the water got high and she never got dry

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

tell me your name, tell me your story

There’s a whole lot of estrogen involved in wedding planning. Not to say that the future grooms aren’t important and relevant or ever involved. They are. But there’s a lot more of women discussing and sharing their plans online and IRL. And it’s almost impossible for there to be no cattiness or judging. Even as I chide myself for it, I am not immune.

I have this thing about butt bows. I find them hideous. Also not big on large, gaudy fabric flowers. So when a fellow bride to be excitedly posts a picture of her wedding dress and it has not only the butt bow but big fabric flowers on TOP of the butt bow, I just bite my tongue and wonder how many of the women who tell her the dress is beautiful are lying through their teeth to be nice.

The main board I spent time on is actually amazingly free of cattiness. The women there are genuinely nice and supportive and there is not a lot of conflict. But taste is so subjective that there’s no way that no one has ever silently been thinking “ugly, ugly, ugly” about someone else’s choice.

And on any of the websites I frequent, whenever the name change issue comes up, I inevitably find myself mildly irritated.

For one thing, as a name-keeper, I am vastly in the minority, which still surprises me. All of the female faculty members in the department have kept their names and every female married grad student I know has changed their name. This seems counterintuitive to me.

Sure, everyone likes to feel they’re making the right decision and I know we all fall prey to feeling the need to defend our choices. Which to me, is about as anti-feminism as you can get. Shouldn’t we feel free to be confidently doing whatever the hell we please?

But no, whether it’s the relatively trivial name change issue or the issue of working vs. stay at home moms, we just can’t leave each other be.

It doesn’t bother me just to hear someone say they’re changing their name or that it feels right to them. It’s a personal decision, everyone does what they want. What does bug me is when someone feels the need to throw in something along the lines of “it’s the ultimate sign of my commitment and dedication to him” or “I really love my FI so I’m changing mine” or “I really don’t like his name, but I want us to feel like a unit” or “I’m ambivalent, but I really want to have the same name as our future kids” or "I just can't wait to be Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName!" or my favorite “I read this study that showed that marriages where the woman kept or hyphenated her name were more likely to end in divorce.”

Bite me. Rant number one. Is this a backhanded way of saying that women who keep their names don’t “love their FIs” and aren’t really committed to them? How is changing a name the “ultimate” sign of commitment? It’s just a name. (I’m aware of the irony here. Go with it.)

The thing is, I've yet to hear a name-keeper say "I'm keeping my name, down with the patriarchy!" Do some name-changers feel the need to justify their decisions with exclamations of love and commitment? If some of them feel any feminist guilt or cognitive dissonance, that's honestly a shame. Because my rants notwithstanding, in a perfect world women should be able to change their names just because they damn well want to without someone (not unlike me) asking them "How can you just give up your identity? Don't you think it's a completely archaic tradition?" etc.

Rant number two. Heaven forbid kids don’t automatically and exclusively take their dad’s last name. If we were to arbitrarily assign kids only one parent’s surname, wouldn’t it just be crazy to give them the surname of the person who endures all the joys and pains of pregnancy and labor?

But this is my bias and my justifications. I know this. I guess I’m a snob in the sense that I can't help but wish that more women would present relatively coherent, well-thought out reasons for what is, for many women, a pretty big decision.

Not just “I love my FI”. Well I love mine too and not taking his name doesn’t mean I’m going to feel any less married to him.

Will it sometimes be a pain in the ass to have kids who either have his name or mine? No doubt. But we’ll manage and we’ll be in the not insignificant minority of families who are in some way or another doing things nontraditionally. And not to go all Pollyanna on you, but someday there’ll be enough variety in the arrangement and nomenclatures of “typical” families that it’ll all seem normal.

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