Discuss: The Name Game
May 22, 2019
Earlier this year, I was sitting with a friend when she asked the question: Are you taking Kyle’s name when you get married?
For years, I’ve watched friends navigate the business of changing their names post-marriage. Making last names middle names. Filing endless paperwork. Deciding whether to hyphenate. Going by their maiden name professionally, but having a different legal name. It’s complicated, and a little messy.
So am I changing my name? No. And I feel the kind of deep certainty about this choice that I wish I felt about all of my decisions. Here’s why.
One. I like my name. Being gifted an uncommon name at birth, the path to name acceptance was long. But I took some comfort in the fact that my first name sounded pretty good when paired with my last name. Something about the way the vowel sounds mix has a nice ring to it.
Saying my first name with Kyle’s last name just doesn’t have the same ring to it. No matter how many times I repeat it, it just doesn’t work.
Two. Tradition. Growing up, my Mom was a bit of a name pioneer. She was the only woman I knew who hyphenated. So I always knew that taking your spouse’s name was not a requirement. I feel a certain sense of comfort following her example.
Three. Ownership. I am particularly sensitive to the patriarchy that comes with being given a man’s name at birth and then taking another man’s name at marriage. It’s the reason I have forbidden our officiant from saying, “who gives this woman to this man,” at the wedding. Nobody f***ing gives me, because I am no one’s property.
Beyond the women as property concern, I feel that giving up the name I’ve used all of my life would strip away some intangible piece of my identity.
Growing up with a father who had a certain reputation in the community (divorce lawyers, what are you gonna do?), I was often thought of as my father’s daughter and little more. My name preceded me into grade school classes where teachers decided my worth based on his reputation. Into friends’ homes where I just wasn’t welcome to visit. And into jobs where being the daughter of someone with his name ID was not helpful.
For 37 years, I have worked hard to make my name my own, and I don’t want to give it up.
Surprisingly, I get a decent amount of criticism for this from women in my friend group. “Don’t you want to be a family?,” is the most common question. Whether Kyle and I are family is not determined by the name on my driver’s license. If we have children, what name they have is a separate issue. They’ll probably have his name as a matter of practicality, since a hyphenate of our names would be rather cumbersome. 13 letters is a lot for a small child to spell.
Four. Hassle. It’s a small concern, but I have no interest in going through the bureaucratic rigamarole that is changing my name. Being able to avoid that headache is the icing on the keeping-my-name cake. Any decision that comes with a trip to the DMV and the Social Security office seems like one I’d like to avoid.
I do not bring up this topic or my choice to disparage anyone who took their spouse’s name. Some of you probably felt pressure to keep yours or hyphenate in order to be a “real feminist,” and that’s nonsense. Being a feminist means letting women do what’s best for them. So if changing your name was the right choice for you, then good for you for making it. But it’s not right for me.
This is always an interesting topic. So if you’re married, what did you choose and why? If you’re not, what do you intend to do, and what factors shape that intention? Further, why are we still hung up on this topic nearly five decades after women’s lib?