December 30, 2004

It does matter what you call me

When I got married, I did not change my last name. My conservative home community was (and still is) shocked by this. Of course, since I'm a known feminist, my academic friends would have been shocked if I had changed my name. Sometimes I really feel like I live in two different worlds.

The internet has made the sexist practice of a woman taking a man's name even more absurd. When I was trying to locate some old college friends a couple of summers ago (for reasons I cannot divulge, although I assure you that my intentions were not evil), I found my male friends pretty quickly through internet search engines. But I couldn't find the female friends at all. That's when it struck me. Many had gotten married and CHANGED their names. How do you google someone if you don't even know her last name?

Should getting married be like entering the Witness Protection Program?

17 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I know what you mean - it never occurred to me to change my name, but in the small, conservative where I last worked, it confused the heck out of people. When LDH and I bought our car, we had to give the salesguy our licenses for the form, and he looked at them and said, "Your last names are different here." Yes, we said. "Do you *want* them different?" he said. Yes, we said. I mean, he was perfectly polite about it, but it clearly baffled him.

What's surprised me is that when I was in college I don't think any of my female friends intended to change their names on marriage, but a lot of them actually *did* then change them once the time came (ironically, those that got married older were more likely to change their names...kind of surprised me).

Dr. H said...

I changed my name when I got married. I struggled with this for a long time. It was important for me to have the same last name as my Spouse, because I thought it would help us feel like family. (I think some people can feel like family with different last names, but it would help ME feel like family if I shared a family name with him.) Spouse volunteered to hyphenate his name, and then we could both hyphenate and have the same last name. I thought about this, then decided that I didn't like how the hyphenated name sounded.

I think what bothered me the most is that this was something I had to struggle with, but I didn't see Spouse struggling with it nearly as much. I didn't think it made sense for one of us to be seriously reflecting on what our family name should be. Eventually, he engaged in this issue, but only after prodding, and not with the same identity dilemma I felt like I was facing.

I think my family and friends from home would have been surprised if I kept my name. I hear you about the two different worlds situation.

Cheeky Prof said...

I kept my own name. Didn't even hyphenate. What's odd is that Mr.Cheeky and I didn't even discuss it. It was just assumed. About a month before the wedding he said to me one day, "I just figured you were keeping you keeping your own name, right?," and I replied, "Yep," and that was it.

What amazed me were the reactions I received. I mean, I work in academic so this shouldn't have come as big surprise, right?...Unlike Jo(e), so many colleagues--male and female--made comments about my keeping my name, which I found to be totally inappropriate let alone unexpected. Would they have commented if I'd changed my name? They said things like, "What does Mr.Cheeky think about that?," as if I had to get his damn permission. I had a slew of witty responses to these questions/comments that shut people down.

Even my own mother gave me grief! And like Jo(e), people know I am a feminist so I've no idea why the name decision was so surprising. And to this day, no one can seem to figure out how to address cards and letters (is it really that confusing to put two damn names on the envelope??!). Grrrrr!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Not to comment-hog, but Cheeky's comment about addressing cards made me laugh b/c it reminded me of one of my family's longtime friends - I've known these people since I was about 3 - anyway, after LDH and I got married, the woman of this couple was fussing about how she could address envelopes to us (which is a little rich since I don't think I've ever had a letter from her in my life, but that's beside the point). She was running through all the permutations (Mr. His Name and Mrs. My Name? Mr. His Name and Ms. My Name? etc.), and since we both have doctorates, I said, "You could just address it to Drs. His Name and My Name."

Boy, you could just hear the crickets chirping.

AiE said...

I'm glad you posted on this, jo(e). I kept my maiden name (what a weird, antiquated term) when Filmmaker and I got married. Like Cheeky, Filmmaker never assumed I would take his name. His family really went out of their way to let me know how "cool" they were with the fact that I was keeping my name, which leads me to believe they weren't/aren't cool with it.

Since I'd published quite a bit under my maiden name, it would've felt weird to change my name. And my maiden name is really special to me since my dad died, so I would never have considered changing it. I am a little suprised by how many women I know still take their husband's names. I know it's a bigger deal for folks who want to have kids.

When I called my bank, insurance carrier, and whatnot to add Filmmaker to my accounts once we got married, they KEPT asking me if I needed to change my name. Finally I said, "Can you please make a note in my account information that even though I'm married, I'm not changing my name?!" They did, but they still persist in calling Mrs. Maiden Name. I hate that.

Anonymous said...

Regarding what to put on envelopes:

When we had just moved into our new house, our (conservative but polite) neighbor asked me "what is your last name." I said "Lastnayme, spelled in this unusual way." She said "That must have been hard, taking a last name with such an usual spelling." I said - realizing that she meant the plural "your," whereas I interpreted the singular - "Oh, that's my last name, but his is CommonLastname." She said "Oh."

Each year we get a Christmas card from these neighbors, addressed to: Firstname and Firstname (no last names included).

jo(e) said...

I always think it's funny when someone says to me, "Is that your maiden name?" I have this sudden image of me dressed like one of the women in the movie Camelot. Usually I say something like,"Uh, did you know that the word maiden means virgin? Wow, it's been a long time since anyone called me a virgin ...."

Terminaldegree said...

I prefer the term "family name" to "maiden name." But heck, some women lose their FIRST name, too!

I am single, with no boyfriend, but over Christmas vacation, this subject came up. My aunt overheard me telling my mom how weird it is that at my university, our pres and his wife are known as "Dr. and Mrs. University President," like she has no identity of her own. My aunt got really upset (she still refers to herself as "Mrs. Spousesfirstname Lastname even though my uncle died over 30 years ago). She said that 50 years ago, she was taught that one should address mail to "Mr. and Mrs. Male Name," and she couldn't see any point in changing that salutation now to something "wrong." (At this point my mother said she'd rather receive NO mail than to receive something addressed to Mrs. Dadsfirstname Lastname.) :)

My disgusted aunt said to me, "I suppose when you get married, you'll hyphenate." (She actually made it sound like a dirty word.) "Then your children will be hyphenated, they will marry other hyphens, and your grandchildren will have four last names. Is that how you plan to burden your grandchildren?"

Actually, I probably would hyphenate. My grandkids can drop some (or all) of the names, for all I care. But I've published under this name, and it's written on three college diplomas. I'm keeping it. Forever.

(One of my friends took a different approach and took her husband's name, because she has no career aspirations, she had a funny-sounding name, and she had a horrible credit rating! When she changed her name, her bad credit history disappeared. It's been great for her, but it's scary to think of one's "history" disappearing so easily!)

What Now? said...

A friend of mine who is dating the man of her dreams and is hoping to get married told me the other day that her boyfriend will "allow" her to keep her name because she's an established artist with a reputation attached to her current name. This story was supposed to convince me that he is Mr. Wonderful, but the word "allow" made me apoplectic! Of course, I don't know that this was his word; it may have been her own terminology. (I'm afraid that her feminism sometimes goes out the window when romance is in the offing.)

All of this last name business is so much easier for same-sex couples!

jo(e) said...

Oh, I shudder whenever I hear anyone in a relationship use the word "allow." Definitely a red flag! I know both men and women who have said to me at one time or another: "My spouse/partner won't allow me to ....." I can't imagine being in a relationship with someone who got to tell me what I could or couldn't do. Ugh.

Maybe the whole name issue is why so many conservatives oppose gay marriages. I mean, they would have to figure out how to address envelopes to same-sex couples and that's just too much for their little brains to handle.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Thinking about WhatNow's "allow" comment -- my ex basically forbade me to take his name (not that I was planning on it, but when the topic came up he thought that would be nuts).

My father, who has made a huge fuss about his sons carrying on the family name (and they are not likely to do anything of note, but I have at least published with the name), used to send me mail to profgrrrrl exname-maidenname. I didn't say anything, but couldn't believe his assumption. Also, does he not realize that he had the wrong order for hyphenation?

Scrivener said...

Don't know if you'll even see this now, because the post is so old. Just going back through your archives.

When my wife and I got married, she took my last name. Her previous last name was Blow. She spent a lifetime being ridiculed for it and was thrilled to change her name. Neither one of us really likes the tradition of taking a husband's name, and we talked about feeling very weird for her to do so, but she really wanted a new name. Hyphenation wouldn't have worked, because the point was to get rid of that name.

I proposed coming up with a new last name and both of us changing our names to it, but we couldn't think of anything that seemed to make sense. We didn't want to just make something up, didn't have any extended family last names we loved and wanted to take, and just weren't coming up with other ideas. So after a little while, we just went with tradition. But we did it ironically, so I guess it's ok. It still feels weird to me whenever I actually stop and think about it.

jo(e) said...

Scrivener: Now if your name had been Torch or something like that, hyphenation would have made sense.

jabdds2 said...

I am recently engaged and working my way through the issues. My fiance' will be keeping her lastname which I anticipated and am happy for. She and I have the understanding that I will not spend the rest of my life apologizing for friends and family who get it wrong, and that our children will not be cursed with the inevitable confusion that comes from multiple or hyphenated names. One question - how does the minister/officiant at the ceremony announce/introduce the couple: "and now let me introduce Dr. Firstname Lastname and Ms. Firstname Lastname". That sounds wierd and nothing else seems right. Since nothing is changing then no introduction necessary?

jo(e) said...

jabdds2: I have been at many weddings where the minister says, "And now I present to you, the new couple, First Name and First Name."

And everyone applauds.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I wanted to create my own last name early on, and tried various ones: Sunstorm, deMarjo (Of Margaret and Joe, my parents) Stormlight, and others. My maiden names was difficult. I ended up doing the old fashioned thing the first time,and then was STUCK with it, every time I remarried it didn't seem right to keep the EX's name. AK!

At least Taitt is a simple enough name--but no one from any of my prior names has any way to find me!

Anonymous said...

When I got married in 1993, I did not take my hubby's name. I preferred my family name. I was attached to them and my heritage and all that that stood for and meant to me. I was proud of my family, so why should I change. Hubby didn't care but his father was insulted. Funny thing is their name was not the family's real name. It had been changed a few generations back when they came to America.

When hubby and I tried to get a joint bank account the teller had to call the assistant manager who then had to call the branch manager. All women...all idiots...all grew up in powdunk N.E. town in Indiana. I'm so glad to have gotten the hell out of there!