Sunday, September 23, 2007

In Which I Am An Unrepentant Feminist

I pretend to understand when women get married and change their names--of course you want to share your children's names, sure it's easier, how nice of you to want to make your husband happy--but really I don't. On a certain level I don't care--I have remained friends with many women, most of them younger than me, who have changed their names--and the power of my aesthetics over my politics is visible in the fact that the one good reason I can see for changing your name is hating the original name and delighting in an excuse to jettison it. Bottom line, though: if you are of my fortysomething mom cohort, and your parents did not bestow upon you a moniker like Turdimsprezechelheimer and you have changed your name, I not only don't get it, but I will always feel like there is a fundamental difference between us. And, you know, there usually is.

In No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb, there was me and J and J and L and Dawn and a few women I worked with, and that was pretty much it for original name holders. All the neighborhood moms had taken their husband's names, as did all the younger women we knew who got married. And J, J, L, Dawn, and the women I worked with? Smart, older feminists, who got what I was saying. The other women? Nice women whom I liked a lot and was happy to hang out with, but from whom I felt, fundamentally, different.

And this is one of the many reasons I feel at home in East Coast Big City. I think I can say that virtually every fortysomething mom I know has kept her name. Some of them have even--how anachronistic!--hyphenated their children's names. And we are not even the only family who has given their kids the mother's name. (In fact, one of the few truly annoying moms in my circles: has her husband's name. Though, now that I think of it, to counter that, one of the nicest moms I know has her husband's name--but she's also in her mid/late 50s.) These moms? I like them, I'm happy to hang out with them, and they get what I'm saying.

So, yes: job, house, and financial travails aside, I'm still glad we moved.

(This post was inspired by receiving the Hebrew school directory and noticing that the parents have different names in just about all the Town families--which is not the case for the families from Fancy Republican Town Next Door--and then going on a Yom Kippur hike with a bunch of neighborhood families and attending a break fast with a bunch of 6th/1st grade families, all of which families had moms who kept their names, all of whom I quite adore.) (J, I wish you had been there!)

Edited to add: I'm totally down with both members of a couple changing their names! (See Jackie's comment below.)


Dawn said...

Yo! I'm THIRTY-something! (hmph!) But older feminist, meaning raised with second-wave ideals? Yup, that's me.

jackie said...

I'm not even thirty yet, but I did change my name. However, I claim feminist points still, because my husband and I both changed our names-- we made up an entirely new last name, both of us took it and then gave it to our daughters. Also, my girls' middle names are our mothers' names! So not only did we both jettison our old names, but we passed down our mothers' names instead. Also, I did truly hate my "maiden" name was happy to be rid of it.

Can we still be friends?:)

Libby said...

If we'd been braver, we would have gone the Jackie route and taken a whole new name--I think that's a very feminist thing to do! As it was, I changed b/c, yes, my last name never sounded right (to me) w/my first name. I kept my middle name, which is my mother's maiden name, and dropped my dad's name. It was, I confess, an almost purely aesthetic decision, and not a hard one b/c both names (the "maiden" and the new) share certain similarities--ethnic sound, number of syllables, scansion, etc. I will not, however, answer to "Mrs." For me, my choice was ratified by the male professor who said to me, "Why'd you change your name? I never made any of my wives change their names!" Yeah, right.

That said, I agree with you in general, and most of my friends have their original names, too.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Lipshitz. I consider that to be the ultimate must-change name.

I don't even have to tell you that the great majority of the other women we've met in our town have changed their names. Sigh.

jo(e) said...

I'm 46, and I didn't change my name when I got married, which was 23 years ago. I can't tell you how many times I've had to defend my choice to keep my name. And has anyone even once asked my husband, "How come you didn't change your name?" Nope.

It's not the name, as you say, but what it represents. It drives me crazy when people STILL send me holiday cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Husband's First Name and Last Name. As if I don't even exist.

Elizabeth said...

We both changed our names -- hyphenated rather than a new name. And the boys have that hyphenated name too. Only really a hassle when stupid computer systems can't figure out how to handle a hyphen.

But our new school is heavily Hispanic, and I think 1/2 of D's classmates also have hyphenated last names. So we're not the freaks any more!

Anonymous said...

I too am unsympathetic to those who change their name. I really just don't get it. And, I'm not a fan of taking a common name, either. I work in a field where your name means something and taking another one just messes up your history (even if you both do it). I don't like the symbolism of starting something new, rather than two individuals coming together, on marriage.

But, what I can't reconcile is how we name our children. I'm a feminist, and kept my name. But, my children have my husbands name. The reasons are complicated, but when I say that, don't I have to listen to the woman who changes her name and says the same thing? I really can't defend the fact that my kids have a different name than me, and it's my husband's, on feminist grounds.

But, I do wish those d* computers would figure out how to deal with hyphens. I would love it if all children's names were hyphenated, like the Spanish tradition. I fear that we're driving out the Spanish tradition by refusing to teach our computers properly.