I’m getting married soon. I don’t need to tell you that wedding planning is a stressful nightmare. Between the ridiculous expenses and the pushy demands of overbearing family, it is well know that in the wedding world, the happy couple-to-be’s opinions don’t really matter all that much.
But today I want to talk about the drama that I didn’t see coming.
Since our engagement, I have had unexpected near universal support to break one very old tradition: changing my last name. Being a woman doesn’t mean I should have to change my name, and especially not if I want to be a progressive, feminist woman. Coworkers warn me of how difficult it is to reestablish important business connections. I’ve listened to podcasters who go so far as to scorn and shame women who change their names in marriage, because it is a sexist tradition and to support it is to label yourself as a man’s property. Even my fiance is on board with this pro-feminist choice, and has offered – multiple times – to take my name or hyphenate our names. Everyone seems very concerned that I might lose my last name.
But what people fail to understand is that I actually want to change my name.
I want to take my husband’s name for my own. This isn’t a delusion that I’ve been tricked into by the patriarchy. In fact, it’s a silent resistance to my own personal patriarchy. The core of this truth is: I don’t want to keep my family’s name. I want a new, separate, identity – one that I get to choose.
It’s always been noticeable that I don’t exactly fit into my family structure. It’s as if we all have uniforms and mine is the wrong color. Without getting into it, let’s just summarize it as a conservative-liberal thing (a fundamental political difference that has somehow been palpable even before I knew what those two words meant). We just see the world differently. Yet, despite my obvious differences from my family, I’ve always been identified by them. “Oh, you’re his daughter/her daughter/his sister,” or better yet, “I didn’t even know he had a sister.” I even identified myself so thoroughly by my family that only when I went away to college did I realized that I hadn’t known what it truly meant to be an individual. It was actually a little scary at first- not having a popular older brother to pave the way – but I soon realized how freeing it is to not be compared to or judged by the actions of my siblings. Yet back at home, when people meet me they immediately think of my family – my very-different-from-me, conservative family.
My fiance is also very different from me, but our core values are closely aligned. Even in our differences, I respect and admire him. I can’t always say that about my relationship with family.
It may seem surprising, or at least it did to me, but even my conservative family hopes that I will keep my last name – our last name.
With an unusual timidity to her voice, my mother asks me, “so… are you going to change your name, or keep it?” Expecting she is preparing to combat the feminist agenda, I confidently inform her that I will be changing it. Unexpectedly, she gently prods me “you know, you can keep it if you want to.” It takes me a moment, but it dawns on me that for her, this isn’t about feminism, and it certainly isn’t about my power to choose my own name. She wants me to keep our family name because it bothers her that I will be giving up a perfectly respectable, traditional American name and taking on an unfamiliar, unestablished Asian name. She hasn’t explicitly said this, and she might not even fully realize it, but I know that if this was a European name at stake (preferably Italian) she would have proudly ordered some his-and-her monogrammed towels the day of the engagement. I know this is about race, but I don’t want to go there with her because I am afraid of what I might say, afraid I might hurt her feelings or piss her off or damage our relationship, so I dismiss it with “I know” and change the topic.
This all isn’t to say that I don’t love and respect and appreciate my family. I do. They are good, loving people, and they have given me the world. But now I have a chance to be my own person, to choose my own identity, to literally make a name for myself.
This is a personal choice, and no matter which way I choose I feel the guilt. Maybe if I was a good feminist I’d suck it up for the cause and keep my last name just to show the world I can. Oh how I wish I wanted that. But isn’t doing what I want more feminist than doing what ‘seems feminist’ to other people? Changing my name is my way of standing up for myself. It is important to me, and to my identity. This isn’t about becoming property, rather, it is about claiming liberation.