Thursday, April 12, 2012

[Kayla] 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 Kayla, a white, queer, 26-year-old, partnered but not married (yet) Wellesley Alum who lives in the USA.
I am not currently married, but I can say without a doubt that the “last name” debate is a deal-breaker for me.  If someone I dated told me they wanted me to change my name when we got married, I would end the relationship then and there.  In fact, I dated a woman last year who was baffled at the idea of me not changing my name to hers (“But my family name is more important to me than it is to you!”—see Reason #2).  I told her that if it was a deal breaker for her, I understood because it was a deal breaker for me.  We broke up 2 weeks later.
When I do marry, I am absolutely keeping my own name.  My children are another story.  My current partner is fantastic and I would love to marry her.  However, she does not want to have any children biologically and given the legal status of gay people in this country, I would not want to deprive her of any rights.  I’m not sure if it will make a difference, but if giving our children her last name gives her more legal rights, I would give our children both of our names.   That way, in case I die or become incapacitated, our children would not fall under the legal protection of my family or the state but her, the other parent.
But what worries me most is that people claim to me that this is a “choice” – which is apparently the new motto of the women’s movement.  If it were a choice, why are 90% of women changing their name?  Why aren’t 50% of men changing their names AND 50% of women? 
Despite the fact that it’s 2012, the vast majority of my female friends still change their name to their husband’s.  The following is a breakdown of the reasons I hear most frequently:
1)     “It’s just easier”—easier for who?  Him? Your kids?  Hasn’t this been the reasoning behind women’s oppression for hundreds of thousands of years?  This might be harder on YOU but your kids, partner, and family are more important - think about them first?  Whenever a woman says that to me I want to say back- let me know when you’re standing at the DMV line for 2 hours if this decision truly ends up being “easier.”  A woman I dated last year tried to use that reasoning on me – “you’d be making your kids’ lives harder…”  My answer- by keeping my last name I’d be making my kids’ lives harder? Really? What about my personal fulfillment? What about knowing that keeping my name is important to me? Won’t I be a better partner and mother if I feel satisfied and happy in my own identity?
2)     “It was really important to him/his family” or “His family is really conservative.”  You never hear women say “well my family is really liberal so I’m not changing it.”  Why does his family matter more?  And why should his familys’ desires factor into YOUR NEW family?
3)     “I wanted to have the same last name as my kids.”  Hmm… And why can’t your kids have your name?  Or why can’t you all change your last name together? Why is the default still your husband’s?
4)      “I really didn’t like my father/have any connection to him/don’t want to pass on his legacy.”  This to me is the most valid reason of all, but why don’t we ever hear men say this?  Don’t men just as frequently have poor relationships with their fathers as well?  President Obama’s Dad took off when he was young (impregnating Obama’s Mom while still married to his first wife), yet President Obama’s name isn’t Barack Robinson (Michelle’s maiden name).  Even worse, both of his kids also pass on this man’s less-than-prestigious personal record.  Now this man gets to pass his name on to the Presidency, and be forever revered in honor as one of the most powerful men in history.  
5)     “I’m not really attached to my name/I don’t really care.”  You don’t care about your name? You don’t care about your identity?  This to me is the saddest of all reasons, and to me the ultimate proof of sexism in this debate.  You care about yourself so little, you’re willing to completely change your identity to fit someone else’s (typically the man’s).  Truly disturbing and sad.
6)     “I really don’t LIKE my name.”  It’s too clunky! It’s too long! It’s too short! It sounds like this (rhyme)!  I always got teased!.  Please.  I meet dudes all the time with ridiculous last names (legit- “Balz”).  Are they changing it?  No. This reason is just another version of #5, or another version of female self-loathing.  Just change what we’re talking about and this could be a girl’s brunch conversation in Anytown, USA. “Ugh I hate my thighs!” “My hair is too short” “Oh I really hate XYZ about myself.”  Girls, learn to love yourself.


  1. This is fantastic and I cam personally attest to wrestling with all of these during the course of my partner's and my decision-making process with our name.

  2. Clearly it's Friday and morning...*can.

  3. My husband and I are changing our names to his mother's family name because they are the family we are closest to and we wanted to share a name. His dad is outraged even though he had little to do with his son's upbringing.

    We will post our story separately.

  4. My thoughts exactly! Easier for who? Oh, him and the kids. Haha. I admire that you consider it a deal-breaker if your partner insists on changing YOUR last name. I have thought about this a what point would I break up with someone (because I'm straight-a guy) over this? I'm considering implementing your deal-breaker policy. Thanks for cohosting!

  5. I'm a little late to the party- but I take issue with #5- I'm not that attached to my last name. MY LAST NAME DOES NOT DEFINE ME. I also don't really like my first name, but that's a different story. My last name is irritating to me, in a lot of ways (only one of which is that is was in the title of an awful, puke-worthy, mainstream film).

    When I get married, whether or not I change my name will depend on how I feel about my partner's last name. MY last name is that of my biological grandfather (who ran out on his children to be with someone else), and my father(...who did pretty much the same thing). Don't judge me just because I'm not attached to my last name.

    1. I'm not attached to my last name at all, it's a very common English surname and where I live is pretty anti-English. I get a lot of crap for being of English herritage (although I'm happy just to be me).
      I never liked my name but I won't change it because my husband has refused to change his. That to me points to inequality in our marriage, that he wants me to do something he is no prepared to do. Otherwise he is an amazing person and not traditional at all. I'm definitely the boss, this is just what he was brought up to beleive was right, that his wife would be MR husband.

      I am as committed as I could ever be and changing my name is no more of a committment. If we did break up though I'd have to retain his name as I have a career built around my name and it'd be problematic jobwise.

      For me every woman should decide, as you have. No one should be judged. But equally no woman should be pressured or told throughout her life that it is right to change her name, or that she doesn't love her husband if she doesn't change her name.