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I’m A Feminist With My Husband’s Name

I’m A Feminist With My Husband’s Name

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.

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photo courtesy of Kelly Pieklo

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189 comments

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11:10AM PDT on Apr 18, 2011

I decided on a similar compromise. However, my husband also took my maiden name has his middle name and it will be the middle name of our children. At the time, we lived in Oklahoma, and it was a big hassle; they saw no reason *he* needed to change his name. However, once we moved to Illinois, it was a smooth process at the Social Security office. He just provided his marriage certificate; no questions asked.

4:20AM PDT on Apr 15, 2011

When my daughter was born, I was single, so she has my last name. When I married her (now-ex) stepdad, I took his name. She didn't tell me until after he and I divorced how much it had bothered her growing up without the same name as either of her parents. So when my husband proposed to me, I told him that I felt that it was more important that my daughter have my name than that I have his, and that if our having the same name was a deal-breaker for him, that he would have to chang his name to mine. He looked into doing just that, and after a bit of research asked me, "Is it this big a pain in the ass for women to change their names when they get married?" I assured him that it was, and he just shook his head and said, "Damn, y'all must love us." After my daughter became an adult, I hyphenated my husband's last name onto mine, not because he still wanted me to have his name, but because I decided that I wanted my name to reflect the fact that he had been added to my family.

6:10AM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

choices are fine, if I were USA citizen married woman I would keep my name

3:09AM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

Wow, I guess he really isn't coming back. Ha. Chewing him out (and making useless follow-up posts like this one) is certainly worth the points. It's cool to actually pull change from my complaining, even if it's not on the issues directly.

1:54AM PDT on Aug 18, 2010

Well said, Kit.

Mary, I was simply waiting for this guy to dismiss any arguments made by women (because of the fact that they were coming from women), before I joined in the dogpile on his Cro-Magnon ass. Imagine my resulting disappointment in his failure to respond... boo hoo.

One more thing...
"Wanna take my money? Take my name first."
Art, I'd bet my left one that you are the same kind of fool that would be intimidated by the thought of your significant other working. If you believe in the horrendously stupid notion that woman have a so-called place, you have absolutely NO RIGHT to bitch when they "take your money." On the bright side, no woman has been duped into Shouting out your skid-marks for no pay and no respect (yet). Let's hope it stays that way, for the betterment of our gene pool.

4:53PM PDT on Aug 16, 2010

Marriage began as an exchange of property and goods for a daughter. All the biblical nonsense follows long after. Marriage is far less religious then legal, look it up.
All unions are filed in the local office of vital statistics, therefore actually civil unions, church ceremonies are for the purpose of celebration, as are ceremonies of a non-religious nature.

When I first married I took my husband's name, back then it was the smart move as many states would not allow a women to vote in any name other then Mrs John Doe - and I'm not that old, but do live in the south.

Now I still use that name, first because of my children and keeping the consistency for them, but also as stated above who needs all the paper work.

Name change was at one time a statement of the feminist movement, now it's more a personal choice. We've come a long way. baby!

8:38PM PDT on Aug 15, 2010

Well, I came once again, and saw once again, since my husband read me some truly disturbing comments from someone in here the other day---and since no one else felt it was worth remarking, i guess i shot myself in the foot by coming to read it for myself.

AV---at first you sounded as though you supported the feminist movement, but then you tilted into a religios litany regarding the patriarchal nature of the bible, and you thought it was a positive thing, to flat out appaling oral diarrhea which clues the rest of us in as to why you're likely not married yet. You claim that "it shouldn't matter" and yet you YOURSELF wouldn't put your money where your mother is and take the name of YOUR SPOUSE? As you said, "what is wo wrong with taking the last name of your spouse?" You wonder why there are people trying to make a feminist stand in the first place---it is because of mindless lemming behaviours from shee-eople like you!!! You say that it shouldn't matter and yet you openly say you would flat out oppose offering the same honour to your own non-existant spouse. You also make rather cruse reference to her "taking half your money" then she should be willing to take your name...are you stating that you'd have to pay someone to marry you? Or are you stating that you'd be expected to support her since she wouldn't be working? I would hope that there aren't still people deluded enough to have the "no wife of mine" mentality, certainly you don't view family as property?! PUKE

8:07AM PDT on Aug 12, 2010

If this is the most important issue facing women today, I'd say the feminists have been immensely successful. Besides, marriage itself is religious in scope. The holy union of a man and woman to honor God. That's what marriage is. Monogamous relationships are religious too, because "cheating" soils the purity of the relationship. Purity, or original sin, is a big part of the Bible. Virgins are pure. This is why no sex is allowed before marriage. So as long as marriage is religious, and the Bible promotes men, women should always take their husbands last name, or they shouldn't get married. At the very least, as long as a woman is a Christian, she should always take her husbands last name.

And what is so bad about taking the last name of your spouse? Is that so bad to share a last name? Does it matter whose name is chosen? If a woman told me I would have to take her last name if we married, I would dump her ass right then and there, because the last thing I need is a marriage full of whining and complaining and being told what to do, like many husbands have to put up with today. I don't like taking orders any more than I like giving them. If she asked me nicely, I would consider it, and say no, because it's stupid and unnecessary. Wanna take my money? Take my name first.

5:04PM PDT on Aug 7, 2010

It's nice that women have this option to-day. It's really hard when you fall in love with someone but his name kinda turns you off. What's in a name? Apparently quite a lot. I have known people that have legally changed their name because of teasing about their name. I myself look at some names & think if that was my name I would change it. Somehow an adopted name doesn't have the same ring to it as your maiden name & you don't like it. I think the old idea that it should be an honour for a woman to take her husband's name has gone by the wayside. pros & cons I guess. Then again sometimes you're lucky enough to get a better one!

8:28PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010

I think the whole point of feminism is to have choices that we didn't before. But it shouldn't mean that we all have to make the same choice. Just like a woman should be able to choose to stay at home with her children if this is what works for her and her family. This doesn't mean she's taking a step backwards, but that she has made the decision that feels right to her. And nobody, not even other feminists, should tell her how to live her life.

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