What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name

What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name

“My younger brother started it off by asking me how Chris felt about being emasculated. He was joking, and he did apologize about it later, but I couldn’t help wonder if he somehow represented all the men who might feel emasculated by our choice. My mother, always a supporter, just sighed. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘Just be ready for the responses. Your child might have some trouble on the playground.’

As my belly grew, the comments got even stranger. I had secretly hoped for no reaction, for our choice to be as common as saying, ‘I went with the mustard instead of the ketchup.’ No reaction would mean something good, right? That women in this country are, for example, no longer considered the property of men, even in name. That archaic systems are truly collapsing. That we can reclaim language that was formerly used to control us.

But it seemed, at least to me, that using a woman’s last name for a child threatened everyone. An older woman asked me if I was doing this to make a point. Why was all this doing perceived as mine, not my husband’s as well? At a party, a peer told me she was ‘diehard Obama’ and then argued that her only real concern about using a woman’s last name is that you risk the ease of preserving lineage and historical records.

‘Really?’ I kept responding.”

I got a lot of weird reactions when people found out that I wasn’t taking my husband’s last name when we got married. But I’m an only child, and I’d decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to change my name for anyone. Sometimes I question my decision, but most of the time I feel proud for staying true to myself. There’s nothing wrong with changing your name to match your spouse’s if that’s what you both want. But it doesn’t have to be what you want, and it’s not what I wanted.

If and when we have kids, we’ve talked about hyphenation, or combining our last names into something new… it’s not set in stone. But it’s definitely not a given for us, and it shouldn’t be for anyone. Names are important: your name is not only a part of how you see yourself, it’s also how other people see you.

As women in the United States, even though “we’ve come a long way, baby,” we still have certain cultural exceptions, including but not limited to: 1. We change our names when we get married; 2. We wear white (or off-white, or eggshell, or whatever nonsense name that’s really just white) on our wedding day; 3. We shave our body hair; 4. We wear makeup and heels when we dress up. Well, guess what? As a white, cis-gendered woman in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship, I currently do none of those things. Somehow, I’m still a woman. The world is still spinning. My husband still feels like a man.

In summation: we don’t have to do any of this nonsense that society still expects we do. We absolutely can, and plenty of women love doing all of the things I’ve just listed. I’m not saying all women should start following my lead, but I’m saying they can. You can. If you don’t want to do some, any, or all of these things, it’s okay. You’re not alone. There are plenty of us out there following our own paths to womanhood. There’s no rule book other than the one you create for yourself.

“The patriarchy is still deeply ingrained—in all of us. Surnames are one of the unseen limbs of the old world. Giving a child the father’s last name is still a given. And that given preserves the man’s place of power, from the Supreme Court on down to the everyday Joe. How can that still be the case? Why, I wonder, are we so slow on this one? It seems lazy of us.”


8 thoughts on “What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name

  1. it’s cool you are individually-minded enough to maintain confidence in your womanhood despite your rejection of some of the traditional trappings or customs. I think lots of people aren’t as self-aware or are fearful of the social repercussions of challenging the status quo. Some aren’t at all committed to being their true selves, and yet others lack awareness altogether of their core identity.

    PS: I was tickled that you mentioned female body hair, as I am writing on that subject as we speak. 🙂

    • Yeah, I will use any excuse to talk about female body hair ;). I’m 3 years into not shaving my legs, and while it was absolutely terrifying at first, I can’t imagine ever wanting to shave regularly again.

      It’s amazing to me sometimes what women will accept as the norm. It’s not at all about shaming women who are living the norm, but more about getting women to ask, “why?” and then, “is this what I want?”

  2. My mother is from Spain and when she got married, she was told that culturally in the states, women change their last name. When she found out women could keep their last names, she went back to her maiden name and it was harder to do that than to change to my father’s last name. At 14, I hyphenated my last name so I had both of my parent’s last names (something that is also done in Spain culturally, kids get both last names). I don’t plan on changing my last name when I get married and people here have already commented on that. It’s nice to find people who understand that. Nice post!

    • I also posted this article to my facebook, and one of my good friends has a hyphenated last name and told me about how difficult it was for her. Computer systems in the US have a hard time processing hyphens, and she would lose documents, reservations, etc because no one could find her name. I like the idea of hyphenation a lot, but that made me think it wasn’t terribly practical.

      I like that in Latin culture kids get both parents’ last names, but that doesn’t translate well here. No one pays attention to any name but the very last name; the middle stuff doesn’t count. It’s very frustrating.

      I’ve gotten some really good responses to this post, and by and large they’ve been very positive and insightful. Names are personal, and deciding who gets what name is not easy. Thanks for your input!

  3. Pingback: On Naming Women and Mountains | What I'm Reading

  4. Pingback: How my armpits inspired me to make conscious choices | What I'm Reading

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