At the most basic level of the name-change decision, it comes down to this: I did not want to give up my name. My husband has admitted he wouldn’t want to give up his either. Therefore, all things being equal for our passion to keep our names, why should the man’s feelings trump the woman’s? They shouldn’t. His feelings are no more valid because he was born a man, and me, a woman. Unequivocally, I am not anti-marriage. I am not anti-family. I do not have any problems with my husband’s family, name, heritage, or ethnicity. This decision to retain my name isn’t a power play of me versus him or my family versus his. I don’t think my family is better than his family. We are different people with different experiences and it’s impossible, not to mention unnecessary, to compare them.
As to the argument that I should change my name because it’s “easier,” I ask, “Easier for whom?” It’s not easier for me, wasting a day at the Social Security office, standing in line at the DMV, and sitting on the phone all day to change my personal information on my credit cards, bank accounts, student loans, car title, etc. Then it takes months to receive updated health cards, passports and documents in the mail. You have to change everything, your magazine subscriptions, car insurance cards, information at the doctor’s office. Then, suddenly, all my personal identifying information is wiped away. Every woman will tell you that it’s no small task. However, if my life is somehow more “difficult” to navigate because I choose to keep my birth name, well that burden is on me. It affects nobody else. No one in my greater family or husband’s family will have to bear any sort of uncomfortable hardship simply because of what my driver’s license says. If I have to carry around a photocopy of my marriage certificate to prove we’re married, it’s not a big deal. Personally I never believed that taking the “easy” route was a valid reason for doing something.
The argument that keeping my name is a selfish decision holds little merit for me. Wanting to keep my name is no less selfish than a man wanting to keep his name. In fact, I think any man who demands a woman take his name when he can see that in her soul it is contrary to everything she holds dear and true, well, he would actually be the one defined with the “selfish” label.
Then there is the tradition argument. At its core, this argument is: “Do it because that is what everyone else does.” Is that really a good reason? What about the old adage of not jumping off a bridge simply because everyone else does? I am not some tradition-hater. However, as adults we have the critical thinking skills that allow us to investigate the way things are. Just because something was practiced for five, ten, or a hundred years doesn’t make it right. Look at slavery, access to birth control, the ability for women to go to school, the right to vote. Maybe those are dramatic examples but at one point, “tradition” had to be challenged. And with the ability to decide what traditions don’t work for us, we can also honor the ones that do. I want to blend our two families not have one dominate another, not mine or his.
I also get the feeling from some people that I should change my name because other people think it’s the right thing to do. To be straightforward, I find this intrusion extremely hurtful. To insinuate that I have not thought this through and I can be changed of my convictions for no other reason than to pacify someone else is offensive. I don’t tell people how to face a medical diagnosis, how to handle their finances, what religious beliefs to pass on to their children, or whom they should vote for. It’s not my place. For most people their personal life decisions are for themselves, their conscience and their life partner. If a woman does want to take her husband’s name (which admittedly I struggle with), who am I to insert my feelings into her and her husband’s choices?
I may not always toe the line but it’s not because I’m trying to be edgy, or raise my family above his. In fact, I think very carefully about decisions, especially the ones that receive heat. Sure, it would be so much easier to throw my hands in the air and announce defeat but I have to live with myself. Just as it would have been much easier if women 25 and 50 years ago made a big fuss then, so it was less of an issue now. But that’s not the reality. If I can’t respect myself, how can anyone else? Choosing to keep my given name is not *that* big of a deal in the big scheme of life.
In conclusion, there is the argument about “the children.” What matters to me is not so much their last name, first name, middle name, or nickname but rather that they have someone as kind as my husband to be their father. That they learn from his decency, his heart, his love of the outdoors, his ability to step back and critically ponder events when they conflict with the status quo, his respect when other people have different beliefs, his willingness to listen to counterarguments, his vision that one day we can live in a more open-minded society, and especially his sense of humor. When we pass down our values to our children, the “name” is just a bureaucratic label. Children have different names when their divorced parents remarry. Grandkids have different names from half their grandparents. Adopted children sometimes don’t share last names with their adoptive parents. In many cultures the woman keeps her last name. Some societies pass the women’s name on to half the children and the man’s name, the other half. Some couples combine their names to symbolize a new family where all parties have new names.
The point is that family is not just a name or a blood line. It’s the people, the unit, the shared experiences, forging a life together. It’s knowing someone loves you unconditionally. It means someone always has your back. It’s listening and having an open heart, looking back on pictures of your life and knowing that the best times you ever shared were times you spent with other people whom you loved. We don’t teach our children to vilify those who are different from us. We teach them to love one another and to respect each other. We strive to pass on the priceless values of an emotional bond. A family is a safe haven where hopefully we are loved and accepted, regardless of what any letters on any piece of paper say.