I have read and heard in more than one place that it is not the feminist thing to do for a woman to take her husband’s name when married. Marriage is steeped in anti-feminist traditions, primarily that a daughter was merely a commodity, if not a burden, to her father, one to be sold and/or traded off to a man in exchange for a dowery. Upon marriage, a woman trades her father’s last name for that of her husband, indicating that she now belongs to him.
I’d like to emphasize that last line: a woman trades her father’s last name for that of her husband.
In Western society, as well as many others around the world, the family name is passed down patrilineally. Ergo, when a woman is born, she’s given the last name of her father, not her mother. Not counting the more progressive families who give their children hyphenated last names for both parents, the majority of people in Western society follow this naming tradition.
When I was born, my biological parents were married and I was given my biological father’s last name: McCann. Because I published a book and have quite a few years of professional work on my resume, I’m going to keep my last name as a writer, but legally, I’m going to take my husband’s name. That means that on my debit card and my tax return and my name plaque in my office, I’ll be Noggle, but on my blog and on my books I’ll be McCann.
When I was 12, my biological parents separated, and when I was 16, my mother married a man who has been more my father than my biological father has been. My step-dad taught me how to drive, he put me through college, he has supported me financially and even more emotionally, he paid for my wedding and, when the day came, he escorted me down the aisle. If anything, shouldn’t I have taken his name?
Before I met my husband, I toyed with the idea of changing my name to my stepdad’s name, as well as changing it to my mom’s maiden name. Because here’s the thing: my last name is my biological father’s last name and, quite frankly, he’s not that awesome.
Maybe women who have great relationships with their fathers have a tougher time giving up their maiden names. As of today, I’m still legally McCann, though not for lack of wanting to change to Noggle. The problem is, we had our certified marriage license for just long enough to get J, my husband, on to my insurance. We then managed to misplace the license somewhere in our 1100-square-foot house in the few days it was here. Without a certified license from Hanover County, the social security office won’t let me change my name. So here we are, almost four months into our marriage, and I’m still McCann.
There are two big points that I’d like to make here. The first is–and I feel bad even putting this in writing–that I don’t like my biological father. He has not been a good father to me. He abandoned me when I turned 16 because my mother remarried. He told me I wasn’t good enough simply because I was born a girl. In his eyes, my gender and sex are inadequate. He told me this when I turned 16 and was moving to another town with my mom (“You’re a girl. You need to be with your mom.”) and he reiterated this to me the last time I saw him when I sat down for lunch with him when I was 27. I’m not looking for sympathy here, I’m simply illustrating and outlining my reasoning. I don’t speak to him. I haven’t spoken to him nor communicated with him since that lunch six years ago. I didn’t send him a wedding announcement or invitation; he wouldn’t have come anyway. The point is this: Why would I want to keep the name of the man who mistreated me simply because it’s the name I was born with? My name is not who I am, my name does not define me, and my biological father shouldn’t get to put his family stamp on me simply because he donated some DNA in 1983.
The second point, and this is the most important one, is that feminism is all about equality and choice, and it is my choice to take my husband’s last name. I love his family and I am proud to be a part of it. I am excited to take their name because I respect them and they respect and accept me, even though we don’t always agree. That is the long and the short of it, and that is why taking my husband’s last name is just as much a feminist move as keeping the name I was born with.