Speaking of Women's Rights: The Name Game

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Name Game

Have we entered the fourth wave of feminism, or did we all just get knocked off our surfboards? Seriously, what does it mean when 70% of respondents in a survey opined that women should take their husband’s name when they got married, and 50% thought the government should mandate it?!

First things first: if you want to take your husband’s name, go for it. We feminists (of whatever wave) didn’t work this hard to dictate your choices about how you live, what you call yourself, whether you have kids or don’t, stay home with them or not. Really. You get to choose: THAT’S what we’ve been fighting for.

Indeed, when I got married I offered to let my husband use my name. Mine’s easier to spell; unlike him, I don’t have a former spouse active in the same professional community whose name is the same as mine; his is harder to pronounce – why, there were all sorts of reasons he might choose to change to my patronymic. But he didn’t.

Can’t blame him, really: why would he choose to exchange his father’s last name for my father’s last name? That’s one of the funny things about the whole name controversy when analyzed from a feminist perspective. We trace our familial lines through the paternal side. Yes, the genealogists delve into both sides, but the name, the source of one’s familial identity, comes from the male side. So some people think it’s silly for feminists to object to changing their name to their husband’s; after all, hers is a man’s name anyway, right?

Yes, and no. My last name came from my father’s side of the family. But my whole name, the moniker I use in my personal and professional life, is now what I have made it. When people see my name they associate it with me (I hope). And that’s why I chose to keep using the name I was given at birth.

But when you get down to it, why the fuss? Just use the name you want. (Check out the man running for King County Executive named Goodspaceguy.)

Well, this study, small as it is, indicates we still have a long way to go to ensure true equality and freedom from discrimination. Honestly, people – all 815 of you in the study – why in the world do you care? And more important, why do you think the government should mandate my name or anyone else’s? What else do you think the government should mandate?

Never mind. I can guess. And it’s scary.