On not changing my name

I was researching the primary election endorsements (gotta fill out that ballot still...) when I stumbled upon this post on The Stranger's Slog:

"Changing Your Name When You Get Married," by Gillian Anderson

A survey reported that in couples who married last year, 88 percent of the women changed their names. (Even more frightening is another survey in which 71 percent of women think wives should take their husband's name and half of them want to legislate it!)

I'm not surprised that the number of women changing their names is so high, even though it's "a bit baffling," as Anderson puts it. I hung out with mostly feminists in college, even though it was a conservative evangelical bastion in the Midwest, so I figured I would be joined by my comrades in thumbing our nose at the patriarchy.

But, no. I'm the only one who kept her name at marriage among my college friends. I understand the reasons of one of my roommates — she hated her name and her father, so sure, let it die. But every last one of them blithely assuming the mantel of Mrs. Husband Name? I did not see that coming.

It doesn't surprise me anymore. I've noted a general trend toward conservativism in this next generation, the ones getting married right now and taking those surveys I referenced above. But even in my own generation (or maybe it's a half-generation, whatever — I mean, I'm not old enough to be a 20-year-old's mother — wait, I kind of am, but only theoretically — but, regardless, we're not really hanging with the same crowd, you dig?), I've noticed a kind of eh-so-what attitude toward feminism, a sense of taking women's equality (such as it is) for granted.

I can understand this. We're not fighting as hard as our parents' generation. I've been watching some vintage educational films in the last few days (what? isn't that what you do in your spare time?), and to borrow a phrase from the tobacco industry, which you know I love to do, we've come a long way, baby. So I can see why maybe people have gotten complacent. But it's still a little disturbing in its Stepford-wife-ness to see friend after friend in my peer circle marry and adopt her husband's name without question, with giddiness and no sense of feminist shame.

When Steve and I cat sat, we wondered if people would know we were married because of our different last names. Then we realized we needn't have worried. Almost every married couple we sat for had different last names. It was the funniest thing. I thought it must stem from a few reasons combined:

(1) We live in Seattle. Yea, Seattle, you crazy hippy-cradler, you!
(2) Married couples with different last names must have been attracted to our disparate handles.
(3) Most all of them were a decade or so older than we were.

See, it's #3 that I'd like to draw your attention to. I think maybe blatant feminism is dying out, or dying down at least, or taking a breather, or something.

Ah, well.

It's funny that I didn't even not change my name out of some rabid feminism. I consider myself a practical feminist. I think women are equal and deserve respect because they are, and they do. I don't hold truck with anyone who's unreasonable enough to think otherwise. And if that makes me a fire-breathing feminazi, then bring it on, says I. I don't really care what other people (read: sexists) think.

I actually was planning to change my name. I was sad about it, but resigned. I was very young, 22, and I didn't really think I had a choice, culturally speaking. Then Steve voiced his own opposition to the idea, saying he had fallen in love with Amanda Caldwell, and Amanda Caldwell was the gal (yes, he used that term) (not really, this was not 1956) he wanted to marry. I felt an enormous rush of relief. So, yes, feminist that I am, my future husband gave me the idea and permission to keep my own name. I do appreciate the irony.

Like I said, the idea was more practical and reasonable than anything else. I was Amanda Caldwell, had been for 22 years, and how bizarre to change it right then. Plus, all the paperwork! Oy.

Did it piss off my in-laws? Yes. Did they think it was all my doing? Probably. Did it befuddle my parents? Oh, I'm sure. Though they were pretty hands-off about the entire thing.* Did they think it was all Steve's fault? Hmm. Good question.

(*My parents keep pre-guessing crazy things I'm going to do and not being at all surprised when they happen, like when the idea of what kind of schooling our kids would have first came up and my dad said, "Oh, we just figured you would home school." And I thought, "Home schooling, eh? Good idea, Pops." Again, its not being 1956, I do not actually use the word "Pops.")

Here are some other frequently asked questions we get about our name choice:

1. Do people think you're not married?

Well, only people we don't know, as we always present ourselves as husband and wife within a few minutes of conversation. So strangers, I guess, don't know we're married when they look at our mailbox or snoop through our trash, but whatever. Funny story about the mail, actually: We talked with our mail deliverer at our former apartment all the time, because we received so many packages, but the conversations never did extend to introducing ourselves. When we were moving, we had a discussion about our forwarding orders — mine had been received, but Steve's was missing. He told us we could have submitted just one for the whole household, and we reminded him we had separate last names and the rules were one forwarding order per last name. Apparently this had been a burning question, because he burst out with, "You're married? And you have different last names?" Yes, we told him, surprised he hadn't guessed, since we'd been so dang domestic looking every time we answered the door and because, you know, I was obviously pregnant. He took in this new information, digesting the news that we had not been living in sin and cooking a bastard as he'd feared. He shook his head at our unconventionality and said, "I thought only people in England did that."

2. What about the kids?

What about them indeed? This goes along with question #1, because people wonder how you create a cohesive family unit with different names. How will people know which kids belong to which parents unless their names match? My thought is that plenty o' kids nowadays have different last names from their parents, for reasons often much sadder than ours. People get over it. Again, an introduction takes care of any awkwardness: "This is my child, So-and-so" usually clears it all right up. I think people just like the convenience of saying "Let's have the Van der Hoovendoovers over for dinner," or like seeing "Van der Hoovendoover Family" on a porch sign, but you know — deal.

With our particular kidlet, we have so far given him my name as his middle name and Steve's as his last. I've heard of some other routes: One is to make the last name hyphenated or simply super long. One is to take a completely new family name (Calsingh? Lanswell? Van der Hoovendoover?). One is to give some kids the mother's name and some the father's, often along gender lines. So, if we had a daughter, we could reverse the procedure we used for Corin. Since Steve's dad's the only one in the world who cares, but he really, really does care, whether the Lansingh name continues, we thought we'd give him an apoplexy if we didn't give our son that very rare last name. Caldwells, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. Swing a cat and hit a hundred. (P.S. Don't really swing a cat. It's not nice. Besides, you might hit some Caldwells.)

3. Aren't you being an anti-feminist, carrying on the name given your father under patriarchal naming conventions?

Well, you're not going to take down the patriarchy in one generation. Give it time.

Yes, it's true that upon keeping my maiden name (and don't get me started on that terminology, and why there's no counterpart to it for men), I am actually keeping my father's name. It's the same name that my mother acquired when she married him, and the name they gave me in keeping with cultural traditions. But change has to start somewhere, right? I could have taken a completely new name, but I liked my given name, and I like my father. Or Steve and I could have crafted a name together. I think if we had gotten married later in life, or not had the Lansingh hopes and dreams resting upon our procreating possibilities, that might have been more of a consideration.

4. Don't you love and respect your husband?

Oh, gosh, no. We feminists are incapable of love or respect.

It's not that I get asked this one directly. It's that women imply it back to me in their reasons (excuses) for changing their own names. "Oh, I didn't mind taking Hubby's name at all. I just love him so much and was happy to be part of his family." You know, meaning I was the opposite. I'm not going to dignify this with any more of a response but to say that there are ways to love people that don't involve waiting in line at the DMV.

5. Do you think your (theoretical) daughter is going to keep her name upon marriage, or your son going to change his?

No one actually asks me this, but I'll answer it anyway.

Sadly, I have little hope for the next generation. See the polls at the start of this post.

And, by the by, if you're offended with any of the bluntness in this post and have made different decisions for yourself and want to ream me out, remember two things:

(1) It's supposed to be funny, which makes it all ok.
(2) I'm in the minority! You can't persecute me without being a total jerk.


Courtney said... Best Blogger Tips

I admit that I've always been curious about why you didn't change your name, mostly because (as you've pointed) it's becoming less common in our generation and maybe it never was common in the church to begin with.

Truthfully, I've never thought much about it for myself. Maybe because I've only recently decided that marriage may be in my future, and maybe because I never looked at the name change as being symbolic of inequality in the relationship. But you've given me a lot to think about. At the moment, I'm not sure whether my family heritage is something I want to hang onto and pass down to my children. But I'll have to revisit that when I meet my theoretical in-laws. It might be a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils ;O). JK. Sort of.

As a sidenote, my last name has been mispronounced and/or misspelled my whole life and I always hoped I'd marry into an easy name. Not sure if I still feel that way, though.

Now you've gotten me all curious about the origins of name changing, when it started, why, does it have any biblical basis or equivalent, etc. I bet that makes you happy, doesn't it?

Ian Schmidt said... Best Blogger Tips

This is easily my favorite blog post that I've read all week. Thank you :)

Amanda L. Caldwell said... Best Blogger Tips

Ian: I am so glad. Thank you!

Courtney: You've made me think, too! lol Without doing any research whatsoever, because I refuse to get led down Googly rabbit holes while Corin's babbling at me, I will just speculate about a few things. First of all, in the Bible a man was supposed to leave father and mother to cleave to his wife, which suggests that she did not have to leave her family or family heritage behind. It's sort of backwards in our culture, then. I'm not going to get all fundy about that, just pointing it out that it's weird that the fundies in our culture get all fundy about our backwards way remaining constant.

Secondly, my understanding is that last names didn't become common until the Middle Ages or thereabouts? I guess when you're in a small village, you know who Tom is. As the town grows, you might be told it's Tom the smithy vs. Tom the tailor. But it wasn't till there was more movement across villages going on that you might need a constant identifier, such as Tom Smith or Tom Taylor.

Other cultures have completely different systems of name changing at marriage, or when having children. The Russian system gives each child a middle name based on the father's and then with a masculine or feminine ending: Katerina Grigoreva Tolstoy would be the daughter of Grigor, say (just making stuff up here). Spanish names, I recall, are interesting, but I forget what they do and refuse to get distracted by Googling it.

Biblical name changing is mostly by God, and even then it's name adding, in that the person still goes by the other name as well. And of course, there are instances of people having multiple names because of different languages in use: Peter/Cephas, Paul/Saul. God gives himself plenty of names. And one person, Hagar, gives God a name. I can't think of any changes by marriage, though, can you? There are, I guess, changes through children -- Sarai becoming Sarah, Abram becoming Abraham, to reflect their upcoming brood.

Remember, I'm doing no research here, just going on memory. If you find any more info, feel free to come back and pass it on!

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