Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Post: 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 A, an academic researcher living and working in the U.K. 

As an academic, it was never feasible for me to change my name professionally. By the time we got married I had already been published under my original name, and I need to maintain the name recognition that derives from those publications. For this reason, adopting new names together, or hyphenating, were also never really on the table (I would have considered hyphenating more seriously, though, if our names sounded good together – but they don’t). The main alternative to keeping my name was thus to maintain my name professionally and change it legally/socially.

However, the idea of changing my name has always made me uncomfortable. I'm a feminist and while we all inevitably make some compromises in navigating a patriarchal society, this was one area in which I found it impossible to reconcile my beliefs with social expectation. I was deeply unhappy with the idea of changing my identity, giving up the name I'd had for my entire life, and the name linking me to my family, solely because we now would have a piece of paper saying we were married. I was also resentful that the same demands are rarely if ever made of men; no one saw it as strange or disloyal of him to keep his own name, whereas I’ve had more than a few funny looks and comments.

When I explained how I felt to my then-fiance he was perfectly fine with the idea of me keeping my name. I don’t think he ever expected me to change it; he’s always been well aware of how strongly I feel about this issue. This may also reflect the fact that we’re not generally into romantic symbolism, and neither of us wanted to see marriage as a moment of ‘change’ in our relationship. However, I think he would object if I refused to allow any potential kids to have his name. I’ve always been happy to give kids his last name; I suspect that I may start to become a little less comfortable with that idea if/when we have children, on feminist grounds, but I also think it would be unfair of me to go back on all my previous statements if I don’t feel all that strongly either way. My mother remarried when I was little and took a new last name, so it seems normal to me for mother and child to have different names.

I have to admit that when people ask why I kept my name, I tend to focus on the practical reasons (i.e. my job). When asked why I didn’t change my name socially, I usually explain that I think that’s far too cumbersome and unsustainable in a world of social media; I can’t afford to change my name on Facebook or Twitter, for example, both of which I use for work as well as socially. I tend only to bring up my deeper discomfort with the entire concept of name-changing when I know I have a sympathetic, feminist audience. I have to admit it does exasperate me to get letters addressed to Mr and Mrs HisName (not least because my title is actually Dr!) - especially when the letters are from friends who should know better - but I guess there's not much I can do about that!

1 comment:

  1. Hi A, thanks for sharing your story. I find it really interesting that I share so many of your perspectives and yet still managed to make the opposite decision! And that is true for so many people. The main difference is that I got married young, between graduating with my first degree and my second. So my degree, and all my publications are in my married name, and the portion of my adult life that I spent with my maiden name is very small. I, too, would have considered hyphenating if it sounded any good, and I think because I am such a stroppy cow and of course a feminist I always felt like no-one would have dared criticise me if I didn't change my name, so the choice was a real one for me to make myself. I like that we are the "Name Family" but I do also wonder what I would do if we ever split up, given that my professional identity is now tied to his name.