It may be that brides today are actually embracing all they’ve learned from the feminists who blazed the trail before, and are, in fact, carrying a different kind of feminist torch, whereby a woman’s identity is what she chooses it to be, including whether to be a wife and what married name she’ll carry if she does say “I do.”
–Shelley Fralic, “More Women Happy to Put On a New Name Along With the Ring,” Vancouver Sun
So from now on there’ll be in change in me
My walk will be different, my talk and my name
Nothin’ about me is going to be the same
I’m goin’ to change my way of livin’
If that ain’t enough
Then I’ll change the way that I strut my stuff
‘Cause nobody wants you when you’re old and gray
There’ll be some changes made today
There’ll be some changes made
–”There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” sung by Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, and others
More women are changing their name when they marry than in the past decades. Is this a return to traditional values? Or – more excitingly – a new kind of feminism?
The keyword to making the latter argument is “choice.” Women today have moved past the, admittedly commendable, efforts of 70s feminists and are living a new kind of feminism, one where every woman gets to make a choice.
And makes the same one.
Because, in the end, “some things aren’t about politics or movements. Just the freedom to make a choice that makes you happy” (Damsels in Success). Like happy families, happy women are all alike.
In fact, as much as conservatives would like to adopt the rhetoric of choice to differentiate one thing from – itself, the real choice that is being made is between marriage and co-habitation. Fewer women are marrying at all. Those who do marry are a self-selecting pool of women who lean towards the traditional anyway, and so follow tradition in changing their names. Flatly looked at in terms of facts, there is no return to traditionalism (whether for good or ill), and there is no feminism, new or otherwise, in traditional women making traditional choices for traditional reasons.
There are, of course, those who would argue that women are making this traditional choice for untraditional reasons – or rather, women now have reasons for making the change. These are:
In other words, all women should make the same choice. Those who don’t are “clinging” to the past (that self without a husband – shudder), have precarious self-esteem, are fighting yesterday’s already-won battle, and are downright rejecting choice. From such ungrateful fancy, Good Lord, deliver us!
In fact, nearly every “reason” advanced, above or below, for changing one’s name is a canard.
- “It’s easier to go abroad with children” — as if it were easier to deal with the DMV, Social Security, banks, credit card companies, the post office, voter registration, the passport office, and so on, than to slide the child’s birth certificate in along with the passports!
- “You’re just switching one man’s name for another” – the reasoning behind this statement being that it both makes no difference (so why not?) and that it does (so you should pick the husband’s name). Further, few men probably like to think that their new wife is identifying with her father-in-law. Nor do they reflect that surnames such as Baxter and Webster originally were matrilineal – not all names are “men’s names.” And one’s name is not only an ancestor’s name – if it is part of the linguistic symbol of you, then it is your name.
- “I hated not having the same last name as my mom and siblings growing up” – indeed; does it never occur to any of these complainants that their problem would have been solved had their mother kept her name and passed it on to her children?
Some women, of course, do have real and unimpeachable reasons for changing their names – to shed the symbol of an abusive past, for example. And some women choose their husband’s name after considering other options, and make their choice as freely, perhaps, as any choice can be made.
The problem is that no choice is really a choice when it is one-sided. Men refuse to change their names, and they refuse to allow their children to take the mother’s name. Period. Women are then - and the keyword is “then” – “free” to “choose” how to deal with the man’s choice.
Enjoy your freedom, girls!