Christy Clark has a great article in the Province about taking on (or indeed, in her case, refusing to take on, one’s husband’s last name). I must say that I love her article! To nobody’s great surprise, I was one of those little girls who knew from a very young age that she would not change her name if she ever married. My name meant a lot to me – it carried a whole familial history and it served to identify me within my peer group and my community. Plus, the part of me that insisted on gender equality, never understood why the female always took on the male partner’s name. I enjoy Christy’s reasoning:
I didn’t change my name when I got married. Nor did my husband want me to.
I used to joke that, if I changed it, I wouldn’t be able to re-use my lawn signs in the next election. That explanation was accurate, but it was far from the whole truth.
The truth is I didn’t change my name when I got married because changing it seemed to me like giving up part of my identity and adopting that of someone else.
I felt like I would lose some of my hard-won independence by bearing my husband’s brand and telling the world that I belonged to him now.
And a tradition that requires women, but not men, to change their names seems to me patently unfair.
It is patently unfair isn’t it? I still have a distinct problem with certain ‘ceremonial’ or traditional things about weddings and marrying that are accepted by brides (and grooms) without thought of their ceremonial and traditional significance. Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t step back and examine exactly what you are implicating yourself in by participating in these traditions. The history behind most wedding rituals, including women changing their names, is very patriarchal and mysogynistic (and don’t even get me started on the white dress! And the father giving the daughter away! Because I could rant for ages…). Anyways, apparently more women are opting into this tradition:
Among my friends who are my age, most have kept their birth names.
But for some strange reason, friends who are five or 10 years younger mostly have not.
Statistics on what seems to be a growing trend in Canada are hard to come by. Here, no one has to notify the government when they adopt their spouse’s name.
But there is evidence of a changing trend among brides in the U.S.A 2004 study at Harvard found that 44 per cent of women in that school’s 1980 class kept their birth names. For the class of 1990, it was down to 32 per cent.
I find this disturbing but what I find interesting is that whenever I have tried to discuss weddings and traditions like changing one’s name with feminist friends (especially those who are getting married in the near future) they always get defensive about their personal choices. As such, I would just like to say how much I appreciate the difficulty that women and especially feminist women have in trying to negotiate a comfortable way to manouever through society’s ceremonies and regulations!