Why I refuse to change my name when (and if) I get married
I’ve been an O’Brien my entire life, which, in a little less than two weeks, will be 23 years. From preschool through college, this was the name that was called during attendance and crossed off during summer camp check-in. It is the same name that was written on medical history forms at the doctor’s office, scribbled in varying handwritings (preferably bubble letters) on notepads in middle school, typed in headings on research papers, and called during my Emmanuel College commencement ceremony. As a budding journalist, this name has become my byline, and will appear more frequently in print as I begin my new job as a general assignment reporter for a local newspaper.
I have grown to love this name not only because it is attached to me, but because holds meaning that is significant to my life, linking my family to one of the original clans of Ireland. To lose this name would be to deny my heritage, my family, my entire identity - which is why I’ve decided to keep it when (and if) I get married.
I have to say that I’m surprised that despite the progress of women’s rights (though we still have much work to do in the US) and the changing of many old-fashioned marriage practices, the tradition of a bride taking her husband’s name still appears to be widely accepted. In 2011, a survey of 11,000 brides by theKnot.com found that just 8% kept their names and 6% more hyphenated.
Prior to taking college courses on feminism and critiquing women’s roles in the media, I was part of that vast majority, idly doodling in high school notebooks, pairing my first name with the last name of my crush or current boyfriend. It’s a scary thought that I only began to question this tradition when I learned about sexism later in life - that my natural instinct was to not only accept it, but to embrace it, because society and the media had such an influence on my developing brain.
Naming is an exercise of power. In terms of marriage traditions, this power is exercised by males upon females, and even if it’s unintentional today, the popularity of this tradition supports a vicious cycle of gender inequality. Throughout history, naming has been practiced in colonial rule, such as when Japanese imperialists forced Koreans to change their first and second names to Japanese names. The nation as a whole was humiliated, suffering a loss of cultural identity as a result.
Through the past century, American women have endured a tumultuous struggle with their identities and their roles in society. So why, in an age when we can choose to attend college, obtain high-paying careers and choose whether and who to marry, are the overhwelming majority of us conforming to the ancient practice of taking our husbands’ names?
Many articles claim the concept of name changing as a symbol of unity, which is something I can understand. But if this is the main reason, then why are mostly women making the switch? Shouldn’t unity be equal across genders? Or is the real reason that we’re still, to an extent, somewhat infatuated with the idea of “belonging” to a man?
Daily, I’m bombarded by pop songs, Tweets, and Facebook statuses, as well as conversations with other women, expressing in various ways how they allow themselves to be defined by men. Perhaps they don’t freely admit this as much as they offer implications in messages like, “I’m not hot enough for him/I want to look hot for him,” “I don’t know who I am without him,” “I belong to him,” etc.
Hollywood, too, continuously perpetuates the idea of romance as one in which a woman is swept off her feet by a man, or finds true happiness when the man of her dreams “chooses” her - but rarely the reverse.
I’d like to see a world in which men and women are equally “chivalrous”; a world in which we have conversations about marriage customs and name changing, instead of assuming that women will conform to age-old traditions. The solution does not have to be a refusal by women to change their names, but instead an expectation of gender equality in marriage practices.
Our names stand for something. Shouldn’t we, too?