That surname thing bites again

Catherine Deveny writes ironically that her recent column on why do women still change their names upon marriage seems to have realised her “aim of whittling my readership down to three”.

It was a case of Team Deveny versus Team How Dare You. Game on! Poke that animal in the cage!

Now, some of the critics of Deveny’s original column had a point about it being judgmental, even though I’m a fan of women who keep their own names. Riffing off her discovery that Olympic medallist hurdler Jana Pittman is using her husband’s surname Rawlinson on the track now, Deveny did use some pretty pointed rhetoric.

Insecure or conservative or stupid women are bowing to the wishes of their husbands.


Why would you do something so drastic simply because you decided to delude yourself it was easier? Because you are deeply insecure, deeply conservative or deeply stupid. And in deep denial.

She was obviously looking for a reaction on that, and she would have expected some blowback. What surprised Deveny was the breadth and depth of the angry response to her column:

I’ve poked the cage of private schools, clipboard-carrying parents, unnecessary caesareans, 4WD owners, even God, and I have never been so overwhelmed by a response (equally positive and negative). Team How Dare You were extremely defensive and highly emotional. There was a stunning lack of clear rational thinking in every response. It was glaringly obvious that many women who have changed their names have a deep conflict about the true motivation behind their decision and the convenient excuse they present to the world. The blokes were just as illogical. And angry.

This week she argues that for all the hostility, nobody came up with a valid response to her original questions. From the first column:

I ask women why they change their last name. They tell me “it’s just easier”. It’s not. How easy is it changing the name on everything from your driver’s licence to your library card? It’s not.

I’ve never had a reasonable answer to that question when I ask it, either.

In the end, this paragraph in her original column, getting back to the issue of Jana Rowlinson, is probably what brought out the deeper underlying hostility about her questioning current marital arrangements:

Whenever two parents are working and the child is propped up on the sideline waiting for its turn, why is it only the woman who gets bagged, as if the father has no responsibility for the care of his own child? Why, when a woman is working, does she always get asked, “Who’s looking after your children?”, but the father never does? We need to take the focus off the role of mother and put it on to parents as a team.

Everybody wanted to ignore that part of her column so hard that they dialled up the volume to “vitriolic” on the more simplistic surname issue. mynervesEven the sainted Kerri-Anne Kennerley, apparently, was so offended that she resorted to broad-brush stereotyping of Deveny as someone who “probably couldn’t get a man”.

Deveny seems more bemused and amused than alarmed by the baying of the How Dare You brigade. Just as well, they’re probably going to be hanging on her every byline, looking for something else to be offended by, for weeks yet.

Categories: gender & feminism, relationships


56 replies

  1. I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer to that question either. Some women I know have said “I wanted to have the same name as my kids”.
    Well, der. So give the kids your name. You’re the one who gestates them and births them for crying out loud. He just has an orgasm.
    I though Deveney’s original column was spot on.

  2. I am happy to admit to being a Deveney fan, probably because she reflects so many of my own values. I loved her piece on the chocolate jesus (“tastes like a chocolate milkshake only jesus” etc)and pointing out the absurdity of it being “easier” for a woman to take on a new surname is yet more classic Deveney. What she has uncovered is the conservative backlash in this country.
    Currently there is so much politically invested in pushing for tight little nuclear families, not questioning social conventions and the whole basket of goodies labelled ‘family values’. No wonder cupcakes are so popular these days!

  3. I quite like the response a couple in the US came up with – Teresa and Patrick Neilsen-Hayden combined both surnames, so they *both* go by the surname of Neilsen-Hayden.
    My own solution is firstly to remain unmarried (we don’t have kids, we don’t plan on having kids, and we’ve been together for ten years already – why should we bother with spending the money on a marriage licence?). If I *did* marry my partner, I certainly wouldn’t be changing my name – at the moment, I have far too much fun explaining to the telemarketers when they phone that no, Mrs Davidson doesn’t live here. Mrs Davidson, being either my partner’s mother, or his aunt-by-marriage, lives elsewhere, and they can have the time of their lives trying to figure out who the merry hells I am.

  4. In the Museum of Australia there is an exhibit of sporting memorabilia, and it contains a Wimbledon tennis trophy engraved with the name “Mrs R. Cawley”. It was awarded to someone might better know as Evonne Goolagong, or Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
    The thing that struck me as strange was not the use of “Cawley”, but the use if the initial, “R” for Roger, the man Evonne married in 1975.
    Now although I took the name of my husband’ family when I married him (and, btw, I don’t feel I should have to justify that to anybody), I use my own initials, my employer uses my initials on my payslip, my mail arrives addressed with my initials. So I wondered why Evonne’s trophy used her husband’s initial.
    I went looking and found this, the Roll of Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Winners.
    Have a look yourself. All of these women are listed, when single, with their own initials. When married they are listed with their husband’s.
    That I find strange.

  5. My favorite thing is “I don’t like my name” or “No one can spell my name.” I know a guy whose last name is, no kidding, Schmuck. His wife is Mrs. Schmuck and their son is Little Joey Schmuck. If even a guy named Schmuck doesn’t dislike his name enough to chanage it to his wife’s, I think there might be a little more to it than “I don’t like my name.”

  6. It is just easier. IT BLOODY IS. In the same way it’s easier to just wax your legs. It’s easier to present yourself satisfactory for the male gaze aproval. It’s easier to dye your hair when it turns grey. It’s easier to wear hight heels. It’s easier to do the housework yourself. It’s easier if YOU leave work after having children…
    Do I need to go on?

  7. ohmykosy – as you say. I always remembered the Wimbledon final between Chris Everett & Evonne Goolagong because, apart from being the last of the ‘clasic style’ duels, the (then) new electronic scoreboard showed the match as Mrs J. Lloyd vs Mrs R. Cawley.
    Why people ever said, in the 50s re unmarried pregnancy, “the baby won’t have a name…” stunned me even as a 12yr old. Half a century on, plus ca change.

  8. Well back in the dark days when it was the done thing, I did. But I want to know why it looked so damn hard to get my single name back with the divorce. I thought about it but was supersitious in case something went wrong and I ended up still married to him.

  9. I always liked the Spanish language apellido method; for acknowledging both partners’ families when passing on a surname to any resultant kiddies. While it says in the link that paternal surnames can be favoured, the few South American families I’ve known were totally relaxed about favouring the maternal names equally.

  10. by “easier” they mean, “easier not to have to explain to an accusatory society the reasons why you just might or might not be a feminist”. Why it’s such a dirty word is beyond me.

  11. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago, I watched the bride’s own mother trying to get away with saying, “Oh, you’re Mrs. X now!” And the bride, my friend, said, “No, I’m Ms. Y, like I’ve always been.” Mom: “Okay, well, Mrs. Y-X, then.” Friend. “No, MS. Y.”
    Having witnessed that, and knowing it was one of about a billion similar conversations — not to mention all the mail her own family members, let alone strangers, insist on sending to “Mr. and Mrs. X.” — I suppose I can understand the “It’s just easier” argument.
    And Mary Tracy9 summed up why that is perfectly. It’s just easier on everything but your soul.
    I’m lucky there will be absolutely no intra-couple controversy about name changing if I marry my current partner, both because he fully supports the feminist reasons not to and because I have the same first name as his mom, who did change her name; he’s quite clear on the fact that he will never have sex with someone named [his mom’s name].
    In fact, he has gone so far as to say that on those grounds, he would forbid me to take his name, which would be a curious feminist conundrum if I had any desire to do so.

  12. ohmykozy,
    The reason some women considered keeping their name important, was because they were denied the use of their own name by law and custom. “Mrs R. Cawley” means that she was legally married. “Mrs.” is properly used only with the husband’s given name or initials when the woman in question is a wife or widow. “Mrs.” combined with a woman’s given name and husband’s last name (as Mrs. Evonne Cawley), shows that the woman is divorced. This is largely neglected now, except in the addressing of wedding invitations.

    I use my own initials, my employer uses my initials on my payslip, my mail arrives addressed with my initials

    All of which is fine unless any of these involve the honorific “Mrs.”

  13. Kaethe, you beat me to it.
    I fully expect to get flamed for this, but I fail to see anything less patriarchial about keeping one’s father’s name than adopting one’s husband’s name.
    I was under the impression that feminism was all about equality and giving women choices, not about all women marching in lock-step to a different set of rules than they have in the past. I realize that the assumption that a woman will change her name is hardly “equality,” on the other hand, it seems trivial compared to the much larger issue (of unequal expectations in child-rearing) raised in the original artical.
    Maybe if my name were more distinguised than “Jones” I might feel differently, but I don’t have enough of an emotional attachment to it to cling to it. Also, the fact that I’m unlikely to ever be married may make my opinion on this less valuable than it might otherwise be.

  14. Well, der. So give the kids your name. You’re the one who gestates them and births them for crying out loud. He just has an orgasm.

    Well, it’s likely that I had one too, so we’re even there. And he wasn’t given a choice about which of us would gestate and give birth. But more that that, there were witnesses to the fact that my babies came out of me; there is no doubt about the identity of their mother. However, no one but I know who their father is, and I chose to honor that knowledge by giving my children their father’s name.

  15. kate217, I don’t think we agree. “Mrs. Masculine McGroomerson” seems rather more patriarchal than “Ms. Kate 217″. Symbolically, taking the man’s name and adopting the title of Mrs. is totally eradicating the woman’s identity. It was the manifestation of such grossly inequal conditions as: wives having to pay inheritance taxes on jointly held property (it wasn’t really half hers) and wives being unable to seek (let alone acquire) credit in their own name.
    Given how few women in the US retain their own name after marriage (I can’t speak for other countries), it certainly isn’t “marching in lock-step” to keep one’s name. I don’t actually care what anyone chooses to do, because I’m so damn lazy and casual I just call everyone by their first name regardless of what they’ve done about their last name.
    It’s interesting that while men of course have the choice to take their wive’s last name, I have yet to meet one who has.

  16. I have no idea what happened to my response. If this ends up being a double post, I apologize.
    Kaethe, I completely agree with your assessment of the symbolism inherent in the adopting of a husband’s surname. I still fail to see how “Mrs. Masculine McGroomerson” is less patriarchal than “FamilyName Johnsdotter.” That’s just my opinion and I’m not trying to convert anyone to it. I do, however, feel that it’s more important to address the issues behind the symbol than the symbol itself. Fortunately, a many (if not most) of those issues have been at least ameliorated, and in many cases eradicated.
    The lock-step comment was directed at the “How Dare You” crowd, rather than at society in general.
    I have no issue with any woman who decides to keep her “maiden” name (although I hate the term, as it implies virginity before marriage), I just don’t feel that a woman who decides to take her husband’s name is necessarily a traitor to the feminist cause.

  17. Gotcha. Yeah, I don’t worry about traitors. To go back to the orginal examples:
    Mrs Roger Cawley or Evonne Goolagong
    Regardless of whom “Goolagong” originally came from, it is demonstrably her name, one she presumably used for some time before marriage. Whereas “Roger”? Ick.

  18. Actually, something occurred to me after I posted that last: it’s all moot. Because women (in the US, at least) do have legal and financial identities of their own, the woman who wants to take her husband’s name is completely out of luck. Sure, she can go through the business of legally adopting his last name but if she actually wanted to be called ”Mrs. Roger Cawley” she’d have no success. She would perforce become (Mrs.) Evonne Cawley, because none of the bureaucracy is prepared to handle two people with the same name at the same address, distinguished only by the honorific. I don’t know of any newspaper that would refer to her otherwise than as Evonne Cawley, no college would issue her a diploma as Mrs. Roger Cawley, etc.
    Anyway, about the equal division of parenting: I wonder what would happen if women said “of course, we’ll use your last name darling, since you’ll be doing most of the childcare”?

  19. “maiden” name is a holdover from a much more religious time and culture isn’t it? when virginity was “required” of “Christian” women?

  20. I’ve recently got engaged, and I am pondering and pondering whether or not to change my name. My head says “screw it, stay [Ms Laurie], but some traditionalist part of me (and probably my internal monologue of my mother and grandmothers) is going “you should change it! Its a nice name! Then you’ll be a matchy little family”.
    I had always previously thought I’d keep my name, but somehow now its coming to the point, I’m really conflicted.
    The weird thing is, my fiance appears to not care in the slightest, if anything he seems in favor of me keeping my name.
    Could my fiance be a better feminst than I am?!

  21. I think that even if your surname is patronymnic, (and remember there will be quite a few people in their twenties or older now who either have two surnames or some other accommodation) keeping it is less patriarchal because your name is inextricably bound up in your history and the ways in which you have become “you”. Marriage did and still does for many, require an actual repudiation of a woman’s former self; a sudden cutting of ties to former friends, activities and modes of dress. Changing the name was and is part of this.

  22. Hows this then: I’m not married to my partner, and I can’t imagine ever changing my name. In fact, I agree in essence with most of Deveny’s views, and I like her tv reviews. I used to like her regular column about her family life in the social/fluff pages of the paper.
    But I don’t think her opinion columns are very good, at least, they’re not up to my idea of The Age’s Opinion pages. I think the Age Op-Ed pages should involve some sort of research and rigor. If I want an amusing rant, I’ll go to the pub, or a bbq, but in a broadsheet I expect something more.

  23. I changed my name when I married because I wanted to. As far as I was concerned I had a brother to carry on my family name and it seemed more important to my husband to be to take his name than it was to me to keep my maiden name. So because I loved him, and still do, I took his name and have never been bothered by it. Subsequently we haven’t had to worry about what surname to give the kids because we both have the same surname, and after the initial flurry of changing licences etc. it is easier to conform to society’s expectations and if that makes me a bad feminist too bad I’m afraid. I think there are better things to get het up about. But if a woman chooses to keep her own name, as many do for good reasons, then more power to her I say.

  24. it is easier to conform to society’s expectations and if that makes me a bad feminist too bad I’m afraid

    Of course it’s easier to conform to society’s expectations, that’s why society has expectations, to act as a social control on individual expression.
    But what this means in the long run is that you move seamlessly from it’s easier to just do the washing up every night instead of insisting on fair turns to the much more problematic it’s easier to just say “boys will be boys” instead of confronting and eradicating antisocial and misogynist behaviour.
    Just as we build a habit of consideration for others in our children by teaching them manners by rote for trivial social situations and then building on that platform, society builds up a habit of women giving way, complying, submitting to the wishes of others through building a platform of trivial expectations that involve denying ourselves choices that aren’t “feminine” or that might be too “ballbreaking”. It All Adds Up.

    I think there are better things to get het up about.

    Again, It All Adds Up. Examining how social approval/disapproval acts as a constraint on life choices is a large part of feminist social theory, and those constraints are largely made up of many expectations that look small in isolation but add up to a large burden of negated self-sovereignty. If we don’t examine the small weights of seemingly-trivial1 expectations that accustom women to compliance, always compliance, then how can we adequately perceive or convey to others how the burden accumulates? This is the entire essence of “the personal is political”.
    I really hate the “bad feminist” card, too. Nobody lives a purely feminist life. Not everything a feminist does is a feminist act. When I cook breakfast, that food is not a feminist breakfast just because a feminist cooked it. And just like everybody else living a middle class life with computer access, I’ve made accommodations with society’s expectations in order not to get too many hairy eyebrows, so I can’t point fingers at anyone else who’s done the same. Very few of us are strong enough to totally ignore all of society’s expectations, we each choose which social battles are most worth fighting, for us and our situations. But having made our own accommodations surely shouldn’t mean that we then never examine the reasons we made them ever again?
    Obviously, it’s hard not to react to rhetoric like Deveny’s as if an accusation of “bad feminism” has been made, but I certainly don’t make that accusation myself against women who change their names. The arguments made in favour of the practise do not have persuasive strength FOR ME, but obviously they have been enough to persuade some women I regard as very strongminded feminists, and I don’t think anyone gets to revoke their feminist card for this, nor for wearing makeup or high heels, nor being a SAHM or whatever deviation from the alleged dogma that supposedly has feminist hardliners out there tearing up feminist cards.

    1. If the issue of name changing really were as trivial as all that, then why were so many people so angry at Deveny about her column?

  25. Kaethe I stand corrected, and so, presumably, should my employer, my bank, the tax office and every other government department I deal with. As you say, proper forms of address are largely ignored these days. Someone should inform the authorities.
    Mindy, you’ve said what I wanted to say. Thank you.
    Su, is this really the case, to the extent that you suggest (my emphasis)?
    Marriage did and still does for many, require an actual repudiation of a woman’s former self; a sudden cutting of ties to former friends, activities and modes of dress.
    When I married I gained all of my husband’s friends (hi Tigtog!) and he gained mine. Over the years we have lost contact with people from both “sides” of the relationship. That’s pretty normal. And we have made new friends, too. And this is what I’ve observed: the new friendships have grown mostly our of my contacts, and those often because of our children (playgroup mums, school friends …)
    To be sure, I dress differently, have different friends, enjoy different activities – 18 years is a large chunk of my life, and I don’t think I am exactly the same person I was when I married. I have never felt, though, that I have denied my self in becoming my husband’s wife.
    Perhaps I’m just lucky …

  26. OK, here’s a game for everyone: “name my offspring”. My boy and I are currently gestating our first gene mash. His surname is of the very ordinary, millions-of-em out there variety. My family are the only people in the country with my name, which carries loads of very cool ethnic heritage. We’ve been talking a lot about what surname to give the sprog, and he seems reasonably chilled about the idea of it having my name, and I have leanings that way, for the above reason, but I confess I am struggling with whether I’m prepared to brace for a lifetime of explanations, confusions and people assuming I’m imposing something emasculating on my bloke.
    So I’m throwing it open to the floor: who thinks it’s worth it? Who thinks the kid will just hate me for making it an icon of futile progressiveness?

  27. I was thinking of women living under more oppressive circumstances than I do Ohmykozy. I think that they are still the majority of women in the world. Even in Australia though, women can be pressured to give up associations and activities after marriage. I was and I’m fairly feisty. I was also pressured to change my name both before marriage and after the birth of my first child when the in-laws had to put up with the ignominy of seeing my full name in print. I don’t assume that my experience reflects the majority in Australia but nor do I think it is rare.

  28. My so-called maiden name was Roberts. I never liked it.
    Then again, I really didn’t like my first husband’s surname either. Under no circumstances did I want to be ‘Mrs Broom’ (if nothing else it identified me with his mother, who was one of the nastiest pieces of work you could ever hope not to meet. I could almost wish there was a hell so she can suffer eternally in it…) So I kept my old name, much to his family’s disgust (and my family’s hidden delight).
    But i really like my second husband’s surname – Taylor. For me it has resonance with taking raw material and creating something useful and/or beautiful out of it – and since we’re both writers that seemed oddly apposite. So I happily took Taylor as my surname 18 years ago this December…

  29. Even in Australia though, women can be pressured to give up associations and activities after marriage.
    Now, I know I don’t know every married couple in Australia, so can only comment about those I do, and from my own experience.
    And that’s to say that what I’ve seen is exactly the opposite!
    A few years ago I realised that my husband’s closest friends were the husbands/partners of my closest friends. And my friends noticed the same thing about their husbands. And everybody, including the men, was happy.
    Our theory was that we women were the social secretaries of the family and one of the consequences of this was that we had great influence over our husbands’ relationships with other blokes. My man has good, though now long distance, relationships with the friends of his youth, but his closest friends are the ones he met because they were part of families I came to know.
    If I had to point to one thing that caused me to lose or gain friendships, or to alter the way I spend my time and creative energy, it would not be marriage. And it would not be negative. It would be parenthood.

  30. Re: “bad feminism”
    There was a really interesting article in the paper some time back that basically blamed feminism for the decline in people knowing how to cook and sew – that back in the day schools used to teach girls such things as part of what was euphemistically called “Domestic Arts” and feminism ending this sexist (teaching to girls only) practice had resulted in what the author considered bad knock-on effects.
    I don’t think feminism can be blamed for this sort of thing – schools and governments just tended to overreact to criticism and protest by getting rid of things entirely rather than leaving things in existance as an option for those that want them.

  31. >So because I loved him, and still do, I took his name and have never been bothered by it.
    Enabling fairly privileged women to make choices is very nice, but it’s important to consider that this particular choice is asked only of women. Just like childcare.
    There are a million reasons offered when a bride changes her last name to the groom’s, and none of those is bad, but they are all ways of saying, “see, I’m not a feminazi.”
    ohmykozy, I’m sorry if I didn’t make my point clear. The “proper form of address” is ignored by employers, etc., because they can contract with you. I worry that many of us forget how important it is to be able to receive our own pay and put it into our own bank accounts, a right denied to many women still. As to your marriage, I’m very happy for you that being the family social secretary has enabled you to strengthen the friendships you hold dearest, and that you enjoy that role.
    Orlando, give the kid your last name. It’s actually very easy indeed, no explanations, no confusions. It isn’t “futile progressiveness” to buck a norm that says the ultimate standard for every woman’s choice is whether or not it might emasculate a man.

  32. I fully expect to get flamed for this, but I fail to see anything less patriarchial about keeping one’s father’s name than adopting one’s husband’s name.
    I don’t think of my name as my father’s; I think of it as mine. I’ve had it all my life, I’ve made my own reputation under it, and I’ve finally come to terms with how sing-songy it is, because people do remember it (my mother told me in response to one of my childhood rants about how much I hated my name, assured me that even though my first name and last name were annoyingly alliterative, rhymey and sing-songy, I would eventually marry, and that would solve the problem. I note that not only am I not married, and do not intend to change my name even if I do, but my mother well knew that changing one’s name on marriage is not a cure-all, since she got stuck with a sing-songy name herself).
    So keeping a name I’ve had all my life, even if it was meant to mark me as my father’s, is a whole less problematic to me than consciously, as an adult, repudiating that identity and taking on the identity of someone else, as wife.

  33. Orlando, give the kid your last name. It’s actually very easy indeed, no explanations, no confusions. It isn’t “futile progressiveness” to buck a norm that says the ultimate standard for every woman’s choice is whether or not it might emasculate a man.

    The “keeping the family name alive” argument is one that really should go both ways: it’s been played as a trump card against a woman’s family name often enough. Not that I suggest you should get combative about it, and I’m glad your partner seems cool with the idea of the kid having your name, but I don’t think the kid will hate you for keeping a family name alive, or shouldn’t do with that as a large part of the explanation, just as you gave it to us.
    A suggestion that might be more trouble than it’s worth: before your child is born, how hard would it be for you and your partner to do the deed poll thing and add each other’s surname as a middle name? Neither of you needs to actually use the new name socially, but it will be on the birth certificate, and maybe on your passports when you renew them (if you like). Then the kid can see a written surname connection to its dad, and see that both its parents are connected as well, if that’s something that niggles at you?

  34. It’s easier to change your name in one simple respect: If you fight for your own name, then you have to confront the fact that your husband disrespects you, your family disrespects you, and society disrespects you enough to demand that you dispose of your own name. Rather than fight for your dignity on this issue, it’s easier to roll over, change your name, and pretend that you desired it and ignore the fact that men mysteriously never find it “easier” to change their names.

  35. I am insulted by the notion that “Amanda Marcotte” is not my name because it’s my father’s name. It’s not his, either, by that measure. It only belongs to the first dude who called himself “Marcotte”.
    I made my name. I’ve lived with it. It was mine on birth. How it was given to me was patriarchal, but to deny it’s mine now is a bit facetious and an attempt to weasel out of the uglier implications of dropping the name you have had your whole life—your name—to take on the name of a man who would pretty much refuse to marry you rather than return the favor.

  36. When my husband and I married ten years ago in New York, the form for the marriage license had two identical sections, one for the bride, one for the groom, to fill out with the name that each individual intended to use after the wedding. It was not assumed that anyone was changing a name, and if anyone did want to change, it was not assumed that it was the woman.
    A co-worker of mine took his wife’s name with his own. They are both Hername-Hisname, as are their children.
    Another set of friends named their children with the mother’s last name, and later the husband had his legally changed to her last name.
    When I married for the first time, 27 years ago, I did not change my name and no one said anything about it. My grandmother would introduce me to her elderly friends as Mrs. Hisname, but it wasn’t malicious. She just didn’t remember.
    In the circles in which I travel, names are really not an issue; it is common for women to keep their birth names, it’s also common for women to take their husbands’ names. It’s less common (but far from unheard-of) for both halves of a couple to combine their names, to choose a third name that they both want to be called by, or for the husband to take his wife’s name. But all are considered to be valid options.

  37. My circles have a large number of women keeping their own names, plenty of kids with hyphenated surnames, and a few couples combining their name/choosing a third name. I don’t know any blokes who’ve taken their wife’s name, although I have heard of such mythical beasts in Sydney.
    We hyphenated the kids names, but we’ve explained to them that we accept that as largely for our convenience while they’re growing up, and that we understand if they find it unwieldy as adults and want to choose a new surname (or forename, come to that) for themselves, and that we’ll happily witness the deed poll and accept their new name(s).
    Interestingly, I found that one of Dai’s friends wrote to his parents about the way I was bossing him about for hyphenating the surnames, based on the fact that (for purely euphonious reasons, as it happened) we put my surname last and his surname first – to her that indicated that I was attempting to usurp the primary social position, because “men’s names are supposed to go last”. Well, that pushed all my pedant buttons, as those who know me well might imagine. I even wrote a long explanation of hyphenation rules on the original Hoyden blog, but it boils down to my critic being wrong-wrongitty-wrong – traditionally the name with higher social status goes first, and the common habit of male names going last was all to do with self-made men marrying genteel heiresses, and adding the wife’s higher status name to their own bog-standard Brown, Jones or Smith.
    Anyway, I guess my point is that I think “the family name” is given way too much emphasis anyway.

  38. Perhaps I should have added that we (myself and second husband) discussed which name we liked better. He would have taken mine if we’d decided to go that route, but as I said earlier, I liked Taylor. Still do.
    Perhaps such things are more rational in the UK?

  39. “Rebekka’s seeming sexism (“He just has an orgasm”¦”) I also don’t like – there’s no need to be anti-male in order to be pro-women after all.”
    How does pointing out the difference between the male contribution to reproduction – orgasm – and the female contribution – nine months of pregnancy plus the birth process – make me either (a) sexist or (b) anti-male?
    I’m not anti-male. I am merely pointing out the basic, undeniable biological fact that women actually have a much more active role in the production of children. And that’s not sexist.
    Bit defensive about your role there, Paul?
    Nor did I discount that the woman hopefully has an orgasm as well, but the fact is that it’s not actually a necessary component of reproduction (although as I understand it there is some evidence that it does *help* if you’re trying to conceive).
    And Vicki, “However, no one but I know who their father is, and I chose to honor that knowledge by giving my children their father’s name.”
    Why is that knowledge weighted over the fact that your babies came out of your body?

  40. before your child is born, how hard would it be for you and your partner to do the deed poll thing and add each other’s surname as a middle name?

    An method that I don’t think has been mentioned in this thread, which is what we chose: giving the child the father’s surname as a second middle name. No hyphens to contend with in kindergarten, and the option is there for the kid to readily choose both names or either down the track. I know some couples (married and not) who have done it the other way around, the mother’s surname as second middle name.

  41. Topical story in today’s Australian: Why the ‘first bloke’ changed his name (regarding the new Premier of Queensland).

  42. ZuZu, if you consider changing your name “a repudiation” of your identity, you certainly shouldn’t do so. For me, individually, independent of anyone else’s thoughts or feelings and with no moral assessment assigned to said thoughts and feelings, I do not have such an emotional attachment to my name (even though I like it) that if the world started calling me “Mary Smith” instead of “Kate Jones” tomorrow, I would still have my sense of identity intact. It might take a while to get used to, but it wouldn’t cause a sense of “repudation” for me. If your mileage varies, far be it from me to do anything but sanguinely accept that what works for me doesn’t work for you.
    Amanda, I never meant to imply that “Amanda Marcotte” is not your name, merely that it is your name as a result of a tradition just as patriarchal as the one that would have you change your name upon marriage. (Historically, there have been societies that named the daughters after their mothers and sons after their fathers, although I have never run across any purely matirarchal naming traditions.) I’m sorry that you found my comment insulting. That was certainly not my intention, as I greatly respect and admire you.
    As I said, I’m not trying to win converts to my view. I was merely stating what it is.

  43. Wow this thread is still going. It surely has hit a raw nerve. I am not the average person. So few of my friends have married, though most have had children (the majority in long term relationships, a few by arrangement or on their own). The taking of the surname is not an issue in a not married relationship but it has always been interesting when the kids come along to see who’s name they get. And yes a number carry their mother’s family name and the guys do not seem that worried by it.
    My friendship group obviously doesn’t reflect my own family. When I much loved cousin found out his teenage son is gay, one of the things he lamented (while I was going “Oh fantastic – I’m so glad he’s come out!”) was “the loss of the family name”. As the only son (amongst 3 siblings) to have children he had this odd expectation. What he seems to not ever imagine is that his gay son may have children or his straight daughter may ‘pass on’ the name if she chooses to reproduce. As someone whose own family name has ended with a severed limb on the genealogy tree – at times that has saddened me – but really I think my contribution to this world is more about what I do with this life than about a name.

  44. Historically, there have been societies that named the daughters after their mothers and sons after their fathers
    I know a family that has done just that. Mum and Dad both retained their “own” surnames after marriage. (I say “own” because I think kate217 makes an interesting point above about the passing on of family names …. I wonder if any of us can claim our surname to be our own, unless of course we choose it ourself and do the deed poll change).
    Back on track … twins born, a girl and a boy. The daughter was given her mother’s surname and the son his father’s. There were some interesting reactions from the extended family, and many years of explaining to school mates that they were indeed brother and sister.

  45. The point is why portray a birth-given name as equivalent to a name changed upon marriage by using the word “patriarchal” to smooth over the very real difference? The reason that so many men pressure women to change their names is they believe their names from birth are theirs, and they want women to take their name. By the measure they are using to define their names, your name is your name, not your father’s or his father’s or whatever.
    So we’re back to square one.
    A man who asks you to change your name to his to reflect his proprietary interest in you isn’t necessarily a bad man. I mean, I’d have trouble with it, because it’s so blatant that’s it’s inexcusable in a way that letting the housework go just isn’t. But I can accept that they’re similar.

  46. The trackback got held up in moderation – odd. Off to read your post now!

  47. Hi Amanda.
    I’m having some difficulty with a point you make in your thoughts at length:
    The defences were, well, defensive. “Well it’s just your father’s surname anyway.” No, it’s not. It’s mine. I was born with it. And if you follow that argument through, then you are not changing your surname to your husband’s but to your father in-law’s.
    My difficulty is this: None of us were born with a name. We were given names by our parents: first name(s) that our parents liked because they were cool, because they were fashionable (or deliberately not), or because they carried family heritage and so on; and surnames.
    I’m guessing that most of us reading this post were given our father’s surname. Could be wrong, but I think not. Why? As opposed to being given our mother’s “maiden” surname, that is.
    Possible reasons: our mothers had not kept their own surnames; our parents wanted us to have our father’s surname; it was “easier”; it identified us as part of the family led by our parents …. all of which are just as patriarchal as the reasons condemned above for a woman taking her husband’s surname when she marries. I think this may be the point kate217 was making.
    This has got me thinking about just how much of our identity is tied up in our names. Not at the level of does every Daphne want to escape Apollo’s attentions? or is every Christian a Christian? or would a song by Gordon Sumner sell better than one by a guy named Sting?
    But this: how much of what people know of me is associated with the name I use now, or the name my parents gave me? And does it matter?
    Your thoughts?

  48. No matter how you slice it though, changing your name to your husband’s upon marriage highly symbolic of your identity being subsumed into your husband’s. It doesn’t especially matter how YOU personally think about your name or your identity or how personally unattached you are to your birth name. The cultural message sent when a woman takes her husband’s name (and is often expected to be thrilled and weepy over the honor) is cear as day — that one embraces one’s symbolic subservience.
    Like Amanda, I don’t fault the women who do this — many of whom I consider strong feminists whom I respect. We all have to pick our battles, and many of us choose different battles than others.
    In contrast, your birth name, which is most likely the product of patriarchal naming choices, also comes to be associated with YOU as an individual.

  49. I ask women why they change their last name. They tell me “it’s just easier”. It’s not. How easy is it changing the name on everything from your driver’s licence to your library card? It’s not.

    I’ve never had a reasonable answer to that question when I ask it, either.

    It’s easier because you don’t spend every encounter with bureaucracy trying to prove that you really are married even though you don’t have the same last name.
    My husband’s former boss ended up changing her last name to her husband’s because every time she traveled internationally, she had to spend an hour explaining to Customs & Immigration when she returned to the States that she really was married to the man who claimed to be her husband even though they had different last names. It may not seem like a big deal to you to have to spend an hour twice a year trying to convince Customs that your green card is not a forgery and you really are married and they shouldn’t throw you in detention and deport you, but she thought it was, especially after 9/11.
    As for giving your children your last name instead of your husband’s, be prepared for people to ask you forever after where the kids’ real father is, because a guy who has a different last name must be their stepfather. Not to mention having to explain to security at the airport that, yes, he really is their father and not a child abductor even though he has a different last name.
    And I say all of this as someone who did keep her own last name after getting married. I’m going to keep it as long as I can, but if it gets to the point where (as, again, happened to someone I know), I have to explain to the health insurance company after each and every appointment that, yes, I’m covered by my husband’s health insurance and we really are married even though we have different last names, I’ll change it. Because if it’s a choice between principle and having health coverage, sorry, I have to choose health coverage.

  50. It’s worth noting that the practice of passing a ‘family’ name to offspring is not universal. Some cultures endow their offspring with only given names. If you think it’s hard work getting a driving licence or bank account with your husband’s surname (and it is) then pity the plight of an Indonesian acquaintance of mine who only had one name. He had to invent a second name for himself so that he could officially exist in a culture that assumes everyone has at least two names. He now calls himself Jon [Hisbirthname].

  51. I’m always a little surprised when I hear that one of the biggest problems women face when keeping their own names is their husbands – I actually kept mine because that’s what mine wanted. I wanted us to have the same name, and was really pushing for hyphenating, but he didn’t care. I talked up how easier it would be to have the same name, and he just didn’t care at all. Finally, the wedding came and went, and we just didn’t do anything with out last names. I’m glad now. My name is short, easy to pronounce, and, well, mine. No one can pronounce his name, so now when I get calls for “Mrs. *completely butchered attempt at his last name*” I just hang up, because everyone I want to talk to knows who I am. I haven’t had any problems with keeping my last name, my family just assumed I would and haven’t said anything, and as I understand the only people in his family who have said anything bad about it are saying it in Spanish and in a country that I am not in, so they are easy to ignore.
    The only problem is that now that we’re talking about children he’s realized that he would like all of us to have the same last name for the kids, so we’re going to have a big debate up ahead. I’m trying to convince him to have use keep our names and go with the Spanish way of naming for the kids, but his immediate family dropped that custom when they came to America, so he doesn’t feel a lot of connection to it. So who knows what we’ll do?
    I don’t think women who change their last names or name their kids after the father are “traitors to feminism” or whatever, but I would like to see more men changing their names or be totally comfortable with their children having the mother’s name instead of viewing it as a way for her to separate them. It seems like men who have names they don’t like or are awkward just change them to something they like when they hit 18 or whenever, while women just wait until they get married to change it to something they don’t like a whole lot better. That’s really not fair, or logical.

  52. ohmykoze, the point is, my father got his name from his father, but everyone considers that name my father’s, not his father’s. I got my name from my father also, but instead of considering it mine, people say it’s…my father’s. WTF? Why does a name passed down from a father “belong” to a man but not to me? Amanda is right, by that logic the name Marcotte only belongs to the originator of the Marcotte line. Regardless of where it came from, my name belongs to me now as much as my father’s name belongs to him. The logic that I have a man’s name anyway so i should just change it to another’s and not see it as any different doesn’t hold.


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