Thursday, January 31, 2008

To Take Your Husband's Last Name or Not

Stressed Woman

Triathletes tend to be independent, progressive thinkers of fairly high intelligence. I’m not saying every triathlete fits this description, but more of my triathlete friends do than don’t. And most of them who didn’t get married young before they were set in their triathletic, independent ways have not been too successful at holding down a long-term relationship. They have a standardized routine, their own space, and a hard time allowing anyone to mess it up.

So what does this have to do with my ambivalence about taking my coachancé’s last name? Coachancé and I have been conditioned on the “give-and-take” side of life through college living; we didn’t have much trouble continuing to live this way as graduation wasn’t that long ago. We’ve never really had our own spaces, and have been changing up our routines on a semester system for several years. I want the heater on, coachancé doesn’t want to pay for it. So the heat comes on in one room of the apartment, designated as “Celia’s Sauna”.

So with all this lovey dovey give and take stuff, it seems like the issue of the married last name shouldn’t be an issue. Traditionally, the man gives the name, the woman takes the name. Case closed. But being one of those difficult people who’s a feminist when it comes to women’s rights, but likes dudes to open doors and lift heavy things for me, I can’t just accept this societal convention.

As far as I can tell, the tradition stems from the fact that a woman was once seen as a man’s property. When she married him, she became his, and the last name change signified just that. Their children were also his and took the man’s last name.

Genealogy is patriarchal, traced through the man’s roots. However, just because it’s been done for so long doesn’t mean it’s right. Most people go along with this convention simply because it’s easy; their family tree will be all messed up if they don’t. Or there is great importance placed on being seen as a whole family unit, indicated by a single last name. But why can’t it be the woman’s last name?

Then there’s the argument that the woman’s last name was yet another name that she didn’t choose dumped on her by a male. This is true, and there are a ton of women who hated their fathers and therefore had no problem taking their husband’s last name—in fact, that was their main perk in marriage.

Or there are women who find their last names too long, or they’re always mispronounced. Therefore Angie Stephanopolous will gladly change her name to Brown when she marries Fred Brown. Or there are women who have already gained notoriety in their given field with their maiden name and choose to keep it. But why does it always have to be the woman’s decision? Why aren’t men agonizing about whether or not they should take their wife’s last name?

I don’t fit any of these examples. I love my last name; it lets me pretend that I am Italian, and it’s always been easy to tell if callers were telemarketers or not. I also love my dad.

I agree with the idea that a family should have a single last name so they may present themselves as a strong unit. At this point, however, hyphenated last names are so ubiquitous that the chances of my hyphenated kids marrying other hyphenated kids and having a ridiculous amount of names to sift through are great.

Then there’s the option of combining last names, like Los Angeles City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—Villar- from Antoino, -Raigosa from his wife. But if you do that, don’t you stop your family tree in the middle of its growth?

I honestly have no answers here. Coachancé is always perfect and supportive of whatever I choose to do, although I know it would probably make him sad somewhere under his calm exterior if I didn’t take his name. And that’s another reason why women relent—because they don’t want to hurt their loved one. But why don’t we feel hurt if they reject our names?

I just know that I am a stubborn triathlete educated in a very liberal school who won’t accept “tradition” as the final answer for everything—except for having dudes open doors for me. It’s just nice.


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