On Name Changes

As a self-proclaimed feminist (and a women’s studies major), I’ve had plenty of friends question my decision to change my name after getting married. I used to imagine that I wouldn’t mind keeping my last name, of preserving the identity I had always known, but once it came time to make the decision in real life, I chose to make the big switch. What changed?

Well there are a few factors. First of all, I love the idea that Mike (my husband) and I share a last name. He and I have lived together for about a year and a half now. Though our relationship is still relatively young, our staunch personal commitment to one another has been solidified for a vast majority of our time together. Getting married was just one more step in making that commitment more public, not just by making it socially acceptable, but by allowing our family and friends to celebrate in it with us.

I consider sharing a last name as one more method of cementing our relationship, of forging an impenetrable bond that identifies us as two individuals who have become family by choice, who made a binding personal commitment to spend their lives together. Our relationship has had a transformative effective on both of our lives – getting married and sharing a last name serves to reflect that transformation more fully.

Then there’s the issue of which name to take. Mike is the last of the Finazzo line. If we didn’t take the Finazzo name, that would be the end of their family’s nominal lineage, while the Keller’s would surely live on for years to come as my dad is one of 11 children – the Keller name is doing just fine amongst my 20-odd cousins and their kin.

Plus, I’ve never been a huge fan of my middle name, Beth. So I’m ditching Beth in order to give my maiden name the coveted middle name spot and taking Mike’s last name. It’s all much more to my liking!

But I guess my prior issues with post-marital name changes were more focused upon the compulsory nature of female name changes, rather than the mere name change in itself. I’m all about sharing an identity with your partner through a shared last name, but why does it always have to be the woman who changes her identity? How come men are so unwilling to give up their surnames? I don’t blame it on men at large, but more on society and how ingrained this tradition has become. Sharing a name I totally understand, but subjecting women to the pain and misery of legally changing her name through the Social Security Administration – why does it always have to fall to the wife? Why is this marriage rite, ground in principles of ownership and possession, still so firmly ingrained in our minds?

On the one hand, I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. But on the other, I’m not sure this is truly just a molehill. I love being a Finazzo (although people find it mysteriously hard to pronounce even if it’s said just like it’s spelled!) but was it so out of the question that Mike could become a Keller? Why would people find it so repulsive, unseemly, and inappropriate for the man to change his name?

I remember being thoroughly impressed when reading Kristin Kimball’s memoir The Dirty Life as her husband, Mark, decided to take Kimball’s last name without question. The discussion was short as Kristin wanted to keep her name and Mark, an extremely unique male figure as is, quickly suggested that he take on the Kimball surname without a single complaint.

 

If only people were more accepting of Mark’s attitude. If only all the marriage traditions that harken back to the days of giving away daughters, wife ownership, and the like weren’t so romanticized. I don’t regret becoming a Finazzo one bit – I simply wish there had been a few men in line at Social Security, marriage certificates in hand, with a new last name on the way!

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