When I was a kid, I remember a letter addressed to my dad being delivered to our house. It was a typical piece of mail, a white business envelope with his first and last name written above our Maple Street address, but with one little blunder. Someone had accidentally put “Mrs.” instead of “Mr.” in front of his name. What a funny mistake! Laughing, I showed the letter to my mom who straight-facedly told me that it was actually addressed to her. Hold the phone. What? Did my mom hand over her entire name when she got married? I was incredibly confused.
Why do women change their names? It is true that she is becoming part of his family. It’s two people becoming one, but it seems to me that the female is getting the shit-caked end of that stick. It’s like she is being absorbed into the identity of the man. Almost like she ceases to exist.
All right, I know I am being a bit harsh. Most of my married female friends and family have carried on this tradition and still perfectly retain their own identities. There is nothing wrong with their decisions to change their names. Except now I have to remember their new name and how dare they slightly inconvenience me! Geez.
But why the name change? Unfortunately, we have to open up the book on women’s not so pleasant place in history to answer that.
Women’s rights were limited. They couldn’t fend for themselves, not because they were actually the “weaker sex,” but because society restricted avenues for women to support themselves. Until they left their fathers’ home to get married, women were burdens on him financially. Burdens until they could be “given away” to a man. On their wedding day, women would leave their father’s name behind and take on their husband’s. Historically speaking, it was the day a woman legally becomes her husband’s property.
Thankfully, this is not reality anymore. I am not valued by my ability to be married off. I have a job, a college degree, and I rent my own apartment. I can own property and not be property. But STILL if I got married tomorrow society would expect me to change my name. Thank you, but no.
Now I know it’s easy for me to say so much about an experience I have never actually gone through, so I asked a few people who had. A very close friend told me she considered keeping her name, but when she discussed it with her fiancé it upset him. Changing her name was important to him. I also asked a new relative of mine who chose to keep her name rather than take ours. She explained to me how she had lived 30 years with that name, and she didn’t want to distance herself from her life accomplishments by changing that. (FYI I’m butchering their thought-out and detailed answers by highlighting a few key points.)
I like to focus on the historical big picture when it comes to my decision, but I know there is more that goes into keeping a tradition. Ultimately, I believe the choice should be left to the woman on whether or not she will be taking on a new name, and there should be no societal shaming either way.
For me, it comes down to holding on to my identity. And, if I were to marry, I would want my fiancé to do the same. I would want us to be wholly two people who don’t have to compromise who we are to be together. But mostly it’s the “I’m nobody’s property” thing.
So, I’m keeping my name.