It probably all started as a rhetorical question, but came off as passive-aggressive.  A New York-based writer, Rebecca Serle, asked why women are still taking their husband’s names.

Here’s the tweet:

As far as I can tell, the most common response was along the lines of:

And (the horror!) some men have expressed similar thoughts. Are they “still” allowed?

Some tweets got testy:

Others took time to explain their choices:


She clarified:

Like Braunstein, I also turned my maiden name into the middle name, albeit reluctantly. Not that I don’t like Katya Sedgwick, I do, I think it’s got a very nice ring to it, but, for one, I have been warned that I will get mixed up with Kyra Sedgwick, the actress.  More importantly, I wanted to keep my Jewish surname because I’ve earned it the hard way.

Like other Eastern Europeans I didn’t have a middle name.  We all have patronymics, but we usually shed them once we come to the big, horrible, sexist US because nobody here understands what it is.  It does nothing but adds extra length to an already sizable, consonant-heavy moniker.  So, turning my dad’s surname into a middle name worked out very well.

According to a 2004 government survey, just 6% of married native-born American women chose “nonconventional” surnames, meaning hyphenated surnames, two surnames, or keeping maiden names.  This number, 6%, is significantly lower than the number of self-identified feminists, which is about a quarter of women in this country.  If women in the West had gained the right to vote, and have entered the workforce in large numbers without first going through the exercise of retaining their maiden names, perhaps the practice of keeping those names is not that important for progress of feminism.

It does appear to be important to some professional feminists.  Feminist writer bell hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, took the entirety of her maternal grandmother’s name. I never hear of other women following her example. For one, why would anyone want to pick and chose grandmothers? Grandmothers are very special loving figures, and it seems strange to retroactively discriminate against one of them for political reasons.

I want to note that bell hooks is a much better name than Gloria Watkins.  Gloria Watkins is not bad, but Bell Hooks is a femme fatale name, concise and dangerous.

In any event, patriarchy always wins.  If a bride changes her name to her husband’s — score one patriarchy.  If she keeps her dad’s — still score one patriarchy.  If she goes a few generations back, researching her matrilineal descent, she’d still pick some great-grandfather’s name.

Other cultures have their ways of incorporating both sides of the family into a new family name, but this practice is too cumbersome for the English language, and those cultures are not exactly known for equality of sexes.

Bottom line, names are important, and we like to talk about how we got them.  We can all give our reasons, and these reasons are at once personal and more complex than whatever the “anti-patriarchy” crowd can muster. And, incidentally, since the now trendy intersectionalist methodology is centered around personal narratives and “lived experiences,” why not listen to us, the real life women who, regardless of how we feel about feminism, are “still” changing our names when we get married?

I can add that it amuses me greatly when women who can’t care less about their Third World sisters fighting to reclaim their agency, or look the other way when their political allies prey against women, imply that I have somehow internalized misogyny because I don’t live my life according to their prescriptions.


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