What’s in a name?

As anticipated, my first real blog post will be wedding-related, though probably not in the way that you would imagine. If you’re expecting to read about flowers or cakes or drama or RSVPs, then this is not the blog post for you. Don’t worry, though, I will cover most all those topics in due time. For today, I would like to reflect on a wedding-related topic that’s been giving me some trouble as of late: do I or do I not want to change my name?

If you had asked me this question a year ago, without hesitation, I would have responded, “Yes! I absolutely want to change my name!” Add to that the fact that I’ve been practicing writing “Whitley Parker” much longer than I care to admit, and I’d say you have a fairly done deal. But now that I’m here, on the cusp of actually making this very real decision, I find that I’m torn.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a variety of articles on the internet (which is simultaneously a good and bad thing) that have discussed how name change meshes with feminism. I don’t like labels generally, but I guess I would fall into the feminist category. I am independent; I believe in the strength of women; I want to be treated as an equal in my upcoming marriage; etc, etc. There are those that would have me believe that to be an equal and to be a strong woman means that you do NOT take your husband’s name when you get married. So the real issue that’s been bothering me is: Is it truly anti-feminist to take your husband’s last name?

There are several practical reasons why I want to change my name:

  1. Ease of use: My last name is difficult to spell and pronounce. It is a constant trouble when introducing myself, dining at restaurants, signing up for things, etc. Part of me would greatly enjoy having a last name that I didn’t have to constantly spell out for people.
  2. Cohesion: I like the idea of my family all matching. One day faaaar from now, if I have children, I would like to share the same last name as them. No particular reason, other than sharing a name that marks us a family unit.

So, like I said, practical reasons that I wanted to change my name. Still, these feminist articles got me thinking that, though I have practical reasons, if I change my name it will mean that I am somehow less of a feminist–that I am giving up a part of myself and giving into patriarchy. Don’t we all love that word? Patriarchy.

The name-change-is-anti-feminist camp argues primarily that name change itself is a patriarchal institution, started when women were considered property to mark the change in ownership. Thankfully, marriage has changed a lot, as have cultural expectations, and treatment of women. Still, many argue that to take a man’s name supports this structure. This is what bothered me. As practical as my reasons are, I didn’t want to change my name if that truly meant I was supporting such a thing.

Then…I had a thought. If I don’t change my name, then I keep the one I was born with, which is my FATHER’s name. Regardless of what I do, I will have the last name of a man. So how is me keeping my last name fighting patriarchy? It isn’t.

And I think one of the most empowering things I can do here, as a woman, is to make this choice for myself. Separate from the articles and the advice and the expectations. What it will come down to is which name I would rather have and what CHOICE to I want to make. I’ll just be a woman making a choice, for myself, independent from society’s expectations of me. It doesn’t get much more “feminist” than that.