Yesterday was our third wedding anniversary.
It was probably on our third date, maybe our fourth, that I told the then-boyfriend that I was planning on keeping my own last name whenever I got married. It was a deal breaker, I said, if he wasn’t ok with that. Intense? Too soon? Maybe. But I’ll be honest: I was looking for forever.
I also told him that if he ever asked my dad for permission to ask me to marry him, a) my dad wouldn’t give it because obviously the boyfriend had no idea who I was, and b) we wouldn’t be getting married.
Eight months later, the boyfriend became the fiance without parental approval. We were both 22. What did we need parental approval for?
At some point in the planning process, we had dinner with my grandmother: the then-fiance and I, my parents, and my dad’s parents around the table. The topic of my last name came up. I don’t know how. How doesn’t matter. I confirmed what my parents already knew: I would be keeping my last name. This point had never been a topic of discussion. The then-fiance had known, right from the beginning of our relationship that I would not give up that counter-cultural decision. He knew that it was important to me.
Across the table from me, I could see my grandmother’s face twisting.
“Oh,” she said. She has a very specific way of saying it, a way that oozes disapproval.
“Yes. My last name is important to me. It’s who I’ve been for the past 22 years. It connects me to my parents, my brother and sister. Why should I have to give it up?”
“But that is disrespectful to your husband,” she said. So direct. So black and white.
I can’t remember how I reacted. Did I laugh? Did I argue? The conversation moved on without me and never since have we acknowledged it.
The issue of women’s names is a contentious one. After all, you could do the ‘feminist thing’ and keep the last name you grew up with but, hey, you know, that’s your dad’s last name. If you’re trying to escape the bonds of patriarchy, you better come up with something all on your own. Or, take your mom’s name. Or your great-aunt’s. But that name doesn’t mean as much to you? Well, I guess your shit out of luck. You can’t win.
In my social circles, the issue tends to hardly come up. I belong to the Christian Reformed Church, which is progressive in some areas and not progressive enough in others. Among my friends, it is a point of pride to take on their husband’s names, as if becoming a Mrs. elevates your social status, as if finally being free of the stigma of single-hood* allows them to fully embrace adulthood. It’s assumed that, at the end of a ceremony, you will be two people joined by one name. No other option is considered.
But why not?
Biblically, people didn’t even have last names.
Don’t get me wrong: I will never look down on someone for taking her husband’s last name. Some of the time, I wonder myself if it might be nice to share that one name with the Husband. It’s a choice for which there is no right answer except for the one that is right for you.
But, sometimes, I fall into wishing. Wishing that one of my friends might make the same choice I did. Wishing that my church could get my name right in the birthday list in the bulletin. Wishing we would stop getting mail for a woman that doesn’t exist. Wishing that my grandmother would recognize how personal and important that decision is to me.
I can tell you this: we have been married for three years and we haven’t shared a name for any of it. We are no less a family, no less committed, no less respectful, no less ready to tackle the rest of our lives together.
Happy Anniversary to us!
Tell me, did you keep your last name, or, if you’re not married, do you want to if you do get married? Did you put much thought into the decision? Have you run into resistance to it?
* Single-hood and the stigma is a whole ‘nother topic, especially if you want to talk about single-hood and the church. But, I would probably be stepping way out of my league there.