First things first: as a rule, I try not to pass judgment on the personal decisions of other women. I would never try to personally persuade someone to change her mind when it came to any aspects of her relationship, and especially something as significant her wedding day.
That being said, it makes me super sad on the inside when women I know take their husband’s names when they get married. It’s one thing for a devout Mormon relative marrying young –- I brace myself for the shift as soon as the engagement is announced and face it with only minor annoyance. But when women who I know to be progressive, independent, and firmly vested in gender equality changes her name? It seriously breaks my heart.
Of course, I would never say any of this to their faces, because it’s none of my business. That’s just rude.
I’m sure part of this is just a knee-jerk reaction from growing up in a big Mormon family in Utah as a tiny queer feminist and feeling out of place most of the time.
Growing up in that kind of environment does things to a person, but my discomfort goes deeper than that. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. I’ve been writing short stories since I could pick up a pencil and scribble semi-legibly. I won a prize school-wide writing contest in 2nd grade and it was a huge deal, you guys. I’ve been getting my work published since about age 14 – and not just in my high school lit mag. Most of this work was published under my full given name, all but one short story published under a pen name.
My name is a part of my identity in a way that goes beyond what’s written on my passport, my diploma, or my marriage license. It’s tied to everything I’ve ever created –- poetry, art, incredibly weird short fiction, hundreds of articles and essays and blog posts.
Changing my name when I have put so much time and effort and love into my byline would be more than an inconvenience. It would be a fundamental surrender of my identity. I would have to start from scratch. I would feel like a completely different person.
So it’s hard for me to get my head around the fact that other women don’t feel this way. That it’s not a big deal. I mean, I know most people aren’t professional writers and would probably prefer that their name not be plastered all over the internet.
But I find it deeply, deeply troubling that so many women are willing to give up such a fundamental part of their identities without protest, without asking or expecting that the men in their lives make the same concession.
And I find it especially upsetting that most of the excuses women give for changing their name are, well... not very convincing. At least be honest if you just wanted to avoid conflict with friends and family members. I can respect that.
It makes me sad when young women who haven’t yet really established a career change their name –- it feels like they’re rejecting a fundamental part of themselves before it’s even had a chance to grow. But at least there are no professional repercussions.
What really makes me stop and think is women who delay marriage much longer, who are well-respected in their fields before marriage, changing their names. One woman I’ve worked with has changed her name multiple times within the last ten years as she’s divorced and remarried –- it got to the point where the office I worked in kept her contact information filed under her old surname (with the newest one penciled in) because otherwise no one would be able to find it.
At that point, I’m not even sad anymore. I’m just very, very confused about why someone with a professional reputation to maintain would do that to herself –- and why anyone would keep changing her name after getting divorced the first time.
I know many women argue that they’re not giving up their name and their identity when they get married, they’re giving up their father’s name. And honestly? That makes me sad, too –- not because I’m super attached to the name my dad gave me, but because this name has traveled through generations and generations of history.
I’m mixed-race, although I can pass as white or Latina depending on what neighborhood I’m in or who I’m traveling with. (And ok, being Latina is technically not a race, but I’m descended from some indigenous populations and it shows. Some of my siblings definitely don’t look white.) It is so easy for my cultural heritage and ethnic identity to fade into the background when I’m with groups of white people.
I’ve experienced racism of a fairly benign but incredibly annoying variety throughout my life – like when people either can’t be bothered to remember my last name after repeated corrections over the course of months (Julie Gonzales? Julie Martinez? basically the same, right?) or have assumed that I’m illiterate or uneducated.
I was actually bumped out of gifted classes when my family moved away from Utah as a young teen because the school served a lot of immigrant families and they didn’t bother to look at my transcript. It happened to my little sister too -– two years in a row. My blonde siblings have never had this problem. I’m just saying.
I have a hard enough time getting people to understand or respect these experiences because I am (in their words) “basically white.” I’m not giving up my last name, the main visible indicator of my personal and family history, to take my husband’s incredibly common and very, very Anglo last name.
But look, it’s not that I don’t understand the urge to adopt a new identity. I did play with a white-sounding, male-sounding pen name for a few years because I was worried people would never take me seriously if they saw my real name, and because, let’s face it, Julie Rodriguez is a really common name.
Even with the middle initial, even with my full middle name, it’s only slightly more distinctive. There are two other writers out there with my exact same name who’ve published stuff online that is enough like mine that it’s probably confusing to people. (And I feel a little bad for them if they had any publishing aspirations, since now my name is all over the internet and people will think they’re me.)
And I know it’s hard to try to buck tradition. Maybe it’s easier to say “fuck you”when people insist on any particular marriage rituals if you grew up as a bisexual nerd with barely any friends in a conservative community. Other people who are not me may care more about their extended family’s opinions.
I’m sympathetic to that, even if I think traditions like frilly white dresses, cakes plastered in fondant, and getting married in a church are overrated. And if those things are incredibly meaningful to you, I don’t think that makes you a bad person, or a bad feminist (if you identify as a feminist). I just hope you put some critical thought into those decisions and whether following tradition is actually what would make you happy. And if not, I hope you’re comfortable creating your own, new, unconventional traditions.
So if you’re a friend or family member or casual Facebook acquaintance and you decide to change your name when you get married... I’ll come to your wedding if you invite me. I’ll even be genuinely happy for you.
But I’ll be quietly cringing on the inside while you’re not around. I’m sorry.