Name Change Has Friends Questioning Feminist Cred

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Hi Al,

Although I consider myself a feminist, I am pretty definite in my decision to take my husband’s last name when we get married next June. My decision doesn’t cause me or my husband any problem except that my female friends and co-workers think I have somehow “sold out” by not keeping my maiden name.

Even though my husband has not in any way pressured me, my friends suspect that he has, even though I let them know that I made the decision myself.  Some of the women have known me since grad school, college, and even high school, in some cases longer than I’ve known my husband. So, I guess they think they know me better than he does, and in a way, they think they know what’s better for me. Even though I really care about some of my old friends, I think they are being arrogant. I like the idea of sharing a name with my husband psychologically and practically. If we have children some day, I want to have the same name as theirs and don’t want to create unnecessary complications. Why can’t they just accept that?

Because I used to say that I’d never take my husband’s last name when I got married, my long-time friends think I must have been coerced. My friends and co-workers are getting me down because they say I shouldn’t take the man’s name. For some reason, they don’t seem to understand or accept my interpretation of what it means to be a feminist.  I mean, really, there are other more significant ways for me to advance the cause of equality for women. Any ideas on how to get that across to them?

What’s in a Name

Dear What’s:

You are obviously being pulled in two directions: by your allegiance to your friends and your shared convictions, on the one hand, and your loyalty to your husband and your shared commitment, on the other. Because your friends passionately believe in equality for women and also believe that you do, too, they feel deserted by you in the way that you have symbolically rejected what they stand for.

What makes the name selection so symbolic is how visible it is, not how significant it is—certainly not in your case. No matter whether women keep their maiden (birth) name, they are still using a masculine moniker. Because of the way surnames are used in our culture, unless a wife and her husband create their own married name, the woman can’t avoid using some man’s name.

In this instance, your taking your husband’s name is just as significant and symbolic as not taking it. Because you love him and have committed yourself to him, as he has committed himself to you, you want to emblazon an unmistakable, visible statement above your shared life for the rest of the world to behold.

If your friends and colleagues are still unconvinced, remind them that  what you believe is much more convincing when it is reflected in how you behave. If you live your life in a way that rejects stereotypes and elevates all people with a respect that is authentic and consistent, no one can question what you stand for.  Whether you keep the name of your father or you take the name of your husband, the integrity with which you live your life will bring honor to it. So, no matter what name you call yourself, anyone who hears it and knows you will recognize its sound as sweet.

Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, a new advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]


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  1. So glad you tackled this topic. My advise would be for the husband and wife to look at both last names and choose which one they like best. This exercise begins the process of collaborative decision making that will be so important in any marriage.

  2. I am reminded of the Allen Bloom book, “The Closing of the American Mind” which was about the degeneration of our society.

    One point was that men treating women as equals really does the women a disservice. Rather than honoring women, men are encouraged to treat them as they would any guy: A little bit of fun, e.g., a quick jump in the sack, and never a return phone call (or email or text or tweet). Men are encouraged to assume that women take sex as casually as they do.

    When a woman chooses not to take her husband’s name she is making a strong statement: I am not completely committed to this marriage every minute of every day. Well, the male thinks, if she is not committed, then I guess it’s ok if I get something on the side. Next thing you know, the sweet young thing on the side is no longer on the side; she has displaced the woman who claims she does not need a man.

    A man wants a woman who treats him like he is something special, and this over-equalization of the sexes, as illustrated by a woman choosing not to take her husband’s name, hurts women because it encourages men to “dis” them.

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