As an unmarried woman in a long-term cis/hetero relationship, I’ve thought a lot about the institution of marriage. It’s no secret that I’m ambivalent at best and skeptical at worst, but I am a poet and a Scorpio, which is a witch’s brew of romantic madness. All in all, I’d like to get married. I don’t have a dress, ring, or ceremony style in mind, but I’m connected to the idea of ritual (less blood oath but more handfasting). One aspect of that ritual is the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s last name, which I’m quick to question.
In the news, Zoe Saldana‘s husband, Marco Perego, took her last name (and she defended it). The social verse was, of course, up in arms, either trying to deconstruct the notion or make sense of the radical hellfire Saldana cast upon the safe and “traditional” institution of marriage.
The fact that Zoe’s story is even news speaks volumes to how un-ready we are to consider changing an institution so rooted in oppression and sexism.
Everyone fights either for or against the name change, but no one considers the idea of personal choice. Here’s what I say: consider the implications of your choices, but make the choice according to what is right for you.
1. Talk about personal choice. Getting married is a personal choice, as is keeping or changing your name. If you encounter someone who wants to keep or change theirs, create an open forum. You never know why someone would want to change or keep their name. I’ve been known to say, “If my last name was Fart, I’d change my last name.” I stand by that.
2. Don’t pressure men to take their partner’s name. As a feminist, it’s tempting to say, “Well, why don’t you take my name?!” There’s a difference between swapping roles and fighting gender constructions and sexism together. We should get to the bottom of why names are changed simply by default and what those implications are for everyone.
3. Make it clear that identity is personal. My last name is meaningful to me because it is what I publish under, and it is the name with which I overcame serious hardships as a young adult. While it’s connected to my father, it’s mine now, and I am proud of it.
4. Discuss the history of marriage and name change. History tells us that women were considered property; thus, a name change linked a woman to her owner. Yay. While that sort of thinking might be archaic in most parts of the world, it’s important to understand that some people feel uncomfortable associating with a tradition of that sort. I’ve been told I’m being radical just for the sake of being radical, but I think it takes small protests to create a grand change in thinking patterns.
5. Explore the arguments. We should not simply argue, “It’s tradition.” As we can see, tradition isn’t always positive, but it’s not always negative either. We should deconstruct and analyze history without sentimentalizing it. Clinging to yesterday has rarely been fruitful.
6. Talk about love. Taking your husband’s name versus not taking his name isn’t less or more a show of love and loyalty. This is because love shouldn’t require this sort of thinking. The best way to engage in this conversation with a partner or a friend is to explicitly ask what a name change (or non-change or hyphenation) means to them and why. Get to the root of the reason with respect.