New feature: Ask a feminist

// 4 June 2008

In the third ‘Ask a Feminist’, our contributors answer questions from a woman who is seven months pregnant and needs help explaining why she wants to keep her name to her partner – and why their child won’t necessarily take his name; from a reader wondering if crafty hobbies are compatible with feminism; and from another pondering if life is easier as a “fat” or “thin” feminist

ask a feministAnswers are provided by regular F Word contributors, and represent only their own potentially fallible opinions. In the spirit of pluralism, we will try and work in more than one response if we can. There is no definitive ‘F Word line’ or ‘feminist line’, and our answers are given in that spirit.

Of course, we will never publish anyone’s name or identifying details. If you want to ask us something, please just use the comment link at the bottom of this page.

I am seven months pregnant, and my partner and I are in the middle of a massive disagreement about what our baby’s surname should be.

He has assumed that the baby will have his name (we’re not married), and then the other day announced that if he proposed to me it would be on the condition that I changed my name to his also!

He is a lovely man, and despite this I want to be with him. But I can’t seem to explain to him why I want to keep my name. We don’t know anyone who has not taken their husband’s name on marriage or having a baby. Do you know of anything I could give him to read that might help me make my point?

Help Needed in Naming Dilemma

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Comments From You

Citruscino // Posted 5 June 2008 at 9:44 am


A healthy relationship is based on love, on respect & on equality.

If your partner thinks you’re worth less than him, there’s something wrong!

Hello! You are a human being, you are over 18, you are pregnant, you are (theoretically) NOT a second-class citizen anymore.

You are not a house, a car, a horse or a boat and therefore your name should not change. You are not about to be owned by a new landlord, are you? What would your partner think if you’d ask him to get your name?

Anyway, my advice is DON’T GET MARRIED! Marriage is a patriarchal institution anyway!!!

As for your kid-to-be, do you intend to raise her/him/hir with the idea both his/her/hir parents are equal OR with the concept DADDY has more power than MOMMY?

My speech might sounds radical but I spoke frankly.

Regards & good luck

Sarah // Posted 5 June 2008 at 10:48 am

I might sound radical too, as I would never consider getting married or changing my name – I just don’t see any reason to do it. As for naming your child, that is a bit more difficult, because obviously he/she has to be given a name! I think that’s for you and your partner to work out between you, and one of you passing on your name doesn’t necessarily imply more ‘power’ on that person’s part.

However it’s worrying to me that your partner apparently just ‘assumed’ that the child would have his name, rather than seeing it as something the two of you should discuss. It’s fine for him to have preferences and wishes about such an important issue, however if it honestly doesn’t occur to him that you might also have such preferences, that you are also a human being with feelings and opinions of your own – then you have a problem that goes far beyond a disagreement about how to name your child.

Anna // Posted 5 June 2008 at 11:18 am

My parents give the boys my father’s surname and my mother’s surname, and vice versa (in theory, they never had any girls). It’s worked pretty well for them..

Anne Onne // Posted 5 June 2008 at 12:06 pm

HNND, There probably won’t be any easy option. Certainly, there will be no ‘compromise’ that suits everybody, or you would not have asked for advice, because you would already have found it!

Communication is necessary in a relationship, and you will have to sit down together and have a talk, where both parties should be able to get their feelings accross, without interruption, and then respond to each other.

It may well be that he sees you taking his name (and the children taking his name) as something he’s owed, because society often presents it as something a woman should do if she loves her husband. This is emotional blackmail, though he doesn’t realise it, because he expects it automatically. Maybe if you asked him to reframe it, ie, asked him what would he say, if you insisted HE must take YOUR name to prove he loves you and wants to be with you. Use his strength of feeling to try and draw a parallel, and use his emotions about his own name to try and draw some empathy.

Ask him why he feels he needs to keep his name (family tree, feeling a part of his family, etc), and use this to point out you feel a part of your family, too. Tell him you feel the same attachment to your name that he does to his, even more so because all the women in your family had to give it up, and that you don’t want to. If having the same name is important to him (I’m guessing it’s not to you), you can tell him he can change his name to yours, if he wants to share names.

After the initial opener, you could always suggest merging your two names into one new one, or both of you hyphenating. Either way, if sharing names is important to him, he should be willing to contribute to this. It’s unfair to demand one thing, but add nothing yourself.

This link goes over most of the options, with some of the pros and cons of each:

BSQ, I’d say it’s ‘easier’ to be thin, just like it’s ‘easier’ to be white, middle class, and male. Society presents less problems in your everyday life, and people take you more seriously as a whole. Of course, nobody has a carefree life!

C&C, I know what you mean. But part of being a feminist is also learning to strip away the derision society meets out to ‘girly’ things, and that they aren’t as worthy or useful as things that are seen as masculine. We want to fight for women’s rights to be crap at ‘women’s things’, and not care less about them, but also for men and women’s rights to be interested in them also.

I was brought up to know how to knit, darn my clothes, and a lot of other useful stuff. I’m also into arts and crafts. I also learned how to fix simple gadgets myself, do DIY now and again, and tackle simple home IT issues (typical ‘men’s jobs’). There’s nothing that says learning to be a bit more self-sufficient is a bad thing, especially if you enjoy it.

The point about time is a good one – don’t feel guilty for how you spend it, or how much or little you can do.

I do think it’s important that women aren’t made to feel guilty for not being interested in all the ‘women’s jobs’ stuff, or made to feel rotten for being bad at it. After all, jokes about most men being crap at DIY are the norm!

But we should also encourage anyone to enjoy being self-sufficient, and that a little extra knowledge and interest can go a long way. If I have children, I intend to teach them all I can, whatever gender they are.

Soirore // Posted 5 June 2008 at 12:07 pm

It may help if we provide reasons why we want to keep our names so that you can show him this and he can see how common it is. For me personally I have had a deeply entrenched link between my name and my identiy since I was eight when I wrote it at the top of a piece of schoolwork. I realised at that moment that this was who I was, that it signified that piece of writing as mine. I have my father’s name, partly because my mother’s original name was given up gladly by her because she always had problems with others pronouncing and spelling it wrong. When my partner and I get married it will be to confirm our partnership legally but my life will not change, I will still do the same job for example. If I were to change my name it would be as if someone else were taking over my job, bank account and signature. These didn’t change when I fell in love with my partner and won’t when I marry him. (I agree btw that marriage is patriarchal but I think that an unequal relationship without financial and legal security such as cohabitation is even more detrimental to women)

Hopefully it is just short sightedness on his part. Naming sons with his surname and daughters with yours is a great idea but what will happen if you have a daughter? Will he then change his mind? Are your surnames compatible for double-barrelling?

Remember too that in this discussion he needs to justify wanting his name as well. Taking the male name is common but it isn’t automatic. Does he really have a more powerful reason for wanting his name used than you? It needs to be very strong if you are to sacrifice your name and take his, remember you are being the reasonable one, you’re not requesting that he take your name but that you both retain the identities you were born with.

In the end you should not marry someone who imposes conditions on your partnership, this suggests that there are other aspects of marriage that he may expect to go his way and that he doesn’t respect your opinion. But as I said, hopefully he’ll read this and understand what it means to you; it is so important that you sought outside help.

Sabre // Posted 5 June 2008 at 12:39 pm

Hello HNND,

I agree somewhat with the previous two comments. However I have a slightly different perspective as I have recently begun venturing into conversations with my long-term boyfriend over the future, marriage and children. The naming issue has come up. I realised that my boyfriend had automatically assumed I would change my name, and in the slight chance that I wouldn’t, the children would definitely have his name. While this is annoying and disheartening, we have to remember that men are brought up by our society to expect this as normal, and it can take a while to open up their minds to other alternatives. The fear of what his friends and family would think is silly to me but also very real, and shouldn’t be discounted, but overcome. It doesn’t help that you don’t know any women who have kept their own name after marriage, and I don’t either. I know that my boyfriend repects me, and I’m sure yours does too, he just needs to open his mind and not be scared of how society will judge him if you keep your own name. If after having a rational and honest conversation about the naming issue he still stubbornly insists on his own way, then maybe he doesn’t respect you enough and you have a problem. I could offer the following tips:

1. Your reasons for wanting to keep/pass on your name are just as valid as his. If he says that he considers you both to be equals then he has to put his money where his mouth is.

2. If he comes back saying ‘but why do you care so much, it’s only your father’s surname anyway so you’re still carrying on another man’s name’, remind him that by that rationale HE is also ‘only’ carrying on his father’s name. Anyway, a person’s name may come from their parents, but it doesn’t make it any less theirs.

3. Help him to understand why he is so against you keeping/passing on your name. Is he scared of losing control or owndership? Remind him that you are having a child that will always be his and yours, irrespective of whatever name she/he has.

4. You are risking your life, health and possibly career and pension security by having a baby. You have invested and risked more so far than he has, and while you would expect him to do his fair share of childcare, your significantly higher contribution should be recognised.

5. If he cites the reason ‘but it’s traditional’ remind him that many things used to be ‘traditional’, like only having a child in wedlock! That’s clearly not an issue for you so you both don’t do things just because they’re traditional anyway. In may case I also remind my boyfriend that mixed race couples are untraditional and we’re clearly flouting that rule! Screw traditional, people should decide what works best for them.

6. You are having a child together! It’s a wonderful thing, but it’s pretty much a life commitment and you are going to have to deal with a lot more hairy issues in the future than naming. If he is unable to compromise with you then how will you two sort out the more difficult issues?

Also, a marriage proposal should never come with strings attached, and also it does not have to come from him!

Good luck, and I hope you two can sort it out. Remember that patriarchal traditions can be difficult to overcome for men, but stand firm in your beliefs. I think it’s easy for feminists to condemn a man for holding patriarchal views without considering that it can be more difficult for men to break away from them than women, because men aren’t expected to rebel.

As I said, I’m sure your boyfriend is lovely, as mine is, he just needs to question more, be open-minded and really respect you and listen to you as an equal.

While it will help, it is not your job to reassure him (and his ego), especially as you’re heavily pregnant. If he is giving you crap over this issue rather than support in your pregnancy then you need to tell him to back off!

I hope that helps somewhat. My boyfriend is slowly coming round to alternative naming scenarios but he was brought up with very traditional views and it’ll take a while. Hell, it took me 25 years to realise that I didn’t have to do what was traditionally expected of me!

Sarah // Posted 5 June 2008 at 2:15 pm

Soirore said:

(I agree btw that marriage is patriarchal but I think that an unequal relationship without financial and legal security such as cohabitation is even more detrimental to women)

I just wanted to pick up on this point, because while I agree it has traditionally been true, and may be still for women in some situations, I don’t think it’s necessarily the case for all of us. If you are going to give up your career and stay home to keep house and care for the children, then yes absolutely you should ensure you have the legal security of marriage. If as a couple you’re relying on one ‘breadwinner’ to support both of you (and the children) then it’s probably also worth having life insurance, or at least insurance against accident or redundancy or something else that could cause loss of earnings, otherwise you might find yourself in a lot of financial trouble.

But surely most couples today are not in this situation. I don’t think that I am risking anything by being in an unmarried cohabiting relationship – that is, by the fact that I happen to live in the same house as the person I love and have a sexual relationship with. I have a good job and am perfectly capable of supporting myself. We don’t have any children yet, and I can’t say how I’ll feel if/when we do, but I certainly don’t see myself giving up work or taking on more of the caring work than him – I’m not a particularly domestic or maternal person, though I think I do want to be a parent. If we broke up I wouldn’t dream of taking a penny of his, even if I was entitled to it – we don’t owe each other anything. I really don’t see what protection marriage would give me, or what protection I need.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 June 2008 at 4:22 pm

HNND: This feminist took her husband’s name (and for no good reason!). I honestly don’t know why, except that when I got married (at 19), I didn’t have the language to articulate why I shouldn’t (or a reason to justify this to myself, let alone anyone else). As a result, I have an ambivalent relationship with my name and my signature only uses my first name. I seem to have been much happier giving up my family name than I am reclaiming a new one. I won’t change it back though because all my qualifications and my professional identity now use that name. I think if I ever have another career I may use my family name. My husband and I haven’t decided what to do about kids yet, but we are very keen on the idea of inventing a new name altogether.

If you live in Scotland, however, it may interest you to know that you never renounce your family name, even if you commonly use your married name. You often have to sign both on legal documents. Furthermore, in Scotland it is not traditional to take your husband’s surname at all. In fact, women didn’t until the nineteenth century, when it became fashionable. This was also true of some communities in England and of France. In Scotland, it was also very common until recently (and I know lots of people named like this now) to give your child her/his mother’s name as her/his middle name. It wasn’t double barrelled, but was their full legal name. You might also consider that at least in Scotland children born outside of marriage almost always take their mother’s name (although this might be changing as the marriage rate drops, but people continue to cohabit)- this would be the ‘traditional’ choice.

Soirore // Posted 5 June 2008 at 5:15 pm

Sarah – I wasn’t actually thinking of a male as breadwinner set up. This is not the only way that a female partner can get disadvantaged. I have known many cohabitees who’ve seperated and even when the male half (I’m refering only to heterosexual partnerships at this point) has been feminist I’ve been astounded at the results of these separations where financial decisions have been based on trust. For example when one half is self-employed or one half is on benefits.

For me, personally it is easier to have the law behind me if my chap decides to renounce his respect for equality upon seperation. Even if that means I happen to be earning more at the time and give him maintenance. It is very rare that all household bills are divided exactly by half. How many people decide to have the gas bill put in their name only because it’s easier at the time and then their partner pays for it mainly later? It’s much more difficult, for me, to track these things now as I pay for some things and he pays for others.

Also I intend to get married so we have the person who knows us best as our next of kin. I love my mother but if I were to die, for example, would she follow my wishes for what I want done with my body? I know for a fact that my partner’s next of kin would act in direct opposition to his.

I do respect your opinion but I am more of the wary kind and as I don’t know what is going to happen in my relationship, whether my career will continue to be secure or whatever, I’d like things to be set up so that problems can be dealt with cleanly and simply.

Sarah // Posted 5 June 2008 at 7:26 pm

Soirore – I see your point – I’m not so romantic as to think my relationship could never end in an acrimonious way – I can’t imagine it happening, but then most divorced/separated couples felt the same way at one point, I would guess! There are definitely advantages to marriage/civil partnership as you point out, and if you feel it would be beneficial to you then it’s a perfectly valid decision. I just don’t think it’s for me. There are just so many patriarchal assumptions and connotations tied up with marriage, that I feel it would make my life more difficult in ways that would outweigh any benefits.

Feminist Avatar – I also had the impression that it was traditional for children to be given their mother’s surname if the parents were unmarried, though as you say this may have changed in recent years as it becomes more common and socially acceptable to have children without/before marriage.

BrevisMus // Posted 10 June 2008 at 7:24 pm

C&C –

I think your query becomes clear if you think about intent.

Are you being crafty because you genuinely enjoy these hobbies, or because you feel you ought to do these things in order to be a good wife?

I’ve baked all my own bread since 2005 (OK, when I say ‘baked’ I mean ‘put ingredients in a bread maker and switched it on’); I adore knitting, and spin my own yarn; I make my own menstrual pads & use a mooncup; I only shop in charity shops… I do all this because I love crafting, it’s cheaper than buying new, and it’s good for the environment (and with the bread, I get to control what goes in it, no more ‘yeast enhancers’).

I’m not doing it because I think this is the way women ‘should’ act, and I don’t feel all superior that I’m living the ‘right’ way. I also don’t bow down to my partner – I might do all the cooking, but he does all the washing up (and this way we’re not eating burger & chips every night).

So – what do you want to be? Analyse your motivation and your intent, as well as your relationship with your husband.

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