Can a Feminist Change Her Name?

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Lindsay Marie McAllister. Lindsay works for an anti-poverty non-profit agency as the Program Coordinator. Lindsay currently lives in a small town in Northern Ontario in Canada with her two dogs and partner. You can follow her on Twitter @LindzMcAllister.

Some of you may have read my first guest post on my attempt at planning a feminist wedding. Although some of you may remember it being posted under a different name, my maiden name. I got married approximately a month ago and since that time have heard quite a few comments and questions regarding the change that followed. That’s right; I made the choice to take my husband’s last name.

I use the word choice here because I think that is exactly what it should be, a choice for each individual and couple to make on their own. There are many options; couples are regularly choosing to hyphenate their names, often with both people in the couple making the change, sometimes only one person does so. A less common option in heterosexual relationships, at least in my experience, is for the man to take the woman’s last name, which is still a viable option.

Interestingly, there may be legal barriers to it becoming a new trend, since most states in the US require laborious and costly legal changes, while the woman can easily assume the married name. In Canada, either partner can assume the name of the other or choose to combine the two names with a hyphen, using the marriage certificate as proof. However, in Quebec, in order to increase gender equality marriage alone is not a legal reason for a name change; either party can change their name but must provide a significant reason for doing so and go through a separate legal process.

The route I took may seem like the traditional option, but for a feminist it seems many people feel that I should have kept my maiden name. In my case, the change was not about living up to expectations, primarily from people who do not identify as feminists, of what a feminist SHOULD do. I changed my name to more accurately reflect how I feel about the new family I have joined. My in-laws are amazing people and I am thrilled to be joining their family, they have welcomed me with open arms, accepting me for who I am. They have treated my mother and my sister’s family with the utmost respect, welcoming them during the holidays and always treating them as equals.

There were three other reasons that also lead to me making the name change. The first reason was that it was important to my husband as he is very close with his family and his heritage. Unfortunately, the same is not true for me, especially in recent years, however, I don’t feel appropriate detailing those private issues in such a public manner. But basically, I don’t feel a strong connection with my maiden name and he does, out of respect for him I certainly considered his feelings on the issue when making my own choice.

The second reason is for personal safety and increased privacy since I will continue to use my maiden name at work; this will allow me to keep my personal and professional lives separate. My partner and I have also discussed having children at some point and have realized that us both having the same name will make it easier for them, especially at school and when we are traveling as a family. Although hopefully, society will eventually adjust and not assume that a child’s last name will always match the parent or guardian’s last name, eliminating the resulting issues.

 

Comments

  1. Tanya DeBuff Wallette says:

    I got married a few weeks ago, and I struggled a bit with what to do with my name. I’d been married before and when I got divorced I took back my maiden name, because frankly my married name made me sound like a school marm from the olden days. After much thought I decided to eliminate my middle name, which doesn’t hold much meaning for me, and use my maiden name along with my husband’s name, non-hyphenated. I didn’t discuss it with my partner, just told him what I was going to do (though if I’d decided not to take his name at all, I would have discussed it with him).

  2. I changed my name when I got married. So did my little brother.

    My reasons were similar to yours. First of all, my in-laws are an amazing, wonderful family. Secondly, I didn’t feel a particular attachment to my family-of-origin. Third, there is no genetic heritage to my maiden name. My father carries his mother’s ex-husband’s surname, and that ex- was not a character I care to emulate or remember.

    For the third reason(s), had they thought about it, my father might have taken my mother’s surname when they got married.

    My brother married a woman with no brothers, just one sister. We have three other brothers who can, if they choose, carry on our father’s surname. My brother’s married name is not very common in the U.S., so his family was quite honored that he would help them to carry the name forward.

  3. I changed my name when my partner and I got married – but I picked my own name, rather than taking his. Since our relationship isn’t recognized by the state, I had to pay $300 to change my name. But It was well worth the money.

  4. The whole notion of a woman’s name has a lot of inherent sexism – think about the meaning of “surname.” My father doesn’t own me, but neither does my husband – what’s a feminist to do?

    I like Serena’s solution, and my friend Kristen’s. Kristen and her husband combined their names together and they BOTH changed last names – a fitting solution, I thought.

  5. I respect the author’s choice – honestly I don’t give two poops what anyone does with their name – but I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say “[...]hopefully, society will eventually adjust and not assume that a child’s last name will always match the parent or guardian’s last name, eliminating the resulting issues.” after just stating that one of her reasons for changing her name is so as to avoid those issues should she choose to parent.

    How is “society” supposed to make that change if the people who are aware of the issue are avoiding it and continuing to change their names in part to protect their children from this “confusion”? To whom, then, does the responsibility fall? Other people, I guess. “Gee I hope this will one day be common enough to not be an issue, but I’ll just avoid an obvious way that I could help work towards that because I don’t want to have to deal with it. I’ll just leave that to the other feminists.”

    Ack, maybe I am being too mean. It just seemed weird and flippant, is all.

  6. I chose hyphenation because I wanted to keep my ties to my father’s roots in my maiden name, but celebrate my union with my husband as well. Plus, ok, I admit it, my husband’s last name means “lightning” in German, right, how could I NOT want a cool name like that? :)

  7. Funny story: I’m not married, but my mother was married twice when I was a kid. I have my mother’s maiden name, so my name hasn’t matched either of my parents’ names for most of my life. I don’t usually realize it’s weird that an unmarried person might not share a name with their parents. I don’t remember my mother having too much difficulty with the different names issue, but I think she hyphenated her name on important legal documents that she had to sign as my legal guardian even though officially her name has never been hyphenated.

  8. I will never change my last name, and I respect why the author chose to change hers. I love my name and don’t feel like I should have to if I choose, and to be honest I dislike it when people call me by my husband’s last name as well. This is something we discussed before marriage and he respects my decision. If we ever have kids, it will be another discussion – one thing we do know is that neither of us want hyphenated names for our potential future hypothetical kid(s).

    On another note, he doesn’t like his last name which is associated with his mother, and wants to take his father’s last name, so if anyone is going to do a name change it will be him.

  9. I guess the glass half full take on this dilemma is at least it gets (some) people thinking, right? I do respect every one’s right to do their own thing, if only because as feminists we have bigger fish to fry–and I like to think that we honor difference and debate while others shut it down.

    But on the kids issue, I do think our culture’s well on its way to figuring it out. I mean, given the realities of single parenthood and divorce and remarriage, there are a lot of kids out there with different last names than their parents already. Now that may not stop people from having opinions about what is right, wrong or feminist, but anyone responsible for children will have to be up-to-speed and children themselves will probably just grow up thinking it’s the way it’s always been.

    • I agree. There is no reason that children should be shackled with either of their parent’s names, as if they are property to be owned. They should be given their own individual names and then, when of age, choose whatever name THEY want to have.

      • Well said Eric! I did not take my husband’s name, mainly because I was 30 when I got married and I had grown accustomed to it by then, plus I didn’t wanna. I find it quite amusing that some people just cannot grasp the concept of *not* changing my name. They sometimes act like I’m the first woman in history to do this crazy thing. My opinion is that women shouldn’t change their name but need to ultimately do what makes them happy and feel right.
        Five years later we still don’t have a final decision on the last name(s) for our future offspring but have it narrowed down to two choices. The obvious being to hyphenate but let him/her know that if a change to a single last name is wanted, the non-chosen last name promises not to be offended. The other (and my personal favorite) is to make a new name from the letters of our two last names. When ever I bring up the latter to someone “traditional” they tend to freak out a little. “How will anyone ever know that child belongs to you?” “Because the child is with me and calls me ‘mommy? It wouldn’t be the end of the world. I already have to deal with having a different name from my husband.”

  10. This is a great post, and such an interesting topic. I changed my last name ten years ago, well before I got married. My paternal grandfather had changed his name when he came to the United States – the original name was considered “too Jewish” and he didn’t want to experience discrimination. I didn’t like having a last name that had been changed for that reason (though I completely understood why he did it) but at the same time, I honestly didn’t like his original name. So instead I changed my name to my mother’s maiden name, which had been in the family for generations. Both my parents loved it – my mom because she’d never wanted to take a new name, my dad because he thought it was a cool idea.

    I didn’t change when I got married, and while I don’t know if my hypothetical children will have my last name or my husband’s, I’m not too worried – after all, they can always change their name anyway, like I did!

  11. My mom didn’t take my dad’s name when they got married, and my brother and I have never had any problems because of it.

    If I ever get married, I know I’ll be keeping my surname, just like she did.

    As for what to do about children – I kind of like the idea of any girls taking my name, and any boys taking his. I know a family who did that. Of course, it’ll depend on what my husband wants too.

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