Wednesday, 10 July 2013

On Raising A Daughter, Part II: You Don't Have To Change Your Name

You can see my first post in this series right here, which provides a bit of background on why I feel it important to do this series.


When Dan and I got married, I didn't change my last name. In fact, I didn't even consider changing my last name; I saw no reason why it was necessary, to be honest. What surprised me, though, is the amount of comments I got on this decision and the fact that nearly everyone thought that the fact I wasn't changing my name was weird, radical, and pig-headed. I heard through the grapevine that some people in my family had told others that they wouldn't be okay with their wife not changing her name. One of Dan's friends told me he would need his wife to change her name, and he straight out asked what was even the point of us getting married if I wasn't changing my name.

I was pretty baffled by that comment.

And the comments don't end there:

Dan's brother is getting married later this year, but he and his fiancĂ© have had a fairly long engagement, so when they were out visiting us a couple of years ago some of the family over here were asking my soon-to-be-sister-in-law (wow, that was a lot of hyphens!) if she was changing her name when they got married. She confirmed she was and the response (in front of me) was: Oh good, that's how it should be.

The fact that I didn't change my last name ruffled a lot of people's feathers, and I don't get why. My decision wasn't any of their business--it doesn't affect them in any way--so why did they care SO MUCH? Why were so many people so adamant to directly, and indirectly, let me know that they heartily disagreed with MY DECISION.

In fact, I have a doctor here who commented on the fact that Dan and I don't share a last name every single time I saw him until I basically had to tell him to drop it.

Of course I understand that a woman changing her name upon marriage is a very, very ingrained part of the tradition of marriage in a lot of countries, but this isn't the tradition for all countries and cultures. Marriage traditions aren't uniform across the board for the whole world, and cultures across the globe have historic differences on how and why people are joined together. For example, I know a guy who spent a number of years in Japan and he filled me in on some pretty cool facts about Japanese culture, and one thing he told me is that if there's a family who doesn't have a male heir, and if they are a prestigious family (Japan is a really old society, don't forget), it's not at all uncommon for their daughter's husband to join her family rather than the idea that she is joining his family. This is to keep that family's lineage going.

But yeah, in Canada it's rare for a man to take his wife's name when they get married. The tradition is that a woman will change her last name, but that wasn't a tradition that worked for me.

I like my last name, plain and simple, and I wanted to keep it.

Also I want to clarify here that this isn't a tradition that worked for me. This isn't a diatribe against all women changing their name. Just as I wished people would have/had more respect for my decision, I also respect people's choice to change their name. Let's be honest, there's a host of reasons why people might want to: maybe they came from an incredibly dysfunctional family, and getting married and changing their name was a chance to symbolically start anew; maybe they had a really terrible last name they could hardly wait to be rid of (the Swiss hockey player on the Zurich team whose last name is Cunti comes to mind...); maybe they have been banned from the local mall and really just need a new name so they can hit up Orange Julius again.

The point is, who knows! It's their name, their choice!

But what I want LB to know is she does have A CHOICE.

She does not HAVE TO change her name if she wants to get married, and her choice is hers. Also, I would hope that she isn't with someone who would say "it's not okay for my wife not to change her name." I mean, what?!

I did tell Dan when we got engaged that I wasn't changing my name, and the key word here is I told him this. I didn't ask if it was okay.  The reason I say this is because society as a whole wasn't expecting Dan to change his name; in fact, let's be honest, if he did we probably would have heard one collective, misogynistic, cracking of the whip. Because that's the only reason a guy would change his last name, right? Because he's proverbially whipped by his shrewish wife. Yeah, that's the only reason; not because he might, in fact, be sensitive to a number of reasons why changing her last name wouldn't be an option for her. Maybe one reason being she's more successful than he is and is widely recognised under her last name and changing her name would be career suicide.

Hahaha! Just kidding! That would totally never happen in real life, right guys!

So, yeah, I didn't expect Dan to change his last name, just as I didn't expect for him to expect me to change mine. And where does this leave us with our sweet LB? Well, she has Dan's last name. Yes, we toed the traditional line on that choice. People once asked me what I would do about my last name when we had kids. Would I change it then?! I would, right?!


At the time I said when we had kids maybe I would think about it.

Well, it's still not working for me.

I still don't want to change my last name.


But what about this? What about parents who divorce, the mother remarries and changes her last name to her new husband's, but her kids still have her ex-husband's name. Are those kids any less her kids? Or is it more understood because she's changed her name, once again, for marriage?

I carried that girl for 8.45 months (she was a touch early), she is MY girl. In blood, in DNA, in eyes, and in that quirky way that she's so damn happy all the time (she gets that from me...not her dad....). She's my daughter. Having the same last name doesn't make her MORE my daughter.

So for today, this day, July 10, 2013, I still don't feel like we need to have the same last name.

Maybe I will in the future. I don't know, and I'm not going to make an absolute declaration that I will certainly never change my mind on this issue for our family. Remember, I'm not opposed to women (or men) wanting to change their name; I opposed to women thinking they HAVE TO change their name.

Maybe one day the issue of my last name might become a pressing concern for LB, and we will talk it out and I will tell her why I didn't want to change my name, and that--even though it's not the societal norm--a woman doesn't have to change her name upon marriage and no one can make her do this. And more importantly, since it's a glaring double standard, no one has the right to make her feel like she should do this, just because she's the woman.


mom said...

Good blog Cait! I have a lot of friends who took their husband's last name but have changed their names to reflect their maiden name as well as their married name. Mine would be too long...haha

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Caitie! I'm not in your boat because I disliked my maiden name, but I too believe women should have the choice. Had Riccardo's last name been horrendous, I may have second-thought that decision! Anyhow, did you know women traditionally keep their maiden names in Italy? My sister-in-law (German, living in Italy) will just become Frau Weber, instead of Frauline Weber. Crystal xx

Caitie said...

Cool! Thanks for sharing Crystal, I love learning about different traditions for different countries :)

Helen said...

Just want to say, I love this series you've started and I really enjoyed this post in particular. I had my own issues regarding the name change, husband's desire and liking idea of family unit name v. dislike of giving up identity and loving my unusual surname. We came up with a compromise; I use my maiden name for work and S' name for private stuff. Luckily I didn't get any hassle from people but it really bugs me in this day and age when women get any rubbish from anyone over their choice. It's 2013 and Lucy Stone was standing up for these choices as far back as 1900s!

My German friend tells me that you can't have two surnames in Germany, due to legal requirements. I'm not entirely sure of the ins and outs, but she said what I do, which is having one name on official docs and using another for work, isn't possible. Boo, Germany, boo.