I struggled with deciding whether or not to write this post. While the name-changing thing has never been up for debate for me, I do have some strong feelings on the matter. And, troublingly, I know some of those feelings are wrong (inasmuch as an opinion can be wrong, which by definition it can’t).
Intellectually, I get that choosing to change your name isn’t any less of a feminist choice, and is in fact an active choice, whereas you don’t get any choice when you’re lumped with your family name at birth. But as I’ve previously written, I am secretly disappointed when I hear a woman I know is taking her husband’s last name. This is a bias that I keep to myself; I would never presume to judge anyone else’s choice, but deep down a definite pang is there. It’s one of those things that I know logically doesn’t make sense. How do you overcome that?!
I’ve been surprised at the fact that I’ve been asked about whether I’m keeping my name at all. Asking a woman whether she plans to change her name after marriage? I suppose it depends how close you are, but to my mind, it doesn’t feel like an appropriate question – I wouldn’t ever ask this of anyone. I suppose this is one of my personal quirks. What can I say? I’m very private.
Even in the 21st century, this still seems to be very much the exception rather than the norm. To me, the whole practice feels very archaic. (This post by Bitch PhD pretty much hits the spot for me.) Let’s face it – name changing is a bullshit patriarchal custom, a hangover from the days when women were no more than property to be sold off to husbands by their families. With that said, I do plan to have our kids take T’s name. I don’t have strong feelings about that, despite being adamant about retaining mine.
One of my friends used to say “I never want to be a [very common Indian surname]“. And what do you know, she found herself a nice boy, who was of course saddled with that accursed name. Funny how things turn out. Despite that, I’m almost certain that NOT changing her name was ever an option.
People who decide to change their names seem to do it for one of two reasons:
They prefer their husband’s name – fair enough. I despise my surname; it’s caused me plenty of grief. But at least it flows, which is more than I can say for slapping T’s last name next to my first name.
Or because, you know, it’s tradition. I don’t buy that. I’ve never considered the name thing an integral part of marriage. Perhaps it’s because my mother didn’t. When I was in primary school, a friend once saw a letter addressed to both my parents by name. “Aren’t your parents married?” he goggled. “Yes – she just kept her own name. And?” was my reply.
This is such a dealbreaker for me that when we butted heads over this pre-proposal, I was prepared to simply scrap marriage altogether. Eventually T realised how important it was to me, and accepted it.
Heck, I’ve gone 24 years without ever bothering to change my first name to the name I use (my Christian name is not my legal name), partly because it feels like I’d be culturally rejecting a choice my parents no doubt put a lot of thought into, but mainly because of the cost and hassle. (I’m finding it hard to pin down what it actually costs, but it looks like nearly $130, plus all kinds of extra fees for name changes on various documents.)
It’s not just the IRD. It’s the NZTA for your driver’s licence. It’s your bank/s. Your investment fund providers. Your insurance company. Your cellphone provider. Your ISP. Your power company. Your place of work. And no doubt dozens of other important places where your name is on file.
Another biggie for me is that I’ve been published for years under my name. But I think that name changing can be professionally detrimental no matter what your field. It’s insanely unfair, but there are studies that have found women who take their husband’s names end up earning less. Possibly those women are also more likely to take time out from work and raise children, accounting for that – or maybe it’s genuine bias in the workplace that penalises them. Or some other factor. /shrug
(When I first read that, I thought ‘how in heck would anyone know if you’ve changed your name? DUMB QUESTION – unless you get married at say, 20, and start off your professional career under it. Women who get married at work change their email addresses – thus announcing their new marital status to the entire office, which men never have to do – and then obviously have to deal with things future employers calling up past references who know them as somebody else.)
Unfortunately I don’t really see any way to smashing that barrier, aside from soldiering on, choosing to change your name, and kicking ass in the workplace – I just won’t be a part of that, I suppose.
And now, after writing this, I’m more conflicted than ever – not about my personal choices, but just by all the social and cultural norms and ramifications involved in a wider context.