Changing your name

I went to see Laurie Anderson perform her latest work, "Delusions," on Thursday night. It was fantastic.

There's a really nice review of it on the Straight website. You can also read a Q&A with Laurie Anderson on the official Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad website.

One of the funniest parts of the performance was a little section that dealt with names. Women's last names in particular.

I can't remember the exact wording, but she pointed out how women lose half of their name as they marry, divorce, and remarry. And the funniest: your mother's maiden name is so secret, so unknown, that you can use it as a security question for banking.

I've always been confused by the tradition of women changing their last name to their husband's when they get married. My mother did it, but I also knew women who kept their last name. As a man, I would just find it strange for someone to change their last name to my last name. I mean, what does that imply? That I own my wife? That I have subsumed her family identity into my own?

I recently learned that Chinese tradition is that women don't change their last name. My mother-in-law has the same name in Chinese that she was born with, but her last name in English is her husband's last name. Of course, more of her life is merged into her husband's life, whereas here in Canada it seems that the taking of the last name is more symbolic than anything else.

I'm still surprised when anyone I know changes their last name after marriage. I wonder if it is becoming less popular to change your name or if it is the same? And what does it mean to the people who do change their name? Do men feel somehow emasculated by a wife who refuses to change her name?

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Comments

Treadmill Traci:

That's interesting about the Chinese women keeping their own last name when they get married. Some old-fashioned traditions in this country are for the daughters to not have a middle name because when they get married their maiden name will be their middle name.

Anonymous:

My father was the most sexist man I've ever known. I wouldn't choose to keep and honour his name for that reason. However, my name -despite where it came from- is the name I've had since birth. It's my identity, just like everything about me. Half of me is my dad and that I can't change no matter how much I disagree with his world views. So I choose to keep my name because it is who I am. I'm not going to erase my past just because I marry a man. How undignified is it to spend days standing in line at every institution that you have any dealings with to make sure that everyone knows you now have a new owner. That said, I think hyphenated names are even more annoying. It's like saying oh hey, I like to make a stance but not really. Give me a longer leash but still keep me on a chain. While the husband just sits at home with his beer on his belly never having to even consider the horrible ordeal of having to change his name or identity just because he married some woman. Why would anyone expect him to change his identity? That would just be silly and WAY too much trouble for nothing!

Anonymous:

In theory, I would merge names with my husband (we consider ourselves married but have not had a government sanctioned marriage as we don't have any ethical or utilitarian reason to do so yet). We both like that idea. He wants my name, I want his- and they have a nice sound when hyphenated. But, I will probably choose to only take his name as my family has a history of abuse toward me- as well as several generations of abusing their children. I would rather leave the name behind, as it holds no merit or value to me. I don't communicate with them or consider them my family- so why keep the name?
We have also pondered both of us taking on some new last name...could be fun, but I've read that it is a big hassle legally.

Glenn:

I like the idea of merging names. Gene Baur and Lori Houston, who founded Farm Sanctuary, merged their last names together into "Bauston." Of course, when they divorced they each went back to their own "maiden" name. I thought that was an interesting way to create a new tradition of name changing through a merge instead of an overpowering.

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