Should You Take Your Husband's Last Name? One Woman Did...and Then Switched Back
If you've ever married, or ever plan to, the perennial feminist hot-button issue of whether or not you should take your husband's name will arise for you. I thought I'd read about all the possible positions on name changing until I saw this piece, written by a woman whose misgivings about taking her husband's name led her to change her name back , after 10 years of marriage! Hana Schank, (temporarily previously "Shaklan") liked the blank slate that her married name provided, but never really internalized it. She insists that her marriage is fine and her children are unaffected, but I do lament that the name change issue is so fraught that it had to come to this for her.
I've had my own name change issues, actually. When I married, at age 23 in 2009, I had no idea what to do about my name. The thought of changing it to my then-husband's name gave me warm and fuzzies in my stomach, but feminist cognitive dissonance in my brain. I ended up adding an unhyphenated second last name, so I was "Pamela Middle Maiden HisLast." I thought this solution offered me the flexibility to use either my married name or maiden name, as seemed appropriate and convenient. In reality, the compromise was just more trouble than it was worth.
When we split up in 2010, I was sort of perversely glad that I had changed my name: it served as some evidence that I did take the marriage seriously, even though I was the one to first want out of it. That damn name followed me around literally until last week, when I finally made it to the New York City DMV to trade in my old, out-of-state license for a New York license with the right name. With the divorce years into the past by now, it was almost funny to hear (female) employees there congratulate me on "getting it back."
And so that's what's really interesting: people's dual attitudes towards women who change their name. When you first get your "new name," it's super cute and fun to change everywhere as soon as possible, and people you know seem excited to support you in the switch, too. Indeed, as recently as a few years ago, half of Americans claimed they believed that women should be legally required to change their names to match their husband's. But, especially with divorce so prevalent, it's like your "real name" is always just lurking beneath the surface, ready to make its triumphant return — especially if you don't have any kids to bind you to the new one.
At the end of the day, though, people are probably reading too much into women's choices in this regard. When women marry and change their names, how many of them genuinely think they thereby acknowledge that they're now their husband's property? And, by the same token, what divorced woman switches back to signal that she's her dad's responsibility once more? If I remarry, New York will allow both me and my future husband to change our names easily for the occasion. This is the kind of "equal treatment under the law" that feminism properly strives to achieve. But one of these changes makes our lives easier, and one makes things harder and weird, so despite the hassle I'll be changing my name again. Both following and bucking tradition merely on principle make little sense.