Feminism has been defined by all sorts of imperfect, hokey and downright wrong ideas. Here's what it is: The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men (shoutout New Oxford American!). Here's what it's not: Getting down on ourselves for not being something that we think we should be, or not wanting things we think we should want, or otherwise expecting things of ourselves that are not our truths. As such, changing your name when you get married can be a feminist act. It just depends on the reasoning behind the choice, and the ideology that informs such a decision.
In other words, people need to stop shaming women who want to change their name to their new husband's or wife's name when they get married as being "bad feminists," subservient, or not feminist at all. To call a woman out and say she's not a feminist is like accusing someone who was born in a certain culture of being against the very culture from which they're bred. Sure, that happens sometimes — people reject their religions or nationalities or even their races — but it's a rarity. The same is true of women: There are certainly women out there whose beliefs are, in fact, not in line with feminist ideology, but changing their names at marriage doesn't make it so.
It's A Personal Choice
If a woman wants to get married and take her partner's name, that does not make her inimical to feminism. Women have tons of reasons behind the actions they take, but one thing is for sure: Most of us are way too analytical to do things without sound reasoning and lots of thought. Some women cite the desire for having the same last name as their mate as being aligned with a feeling of harmony, a true first step on a path with their betrothed. Others want to share a last name with their family — partner, children and perhaps future grandchildren as well, depending on the choices their children someday make. Still others embrace the tradition of it, as they are embracing the age-old tradition of marriage itself.
Feminism is about doing what's right for you, setting into motion courses of action that will make you feel happy and healthy and like a woman of dignity and grace out in the world. Period, end of story.
Truly, to accuse a woman of lacking exemplary feminist values by changing her name is to accuse a woman of the same just for getting married in the first place. Marriage is an ancient establishment that was absolutely based in the patriarchy at its dawn. Regardless of the gender of your partner, to enter into marriage is to accept the institution as a whole.
Men can choose to do whatever they want in this vein, including the adoption of their wife's or husband's last name. Why shouldn't the same standards apply to women? And why be so opinionated about other people's preferences in general? This is a personal choice — as personal as the decision one makes when naming a child.
I Used To Be Against It
For years I swore that I would never change my name. I had all kinds of reasons: I'm a writer, I said. I wouldn't want to lose the melody of my name, the economy of it: Bibi Deitz. Rolls off the tongue. I wouldn't want to sidestep my heritage. I have my mother's last name — my father hated his name as well as the family from which it came — and I am proud of that. If anyone changes their name when I get married, I would say, it will be my partner.
But I don't feel that way anymore. I don't know what my choice will be ultimately, but if I get married, I am open to the possibility of changing my name. It should be a discussion, a natural and organic progression: Whatever makes sense to the two people who comprise a relationship. It should not be something that is decided for me by outside forces, or by negative pressure to challenge the patriarchy and keep my individuality.
I wouldn't be giving up any rights by changing my name. It's a deeply personal decision, and should be made without heed to what others have to say about it. If it makes sense for you, do it. Not for your mom, or your beau, or — especially — some backwards ideas people have about feminism.
Changing Your Name Can Be Romantic
Marriage is a merging, whether you change your name or not. It's a consolidation, a mutual affirmation of togetherness: living à deux, sharing a life, a bed, often a bank account. It looks different for everyone, but I think we can all agree that matrimony brings with it a sense of unity and amalgamation. No one would fault a woman for wanting to live with her mate and share her life. Why not, then, a name?
"Your name is your identity," some argue. And to an extent, that's true. But people change their names every day for a myriad of reasons. Marriage is incredibly romantic: two people vowing to have this moment for life, to quote Rihanna. And changing your name can be — if done for the right reasons — a celebration of that romance. Your identity absolutely changes when you get married: You are no longer the single lady you once were. You're taking on, in essence, a new life, one that includes your partner in perpetuity. Some women might want to delineate that new identity with a new name, one that matches their mate's.
Others find a fusion of their last name with their partner's, either with a hyphen or the invention of a whole new word. A composite of two names is totally legit, if it works for you. But there are some (myself included) who stand more on ceremony and want to share a name with ancestors, at least on one side. It's an intimate choice, and no woman should ever be coerced into changing her name. By the same token, no woman should ever feel an obligation to resist changing her name because of someone else's ideas of feminism.
Let's Support Women Who Do Change Their Names
There are women who do live to regret shedding their maiden name. It's a risk — though the divorce rate is falling, there are no guarantees in life. But I would rather say yes to love and jump in with both feet than sit on the sidelines and cautiously dip a toe in here and there for fear of a someday dissolution.
Don't let the patriarchy get you down. Women need to support one other, raise each other up and champion each other's decisions. If your best friend wants to change her name to her new spouse's, congratulate her. Edit her name in your phone. Accept her selection as what works best for her — and doing whatever is best for oneself is, by the way, the feminist choice. You never know if you'll feel differently about the entire thing as life goes on. I was staunchly against changing my name, and now I'm not.
Judgment is a total mood killer, and it's probably the number one cause of rifts between women. Far be it for any of us to first cast a stone, sling and land a barb or dole out a catty comment. There are plenty of anti-feminist acts out there for those of us who are so inclined to police. Changing your name when you get married is not one of them.
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