Originally appeared on From Two To One. Republished here with permission.
Though American I have been living in England the past year and am marrying a Scot. After having moved here from New York City where it is quite common for women to keep their last names, it has been overwhelming to experience the strong cultural expectations from the British that I take on my future husband’s name. It has been the subject of numerous cocktail and dinner conversations, and the strongest sentiments that I change my last name have come from other women. It seems to not matter that at 32 I am firmly into my career as a (former) lawyer and (future) law professor, where I have always been known as Maria Gall. It seems to not matter that should I change my name I will be known as Maria Alice Cooper (though I like the initials MAC, I’ve never had much time for the rock ‘n roller). But most importantly, it seems to not matter that I was born Maria Gall, a person who for over 30 years has maintained her own identity with her own name.
The arguments people set forth for changing my last name seem to me silly and/or antiquated.
First, to do something blindly just because it’s “tradition” is no argument at all. There are many traditional things related to marriage that we now don’t typically do, such as becoming our husband’s chattel. To do something based on mere “tradition” isn’t a particularly compelling argument.
Second, to argue that having the same last name will make me and my husband more of a “family” is nonsense. I’m entirely positive that we will objectively be a family regardless our last names. If sharing a last name is to make us feel more subjectively a family, then that can only be your opinion. We’re pretty sure we’ll feel just as much a family with different last names.
Third, to argue that I should change my last name because it will be easier and less confusing for the children is terribly presumptuous on a number of counts. Not only is it none of your business if or when we have children, but how stupid do you think our children would be? I’m sure any children we have would still be able to identify me as their mother and my husband as their father regardless our last names. Moreover, who says that any children will take my husband’s name? We may decide to give them my last name or a completely new last name. We’re both keen on “Skywalker.”
Fourth, to assert that changing my last name will make it more convenient for others is astounding. Why would I change my last name to make life easier on others? And, honestly, how long does it take for someone to process that we’re married after I say, “Hello, I’m Maria Gall and this is my husband, Lee Cooper.” Will he or she be sitting puzzled the rest of the evening? If I fill out a form indicating that we’re married, will we face serious administrative hurdles because of our differing last names?
The negotiated suggestions proposed by people are also without basis. For instance, some have suggested that I take “Gall” as my middle name. But, perhaps they’re not aware that I have a middle name. It was my great-grandmother’s first name. It is a name that my parents picked out for me, hopefully, with thought and care. Is a middle name considered so superfluous that it can just be disregarded at whim? Another suggestion has been the hyphenation. I’ve been told that if I should insist on keeping my name, I can at least change it to Gall-Cooper. Yet, no one has offered Cooper-Gall? I think that latter actually sounds better. The hyphenation compromise is actually not without appeal, and this is something that I might consider but only if my husband also changed his name. So far no one’s suggested that.
It seems the only support I’ve had toward my keeping my name has been from my fiance. (As he’s learned with nearly all things wedding related, “whatever makes me happy” is the correct response.) Connectedly, the use of titles in everyday British life is quite common, and the identification of your title is required on almost every form you complete. For as long as I can remember, I’ve used “Ms.” But, here, I’ve had backlash concerning my refusal to take on the “Mrs.” following marriage, including my desire to eliminate all references to “Mrs.” during the marriage ceremony or reception. (The celebrant has specific instructions not to introduce us as “Mr. and Mrs. Cooper” at any point.) I’ve been told that my use of “Ms.” is improper, as it’s only for old ladies or divorcees. Regardless of changing my last name, I wouldn’t change my title. I have no desire to be “Mrs.” anyone, identified by my marital status. Men are always “Mr.” but somehow women go from “Miss” to “Mrs.” and sometimes “Ms.” If it were up to me, I would eliminate the use of gender specific titles entirely. In how many situations do we really need to be identified by our gender? And in those situations, I think the ticking of a separate box for our gender type would be enough.
If women choose to change their last name in whatever form of their husband’s or be identified as “Mrs.,” then as a feminist I feel that is their rightful choice. But, I can’t help but be deeply saddened when that choice is because such women are so eager to be identified as married and/or through their husbands. Women have championed so long for equal status, so when did it become OK not to champion our own identities?
Maria is an American woman soon to marry in Scotland. This post is part of The Last Name Project, a joint series by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique profiling a diverse set of individuals who are single, engaged, and married about how and why they decided on their last names. The goal of the project is to explore the patriarchal tradition of taking your husband’s last name and the tremendous amount of symbolism and meaning choices about last names still have for women, their partners, and society. If you are interested in participating in the series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.