What’s in a Maiden Name?
Patriarchy always wins
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:
Why are women still taking their husband’s name?
— Rebecca Serle (@RebeccaASerle) March 15, 2019
As far as I can tell, the most common response was along the lines of:
Because we want to.
For future reference, it's spelled "wimmin". Now pardon me while I go strip my shoes off and get crackin' at dinner on the stove. https://t.co/o0C5fS6kke
— S.L.M. Goldberg (@slmgoldberg) March 15, 2019
And (the horror!) some men have expressed similar thoughts. Are they “still” allowed?
Some tweets got testy:
I’m feminist AF but I wanted his name. My mother is BOLD AF and took my dad’s. I wanted one think that was vaguely traditional since I’m unorthodox in every other way! pic.twitter.com/VKSKW50WmV
— ? Wiffy Mountbatten (@wyntermitchell) March 16, 2019
Others took time to explain their choices:
For me, I cherished the tradition and the symbolization of us becoming a family, even though we don’t have kids. For reference, I have no problem with my maiden name/family, but didn’t think twice about changing to my husband’s name. To each their own.
— Linsea (@linseaford) March 15, 2019
I was thrilled to ditch my maiden name, which no one could spell or pronounce (and was also an insult). https://t.co/GR8OiAObQD
— Melissa Braunstein (@slowhoneybee) March 15, 2019
Langsam = slow(ly) in German. It has two meanings — slow, as in you walk slowly, and also, you're mentally slow.
— Melissa Braunstein (@slowhoneybee) March 15, 2019
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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For an entire generation Women’s Studies departments have proliferated across the country universities big and small, producing what purports to be a body of scholarship, you’d think this would be in Women’s Studies 101, wouldn’t you?
As you point out, in our culture normally women carry some man’s surname, their father’s or their husband’s. Having the same name does make the family connection paramount, and it’s a lot less confusing if there are children. Even Jewish families, where being Jewish is defined by having a Jewish mother, use the patrilineal naming model.
In Arabic societies, the wife does not take her husband’s name, although the children get their father’s name. I have always thought this might be related to the less-permanent definition of Muslim marriage compared to the Christian model.
Color me conventional. I prefer the system where every member of the Smith family has the same surname.
I bet a lot more would keep their birth names or use two last names if it weren’t such a pain to do so. My last name is two names, no hyphen, and for 25 years I have been arguing with people about it. “The computer won’t let me put in a space,” they say, or “But how is it alphabetized?” they stupidly ask. (By the first letter of the first last name, duh.)
I don’t have children, but it’s also something to consider if planning to have children.
I have a two word last name. The Fed got it right, the state constantly screws it up.
There are lots of options for the feminists. One neighbor had decided to change her last name to Jansdaughter. The patriarch lost that one. But who cares?
The legal function of marriage is to give her a handle on everything the guy owns—even stuff he doesn’t own yet. Might as well make a clean sweep of it and grab his name too.
When we married, Mrs. Patzer was a fully paid-up Modern Woman and assumed that she would keep her maiden name as a matter of course. But after a couple of years (especially after the little Patzers started coming along), she found it inconvenient and awkward to have a different name from the rest of us, so she has been a Patzer for the last 30 years. It seems to me that this business of not taking your husband’s name was a hotter topic back in those days.
Rebecca Serle: you are an unhappy woman, trying your best to spread your misery.
Crawl back into the rathole you came from and leave the rest of us alone.
The surname is now a sex-correlated gender attribute.
I took my husband’s name when we got married. Why? Because I wanted to. And no, I didn’t hyphenate my maiden name. As it turns out, my husband and I are 8th cousins so I already had claim to his last name…. it just took multiple generations to get back to it.
Silly fake feminists. Real feminists *take* the name of their mate in a display of female-power, seizing it away from the patriarchy and possessing it for their own, victorious in their battle. Only timid cowards huddle up to their previous lives, clutching vainly to the symbol of their oppression. Real feminists declare their triumph right there in the name where everybody can see.
He’s mine. I took him, and nobody else is going to claim him.
Marriage is a union of two into one. It signifies permanence and gives a solid anchor for children.
Mom charged her name when she married my Dad, but after he passed and she remarried she kept our last name and added her new husbands name. Some folks will make a composite of bothlast names with a hyphen (which won’t work well after 2 or 3 generations). Then there’s Tony Villaraigosa (former mayor of LA) who combined his and her names into one – they’re now divorced.
Perhaps there is a [cryptographic] function that can [securely] synthesize a new name while auditing our lineage.
That said, men and women are equal in rights and complementary in Nature.
We’re not children anymore. Reconcile.
Ask any happily married widow or widower if the name they are left with does not continue to bring joy into their life..daily.
It’s not only about the union, but the legacy of family.
Rebecca Serle is a presumptuous wench.
In my office we file many joint files, and typically, a female that doesn’t take her husband’s name will call and not volunteer this. Filing one file under two names is exasperating. Make a separate empty file with something in it that references the other. Aarrrgggghhhhhh….
And foreigners act as though we should just KNOW their customs! From El Salvador? Iraq? Egypt? Etc. etc. etc!! How offensive to come here and then act as though I’m ignorant!!!!! Melting pot, ANYONE!!!
As far as hyphenated names, I find the more conformist the person, the more they want an unusual name configuration. It would be so much better to be “Susie Smith” and be interesting, than to waste my time with a pretentious surname arrangement to flatter yourself. Also, the long names don’t fit on the file folders very well and also require more attention when typing them, because they’re more complicated and thus require greater attentiveness.
Do us all a favor. Have one last name, use it, and spell it normally. You’re NOT as unique as you imagine yourself to be.
Ah ha. Found my down voter. 😉
And don’t get me started on Asian names! OMG, horrible!!
A marriage represents a union between two people to become one (hence the term “marriage”). The assumption of one name for the both of them represents this union. When one keeps one name that is different from their spouse it represents the absence of a union. In fact, the absence of a common name shows more of a competition and the greatest reason why marriages fail is due to it being a competition instead of a partnership. So, how can you have a union making two people into one family when they cannot even be identified by name as being related?
I was happy to take my husband’s last name. I thought it was prettier than my maiden name and the alliteration amused me. Now that he is gone it is something of his that I get to keep forever.
My wife legally took my last name (it is on her passport), but uses her former husband’s name for most purposes (SSN and driver’s license), and her birth name for other purposes. Confuses the hell of me, but whatever name she wants to use is fine with me.
Because she uses her ex-husband’s name for most purposes, many people assume that that is my last name, and it is not worth correcting them. So a lot of people call me Mr. Ex-Husband by mistake. No sweat! At least, not until I try to cash a check!