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 M, who teaches at a medium sized university in the Midwest but spent the last three months in Kenya conducting research.
The decision to change our last names originated with my (male) partner, who proffered the crazy idea to make up a new name. This suggestion proceeded from a conversation with his former partner about whether he was willing to change his name if they married.
At first I regarded this scheme with dismay; I had always planned to keep my last name, and this proposition sounded slightly off-center. But the idea of an equally shared sacrifice—and changing your name is essentially a sacrifice, of time, effort, and parts of your identity— seemed like a good way to commemorate our legal union.
We have a common ethnic background, so we decided to pick a name from the Irish language. Then we started talking about meaning; as academics in the humanities, we focus on words, and translation can be capricious. He describes the process happening with a bottle of wine and a Gaelic Irish dictionary, and that is almost accurate. We eventually found a name that alluded to both of our unmarried surnames and to our journeys toward each other, including the collective journey of our immigrant forebears; it means seaborne.
Once we had selected a name, we explained our choice to our parents. A’s mother responded by spluttering “you cannot do that,” essentially protesting her own lack of choice in an earlier time, and my father pronounced us “foolish and irresponsible,” but we ignored their whimpers of tradition. To allay possible confusion, our wedding program contained a paragraph explaining the choice to choose a new name and the name itself.
Others’ confusion about our choice never really surfaced, but legal difficulties did. Legally changing your name (unless you are a woman taking a husband’s name upon marriage) proved more difficult than we imagined. Instead of writing the new name on the marriage certificate as brides could if taking a man’s surname, we were forced to use the court system. First one petitions the court, then makes a public announcement of the change by purchasing an advertisement in a local newspaper, which publishes nothing else, then swears in front of a judge that the name change is not an attempt to escape outstanding debt. The judge in our case made me repeat myself because I was not loud enough the first time. Even A was schooled not to lean on the judges’ desk during that short interaction.
One unexpected way this choice has been beneficial is my communications with students. Since my partner and I work in the same academic department, students often know we are a couple because we share the name. I usually find a way to reveal the name’s origins with my classes at some point, if only to protest their (unspoken) assumption that I took my husband’s name. The young people then have at least one example of a non-sexist, egalitarian way to address the name change question when they arrive at their own decision.