Feminists telling women what to do, Western Edition

Over at pandagon there’s yet another conversation about women taking their husband’s name when getting married. In general, I support their effort at making it socially acceptable and common for women to keep their own names, but I think going to the point of claiming that women must keep their name is compete bullshit. The current discussion started with a post that made fun of women who claim that they made the change because they either had difficult to spell/pronounce names, or because they want to distance themselves from their own families, because 85% of women change their name, while virtually no men do (hence the “only women have hard to pronounce names and horrible families?!” joke), thus making it look like a mere excuse. The argument at one point went so far as to support the banning of name-changing upon marriage (based on a slight misrepresentation of the law in Quebec, which bans immediate name changes, but allows one to change their name if they’ve used a name different from their birth-name for 5 years or more IIRC), which in my opinion goes way too far and qualifies this as a minor version of the “let’s tell women what to wear” idiocy.

So, here’s my detailed opinion on this name-changing issue.

As a tradition, it’s completely stupid and patriarchal, and I have personally experienced that taking a husband’s name can lead to feelings of having your own identity erased. The social pressure on women to take their husband’s name can be overwhelming, as well, and for women who marry when they’ve already have a professional record established under their birth-name, the name-change can cause career problems. For that reason, I very strongly support the movement to abolish the tradition and let women keep their names easily, without pressure to do otherwise.

But I also support the movement to make it easier for men to be able to adopt their wife’s name, and generally make name-changing easier for everyone, at any point. Why? Because I don’t really feel like one’s birth-name is one’s own name: the last name is usually the father’s name and the tradition of taking it is just as patriarchal as taking the husband’s name. And the first name is whatever one’s parents liked, and can feel entirely wrong for oneself. And then there’s the fact that indeed some people have names that are a pain in the ass to them, some people have horrible families that they want to dissociate themselves from, and some people are just weird and OCD and want to be able to have a name that, for them, is aesthetically pleasing and fitting. And all of those are perfectly good reasons to change one’s name, but it can be a massive pain in the ass to do so (or even impossible, if the bureaucracy decides your reason just isn’t good enough) in all but that one instance.

And so, women who for some reason or another aren’t that thrilled with their name, use that one instance when it’s easy to make a change, because all people are, at heart, lazy :-p . And they get lambasted for it because men don’t do it just as often. This ignores that men who might not like their name for the same reasons have a completely different social conditioning (being told they should be proud of their name, that they’re responsible for continuing the family, etc blah blah) that for one may result in a name-change not even occurring to them as an option, and two making it more difficult for them to go through with it: getting married doesn’t make name-changing easier for a man the way it does for a woman, so there isn’t really this opportunity to get it done easily.

So anyway, in Jadehawkworld, everybody would get a naming ceremony at some point of their choosing in their 20’s to chose “their” name themselves, and for married couples I’d adopt a version of the Peruvian (and Spanish?) naming tradition, in which a married woman would add a usage-optional “de [husbandslastname]” to her own; except I’d have husbands do the same, and adopt a “de [wifeslastname]”; children would get a hyphenated name until their naming ceremony.

8 comments on “Feminists telling women what to do, Western Edition

  1. A.Y. Siu says:

    But I also support the movement to make it easier for men to be able to adopt their wife’s name, and generally make name-changing easier for everyone, at any point.

    I would love that. There are actually a lot more legal obstacles thrown in the way of husbands attempting to take their wives’ last names. More importantly, though, there is a lot more social pressure against men taking their wives’ last names than against women keeping their own birth surnames.

    The movement definitely has to be a social one. The legal will then follow.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Jadehawkworld sounds like a good place to live in ;-)

    In China, patriarchy waits for a generation: traditionally, no name changes happen at marriage, but the children get the father’s last name.

    Peruvian (and Spanish?)

    Most or all Spanish-speaking countries have some version of it, especially children taking both surnames (José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero).

  3. Rorschach says:

    Ex’s name was Murphy, I would have loved to be Martin Murphy instead of my german surname…:-) Didn’t eventuate for various reasons, mainly that she wanted to take mine, for whatever reason.Kid has double name now.

  4. jemand says:

    you should have switched last names then, Rorshach! That honestly would have been kinda awesome. Oh well lol.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    you should have switched last names then, Rorshach! That honestly would have been kinda awesome.

    True :-)

    (Could lead to terminal confusion among bureaucrats, though.)

  6. You say you want to make it easier for name changing to occur. I do not know what the law is in America but here in England anyone can change their name at eighteen [ when they legally become an adult ] so it is not that difficult at all now. Before that I would imagine that it would require parental permission. But if all else fails one could adopt a nick name in the meanwhile

    I am in complete agreement with you on the requirement of women to change their name when they marry. It is not actually compulsory but because it is so universal it might convey that impression. There are actually practical reasons for a woman retaining her maiden name. She does not have to go all the rigmarole of changing her details. And a short marriage may make the name change unnecessary meaning she might want to change it back again [ though that obviously would not be known at the time ]

    And speaking of names and titles all superfluous ones such as Mr / Miss / Mrs / Ms should go or at least be reduced as they are unnecessary. At the very most one for a man and one for a woman. Also Ms is one of the most unpleasant words in the English language. Miss is so much better. No reason while all women cannot be addressed like that. Why their title should denote their marital status but the same is not required of men I do not know. Completely unnecessary

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Many scientists who have started publishing before they married keep their last names nowadays, so it stays clear that their publications are all by the same person.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    The German language managed to get rid of Fräulein decades ago. That seems to be related to WWII, though.

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