Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Rose By Any Other...

Lately, I've been thinking about tradition as it applies to marriage. About traditions that make sense and those that really do not. The tradition occupying space in my head today is the marital name change.

I know that its roots are based in the ancient principles of marriage...back when a woman was considered to be--both legally and socially--the property of her husband. For nearly all couples in modern times, this is no longer practiced, though I do have friends whose interpretation of religious scripture is informed by a man's view of "what's what" and this usually leaves the female half with the short end of the stick and pretending that she's okay with it. I'm grateful that our legal system is no longer allowed to enforce these archaic views and each marital participant comes to the table as an equal.


The name change thing is still alive and well and I don't understand why. I have friends who are all over the map with regard to how they handled this somehow still-controversial issue. Some continue to live and be married with the names they've always had. No harm and no foul. The kids they have either wind up with hyphenated names reflecting both parents (Which is done without blinking in other countries) or their father's name. I guess there's no escaping that last one. In some situations, the woman's name is hyphenated or she use both names without the hyphen.

Personally speaking? I took my "maiden" name as my middle name, though my bank checks, driver's license and work name reflect various forms of something more traditional. I wasn't really thinking about what it would mean until until it really DID mean something--and by then--I was afraid that changing it back would signal something untrue and negative. I still worry about it.

 I have one set of friends--and ONLY one--where the man (Let's call him Tom Smith) and his fiance (Teresa Jones) elected to become Tom Jones Smith and Teresa Jones Smith. It is the only situation I know of where the man made an equal sacrifice of his identity. Mostly though, whether out of religious obedience, tradition, or a desire not to rock the boat, the woman usually just kicks her own name to the curb and takes a new one. Even those who claim that it's not a big deal will notice the first time she starts getting mail that says Mrs. John Sadsack, rather than Mrs. Jennifer Sadsack, because the first thing that will go through her head (and you can't stop it) is, "Seriously? I lost my first name too?"

In practically EVERY case--whether the groom is a flaming liberal or a neo-conservative, he escapes with name and identity intact. AND...in every case the following is absolutely true whether you want to believe it or not and it is this: Changing your name (or marrying a woman who changes her name to yours) does not in any way make you more married or more committed than if you drifted blissfully through life with your original birth names. It also doesn't mean that she loves her husband any more than a woman who chooses to keep the name she was born with.

If you think about it, marriage has long been dictated by both attitudes AND behaviors. What about the attitude or idea that a woman belonged to her father before belonging to her husband, thus the need for the prospective male to request permission to marry her? We no longer believe that a woman belongs to her father or to her husband, but many still participate in the tradition of asking for her hand. So, even though we've dropped the ancient attitude, we still cling to the empty practice that went along with it.  Why do we do this? To me it's like someone who loses a ton of weight and while being a much thinner person, continues to hang on to the old clothes....and wear them. Why continue the practice if the law behind it is no longer in place?

Perhaps, the part that confounds me most is this: Why men who seem to completely understand why their own names are so incredibly important to them and who are 100% resistant to ever changing them or losing them along with the accompanying identity and horrified that you'd even suggest it...are equally adamant--or at least mildly insistent-- that their partner sacrifice everything they believe they shouldn't have to. As though women are lesser animals with a dulled sense of who they are or what they are about and that they probably won't notice the change or feel any different because of it. And? Despite what some insist,  it's NOT more convenient. It's actually very complicated... both emotionally as well as technically speaking, what with all the accompanying paperwork and fees. Sure, you'll have the same name as your kids, but if you divorce? You'll be less jazzed about being saddled with the constant reminder of your association with him and you'll have to buy your old name back. I have it on good authority that it is a fairly expensive process. Consequently--both then and now and whether you stay married or not--name changing is only convenient for the man.

Which means? Some things haven't changed at all.


  1. Hey, you're back! Nice to see you. If I ever get married again (which will probably happen when hell freezes over and/or the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup) I will not change my name. I did it once, and it was a pain to switch it back after the divorce. Plus I didn't feel much like me with my married name. I have a friend who kept her maiden name when she married. She and her husband gave their oldest daughter the mom's last name, and their youngest daughter the dad's last name. I like that.

  2. Like you, I have ONE married set of friends who fused their last names when they wed, and they and their daughter go by that hyphenated hybrid name.

    I wanted to keep my own name when I married, but my husband saw it as a bit of a reservation about our future. I told him, "Hey, Nance MaidenName did a lot of things of which I am proud! I don't want to start over. I like who she is." His response, a little hurt, was, "No one can take any of that away from you. You are still her, but now with me from here on out." It never occurred to me--or him--that he was starting anew as well and could take my name or a hybrid of ours.

    Rick is so far from being possessive and chauvinistic. We are a team, equal partners in everything. It was never an ownership thing. As a matter of fact, when he became permanently estranged from his family, we consulted a lawyer about changing all our names to MY maiden name. Sigh. "A rose...", indeed.

  3. I never considered changing my name. Yeah, there's the whole patriarchy thing of it having been my father's name, but the hell with all that. It's the name I came with. Then, when my (now) husband and I were talking about getting married and having children, we made a pre-nup: girls would get my last name, boys would get his. Please note, we have one child, a girl, and she has my last name. I like being a crank, but I also like the complete and utter logic of the way we handled things. There was one little incident when we enrolled the girl in school and the administration decided he must be the stepfather and not a legal guardian - but I quickly put them to right.

  4. I grew up with a very difficult to spell and pronounce last name and got made fun of a LOT. When I got married, I got a "plain vanilla" easy last name and didn't even hesitate to change it. That marriage lasted about 5 minutes (ok, maybe a bit longer) but when it ended, there was no question in my mind that I was NOT going to change my name back. My dad was offended, but I didn't care. A few years later when my daughter was born (different guy), she got a long hyphenated Hispanic last name. By the time she got to elementary school, her dad was no longer in the picture, and it was easier to use my last name. She liked it better anyway and when she turned 18, she changed it legally. She hasn’t told her dad yet and isn’t planning to, because he would have a meltdown. Such a touchy subject for so many people, but you have to do what works for you.

  5. Absolutely. My issue is less about what choice women make than my amazement with the men in their lives who remain so inflexible.

  6. But it's romantic to "take" a man's name, right? Remember writing your name plus boyfriend's last name over and over again? What was so appealing about that? Some kind of misguided confirmation that he loves me so much he is willing to snatch my identity so that in the future my friends can't find me on facebook? I have an especially hard time when a young woman swoons at the idea of her beau asking her father for her hand in marriage. And all the machinations some women go through to coax the man to "ask" for her hand in marriage on bended knee, bearing a ring and her acting surprised. It's really quite strange, that so many of these traditions endure.

  7. I may have told you this story before but about 8 years into my marriage, I paid to get my old name back. Then realized when I began using it again that 1) I was not the girl who grew up with that name anymore, and 2) Despite what I thought intellectually, I did not like having a different name from my husband. So, I had to pay to CHANGE IT BACK! Ha! But I'm glad I did, especially since we went on to have children and I like all of us sharing a single family name. Interestingly enough, the name we share is not the last name given my husband at birth. He had to sacrifice that after his father died and his mother remarried. His stepfather didn't insist on the name change at all, but the U.S. government, in the early 1960s, wouldn't count my husband as his father's "dependent" if they didn't share a last name.


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.