Actually, it’s not. My name is something completely different, which I subbed for an homage to my favorite actress, because this blog gets very, very personal and my Great Aunt Gert doesn’t need to know about my sex life. I also have two separate pen names for my fiction forays, adult and YA, that were vetted by my agent for maximum shelf allure. As someone who plays fast and loose with her virtual identity, I shouldn’t have a particular attachment to my actual name.
Except, of course, I do. For twenty-seven years, I’ve responded to it and signed it and, all too often, winced when people sang the nursery rhymes featuring it. Despite that time in fifth grade, when I tried to change it to Josephine Applesauce, I quite like my full appellation. It flows well, has a good syllable ratio, and fits me. Which is a bit of sticky wicket, since I’m now expected to change it.
Part of the trouble with never planning to marry is that I’m constantly blindsided by societal expectations I’ve not fully processed. Take the marital name change. People, it turns out, totally expect me to take Professor McGregor’s last name, without any deliberation at all. You’re getting married, they remind me, it’s what wives do! That’s nice and all, but it was never something I expected to do. If I eventually found a chap I liked enough to marry, I’d keep my last name, no big deal. This is 2013! Women do it all the time!
Only, they don’t. 90% of women in America still take their husband’s last name. Even more staggering, 10% of Americans believe a woman lacks commitment to the marriage, if she decides not to change. No offense, my dear countrymen, but that’s fucked up. If anything, it shows a decided presence of commitment not to chuck the name you’ve had all your life, because some dude puts a ring on it. It was one thing when marriage meant going from a father’s protection to a husband’s, but those days have long since past. Thank heavens! We have choices and options. We go to school, we holds jobs, we lead countries. Yet, still we keep this convention, this most basic indicator that we are not equals in marriage or life?
It’s more complicated than that, unfortunately. The choice is not so cut and dried, as my feminist core insists. If you and yours plan on having children, what will they go by? When people unthinkingly address checks to Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, will the bank give you a hard time about it? (Fun fact: Yes, they will!) Is your current last name really yours at all, or just your father’s name anyway? People you love—not just the general public, but friends, neighbors, in-laws—may doubt the strength of your union, because of the choice you make. Worse, your future husband may have strong feelings about you taking his name. To him, maybe it’s not a symbol of the patriarchy at all, but a symbol of family. Hell, you could be like Mae—a hardcore feminist with the world’s hardest to pronounce last name, who became Mrs. Thoughtful so she could stop correcting the pronunciation of every pizza boy. Often, the marital name change makes life easier.
So, what will it be, Grace? My friends are already calling me by my assumed marital name—my real first name rhymes perfectly with the professor’s real surname, so it’s great fun for everyone—and I roll my eyes. I know I won’t take only his last name, both for feminist reasons and not wanting to sound like a nursery rhyme, but should I hyphenate? We do eventually want children, so that would be the easiest thing, as teachers/parole officers will automatically call me Mrs. McGregor anyway. Hyphenation would allow my name to have a presence. The professor doesn’t care if I change or not, but he’s also not too keen on hyphenating his own last name, so is that punctuation mark giving up feminist ground?
I don’t know. And, quite frankly, it angers my intestinal villi that I even have to ponder this. It’s complicated to change my name, but just as hard to keep it the same. I keep coming back to the fact that men aren’t expected to do this. People look askance at a guy, if he even considers taking his wife’s last name, calling it unmanly or unnatural. That doesn’t sound so equal, kittens. If this basic issue is anything to go by, maybe we haven’t come so far, after all…