Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Feminist or Just Lazy?

It's a bit misleading that I refer to my husband as Mr. McGee on this blog; in fact, we have different last names. People often ask me why we have different last names, and in some ways this strikes me as a strange question, probably because I don't have a very good answer; but then I think the guiding principle of my entire life can be summed up as "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

But people ask me about keeping my last name a lot, and I feel like I should have a good answer; they obviously expect one. I've thought hard about it, and I think it's a combination of several things. First, I'm very family-oriented, proud of where I come from, and I didn't want to 'give up' that part of my name. Second, I felt like it would be really weird to have been called one thing for 24 years and then change to something else. Third, I have a hard time handwriting my husband's last name. Mine is all loops and much easier. Fourth, changing your name requires a lot of paperwork and I am fundamentally lazy when it comes to paperwork. Plus I was busy at the time, getting married and finishing law school and whatnot. And Mr. McGee didn't care what my last name was as long as I married him.

When my mother heard I was keeping my name, she snorted and said, "Your father got just what every man wants."

"What's that?" I asked.

"His wife took his name and his daughter kept hers."

I find other people's reaction to my name says a lot more about them than my keeping of the name says about me, and some people get really worked up about it. Our old neighbors were briefing our new neighbors on the neighborhood when they bought the house; Old Neighbors said of us to New Neighbors: "They seem nice enough, but -" (horrified whisper) "-she kept her own name!" Some people congratulate me on my forward-thinking feminism. Other people get all in my face about my nasty, evil, marriage-destroying feminism. A few have openly wondered why I would get married (or why my husband would marry me) if I "wasn't committed to marriage."

I was married in a cathedral in a Mass I did the translations for myself! I have a mortgage with this man! How much more committed can I get???? A name is just a name. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is with you longer than your children.

I'm not adamant about it. I often go by Mrs. Him socially, and particularly to the kids in the neighborhood. (I remember my own consternation, as a child, when instructed to address a particular married woman as Ms. Maiden rather than Mrs. Married. VERY CONFUSING.) I almost always make restaurant and hotel reservations in his name, which is much easier to spell. Now and then he gets called Mr. Her, which cracks us both up.

I do sometimes worry that when we use our different last names, people will think we're living together but not married! The horror! Which always reminds me of a friend's mother in college; my friend never spoke of her father and we all assumed her parents were divorced. Her mother came to visit and told a story that began, "When my husband died ...." From the looks on our faces, she could tell this was a surprise to us. "ALISON!" she barked at her daughter. "Are you letting your friends think I'M DIVORCED again????"

I am bothered, though, by the absolute pandemic of calligraphers in the United States whose careers are dependent upon the ability to properly address envelopes for weddings who can't manage to address an envelope to a married couple with different last names. I routinely get them for "Mr. Him and Miss Her" (living in sin, apparently - don't tell the diocese), or for "Mr. Him and Mrs. Her-Him" (our names sound awful hyphenated), or for "Mr. Him and Mrs. Her," which alarms me the most because I always wonder for a second why someone is sending mail addressed to my husband and my mother. I have yet to receive a single one properly addressed to "Mr. Him and Ms. Her" or even to "Mr. and Mrs. Him." Either one would be okay.

My goddaughter, who is 10, has the most creative solution for the puzzled: she simply splits the difference. Half my letters from her are for Mrs. Him, half for Miss or Ms. Her. I save these envelopes because they're so cute they make me grin.

So there you have it. Depending on how YOU feel, I'm either striking a blow for marital equality and happier marriages, or I'm out to emasculate my husband and destroy the institution of marriage as we know it.

Just remember that your opinion says a lot more about you than it does about me. (Also, isn't a man who fears emasculation if a woman keeps her own name, like, pre-emptively emasculated? Sticks and stones, dude.)


HeartShadow said...

I also did not change my name.

When making reservations and whatnot, hubby tends to use MY last name. This bothered his mother when he did it at a meal the two of them were going to .. and I was not. :)

I think it's lazy feminism. people want the names to match? Fine. Hubby can change his. I am NOT a piece of property that went from my father's house to my husband's. The symbolism sucks AND it's a hassle!

Way to go, Eyebrows. Live in sin with that husband of yours and destroy some marriage! :D

Star said...

"I feel like I should have a good answer; they obviously expect one."

And because they expect one they're entitled to it? *snort* Dude, it's *your* name; the only person who possibly has a right to an explanation is Mr. McGee.

I did change my name, for several reasons, and I don't regret it. (Though I do have to agree it was indeed a hassle.) But I would never think of demanding or feeling entitled to explanations of why you or Shadow or anyone else didn't change theirs.

Anonymous said...

Hyphenating names can result in some really unfortunate combinations. Years ago a coworker of mine was getting married and wanted, for professional reasons, to maintain, at least in part, her own identity. However, her hyphenated name would have been ____ Aiken-Cox. She finally chose to go with her husband's name.

Check out other cultures. It's very common for women to keep the fraternal name.

Darkhawk said...

My husband was actively surprised that I considered taking his name. Honestly, I think I got all the possible marital bennies I'd have gotten for just considering the question.

I decided not to for two reasons -- one being that my surname is the only part of my name that actually really feels like me, and thus changing to something even less like me was liable to cause me severe cognitive dissonance.

The other was that had I done so, my initials would have been ...


Labrys6 said...

The Minotaur and I married almost 30 years ago and I did not change my name. When confronted with a stack of papers literally an inch thick to do it the "Army way" it didnt' seem worth it. While I was/am a feminist and had wondered about taking my husband's name---I had personal reasons for thinking maybe I would have been ok with it. My father, whose name I did have, was an abusive ass---why keep his name? But in the end, I did; as you said, after about 24 years of being that person I wasn't willing to give it up. It was less common then to have different names; my m-i-l HATES that it didn't change and refuses to address anything to me using my correct name. We once had an amusing incident where we were thought to be having an affair (with each other!) because we were seen at lunch together...and the names didn't match. Neither my daughter nor former daughter in law changed their names. I'm kind of glad now, that the d-i-l didn't take my son's name! But thats another story! Like Shadow said...waaaay to go!!

Leslie said...

I, too, kept my name. It's not a matter of not wanting to take his. I've got a name, he's got a name, each of us gets to keep our name. I have been chagrined recently when young women I know choose to keep their names, but then insist on putting Mrs. in front of their own name. It's like a failure of the older generation of feminists who failed to teach them WHY we keep our names. It's as though Ms. frightens them.

pollypeoria said...

Eyebrows, to continue our discussion on Washington Gifted, The school's enrollment form gave the option of checking Mr. and Mrs. Blank, Dr. and Mrs. Blank, Rev. and Mrs. Blank or Mr. Blank or Miss. Blank. The gifted administrators and Washington Gifted apparently have not been educated to the fact that women can be doctors, pastors (though not priests), or addressed as Ms. Blank.

I changed my name when I got married, but I wish I hadn't. Fifteen years later I still have yet to adjust to my "new" last name. I think my husband would have gotten over it before I did/will. My maiden name is now my middle name (I always hated my middle name) and I use all three on stationary, business cards, checks, etc. I don't care for hyphenated names much.

I've witnessed expectant parents give long and careful thought to the naming of their young. The first name has to sound right and have the proper flow with the middle and last names. When all three are shouted, the child must know -along with the entire neighborhood- that s/he is in serious trouble. Yet, all this careful thought and dilberation is supposed to be tossed in garbage because a woman falls in love and chooses to get married.

I have a friend who took her hubby's last name and she is now "Charlene Green." Yes, really. If a mother named her daughter Charlene Green at birth we'd assume a.) She had more than her fair share of pain medicine during/after labor and delivery, or b.) The mother did not love said baby, or c.) The mother was an idiot.

This post falls in line with your post about wedding rings and to some degree your post on refusing to groom your eyebrows. Those who can't understand that one can be committed to marriage and not wear rings, change last names or endure painful hot wax and tweezers in the name of beauty are simply closed minded conformists.

You hit the nail on the head when you wrote, "Your attitude about such things says more about you than me."

BTW, sounds like you married a heck of a guy... even if he is a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

I changed my last name. But not becuase I had to. I did it becuase I wanted to have the same name as my child. He was a wadford and when my husband and I finally decided to get married I wanted to have the same name as my son. So, I made my maiden name my middle name and took my husbands last name.

Anonymous said...

I didn't change my name, mostly because I didn't care and my husband didn't care. And when a friend of mine got married a year later and *did* change her name I found out what a hassle it can be. She had to change it with her credit card companies, get issued new credit cards, new checks, I think she even got a new driver's license. I don't think it's really feminism unless you took an active stance against the symbolism. I know for me it was just convenience. But I agree, it says a lot about people who are horrified you didn't change your name.