I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of marriage-induced name changes. Especially as a feminist (not the self-professed kind who will vote for a war criminal just because she has a vagina, but an actual feminist). To me, taking your husband’s name seems a mere tenet of The Patriarchy. So it’s hard for me to justify. But maybe it’s not that simple. Let’s discuss.
To start, what are names for? Identification purposes, mainly. If we didn’t have names, people wouldn’t know how to address us, and communication might break down. Names categorize us—they indicate what family we belong to, oftentimes where we come from, our gender, etc. But more than just logistical purposes, I think names serve to construct the subjective parts of our identity. Like, when a mom and dad decide to name their girl “Cash,” it’s because they want her to be different from the average “Rachel.” They want her to live up to the name she’s given, and I guarantee you that as she grows up, her name will help shape her. There’s no female “Cash” walking around who isn’t tragically hip, effortlessly attractive, and mysteriously unattainable. Rachel, on the other hand, wears lots of predictably solid-colored cotton shirts, has no layers in her hair, and her favorite flower is a red rose (with some white baby’s breath thrown in if she’s feeling frisky).
Names mold our identity so much so that some of us even change the ones we were given. If people feel like their names don’t represent who they are—whether because they’re gendered (or, in my case, androgynous), have some negative societal connotation (“Dick”), or everyone who shares them seems to be a massive tool (like, why is literally every individual named “Emma” a complete narcissist?)—they’ll re-brand themselves. And while I’ve always found this to be a foreign concept, (although to be fair, if my parents had named me Mark Sinclair, I would’ve changed it to Vin Diesel, too—mainly because Mark Sinclair sounds like a stuffy accountant and I don’t think Vin Diesel can do math), I at least respect the autonomy of it.
But when someone changes their last name to their spouse’s, that seems like anything but autonomy. Why basically label yourself as belonging to someone else? And of course the burden to change the name befalls women—but even in the rare cases where the man takes it on (please see: Marco Saldana), I would still argue that it’s wack. Because it signifies possession. And last I checked, humano a humano ownership isn’t considered cool (anyone remember a little thing called slavery?). But seriously. Taking someone’s name is in essence taking on their identity as your own. Why is that necessary?
And back to the gendered nature of it, because it’s impossible to ignore—it’s not that name-changing is problematic just because it’s a way to mark territory, but it is even more so because it is expected of women and not men—and thus just one more way the patriarchy reigns. It signifies that a husband possesses his wife; that she concedes to his ownership by way of his identity. I realize this sounds like some crazy conspiracy theory shit, and that’s because it is! On its face, women changing their last names to match their husbands’ is precisely a methodology of imprisoning them in their gender roles—the docile, subservient, agreeable wives.
I call bullshit. Why is this antiquated tradition continually practiced in our society? I, for one, won’t be changing my last name when I
never get married. And I salute all who’ve kept theirs—way to be strong, independent women who don’t need no man’s name. It is principled stands like this, aimed at establishing equality, that define feminism. (That said, if you were born with the last name “Hitler,” “Bieber,” or “Seaman,” then by all means, change that shit.)
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