Because Possessions Don’t Really Need Names

23:37 Thu 13 Aug 2009
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The title is somewhat inflammatory, and look, there’s nothing wrong with someone taking their partner’s name when they get married. There are plenty of practical reasons to do so, and it’s an individual choice in any case and doesn’t require justification.

However, pressuring women to change their last name when they marry is another matter, and I find it both disheartening and surprising that 70% of Americans think that women should take their husband’s last name when they marry. I just don’t think there should be any social pressure to do so. It gets worse, too.

50% of those surveyed stated that they think it should be legally required for women to take their husband’s name upon marriage. Yes, when a woman marries, the government should intervene and force her to change her name. I doubt many of the respondents thought about this, but it would essentially require other constraints on married women, such as not allowing them to later change their name to something else. Further, what use is this name change without enforcement? Would a married woman representing herself using her prior name be committing some sort of fraud?

But I digress. Those aspects are beside the point, which is that half of America believes in enforcing this clearly sexist notion, and for reasons that strike me as extremely disturbing:

When the respondents were asked why they felt women should change their name after the wedding … “They told us that women should lose their own identity when they marry and become a part of the man and his family. This was a reason given by many.”

You can’t get much clearer than that, can you? What an advertisement for traditional marriage: “Women! Get married and you can give up your own identity and become merely a part of your husband (and his relatives).”

Even if just half of those on the “enforce the name change legally” side believe that—it’s 25% too many. I know I’m appealing to a ridiculous myth of “progress” when I say the following, but still: it’s 2009, people. 2009! How do you persist with this bullshit?

(I found this heartening gem via Feministing)

5 Responses to “Because Possessions Don’t Really Need Names”

  1. Helen Says:

    I think you are appealing to a myth of ‘progress’, just from personal experience – apparently, changing one’s name is more en vogue now than it was ten years ago. At least in the US and UK. It is a culturally determined thing, too – Mary is convinced that it’s less frequent in Ireland, and obviously (eg) Spanish women don’t change their names at all.

    Side anecdote: Mary’s brother was astonished to find that we hadn’t changed our names. ‘What TO?’, Mary asked, reasonably. He was dumbstruck; I suspect he had automatically assumed I’d take Mary’s. And he’s almost ten years younger than me…

  2. Tadhg Says:

    That’s pretty amusing about Mary’s brother. As for progress, I do think it’s a myth, but I will say that I’m far less concerned with how fashionable name-changing is and far more appalled not at the assumption that women will change their names but at the desire to force them legally to do so; the willingness to engage in legal compulsion for this kind of thing is to me striking as an illustration of how illusory the “progress” on these issues really is.

  3. dan Says:

    why not mix things up n combine names?
    a brown marries a jones …

    they become mr and mrs swonbjoern or j-snowboner?
    maybe you can drop some letters and get creative?
    might make tracing family histories more colourful and challenging too…
    just a thought,
    keep puttin it out there and feel free to share unrelated comments on “the cove” (Heartland Truly Moving Pictures)

  4. mollydot Says:

    “should lose their own identity when they marry and become a part of the man and his family.”


    Sorry, am in shock.

  5. Tadhg Says:

    dan: Mixing it up using anagrams of the two names seems like a perfectly fine idea to me, although I do think that family heritage and history are important, and can see why people would want to retain a link to them.

    mollydot: Yes, I know, I had more or less the same reaction when I read that line.

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