I spent several years writing about the odd and sometimes rude questions I was asked about being single. For instance, I often heard – why aren’t you married? Now, I am a little less than 100 days from getting married and I continue to be intrigued by the personal questions directed to me. People are funny.
When people learn that I am engaged they immediately ask about the wedding date and location. Interestingly, this started within 2 hours of our actual engagement, to which, of course, I had no answer. The next question is often some version of “so, will you change your name?” This seems innocent enough, but it is almost always asked in a tone that suggests they think that they know the answer and have already decided how they feel about it.
I am a wildly independent and self-sufficient person. So much so that I have been described as “independent to a fault.” I, of course, don’t think that is possible (or something anyone would say to a man, but I digress). I have also had the same name for 40 years. All this leads people to assume that I would not change my name. They are also pretty sure that they know the answer because for years, literally years, I have said that I would never change my name. Yes, I said never. In the words of a former law professor, I long asserted that I would not want to be with a man who needs to “tag his property.”
Needless to say, I now get a lot of raised eyebrows and big eyes when I answer people with yes, I am going to change my name. People are genuinely shocked. Then they awkwardly ask why or I, feeling the need to justify, explain without prompting.
The truth is that I am just as surprised as anyone. At a time when the number of women in the U.S. who choose not to change their name when they marry is up 20%, I decide to change my name. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The idea of keeping my name felt very different when I had to answer the question for real. When I considered being part of a family beyond my family of origin, I thought about what I want my family to look/feel/be like. After carefully thinking about the consequences of changing my name, I realized that for me part of being a family is sharing a name. I grew up in a small town and we were one of the few families with my name. It was just ours and made it clear to everyone that we belong to each other.
I also realized that for me changing my name is more about developing the culture within my little family and less about the politics of patriarchy and male oppression.
When I think about what family is to me – it is a deep and clear connection to one another. Having the same name is a strong symbol of that connection. That belonging. Turns out, I am willing and happy to adopt a tradition that many, including my former self, disagree with to make this happen.
Of course, for many the debate about women taking their husband’s name is a feminist issue. It may seem that changing my last name isn’t very feminist of me. Especially after all those years of insisting I’d never do it. But, I think that the fact that I can choose makes it very much a feminist decision. And I’m a grown @$% woman and I do what I want.
Note: My fiancé is supportive of me keeping my name. He was clear that he would not consider changing his name, but he understood if I felt strongly about keeping mine. Neither of us is progressive enough for our family to take my last name.