After a heads up from Feministing, I learned that the American Sociological Association put out the results of a recent study showing that about 70% of Americans believe that women should take their husband’s last names when they get married and 50% think it should be a legal requirement. Wow. Although I am not one to put too much stock into polls (I, nor anyone close to me has ever been polled about anything remotely significant so I have no idea where they get these people and their opinions), that’s a large percentage for something so traditional and antiquated. And BY LAW? Why?
I am at that age where more and more of my friends are getting married. I’ve noticed a trend among the women to keep their own last names to the complete exclusion of their husband’s or to take their spouse’s name name in addition to theirs (with and without hyphens). That’s not to say that the majority of women in America don’t take their husband’s names, but maybe it’s a generational thing that not too many of my peers feel obligated to take their husband’s name.
One common characteristic of the women who haven’t totally forsaken their own names is that they are extremely ambitious. Maybe they’ve already accomplished a significant amount in their lives and certainly plan to continue doing so. In my opinion, it’s just not fair to assume (or in the case of any legislation, mandate) I will change my name and erase this identity that has existed for 27 or more years. An identity that has been through a lot and accomplished much more. I agree with Jessica at Feministing when she says
What’s really distressing about this news – Laura Hamilton, the study’s lead author says that when respondents were asked why they thought women should change their last names, “they told us that women should lose their own identity when they marry and become a part of the man and his family.”
Distressing indeed. Beyond that, I really just don’t see the point.I like my last name. It’s mine and it has always been mine. I like the way it sounds with my first and middle names. I like where it falls in the alphabet (never coming in too soon or too late when alphabetical order is the standard). Does changing my name make me a better wife? A better mother? Will it bring my husband and I closer together? Will it promise us a supportive partnership, amazing sex and companionship til death do us part? I don’t think so. Children can take their father’s last name but I’m not my husband’s child so miss me with that. Along the same lines, I plan to be his equal, not his subordinate and not his property.
There was a time (and it’s still that time in some places) where a woman was marrying into her husband’s family for support and security. She was indeed becoming a part of his family, even moving under his family’s roof. In my conceptualization of marriage, not only do I become part of my spouse’s family but he marries into mine as well (God help him!). We become accountable to one another, not just I to him. Therefore, I don’t see why anyone would even consider making it a law that I take his name. Again, I don’t see the point.
I want to be sure to mention that while I speak of husband’s and wives from a hetero-normative perspective, this is not a gender-specific issue. In high school, my 10th grade social studies teacher’s wife decided to hyphenate her name. He did as well. So they were both Mr. and Mrs. Keller-Coffey. He felt that made them more of a family and was illustrative of how they were coming together as individuals to make a whole new entity. He was always one of my most favorite teachers. It’s not as easy, however, for a man to take on his wife’s name. Don’t believe there’s some ancient, sexist, tunnel vision at work here? See the story of Michael Buday who spent two years, court costs, showed up for court appearances, filed paperwork and made a public announcement just to get his wife’s last name. Sheesh!
I am curious to know what you all think on the issue.