What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Sorry, Juliet, but I think it’s more complicated than that.
Your name can say so much about you — it can give hints to your ethnicity and culture. It can reveal family ties. Or, if you’ve chosen your own, it can say something about who you are. When it comes to marriage, a name has traditionally had a more troubling meaning. Women have changed their last names from their father’s to their new husband’s — a tradition that used to symbolize the transfer of “property” from one man to another. That property, of course, was the virgin bride. Many people will argue that it no longer has that implication, but for me, as a feminist, partaking in a tradition that is so rooted in the literal oppression of women is something that left an incredibly bad taste in my mouth.
I know I’m not the only feminist who feels this way. It’s why many women today choose to keep their name when they get married. Some people hyphenate. In some couples, the husband may even choose to take his wife’s name. There’s also a lot of heteronormativity when it comes to this tradition — it makes decisions about names incredibly complicated for same-sex couples trying to decide what to do about their last names.
In our family, we went a different route. I had always sworn that I would never take my husband’s last name if I married a man, because patriarchy. My now-husband completely respected that decision, because he is awesome and also not a misogynist. But when we got engaged and started talking about beginning a life together, we both felt like we wanted to share a name because it would symbolize that we were a family, a unit, a team. I told my partner that I would change my name on one condition — that he change his as well. Without even a second of hesitation, he called my bluff. And so it was decided. We’d both take a new name upon marriage. But how would we decide what that name would be?
We tried creating a new name with a combination of ours, and nothing really felt right. So we started talking about family names and decided that we’d love to take one of our mothers’ maiden names. After thinking about what fit for us, we settled on his mother’s maiden name. It kept us tied to our family and allowed us to signify the commitment to each other by having both of us make a change in our names.
For us, it was symbolic of the life we were creating together. Our name belongs to us, to our little family. We both demonstrated commitment by being willing to make a change to our names and therefore our public identity. It also was something that we got to do together and felt like a bonding experience. We went to all the government buildings we needed to visit together and filled out all the paperwork together. It was a step we took hand-in-hand, and it was our way of saying to each other and to the world, “I value this person and we are a family.”