So last night I went to my cousin’s lingerie-themed bachelorette party and had a great time. It was an interesting study in people to see the ways in which each woman would turn the corner and make her appearance in her chosen garb. Some were full diva status with lace cutouts and plunging necklines; some clutched tightly their closed robes in shyness; someone else wore a cozy pajama set. I was somewhere in the middle, silky and comfortable.
At this party there was this a woman who was hired to show and sell various products for intimate consumption. Oh the hell with it, in her bags of luggage was a mini sex shop. This was a stiff and awkward experience for many of the women until my cousin and I started pouring drinks. Things got hilarious then. I learned some things about these women and they learned some things about me. We discovered hidden freaks and hidden prudes and most walked away with something to add to their repertoire. It was all fun and games as you’d imagine.
Well, there was the brief time that I slipped away and ran to my car to change out of the panties that kept riding up my ass. And no, they weren’t thongs. I’d expect that of thongs. It was just a pair of regular ole panties that decided it was her job to be judgmental and constantly remind me of my weight gain by crawling up my ass and making me uncomfortable. Let’s see how much she’s running her mouth when I throw her into the regular cycle with the blue jeans.
But let me get to the place in the story that relates to my title. A name. A woman’s last name.
Sometime later in the night when the liquor starts to wear off and conversations turn from sex to relationships, we stumble unto the subject of whether or not women should change their last names, hyphenate them, or leave them as is. My cousin, the soon-to-be bride, says that she loves the idea of taking her husband’s name and becoming one. I think that he must love the idea as well, except he’d never take her name. The two things are not mutually exclusive, except under tradition. Another says she could take it or leave it. Another says she’d never considered the feminist perspective until now and that she agrees with keeping her name. I have a friend who never legally changed her name but introduces herself with her husband’s last name. Answers range from among those responses; however, what I find the most common seems to be “I agree with keeping my name, but I’d just change it anyway.”
Before my marriage, I had in mind to keep my own last name for a number of reasons. I really liked my name and didn’t like the name of my fiancé. Mine was not common and his was very common. Also, I thought it was important for a woman to embrace her heritage, her family legacy. I felt it was unjust that a woman’s history and family should be swept under a rug like it never existed. The idea seems to be that for women, last names are only meaningful until she gets married. So what’s the point in having pride in it when you’ll just wipe it away and replace it soon as you fall in love. Seems to me that that renders it valueless.
But last names are meaningful. How often has someone inquired about your last name or guessed some aspect of who you are based on last name alone? Haven’t you felt pride to say, “My last name is so and so. There are a lot of us in such and such place. There aren’t many of us. Don’t you like when someone says, Oh let me guess. Are you from (fill in the blank)? Or maybe you’re like me. People are always trying to figure out what I am or where I’m from, and so they sometimes ask my last name in trying to guess. Maybe you’ve felt a little joy when you discover someone has the same last name as you, maybe a famous writer or classmate even. When women become married women, that is lost. Someone looks with interest at their last name and they can only say, “Oh yeah, it’s my husband’s name. His family is from (fill in the blank).” It seems to me that this is less two becoming one than two becoming him.
Many Hispanic cultures have a custom of tagging on the names of new extensions to the family. Marriage seems then more a process of growth and expansion, a coming together then a cutting off from, a cancellation, a shrinking. A legal representation of self-imposed confinement.
So when we were getting married, I rehearsed my reasons at length and I told him that I wanted to keep my name. He said no. I told him I wanted to hyphenate it. He said no. I told him I’d like to make it my middle name, since I had none. He said no. Um, anyone else see red flags? These no responses were adamant and infuriated. He threatened to call off the wedding. Young, stupid love. I caved in and let my beliefs go along with my last name to that dark place called Loss of Identity. Even after years of marriage, even when those times were happy, I never lost my sense of resentment at having given up my name. I never said anything about it. I had agreed to the sacrifice. But every time someone asked me my last name, I resented it. I wonder how many other women out there feel the same way?
Fast forward over a decade later and I’m getting divorced. He walks out of the courthouse and I walk into the Social Security office, the Department of Motor Vehicles office, I spend countless hours showing and faxing documents to banks, my job, every account I had opened in the time during my marriage. And for what? To ask them to give me my name back. The name that was rightfully mine to begin with. May I have my name back please? I’m here to inquire about my name. It returns to me slowly and surely from its rough journey in unknown lands like the prodigal son. I didn’t want it to go away, but I didn’t put up enough fight for it to stay either. Like the prodigal son, I celebrate its return.
And yet, there are still times when the old name, the not my name, comes back to haunt me. When I needed to apply for a new passport, I had to provide not only the necessary documents but also my divorce documents showing why my reapplication has a different name. I was stopped and questioned by Homeland Security when once my driver’s license hadn’t yet matched the maiden name on my travel ticket. Almost missed a flight. Any account I opened during the course of my marriage required work to change it back to my maiden name. He had nothing to change. No worries. The same way his body had no changes and no worries while I was carrying the babies. So it goes. Easy come, easy go. Not for the woman though.
Of course, those who get married don’t anticipate having to go through any of these hassles as you plan to stay together till death due us part, or you realize their spending habits are insane after years of seeing Amazon Prime packages arrive at your door every two days. I understand the nuisance factor will not sway everyone. And I’m not trying to sway so much as open a discussion and help those who haven’t considered certain points consider them now.
So what about women’s history? What about a woman’s history? I’m thinking now and realize my hypocrisy. Why, when I went to the Social Security Office, did I not include my mother’s maiden name as well as my fathers? I think the system is more deeply ingrained than I had realized. Looks like I’ll be making another trip to the Social Security Office.
In the end, if you’re a traditional woman and a romantic and you like the idea of taking your husband’s name (It is, after all, the first activity in which girls engage when they like a boy. Discover his last name and write her first name and his last name together all over the pages of her notebook. I’ve done it too) then do it. But if you have children, please remember that, just as I forgot to add my mother’s maiden name, it doesn’t always naturally come to mind to ask about the side they don’t see and hear everyday. Teach them the story of your family.
And if you feel better by holding on to your last name, be weary of men who insist that for traditions sake, or the sake of appearance, or his ego, that you take his name. And talk about it before 3 months before the wedding. And have a good logical argument. And if all else fails, fight for what you believe in. It’s not always easy at the start to be firm, but it sets the tone for your relationship. There will be times for compromise, but everyone, men and women, should be able to have their feelings and values respected.
P.S. I thought about this post a lot. I don’t want to alienate any of my readers or have anyone feel disrespected. Everyone has the right to their own perspective, and I’m definitely open to hearing different views. I know that men have also grown up with the romance of the woman they love taking their name, and it may be a struggle to let that go as well. Sometimes life is complicated all around. I just wish that couples and individuals have conversations and make decisions based not on tradition alone.