Looking at my byline, you probably can’t pronounce my last name. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. For most of my life, it’s been subjected to all kinds of creative butchering. It’s even been misspelled on friends’ wedding programs. (Thanks, guys.) But I’m not changing it to my fiancé’s more manageable one when we get married later this year.
I have plenty of tangential reasons you’re probably familiar with — it’s a custom that’s carried over from back in the day when women were viewed as the property of their husbands; it’s easier to keep the same name at work; I’m lazy and the paperwork sounds berserk.
All of these reasons, however, pale in comparison to this: I have the freedom not to. In 2017 that, alone, feels like enough. But I also respect that many women still choose to change their names after getting married — over two-thirds, in fact. So when I read a recent story on the subject in Brides, I didn’t automatically object to the headline, “7 Reasons You Might Want to Take His Last Name.” Or the writer’s opinion, necessarily. But I did object to some of the reasons she gave.
In the piece, Elizabeth Mitchell interviews an immigration attorney, who tells her she has several clients who prefer to take their spouse’s last name “if it’s slightly more American-sounding.” She adds: “I have also seen brides that do so because they wanted to feel more included in their spouse’s circle. In this circumstance, the bride is often a foreigner and the spouse is American.”
This attorney’s individual clients may have their own complicated reasons for changing their names. But this idea that one last name is somehow more American than another is, in a word, un-American. “American-sounding” here is code for anglicized, and suggesting that someone change their name to sound less foreign is not a sign of a welcoming society. This repels me not only as a “foreigner,” but as a human. Last time I checked, we’re still a melting pot.
Another point Mitchell’s experts make is that it’s an “act of love” to take your husband’s name. “It means a lot to men when their wife takes their name,” says Scott Carroll, MD, a psychiatrist, relationship expert, and the author of Don’t Settle: How to Marry the Man You Were Meant For.
If the name of his book didn’t already tip you off, it sounds like this person is still stuck in the Good Girls Revolt era. But just as women have come out of the “pit” and become real reporters, we also no longer center our lives and personalities solely around marriage. Women’s publications in 2017 should do better than to run opinions that belong in the 1950s, unchallenged.
Things I would ask Dr. Carroll: Would it be an “act of love” for a man to take his wife’s last name? What about same-sex couples? Millions of women are reading the message you’re sending. The era of “How to Please Your Man 101” is gone. Please me. Or better yet, let’s please each other. But taking someone’s name — which can be a loving, powerful, bonding act — should make both partners happy.
According to this article, becoming a Mrs. also means, “People will know you’re truly off the market.” While this may have been true in the era of promise rings and letterman jackets and underpaid secretaries, today you’re “off the market” when you change your Facebook status, when you wear a ring (if you decide to do so), or when you goddamn say “I’m off the market.” With more and more people choosing not to get married but to be in long-term committed relationships, changing your name is no longer an effective way to communicate that you’re taken.
Finally, she writes, changing your name to his “bonds you together” — declaring to the universe that you’re a complete unit. As much as I love declaring things to the universe, I think a guy taking your name would have just the same effect, don’t you? The universe doesn’t discriminate.
“You should do whatever you please with your last name, whether or not you’re married.”
You should do whatever you please with your last name, whether or not you’re married. Chop it off, hyphenate it, change it, elongate it, put a fake mustache on it, whatever. Take his name, or don’t — just make it yours.
But one thing you shouldn’t do is use outdated arguments to try to influence other women’s choices. Because while society has changed since Jane, Patti, and Cindy led their revolt at News of the Week, women are still fighting for equal wages, autonomy over our bodies, and, in many parts of the world, our basic humanity. Our freedoms are hard-won.
There are, actually, “7 Reasons to Do Whatever You Want with Your Last Name.” They are: 1. It’s your life. 2. It’s your life. 3. It’s your life. 4. It’s your life. 5. It’s your life. 6. It’s your life. 7. It’s your life.
By: Natalie Gontcharova