Marrying Identity & Feminism // Notes on a Woman's Surname
Guest post by Lara (Miller) Rowand. Lara is a writer, Tarot reader, homesteader, Pitbull mom, and self-proclaimed ecofeminist who owns a farm in central Virginia, USA. She holds a B.A. in History and M.A. in English literature, both of which she forgets about the majority of the time.
The day I became engaged to the man who would become my husband, one of the first questions I was asked was, “Will you change your last name?” I came to find that I would be asked this question numerous times over the months until our marriage (and even after), by friends, family, and even some strangers. Evidently my response of “Yes” surprised some folks, who know me to be a vocal feminist, and I was disappointed to find myself criticized by some. I received comments such as, “I can’t believe you would do that. But you’re a feminist.” and “You’re taking a man’s last name?” These instances caused me to notice similar criticism elsewhere as well, whether in person, via social media, in magazines, etc.
For me, it has been a joy to see the ways in which feminism has changed several societal and cultural traditions, especially over the last decade or two. I grew up in an incredibly traditional region where it is still unheard of for a woman to refrain from changing her last name after getting married. Acts such as this may seem small to some, but I do recognize the important implications of a woman keeping the last name she was given at birth. It is still something that symbolizes greater freedom and further acceptance as an equal. This is why I didn't immediately jump on the idea of changing my last name—at least not to my husband’s. I certainly had some questions in my head pertaining to my own identity and what kind of statement I may be making either way.
Something that kept running through my mind was that I had wanted to change my last name since childhood. My father and I did not have a good relationship and I have not spoken to him in years. Sharing his last name had not been easy for me, and I simply did not want to be associated with him. Even hyphenating my name wasn't something I was fond of. I had considered switching to my mother’s maiden name, but that didn't sit well with me either. It would have been just another man’s last name from yet another misogynistic family.
My husband was very open to changing his own last name, and even mentioned us creating a brand-new name for ourselves. This, although a swell idea, would have cost us even more time and money.
What ultimately landed with me is this: my husband is one of the sweetest, most compassionate feminists I have ever met, just like his father before him. For me, as someone who did not have the same last name as most of her family, the idea of sharing the same last name as my husband was appealing. After taking some time to consider these options, it made the most sense to me to share my husband’s family name. I am proud of who he is and what his beliefs are, and I know that my identity will not be overshadowed by his in simply sharing his name. My identity is based primarily on my actions and beliefs, not on what name my bills are made out to.
All of this is to say that the question of whether or not a woman will change her last name when getting married, particularly if marrying a man, is rarely as simple as it may seem. Chances are, those offering negative remarks and judging the woman to be a bad feminist if she does change her name to her husband’s, have absolutely no idea of that woman’s family background and the relationships in her life that may affect her decision. And let’s be real, y’all, even when a woman keeps her last name, she is still—in most cases—keeping a name that comes from a patriarchal line.
Most importantly, women and feminists catch enough flack as it is. We are already shamed and criticized regularly, and we certainly do not need to experience the same treatment from each other. To me, there is no such thing as being a “bad feminist” or “better feminist.” Our community is based upon having the freedom of choice, to do what we want and to be who we want. The positive changes that have been made in our culture and society thus far have been done so through solidarity, and we should always remember that.
You’re a woman who is keeping her own last name? Fantastic. You’re a woman who is changing her last name to that of her husband? Also fantastic. You are making your own decision, based on what you want to do. You’re still a badass. And the best part is? Your last name doesn’t determine that.
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