I love traditions. I love ceremony. I love pomp and circumstance. I am definitely that girl who spent most of my late childhood and early teen years reading Jane Austen novels under the covers of my duvet and then pretending to sleep when my parents walked in. I have perfected the fake-sleep-deep-breathing posture, and also have extremely bad eyesight as punishment for my sins. I want my future guy to get down on one knee. I’m quite happy to cook epic Sunday dinners while he unscrews lightbulbs, paints walls or whatever else men stereotypically do around the house. In fact, some of you might be surprised that I have grand aspirations to basically be a stay at home Mum and blog for the rest of my life. It seems equally as appealing as being a doctor at this point in my life. Medical school has effectively killed my love for medicine, and I’d be just as satisfied being a non-televised Nigella Lawson, as head of the Royal College of Surgeons. Having said all of that, I just don’t get the big deal about taking my husband’s last name.
Granted, my last name isn’t particularly interesting , it doesn’t have any grand history related to it that I’m aware of, and the simple truth is that it’s just the name of the white guy who owned or raped one of my ancestors. So it seems slightly weird to have any strong feeling of commitment to it. But it’s mine. I’ve been known by it for most of my life, and it links me to a whole group of people who I love dearly. When people recognise my last name, they recognise a connection to my cousins, my Mum, Uncles and Aunties, it’s a part of me belonging to a clan and it’s a small part of my identity. Not my whole identity, or even the largest part, but a part nonetheless. I’m not sure why my feelings of attachment to my name are any less important or valid than my future husband’s feelings of attachment to his last name, and it confuses me why any woman who wants to keep her last name is automatically labelled as a raging feminist. I decided to do brief survey about this (my brother and my cousin), and this is what they said:
Brother: “If she’s gonna be difficult about taking my last name, what else is she going to be difficult about?”
Cousin: “If you don’t take my last name it shows that you don’t respect me. I don’t rate your life. Unless your name is going to die out or you’re a celebrity. The Bible doesn’t talk about that, the virtuous woman doesn’t NOT take her husband’s last name. ”
Then when he found out I was typing this he decided to change his quote to this: “I respect all women. I respect all choice. But I don’t like that one.”
Do you see how illogical this is? But emotions aren’t logical – the point is, most men feel disrespected at the idea of their future wife deciding not to take the last name. I don’t feel strongly enough about keeping my last name the the point of enforcing it on a man who is going to become the incredible sulk at the mere mention of it, but I do think it is…. petulant. I would have much more respect for a man who agreed to double barrel with me and create a new joint family name than a man who was adamant that I MUST take his last name. It just seems that more secure you are in your masculinity and in your actual position as head of the household, the less reliant you would be on what I see as a fairly inconsequential definer of it – like your wife taking your last name.
Now there is the argument of practicality – we should have the same last name because it’s less hassle at airport security, forms and other various administrative things. Cool. So why doesn’t the man change his name? The argument of practicality is a gender neutral argument.
Then there’s the gender role argument. The man is the head of the household, so I should take his name.. interesting, because the Bible says that the man should leave his father and mother and then him and his wife become one flesh. Doesn’t say anything about the woman leaving her family, and definitely doesn’t say anything about her taking his last name…
It’s weird enough that I carry a child for 9 months and they take on the father’s last name – and I don’t even have a major problem with that because their identity will be the same from birth, although I do think that it makes more sense for them to have their mother’s last name, especially in an age where there is a 50% chance of divorce. But that a woman who has lived 25+ years with one name feels obligated to change it to another just seems strange to me. It’s quite obvious that the more powerful a woman is, the less surprised people are when she doesn’t change her last name. Kim Kardashian most likely won’t become Kim West, simply because she’s forged a career (I’m being generous with that term), for herself that has made her a popular and important figure on her own terms. Jane Bloggs down the road on the other hand, isn’t seen as ‘important’ enough to not change her name. I think that’s an interesting phenomenon.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t. Not saying I won’t. I’m just asking what the big deal is? Men, why do you guys feel so strongly about it? Women, do you want to keep your last name?