(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)
I remember clearly the last time I wrote a guy’s name because I wanted to see how it looked on paper, in my handwriting. I was 17 and working as a hostess at an Italian chain restaurant. The guy was the brother of one of the female servers; he also happened to know one of my roommates so he had been over to my apartment several times. He came into the restaurant a lot and I thought he was adorable. One day I doodled his name on the inside back cover of a notebook I was using for a college class. I took the notebook to work with me several days later (I would study at the hostess stand when we weren’t busy), and at one point one of the male servers walked by and started flipping through the pages. Then, of course, he landed on that fateful page. He paused, and I could see the realization set in that he knew the name of this guy that was written inside my notebook.
My saving grace was that I hadn’t written my name in combination with my crush’s name. Thinking fast, I told him that the guy had written his name in there himself; that he had done it while hanging out at my apartment one night. It was dumb, but it must have worked because I never heard anything about the incident again.
That particular incident isn’t the “ah-ha!” moment when I decided I don’t want to change my last name if I get married; it was more of a gradual process. When I was younger, I always assumed that I would change my last name. It was expected. It was what “everyone” does. But at some point I changed my mind.
A big factor in this decision would be the large amount of marriages that end in divorce. A woman has to change her name on countless documents and with multiple companies, she finally gets accustomed to using a different name — and then what happens? The marriage ends, and you either have to change your name once again (Back to your maiden name? To that of your new husband?) or continue to use the name of a man you no longer want to be identified with.
I’m not a famous published writer — or a famous anything, for that matter. There aren’t a lot of people who know my full name, outside of people that I’m personally acquainted with. But I don’t care about that. My name is my identity. This is the name I’ve had for 26 years (and counting). It’s who I am.
There are other options: some women choose to hyphenate their names. There are even men out there who decide to change their last name to match their wife’s. But I’d ever expect something like that from a partner. Why should he change his name? It’s part of who he is. I simply expect the same courtesy and respect in return. If a guy equated my unwillingness to change my name with a lack of commitment on my part, it’s probably not a person I’d want to be with.
Amanda lists some of the reasons she’s heard women give for changing their last names:
1. It’s better for everyone in the family to have the same last name.
2. What about the kids?
3. Hyphenation is stupid.
4. I don’t like my last name anyway.
5. Both last names are patriarchal, so why does it matter?
Women and women only seem to dislike their last names. But really, for the rest, there’s no issue at all — name the children after the mother, name the husband after his wife, just switch everything around and you’re done.
OneWoman has seen firsthand that using her given name can cause conflict. She experiences problems with her in-laws.
Apparently, I’m being “controlling” because I “refuse to compromise” on the name issue. That is, I refuse to change my last name or hyphenate with his. Never mind the fact that I NEVER asked him to change his and it was HIS decision. Obviously, I’m forcing him into it.
On the flip side, a lot of people have very good reasons for wanting to change their last name. Nicole wasn’t close to her biological father. She calls her decision to change her name, a “surrender” (in a good way).
Alex and I went through all of the possibilites: hyphenation, combining the two last names (ie Pike and Kraft would become Pikraft), changing both of our names to something new, and lastly having different last names. Right away I knew that I did not want to have different last names — I wanted to feel like a cohesive family. Hyphenation felt too disjointed — our kids would have two last names and what if they married someone else with a hyphenated name — would they have four last names?
Some people never liked their last name to begin with, or they aren’t close to their family and would rather associate themselves with a new name. I do not, in any way, look down on a woman who decides to change her name — if I did, I’d be mad at a lot of people. I think it’s a personal decision. I just wish that more women thought of it as an option. I think it would be awesome to see a big uprising of women who get married and say, “I love you, honey, but I’m keeping my name.”