Monday, April 23, 2012

[Cindy] The Last Name Project

In this new series co-hosted by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique, we will be profiling an array of individuals and couples about their last name decisions upon marriage or what they expect to choose if they marry. The goal is to explore how individuals make decisions about their last name, and to highlight the many possibilities. We will be posting profiles periodically and encourage you to stay connected via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  If you would like to participate in this series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.  

The following post is from Cindy, a health economist who lives in Toronto with her wife and daughter. 

I grew up in a family where all the women changed their names at marriage (for some this meant changing it multiple times). My mother changed her name when she married my father and changed it back when they divorced. In my early 20s, I dated someone who was very traditional, and who repeatedly commented about how his stepmother was not a true [insert his last name] because she had not changed her name to his father’s at marriage.  I thought that was a bit harsh, but also wasn’t yet sure whether I would change my own name at marriage and I certainly wasn’t sure that I wanted to draw a line in the sand over the issue.  Later, as I read more feminist literature, I thought about how a person’s name is attached to her identity and about the inequity of women commonly going through the many bureaucratic, social, and professional steps it takes to re-establish an identity upon marrying while men almost never did.  

In my late 20s, I completed my PhD and had by then observed several of my female classmates going through the process of re-establishing their identities after publishing in their own names and then beginning to publish and speak in their married names.  Friends who worked at large companies would talk about mass emails they received at work announcing a name change for a female colleague; it seemed particularly unfair that women who changed their names in some ways waived their right to privacy with that decision, as they were made to announce both good and bad personal news such as marriages and divorces that they might otherwise like to keep private.

Several college friends changed their names at marriage during this time in my life. Some changed their names because of a love of tradition.  Others changed their names because (like me) they were not close to their father or because (like me) they wanted to have the same name as future children; during this time not even one male friend changed his name at marriage because of these reasons despite many, if not all, of my male friends falling into one of these two categories.  Some friends who came from – or married into – traditional families changed their names due to not wanting to explain or justify their decision hundreds of times over.  I found myself at times especially frustrated by these friends, whose decision not to fight the battle in their own lives only reinforced the status quo, thereby making it that much more difficult for other women to choose not to change their names.  I saw this battle personified in friends who did not change their names and then spent their supply of patience trying to get their own friends/families/in-laws to acknowledge that they had NOT changed their names as the mail poured in to Mr. and Mrs. His Name.

My partners since the one in my early 20s have been strong feminists. By the time I married, there was no discussion to have: I would not change my name.  I also felt strongly that I wouldn’t want the person I married to change their name.  Because I ended up marrying a woman, our decision to keep our names raised fewer eyebrows and demanded less explanation than I believe would have been the case if I had married a man; there was no historical precedent for us to follow or reject. The discussions we did have were about how to incorporate each of our names into our children’s names.  Our first child has my last name as a middle name and my wife’s last name as her last name; our second child will have the reverse.  Our names are a part of who we are and now they are a part of who our children are. Happily, no one had to re-establish an identity to achieve this.


  1. I like your solution for your children's names. That is a nice way to pass along both of your names to you children. I love when names have so much meaning like that.

  2. I encounter the reverse to your situation when I chose to change my last name to my same-sex partner's last name. I had to field many questions from many different people as to "why" I would want to take my wife's last name. As a woman marrying a woman, it had been assumed that I would keep my own last name. Perhaps people correlate feminism with lesbianism too much.
    I chose to change my name not out of tradition, societal pressure or family influence. I chose to take my wife's last name (a complete surprise to her), as a means to complete our enduring commitment. For me, it could have been any name; whether hers, mine, a hybrid of both or a whole new name. But since she was fond of her last name, I was proud to adopt hers.