“What self-respecting woman would give up her identity and take a man’s last name?” He said it with such authority, as if the answer was rhetorical and obvious: No self-respecting woman would. This highly educated, liberal white male sitting across from me had no idea that the name he knew as my last name was actually my husband’s. That in fact I was the very woman he was criticizing. I didn’t bother to point that out to him because I needed time to think.
Why did I change my last name? That answer came easily because, you see, I’m from the South. I was proud to take my husband’s last name. To me it was part of the right of passage from child to adult. Additionally it was practical. I knew I was going to have children, and though their last names could be hyphenated, the hyphenation only works for a single generation before it becomes too unwieldy. Can you imagine if your child: Firstname Lastname-Lastname married a woman Anotherlastname-Anotherlastname, how long their children’s last names would be? So for expediency it made sense as well.
And if I don’t take my husband’s last name and keep my maiden name what I am really proving? Historically the family name is passed down through males. My mother’s family name is not represented in this equation, nor her mother’s, nor her mother’s mother’s. If you want to view these arbitrary labels in a cynical light in which no self-respecting woman (in this day and age) would take a man’s last name, who’s shall she take?
If it were even possible to trace my female lineage to some point of origin and take that name for sentiments of feminist liberation, I doubt that I would feel any sort of authentic connection with that label due to its distance and lack of relevance in my current life. If I keep my maiden name, I am keeping what is known, I am not “giving up my identity” as the originator of the self-respecting quote so starkly stated, but I am still aligning myself with a man’s possessive label…
Recently I have begun the process of marriage dissolution, and as I filled out the petition with all of these thoughts in mind, I requested for my name to be changed back to my maiden name. It was the name I was born to, it was chosen for me, but now I am choosing it for myself, and my last name will now be different than my son’s. Will people be confused? Perhaps. Will people think I have more self-respect because I “kept” my name? Perhaps. But if you want to talk about women’s rights, I would hope that you would be able to see that by implying that name change is somehow anti-feminist you are actually limiting women, degrading us. We, as self-respecting individuals, have the right and the ability to choose. My last name is not an indicator of the level of my self-worth, nor is it your place to imply that it should be.