname? I don't know. I dislike my father and all but one in his family. My mother was never married to my father and never had his surname. I even used to have nightmares as a child about people making fun of my last name, which sort of rhymes with flamingo. So why am I so attached? I can't really say for sure. I've had this name for almost 23 years now and it's who I am. It's my identity. I've finally grown to like the sound of it, and the way it looks written. I can't change it now.

    I wish I didn't have to make that decision. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I don't want to change something that I love about myself.