Chelsea Clinton’s weekend wedding has provided the opportunity to dig up a familiar cultural debate–that is, should a woman take her husband’s name? On the day of my tenth wedding anniversary, and as someone who chose to take her husband’s name I’d like to offer this.
There are plenty of studies and reports that suggest that women should keep their names. Some suggest they can actually earn less (though I’m curious how employers knew of the name change or just how this data was accumulated) and, as Care2 blogger Robin Marty pointed out, interesting cultural perceptions that accompany the choice. It also appears that fewer women are choosing to keep their names after marriage, leading some to suggest that younger women have lost their feminist edge.
But for some of us, myself included, taking a name or not taking a name has less to do about politics and more to do with convenience. In some respects it was easier to just share a name than not. And there was never a sense of a loss of identity or a transfer of ownership, despite the legal origins.
In my household we found a nice compromise–my maiden name is now my middle name (Mason), and it is the middle name of my son and will be the middle name of my daughter come November. Because ultimately for us it was about creating our own union and finding a way to reflect what we were growing together as well as what we each had before that commitment.
And I do think that some of this is a product of my age and generation, as Care2 blogger Judy Molland has a slightly different take on the issue. But I bristle at the idea that it some how reflects a lack of, or lesser commitment to, my feminism. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m thankful for the generations of feminists before me that solidified their autonomy, claimed their identity and got a culture comfortable with it. Because of them the families of my peers come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of names. And as a result the cultural code associated with keeping or not keeping a name has just changed as people have become accustomed to family taking on all sorts of meanings. To me, that is the very purpose of my feminism–to make these things that used to be an issue commonplace. So in some sense, I see this as the natural evolution of feminism.
At the end of the day does anyone think that whether or not Chelsea Clinton decides to change her name after her wedding this weekend will fundamentally change who she is or how she’s perceived? If the answer to that is yes then I guess maybe we haven’t come as far on this issue as I’d hope to believe.
photo courtesy of Kelly Pieklo