A Married Woman by Any Other Name...
Thursday, July 21, 2011Tweet
Since this discussion got buried in the comments of another post (which already had the most comments of any post so far!), I thought it would be good idea to give it its own post.
I'm not sure if I've mentioned before, but one of Mike's minors in college was Women's and Gender Studies. We took a class together called "Women and Psychology." I also took a grad class called "Women and Communication" taught by my advisor/favorite professor, who was a very outspoken divorced feminist. So as you can imagine, between the two of us we encountered quite a lot of discussion and debate around issues like historical patriarchy and the sacrifices women make in our society.
In that atmosphere, it would have been impossible for me to plan on taking Mike's last name without giving some thought to it first.
I have attempted to make some big countercultural decisions in my life, none of which have yet panned out. At one point, I decided that I never wanted to learn to drive. (I did.) My mom tells me there was a point I swore I would never go to college. (I did.) Then when I graduated high school I said I was never getting married. (I did.) And I'm pretty sure at some point prior to that I had decided that if I did get married, I would keep my own last name.
So what changed?
Common vs. Rare
For one thing, when I arrived at college, I was no longer the only person in school with my full name. Having a very common first name for my generation, combined with a very common last name, meant that from the moment I stepped on campus and went to pick up my student ID I had to clarify "which one" I was. My first year, there were only two of us, then the next year two more showed up, though apparently they both left by the following year because it was back down to two of us again. I have a feeling the other Jessica got mistaken for me more often than the other way around since I was very active in multiple organizations, including the student newspaper, so my name was pretty well-known on campus. Still, it caused problems and was just generally annoying to feel like I wasn't unique.
Mike, on the other hand, has such a rare last name that as far as I can tell there's only one other person in the world with my married name (one of the many reasons I don't share my full name here). If you Google my name, everything pertains to me and only me, which is a blessing and a curse. I've been able to build up my online footprint from scratch, so I won't be connected to anything from college or before if I don't want to. I also don't have to worry about somebody else with the same name posting inappropriate things and having them mistakenly linked to me. Future employers Googling me will find my LinkedIn profile at the top of the list, not buried among thousands of links about other similarly named people.
The Jokes... Oh, the Jokes
No, I didn't have an embarrassing maiden name, like Weiner, but my full maiden name was similar to a celebrity's name. When I got to college, I met a lot of new people, and when I started job-hunting, I met even more people, and about half of all the people I ever met felt the need to make an awkward joke about the celebrity with the similar name. I got so sick of it. It didn't happen often with people my age, but practically every adult my parents' age felt the need to crack a bad joke. And that's not what I wanted people's first impressions of me to be linked to!
The other problem with the name resemblance was that because my name wasn't identical to hers, I got called the wrong name. A lot. And then people would feel obligated to make excuses about how they were thinking about their friend or their cousin or somebody else who looked like me who had that name, but I knew what the real reason was. I've been married almost two years now, and in that time, nobody has called me by that wrong name. It's been fabulous.
Mike comes from a relatively big extended family: His dad is the youngest of 9, and he's one of 23 grandchildren. However, only two of his grandparents' sons had sons, and Mike's the only married one. It's looking more and more likely that we may be the only one of that entire clan to have kids we could pass on the (very rare) family name to. So it was pretty clear which of our last names we wanted our kids to have. Which brings me to...
If this had been the only reason, I'm not sure if I would have taken Mike's name, but it's definitely the icing on the cake. For better or for worse, American society pretty much operates under the assumption that moms and dads and kids all share one last name. Even with all of the paperwork that schools require to document family information and legal guardians and whatnot, I still know of cases where moms were questioned about picking their kids up from school simply because they didn't have the same last name. And particularly since we're planning to adopt our kids, the more that I can do to make sure everyone knows we're a family unit, the better. Certainly this could have also been achieved by Mike taking my last name -- for example, my former boss's husband took her last name -- but for reasons #1, #2, and #3 above, that wasn't a good option for us.
The divorced feminist professor I mentioned earlier -- she kept her last name when she got married (and tried to convince me to keep mine), but her kids' friends called her Mrs. [Husband's Last Name] anyway, even after the divorce, since that was her kids' last name, and she didn't bother correcting them. I think I would feel weird either having to correct kids all the time or just being called by the wrong name.
I've found sharing a last name with Mike to come in handy numerous times since getting married. Again, for better or for worse, no one questions that I'm his wife. We can pick up each other's library books when holds come in; we can use each other's credit cards when necessary.
I should reiterate that these were just my reasons for changing my name. This doesn't mean that I think everyone with a common name should take their spouse's last name or vice versa. But I am a big fan of having reasons for your actions and being able to explain them. Many people assume that I took Mike's last name because, well, that's just what you do when you get married, right? Others think I fell prey to old-fashioned, stereotypical, patriarchal notions about ownership and tradition. But in reality, I had my reasons -- and now you know what they are.
If you are married, did you change your name? Why or why not? What have been the pros and cons of your decision?