Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's in a Name

Many women fill out a lot of paperwork to change their names after marriage.

When my husband Larry and I married more than 25 years ago, I kept my name. I'm a Falion, he's a Savoie; a point of pride, for professional reasons and mostly one tiny effort to preserve and honor a family name in danger of dying out. The other day Larry sent this to me.

It made me smile. I did a little dance. I felt a little vindicated!!

(Reported by CNN from

Lots of folks have Sunday morning rituals -- church, pancakes, watching football. I turn to the wedding pages.

Every Sunday, I open up The New York Times to check out the wedding announcements.

They call that "the sports section for women," which is annoying, because it presupposes that, because I'm a chick, (a) I don't like sports and (b) I love weddings. To which I say, (a) I know what a hat trick is and (b) wedding invitations are just bills written in calligraphy.

No: I check out the wedding announcements because I want to see how many women change their names.

I am freshly gobsmacked every single Sunday morning when I see that about half the women -- mostly under 35, all women with careers, all women who chose to submit their announcement to the putatively liberal New York Times --are electing to give up their identity.

What would Lucy Stone say? She was a 19th-century suffragist who was the first American woman to revert to her birth name after marriage. She even had to chastise one Susan B. Anthony by writing to Suze, "A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers." Stone's followers -- women who refused to change their names upon marriage -- were called Stoners.

Today only about 20 percent of American women are Stoners. In other words, 80 percent of women change their identities -- I mean, names -- upon getting married.

It makes me wish we were a more progressive country like...Iran. Yes, Iran, where Muslim women keep their names for life. So must women, by law, keep their names in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Malaysia, Korea...I could go on, but I really like the way they do it in Spain.

There, people have two surnames -- their father's and their mother's. When they have a child, she receives the first surname from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother, and the parents choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children.

If that was a bit confusing, it's just because they use the metric system.

Names are our identity. They matter. Think about it: What does the Witness Protection Program do when they want you to disappear? They make you keep your first name and change your last name. When someone illegally assumes someone else's name, we say an identity's been stolen; when someone legally assumes someone else's name, we're married.

Let's cut through the most platitudinous argument: "A family shares a name." Um, nuh-uh. Did your grandmother have the same last name as you? Was she still your Nana? Conversely, does having the same last name mean you'll always stay a family? Ask the Gibsons or the McCartneys or the McGreeveys or...

What's in a name? You tell me...

• Would you want to lay down seven grand to buy a wedding dress from Vera Becker? (Vera Wang?)

• How about listen to a song from Mariah Cannon, Jennifer Anthony or Barbra Brolin? (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Barbra Streisand)

• Read a cover story on Angie Pitt? (Angelina Jolie)

• Netflix an old film with Elizabeth Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Warner Fortensky? (Elizabeth Taylor, natch)

• Or get your nightly news from Katie Monahan? (Katie Couric)

• Gloria Bale needs her surname like a fish needs a Steinem. (Gloria Steinem)

• And does the name Sonia Noonan suggest an "extraordinary journey"? (Sonia Sotomayor)

By the way, my wedding announcement was in The New York Times. When I submitted it, I wrote, "The groom is keeping his name." The Times did not publish that sentence. I guess they thought it was a typo.


Jeanie said...

Bravo! While I haven't had to make that choice, there really IS no choice. I am the last of my family name -- no siblings, kid of one with no siblings. I wouldn't mind attaching or hyphenating, maybe, but no way could I give it up. Even though it really is an ugly gross last name!

Been under the weather and couldn't get to your show last night, but am hoping to make the sale.

Jane said...

Thanks Jeanie! We at least have the satisfaction of knowing that my family name and yours will at least live on for several decades more!

might be an illusion said...

I love your list! And i can't believe the times omitted your "groom keeping his name" line! That would have been fabulous!

Blessed Rain said...

glad you felt vindicated but I wouldn't have kept my last name for all the money in the world.
I did the biggest happy dance of my life when I was able to show on paper that I had a new family.
Never assume that its because they don't want to keep their "identity" but rather are wanting a new one.

Kristine Campbell said...

This is a timely subject. A happily unmarried friend and I were discussing the number of young women we know who lopped off their last names and took the husband's. We were discouraged. When I married 25 years ago I hung onto my full name and it was no big deal. Well there was one time in Ohio when buying a washer that a clerk was shocked my husband and I had different last names, alas. I knew lots of friends then that hyphenated too. Are we taking a step back that women so easily give up their last names? Or is it not even considered because, as a friend of mine says, either way it's a man last name, father or spouse.