Those horrible hyphenators!

// 13 April 2008

Why is it that people still get so riled up when women marry and, well, pretty much do anything except take their husbands’ name? What Tami Said reminds us that it is not just women who keep their last name that get hassle; those who hyphenate their own and their husbands’ last name provoke similar reactions.

For example, this question on Yahoo! Answers asks “Are woman [sic] who opt for hyphenated names more masculine than traditional women?” (yeah, really!)

One answer, depressingly from a woman:

More masculine? Know. More arrogant and disrespectful? Perhaps.

(Luckily the “best answer” was a lot better)

Even worse, Tami finds a doctor complaining that women with hyphenated names cause a bit of hassle for his office and with insurers (presumably writing from the US context):

Please women, do not hyphenate your name. You will be creating nothing but problems for yourself and anyone who must deal with you.

Oh, well, if it’s inconveniencing some doctor, better just shut up and conform!

Photo by The Stakhanovite Twins, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Alex T // Posted 13 April 2008 at 2:17 pm

This drives me round the bend!! One of the resasons my mum gave me for changing my name upon getting married was that keeping it would make family tree research difficult! She is documenting ours and said that my keeping my name would ruin it. I told her that changing it would ruin my life. So there. I won. I have been happily married for 18 months with my own bloody name, thank you very much.

Daiju // Posted 13 April 2008 at 3:01 pm

I just encountered a friend on a social networking site and had some major difficulty coming to terms with her name change. I’ve gotten used to women in older generations adopting their husbands’ last names, but I’m uncomfortable now that my generation (I’m 21) is continuing this tradition. Maybe I thought that an openly patriarchal practice like replacing one’s own name with that of a man’s couldn’t possibly be something that my generation would find normal.

I definitely prefer hyphenation to complete name replacement, but I still find it problematic that it is usually women who hyphenate while men do not recognize their partners’ last names and do not add them to their names through hyphenation.

On a more personal level, I can’t understand the appeal of name changes. Some people choose to change their names, but my impression was that those are premeditated and are either changes that better suit the people or are out of necessity. Don’t men feel weird/uncomfortable when the women they marry drop their surnames and adopt their husbands’? I tried imagining a scenario in which one of the most important and closest friends would be married and change her last name. I felt physically uncomfortable. Names aren’t everything, but I find them highly symbolic and they do carry meaning. We often separate first name and surname, but I only do it for convenience. With people who are close to me, their first and surname arise together and become a compound symbol.

To me, getting rid of one’s surname and adopting a man’s is like taking a compound word, getting rid of the second word in the compound and replacing it with something else. Could you imagine taking the word “rainbow” and getting rid of “bow”? Even worse is when you try to replace “bow” with some other word like “carrot”. It not only doesn’t sound right, but symbolically, it doesn’t make sense. What the hell is a “raincarrot”?

I suppose hyphenation affects me similarly, since “rainbow” would become “rainbow-carrot”, but at least I still get the image of a rainbow. That can’t happen when the symbol is changed completely.

Daiju // Posted 13 April 2008 at 3:19 pm

Apologies for the double-post, but I forgot to rant about the absurdity of claiming hyphenating names makes things inconvenient and all the other ridiculousness. If people have a hard time filing hyphenated names, maybe (just maybe) it’s because they’re not competent enough to file them correctly.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2008 at 3:54 pm

Whilst I think there are many reasons both for and against many choices, what I don’t like is the lack of notice, the lack of thought this is given in mainstream society. It’s still the default in the media that so many women change their names to that of their husbands. It makes me sas when I watch the 40000th film or 29586th sitcom in which some woman is introduced as Mrs. X, because it feels like although some sections of society think a lot more about names, and make an informed choice (and the men support their partners in whatever choice they make), the media and some other parts of society seem to be in some 50s loop where no women ever even think of anything other than becoming a Mrs. taking their husband’s name and all that. I can’t remember the last time I saw a character who took a double-barreled name, kept their own, made a new one, or had the title ‘Ms.’. They must exist, but they are so few and far between, and there is so little talk about this issue.

The point that your own surname is something given to you in a patriarchical fashion, and that some women do not feel attached to their names, and prefer those of their partner, I can understand, because it revolves around the woman making an informed choice about what’s best for her, whether I agree with all the reasoning or not. Changing your name may well be the best option for you, and if you’ve thought about it, and looked at what matters to you, you’ve made a feminist choice, no matter what it was.

I don’t like that in some circles women bash other women for keeping their name (apparently it’s unfeminist, no matter what the reason!), and in some for changing or hyphenating it. It turns a personal decision into a public one, whereby a woman should hold herself accountable to her in-laws, own family, friends and colleagues, about something that should be her choice alone.

I also think there should be more of a focus on (and easier option for) men choosing to change their names, whether it be hyphenation, both making up a name, or him taking hers (assuming a heterosexual relationship here). Men get a lot of flack for changing their names, and in most relationships, whether they change their names isn’t an issue. However, they or their families often put pressure on women to change their names, because they feel entitled to it as a show of respect. We’ve moved on to marrying for love, and at least a vague idea that equality is important, but many people still don’t see what’s wrong in expecting your girlfriend to change her name to yours to prove she loves you, when you would never do the same for her.

So I support women’s rights to change their name to whatever they choose. I would, however, like there to be more discussion about what changing your name means to you as an individual, and its patriarchical roots. I don’t like the fact it’s still seen as very much the default option in a lot of circles, and that many women, even young women, never consider anything else. In short, it’s not that women are choosing to change their names that bothers me, but that in many instances, it doesn’t seem like a choice, if ‘choice’ means looking at all the options.

Personally, I’d tell any guy who demanded we had the same surname he would be welcome to change his name to mine. I don’t like hyphenating personally, because I have a long, complicated name in reality, and it would get a bit ridiculous. But it’s an option for many people.

Also, not being able to file names is a terrible excuse. IIf you tell the Dr. to never use their title, because it’d mess up our wonderful ‘Mr./Mrs./Miss title system, they’d be irate, because their title means something to them. Likewise, a hyphenated name means something to the people in question, and asking people to pick a certain type of name is selfish in the extreme. What next, as people with long, complicated names/surnames to rename themselves Jane Smith?! (apologies to any Jane Smiths… Not to imply it’s a bad name, but an easy one to spell)

I also hate the argument ‘but what will you call the kids?’ because it implies that the woman is the one who has to compromise (as always!) for the sake of everyone. They won’t die if they don’t have their dad’s name. They won’t die if half have his name and half have hers. They won’t die if each and every member of the family has a different surname.

And the Genealogy excuse? Sucks. My female relatives, who all changed their names, are as related to me as my male ones. What’s with this obsession with only finding the male line? If I can know who my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was, without the aid of identical names, my name will not affect genealogy tracing, not with the internet and the millions of records the government keeps. It’s not like that many people can trace their families back that far anyway (many immigrants or people from a working class background are relatively limited in records, and of course not all records are complete), so the idea of genealogy is really quite elitist in a way.

Kim // Posted 13 April 2008 at 4:52 pm

Hmm. My boyfriend and I discussed this. We figured that his first name sounds better with my surname than mine with his, so we probably will keep mine. Not that we’re planning to get married for some time, but it just seemed like a logical way of making the decision!

rose hasty // Posted 13 April 2008 at 5:01 pm

This is the most horrendous subject for me at the moment. Marriage isn’t for me, or my partner. We are both feminists and don’t feel that it would do anything positive for our relationship. Seems easy enough then, keep your own name. Not so! I’m pregnant. What name does our baby have? the problem with a double barrel name is that I am passing the problem to my child. When he has kids he has to choose whether to change, add a 3rd name, drop mine or his father’s name. How horrible. I feel too mean leaving him with that dilemma AND continuing the sexism by adding my father’s father’s father’s… surname to his father’s father’s father’s… name.

Any solution seems arbitrary and meaningless. My mother says “use my mother’s maiden name” but it’s still passed down from men and has no relation to me or my partner, anyway, why not his mother’s name or grandmothers?

I read in G2 a while ago about a woman who used only her first names. I thought about changing my name myself to simply Rose Anna. No surname. But can I do this to my child, with all the problems this will bring up (utility companies, teachers, etc)

Sorry I’ve gone on and on. We only have 4 months til my son arrives and me and my partner haven’t come up with one solution that pleases either of us.


Laura // Posted 13 April 2008 at 5:16 pm

Hi Rose,

Yes, it’s a tough one when it comes to kids. If I got married (at the moment, I don’t think I will) I’d probably go for the merging two surnames to make a new one option. So the whole family could have the same name of Wood-x or x-house, or in your case the child could take on both your identities. Of course, it depends on whether your names will merge together, and then you have issues of offending the relatives…

One of my friends’ parents kept their own names when they were married, then gave one name to the first child, and one to the second.

Don’t know whether that’s any help, but good luck!

Anna // Posted 13 April 2008 at 5:23 pm

My parents had the rather strange (but worked well) idea of naming the boys’ the father’s surname and the girls after my mother.. If I do decide to get married I’ll very likely take my partner’s name (be they male or female) just because I really dislike my own surname.. ah, pragmatism.

james // Posted 13 April 2008 at 5:53 pm

“What Tami Said reminds us that it is not just women who keep their last name that get hassle”

This is completely outside my experience. I don’t know anyone who’s complained about this.

Women who change their names are the ones who get the grief – it mucks everyone around for no reason. I agree with the doctor. Changing your name is incredibly unprofessional. It makes life incredible difficult to have people vanishing and being relabeled on email systems. Or having post sent to you under alternate IDs that new co-workers won’t recognise. I don’t care what you do in your private life, but you shouldn’t go inflicting your dependancy complex on other people – it isn’t very professional. Cherie Booth had the right idea.

stephie // Posted 13 April 2008 at 6:35 pm

This is all really interesting stuff. I’m not married so I’ve not come up against all this stuff of having to choose what surname you use from then on. At the moment though, I use BOTH the english and Irish versions of my name and it doesn’t create any hassle at all really…..

I don’t think I could be arsed having to deal with a ‘third’ surname though, even if the first two are the same but different languages.

I dislike the whole concept of changin names on marriage – its just symbolic of that whole patriarchal thing of marriage really being the transfer of ownership of a daughter from a father to a husband. Ick, ick, ick.

Betsy // Posted 13 April 2008 at 6:45 pm

I’ve always liked the idea of combining the two names into one supername and then the whole family adopting it.

Serian // Posted 13 April 2008 at 6:45 pm

I’m biased in this respect because changing my name has never even crossed my mind. My mother has her original name (which is far nicer than my Dad’s completely irreverently) and it was never a deal.

When they had me and my brother, they came to the agreement that we would just have her name if we had Welsh first names. It worked out for us.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith // Posted 13 April 2008 at 7:13 pm

I think a real problem arises from the fact that double-barreled names are associated with poshness and snobbery (I should know, I’ve had a double barrel all my life and still think “typical” when I notice another Tory MP has one, too). At the same time, recurrent attacks are made on feminism through the spurious claim that all feminists are middle-class and privileged and only care about middle-class issues. Once you put the two associations together, it’s not surprising some people find it easy to attack feminists with double-barreled names. At times, I’ve wondered about putting my real name to feminist articles and letters as I’ve thought it’ll just reinforce the impression that I live in a feminist ivory tower. Then again, I always decide to carry on using my name, as it’s part of my identity and I know who I am and what I’m not. That being so, however, I have to say I do get annoyed with women who create double-barrels for themselves upon getting married. A lot of people I meet assume I’m one of them whereas I’m very much against having a name that varies in any way according to which man you’re most associated with. Just keep your name – it’s not hard, and pushing to be called Ms (which you do still have to do, alas) is at least a form of active feminism which should, eventually, change things. You will be judged by the name you choose to take (as you should be, since it’s been your choice to make), but more and more people will start to see ‘Ms’ as the option taken by women who actually care about equality rather than expect it when it suits them.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2008 at 7:29 pm

James, coming to a feminist site to blame women who don’t do with their names as you wish isn’t that hot either.

People change names for all number of reasons, all of which are legitimate, even if it’s just that they hated their name and wanted to change it.

Transitioning, for example. Would you demand that ‘Joshua’ stays Joshua on all her paperwork after she transitions, even if it gives out more information than she’d like, and puts her at risk of anti-transperson sentiment when all she wants to do is live life as a woman?

I don’t like the argument that causing inconvenience to others is a good reason to tell other people what to do. As a woman, much of my life can be said to be ‘inconvenient’ to others. My body? Periods are something which you’re not supposed to discuss or acknowledge. Abortions? We shouldn’t have them because somebody else who probably lacks a uterus feels queasy at the thought. Furthermore, complicated surnames (foreigners do exist, remember? not to mention natives with complicated names) are an inconvenience to others, seeing as nobody can spell them. Does that mean we demand they are changed? We cannot govern people’s names by what might inconvenience others, because it’s forcing people to view some random stranger’s priorities as more important than one’s ownership of one’s own identity.

You probably haven’t realised that women DO get pressure to change their names. Maybe you ignore it. Either way, there is a very real expectation for women overall to change their name, just as women in the academic field have a pressure to keep their name (which you’re not helping with!). As feminists, we shouldn’t accept anything less than less pressure on all women. It’s a personal choice, and we want that choice to be informed and as free as possible.

Also, the very phrase ”I don’t care what you do in your private life, but you shouldn’t go inflicting…” is the most perfect example of bigoted but delusional phrasing imaginable. I don’t care, but I do. In fact, I’m telling you you should do as I say, because people like you make me queasy, and if you don’t you deserve what you get. You can’t not care yet demand that people follow a certain path because it makes life easier for you. It sucks when applied to homosexuality, and it sucks when applied to changing names. You’ve never had the pressure to change your name, so what in England’s green pastures entitles you to blame women who have to make this choice? You get a bit confused filling paperwork so all people should fit your neat boxes?

Furthermore, don’t assume that because the women in your life haven’t talked about a problem to you a) they haven’t experienced it or b) nobody else has, so it doesn’t exist. Chances are, the women in your life suffer a lot of crap they may not feel comfortable with telling you about, or may be lucky enough to not suffer the crap other women suffer. Anecdotes are all very well, but not when used to try and minimise concerns of people with more relevant experience.

Always remember, guys. XYP- that’s Check Your Privilege. Y chromosomes don’t get a free pass round here. :)

Also, Cherie Booth? Didn’t the media still call her Cherie Blair anyway? And didn’t they just hound her for being a career woman anyway?

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2008 at 7:41 pm

Victoria, judging people for their choices, when there are pressures involved isn’t helpful. We all make compromises in the face of the patriarchy every day, some because we have to, some because it’s easer and we don’t want grief, and some because as a result of our experiences, or upbringing, we actually want to. There’s no point in expecting other women to martyrYou see, not blaming women for everyth themselves in the name of feminism if it isn’t what they want.

Criticising (by which I mean examining and deconstructing, not out ant out insulting for the hell of it) a choice and the feminist theory behind it is not the same as judging – judgement implies a right and wrong, and that blame should be heaped upon someone for a decision that does not affect you.

Also, ”…women who actually care about equality rather than expect it when it suits them.” are you from the Mail? Because I don’t see how somebody who claims to be feminist can judge women for making a different choice to herself, and blame women for inequality and not wanting equality enough, or the right equality, is particularly feminist.

Hazel // Posted 13 April 2008 at 8:03 pm

When I got married it did not occur to me to change my name.

It may have been given to me in a patriarchal fashion but it has been my name since birth and I have got used to it.

I cannot help feeling disappointed when a woman changes her name even though it doesn’t have anything to do with me.

Our son has my surname. We felt that nine months carrying him trumped any other consideration.

Hazel // Posted 13 April 2008 at 8:03 pm

When I got married it did not occur to me to change my name.

It may have been given to me in a patriarchal fashion but it has been my name since birth and I have got used to it.

I cannot help feeling disappointed when a woman changes her name even though it doesn’t have anything to do with me.

Our son has my surname. We felt that nine months carrying him trumped any other consideration.

Seph // Posted 13 April 2008 at 8:52 pm

One of the main arguments against a woman keeping her own name seems to be “teh poor confused childrens!11” and I have to say this is utter bollocks.

My Mother’s maiden name is on my birth certificate, but as I was raised by my Father’s parents i’ve been going by his surname most of my life, the only difficulty i’ve ever encountered is making sure you sign the right surname on the back of credit cards. Anyone who thinks kids are going to become traumatised because Mummy’s Ms Smith and Daddy’s Mr Jones must have never met a kid in their life.

Callie // Posted 13 April 2008 at 9:18 pm

Personally I wouldn’t change my surname if I ever got married, however I do have a very poor relationship with my biological father & because of this, when my Mum re-married I decided to change my surname to that of my new step-family. I felt like I wanted to distance myself from my ‘real’ dad and the most obvious way of doing that seemed to be taking on my step-dads surname.

I don’t know if that’s just transferring ‘ownership’ if my name from one man to the next, but I like knowing that at least I’ve choosen which man possesses that ‘ownership’

I fully believe that anyone should be able to choose which name they are known by, no matter what the origins of that name, but for me taking the name of who I now consider to be my Dad seemed a better option than picking a random name out of my family tree.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith // Posted 13 April 2008 at 9:35 pm

Anne, when it comes to the name you choose to take, it is a public statement – it’s part of what a name is. Yes, there are external pressures involved – of course there are – and it’s harder for some women than for others. But as you know, these pressures exist not least because people bow to them and reinforce them. This isn’t a question of “blaming women”, it’s a question of whether something is worth believing in and fighting for, and of pointing out that if it is, then not to fight is not a victory for “choice” but on the contrary, a form of intertia that ultimately restricts choice for others as well. I can’t help thinking sweeping statements about not blaming women and allowing for different choices really hold feminism back, insofar as too many feminists blindly leap in to defend the sexism of other women to the detriment of women as a whole. Being sexist does, without question, benefit some women (Daily Mail columnists for instance, of which I’m not one, although it’s funny that you clearly think that they’re worthy of attack and blame – might one not fall back on the argument that Amanda Platell, Melanie Phillips et al just have to “make compromises” so that there are a few women at the top of a man’s game?). To a lesser extent, being Mrs X can win you approval in some quarters, but it doesn’t mean this isn’t harming others. I can defend another woman or man’s free choice to be sexist, insofar as I’d want a society in which equality is accessible without the intrusion of the thought police. Nevertheless, I’m not going to defend sexism itself, and nor should you.

Eve Browning // Posted 13 April 2008 at 9:44 pm

Names! An issue that is complicated only for women (and our children). Isn’t that interesting? “Am I that name?”

Rose Hasty // Posted 13 April 2008 at 11:21 pm

I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t feel my child will be traumatised by his naming. Equally I find it hard to name my first child arbitrarilly (sp?!) as it feels like a special and meaningful thing to me. I don’t like double barrel names for the reason stated earlier: I associate them with upper-middle class snobbery from when I was young. I like the mix of two names into one. It doesn’t really work with mine and my partners though. It’s easy for people to say that it doesn’t matter and it’s a silly thing to worry about but all these small things shape our perceptions of society. It was one of the earliest ways I realised that men still had a dominant role, at least in traditions. I don’t want to start my son off with the wrong perception of gender, it may seem petty but it’s important to me.

Genevieve // Posted 13 April 2008 at 11:38 pm

I’ll gladly be arrogant and disrespectful if it means inconveniencing sexists.

anna rannva // Posted 14 April 2008 at 12:12 am

i have a very very long foreign surname, where i come from you get your dad’s first name+daughter/son. so when people call me by my surname i get really annoyed because they are calling me by my dads first name really( obviously they dont know that, but it irks me) and i dont get along with my dad, so i would be quite happy to get rid of the name that reminds me of not so great stuff.

but i would actually prefer to make up my own new last name, as i have done, but i cant make it legal as it is illegal to change you surname in my country.(even thoughi live in england,im still a nordic national) so maybe if i got married, which i doubt i will, and he had a cool name, i would think about taking it. but not because i feel its traditional, as where i come from women always keep their last names as we dont have family names at all, but because i want to and want to get rid of my surname. as long as women make their own informed choice about name changes, and what is best for themselves, whatever floats your boat i say.

Rhona-Mairead Sweeting // Posted 14 April 2008 at 9:55 am

Re the genealogy issue – in Scotland, women traditionally did not take their husband’s names, commonly adopting the title ‘Mistress’ on marriage (however, this could also be applied to a single woman, a widow, or a woman of high status, being more of an honorific title than a indictment of marital status).

However, in the early 19th century, increasing numbers of middle and upper class women began changing their names (under pressure? I don’t know, but I would imagine so), following the Anglocentric fashion. This was, apparently, so that English families would not assume that ‘Mr and Mistress’ were ‘living in sin’ (oh noes!!!) and ostracise them from their budding social circles.

As these things tend to do, it was gradually absorbed throughout Scottish society.

One way or t’other, I know lots of people who have researched their family trees and have never had a problem identifying female Scottish releatives simply because – shock, horror! – they had the temerity to not have the same surname as their menfolk.

Me, I’ve got a kick-ass surname (as opposed to the Significant Other’s rather lacklustre one) and I would rather chew off my own leg than change my name. As for kids, that’s not an issue and I shouldn’t imagine the cats, rabbit and dog will mind too much about having dual identities. ;)

Anne Onne // Posted 14 April 2008 at 12:31 pm

Because pointing out that there are complicated reasons behind why women choose to do things, even things that stem from the patriarchy is defending sexism?

Women won’t always want to take the non-sexist route. Sometimes directly because of sexism, sometimes

If we’re feminists, isn’t the thing we really believe worth fighting for, choice? Yes, we need to work to dismantle the societal pressures that pressure women into taking certain choices, or denying them choice at all. But this needn’t be at the expense of insisting that they must take our choice. I did state that I thought the lack of focus on the issue is bad. The fact that some women never consider any option but changing their name, that changing their name is the only thing to do, and must be done, is undoubtedly bad. But that doesn’t mean that there are instances when women change their name for a different reason. It’s the thinking it through, the choice to do it, the choosing the option they feel best for them that matters. What right have we to demand these women take another option that they decided wasn’t right for them, so that we feel they are helping our cause?

For example, I’m vehemently pro-choice, and think there’s nothing wrong or shameful about abortions. However, many people, even ones who are pro-choice, wouldn’t have one, or feel uncomfortable about them. I don’t however, think pressuring people who don’t want one, or feel queasy about them (though they think it should be legal) is the best way forward. Rather than pressing individuals into a choice they are not comfortable with, if we work to change the way that choice is framed by society, making the choice less shameful, less judged, then more people may take that choice, or consider it as an option than before. More people will be comfortable with it. It’s slow, and it depends on changing societal views, but it doesn’t require that individuals go against their own happiness for some greater good. Because in the end, isn’t the fight for equality and a better world about making less people miserable?

If we insist that they must do it ‘our’ way, when it’s not what they want, are we really any better than the patriarchy? In a feminist world where there was no patriarchy, all choices would be exactly equal, including the now patriarchical ones, because there would not be a patriarchy behind it. Girls, for example, would not be pressured to like pink any more than boys, so if they did, it wouldn’t be because they were girls, but because pink is a colour like any other, and probability implies that a number of people would choose any choice. I don’t see why when working towards equality we should render certain choices taboo, when we are working towards a world where women can choose whatever they want without pressure

I repeat, I think a personal choice itself is open to debate. Every choice is. We can examine the patriarchy and how it relates to that choice. We can examine the conditions in life that may make that choice a tempting or viable one for somebody. We can say it stems from the patriarchy, and that it is still linked to that mindset. That is it. We can’t ‘judge’ a person for their specific choice, or demand that they explain themselves to us. We don’t have that right. Their choice only affects us in the vaguest possible sense – that the choices of all people in the world affect us slightly through society as a whole. However, as an individual, no personal choice they can make is so important as to affect us greatly. And even if it does, it’s their choice, because it’s their body, their identity, their life.

I don’t think standing up for women and the choices they make (under pressures you might not face) is bad for feminism. It is not the same as standing up for sexist women. One can point out sexist actions and opinions in the media by men and women, and still believe that what somebody chooses for their own life is their concern. We can even examine the choices in a feminist light. It’s just that we don’t believe blaming people for difficult choices is constructive. It’s been a tool of the patriarchy for as long as (and isn’t the very definition of sexist women in the media someone who blames other women for their not conforming to patriarchy’s standards, even if they don’t follow it themselves?) we’ve been around. It’s not helpful, it’s not useful, and it won’t make these women change their minds. It might make them think feminism isn’t for them, or that feminists really do hate housewives/blondes/whatever, and it just creates divisions between groups of women who have made different choices. Feminism needs unity, and it needs its members to support each other. That’s my take on it, at least.

Your name is only a public statement insofar as that you can’t avoid telling it to people, or having them associate you with it. It is still much more than the handle by which others can call you. It is something you choose for yourself (to keep, to take, to make up, though the decision occurs under pressure from society and relatives), and the ultimate person who has to live with it every day is you. The individual and their living with the name happily is more important to the small contribution it might make to the whole. And since there are so many women perfectly willing to keep their names, do we really need to force those that don’t want to do it into it, too?

As for the Daily Mail comment, I never singled out women columnists. You read that in yourself. The Daily Mail publishes articles with sexist viewpoints the majority of the time, regardless of the gender of its columnists. Furthermore, if we are talking about its female contributors, I don’t believe that criticising an opinion, or an article is the same as criticising a personal life choice. I don’t care what Platell et al. do in their personal lives, whose name they take or whatever compromises they make to the patriarchy. Those are their personal choices, and nothing to do with me. However, publishing misogynistic articles is not anything like making a sexist personal choice to make your life easier. Your personal life mainly affects you, it is about you. You have the right to choose. However, when anybody, male or female, publishes articles about women and what they should or shouldn’t do, that is truly public. They are telling other people what to do, and how to judge other people. They choose to be sexist towards women in every article they write. Yes, in a sense it is because being sexist has gotten them perks, and given them an easier ride with the patriarchy. But that’s on a whole different scale to small personal decisions. No opinions, feminist or sexist have the right to not be challenged. And I don’t believe that anybody who manages to get to the top deserves a break. It’s always worth noting the pressures minorities are under when examining their actions (rather like you might examine privilege), but that never gives anyone a free pass. Anybody who states their opinion can have it examined, because they shared it with the intention of persuading others and having them think about it. Just like it’s perfectly natural to reply to a comment here, which has been posted here with the intention of sharing the author’s thoughts, and pointing out inaccuracies, but not acceptable to ask them whether they shave their armpits, and blaming them for being a bad feminist by not letting it all grow. Opinions are freely given to be examined. Personal choices are not. You may examine a choice, but not blame a particular person for choosing it.

Soirore // Posted 14 April 2008 at 2:01 pm

Anne Onne: I just wanted to say that you’re spot on. I know feminist women who have taken their husband’s names and am ashamed to say I judged them at first before I enquired as to the reasons. Where it is an informed choice and there is analysis, it isn’t anti-feminist.

I think also that we are overestimating the power of keeping our names. We are just choosing to avoid a patriarchal system, not generally changing it. I also think that doublebarrelling should be avoided for the reasons mentioned by Victoria; it has a class and status based history that is not challenging to our patriarchal society but subtley supporting it (in my opinion, I know loads of you will disagree with me)

One approach that was mentioned earlier here is that everyone should keep their own names and any children should be named alternately for mother, father, etc. or for some families I know; daughters take their mother’s name and sons their father’s. Of course that still leaves issues; what about trans children? But no system is perfect. I’d go for alternating myself but what about the first child? Father’s name? Is that patriarchal? Or should it be in alphabetical order?

Interestingly I contacted a registrar recently to see if I could discover any information about trends; are more women keeping their names now than 50 years ago? How many couples double-barrell? What are the trends in naming in civil partnerships? Anyway, she couldn’t help me as there are no statistics held as it is a cultural not a legal issue. To do a study would require rifling through thousands of marriage certificates and that doesn’t even cover those who keep their names upon marriage then jointly change to new ones by deed poll later.

Rose; don’t worry about what you call your son. His name won’t decide whether he grows up sexist or not, how you bring him up will. If you tell him why you chose whatever name for him and why it was such an issue he’s sure to be touched and impressed. I don’t have kids yet thank goodness but I feel for you as it is tricky.

Sarah // Posted 14 April 2008 at 2:38 pm

I honestly don’t understand why there’s a problem naming children if the parents have different surnames. Surely that’s something the parents can decide between themselves – why do you need a universal solution to tell you how to name your own children? Most parents have different first names from each other, but there seems to be no difficulty in choosing one for the child! I understand that many parents will want to pass on one or both of their surnames, as some cultures have a strong tradition of doing this, however there’s no reason for everyone to do it the same way according to some ‘system’!

As for changing my name on marriage – I just don’t see any reason to do it. I didn’t change my name when I graduated from university, or when I got my first job, or bought a house, I probably won’t change my name when I have a baby – so why on earth would I want to change it when I get married. I just feel no compulsion to alter my name in response to significant life events or rites of passage!

But by all means, change it if you want to. Though I wish women would be honest about why they are doing it – even if it’s a rather unedifying reason like giving in to pressure from parents. The ‘reason’ that irritates me most is ‘I just didn’t like my name’. If that’s the case, you can change it any time you like, it’s an amazing coincidence that you decided to change it on the same day you happened to get married! Also an odd coincidence that so many more women than men ‘just don’t like’ their names. I don’t mean to criticise women who are often in a difficult situation and under pressure from all directions to conform, it’s just that by denying the real reason, you deny that these pressures exist, and that makes life harder for all of us.

Anne Onne // Posted 14 April 2008 at 3:53 pm

Sarah, It probably IS true that many women honestly don’t like their name.

It’s not to say it doesn’t stem from the patriarchy, though. Many women are a lot less attached to their names than men. I do think it does stem from the societal expectations they have grown up with. On average, the men will have grown up being taught that they will be carrying on the line and that they should be proud to inherit the name and pass it on to their children. On the other hand, the women will have grown up being taught that they will likely change their name on marriage, that their name isn’t really theirs in the same way – it either belongs to their father, or their spouse. They don’t grow up expecting to keep their name, or pass it on, so it’s not unusual that women grow up less obsessed with the idea of passing a name on, or even pretty unattached to their names.

But for some women, the main reason as far as they see it, may well be that they just don’t like their names. Or maybe they don’t want to associate themselves with family members who hold the name. Which isn’t to say I don’t think patriarchical reasons (pressure, easier to change upon marriage) don’t come into it, they do, but to which extent different reasons influence people is very individual. It’s complicated, and there really isn’t an easy solution for anyone. I agree that people should think about their reasons, because so often people make choices without realising it even was a choice, and talking about it can hopefully make more people out there realise how complicated an issue it is.

Sarah // Posted 15 April 2008 at 9:38 am

I agree, and you make a good argument for why women may be less attached to their name, and more inclined to change it if they don’t like it (or want to break the association with their birth family etc.) I just wish they would not get this muddled up with the issue of marriage. If you want to change your name because you don’t like it, then go out and change it, but why do you have to do it at the same time as you get married? That just perpetuates the convention of ‘women change their names on marriage’, which puts more pressure on the rest of us to conform.

Now if you want to change your name when you get married, or get a civil partnership, or have a handfasting or committment ceremony, or whatever, because for some reason it’s important to you and your partner that you have the same name – well, that is different, and I have no right to tell anyone they shouldn’t. Just be honest about why you are doing it, that is all I ask.

Clearly this bothers me more than I had realised. Will have to think about why…

Anne Onne // Posted 15 April 2008 at 11:03 am

I think it’s in part because of the fact that because of tradition, it is much easier to change your name when you get married (less paperwork) than at another time, if you’re a woman. Men have to go through all of the deed poll paperwork even if they change their name on marriage, but women apparently have to do less paperwork if they change their name on marriage than by deed poll at another time.

I’m not sure about that, however, because I haven’t personally looked into the details, but I had vauely read it was the case. Maybe someone could comment if they know exactly what all of them entail?

But part of it will always be because it’s more socially acceptable to change your name then, because of tradition. Society brings people up to view starting a marriage as a new begining, or as a joining of two people (which aren’t so problematic in itself), and tied that in to the idea that the woman gets a new identity because she goes from single to married. I think this whole issue is a mix of all these traditions (which hearkens back to the time when the woman was literally given as property from one family to the other), all of which give the woman a sense that her identity is tied into her married status in a way her husband is not.

There isn’t much pressure for men to celebrate their marriage by changing their name to that of their wives to prove they love them, to ‘leave’ their own family to join their wive’s. There isn’t this idea that his identity changes completely when he’s married that he needs a new name to celebrate.

It’s natural to be bothered by patriachical traditions, Sarah, especially if most people don’t recognise them for what they are, and consider them essential and romantic. I think it’s particularly the fact that nobody considers the traditions behind it, and how sexist they are that bothers me the most, so I can see your viewpoint.

I think for modern women it comes in part from it being easiest and most acceptable socially to change your name on marriage, and that many peopel still attach a lot of romantic importance on it.

anna rannva // Posted 16 April 2008 at 2:23 am

i wish it would be legal for me to change my name by deed poll, but its not, the only way that it might be legal for me to change my name is by marriage, although thats not even 100%, my country is super anal about names, youre basically stuck with it, like it or not. my ideal thing would be no association with men, husband or dad, which are basically the options really, unless you are lucky enough to be english and are able to change your name by deed poll, if i could i would just legally change it to a name that i like and is not from any man.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 April 2008 at 7:54 pm

Anna rannva, that’s really bad. Everybody should have the choice to change their name as they wish.

You could change your name by deed poll if you gain UK citizenship, though if you have dual citizenship with your country, you generally have to follow the rules of both countries, so probably couldn’t change your name without giving up citizenship of your own country. And that’s assuming you live in the UK, and can get citizenship, so there doesn’t seem to be any easy way. You should be entitled to change your name to whatever you want, however you want. :(

Andrea M // Posted 18 April 2008 at 6:35 pm

I didn’t get a chance to read every post here, so forgive me if this has been said already. I have two problems in hyphenating my last name with anything else: my last name is already long and complicated because I’m Italian. Also, I am estranged from my father and see no reason to continue honoring his line. I would much rather honor the women in my family. So… what to do?

What about the idea of looking through family trees (on both sides) and coming up with (example a)the earliest traceable FIRST names in combination as a new last name? Or (Option B) why not just come up with a new last name for both partners that honors both partners’ heritage? Or (example c).. just be creative and come up with something new altogether that you just both like.

Option A: “Emma” is her great-great-grandmother’s first name. “James” is his great-great-great granfather’s first name. They combine the two names to have “Sharise and Daniel Emma-James.” Or something.

Option B: They come up with a double last name based on their heritage, hyphenated or not. ( Really, I’m getting quite tired of the new trend for women making their first surname their middle name. It gets lost and forgotten just like Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name did. Hyphenating is the only way to prevent this, it seems.) Again, this is an option for people who aren’t interested in keeping their father’s surname, but don’t want to just disappear, either.

Option C: Pick any ol’ thing that you both like, or even just you. Because I’m not attached to my father, my only reason for keeping my first surname is because I’m used to it and because paperwork to change it is ugly. However, if I can change my name to anything I want, I’ll pick something cool and really feminist… like “Inanna” or “Eve” (as a last name!) or “Lilith” or simply … lol… “XX.”


Actually, right now I’m toying with the idea of making life really inconvenient for all of those “doctors” who can’t handle hyphenated names. I’m considering adding a backslash instead of a hyphen:

Andrea James/Eve instead of Andrea James-Eve.

Which leaves me with Option D:

Maybe I’ll just add my spouse’s first (or last) name as my middle name, and just keep my old boring father’s surname.


We’ll see.

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