Originally appeared on Small Strokes Fell Big Oaks. Republished here with permission.
I’ve been musing a bit about last names recently, probably because I’m gearing up for another school year where I will be referred to solely as my last name for the next nine months. I actually enjoy this. It allows me to code-switch between my home life, where I am referred to as Ashley, and my school life, where I am referred to as Miss, Ms. S, or just my last name with no prefix attached. It’s almost like I get to be two different people, and that’s pretty cool, because it accurately describes what I do during the year; I’m one person when I teach, another when I write, and yet another while I’m out with friends or family.
However, as is the case with every school year—the summer months being popular for weddings and all—I know a lot of women who will be coming back to school with a new name. I will greet them, congratulate them on their new marriages, and ask whether or not they changed their names. Even though I know the answer to the question, I still pose it that way, not because I am hoping they changed their minds, but because they can change their minds, if they want to, and asking “What’s the new name?” only assumes they can’t.
When women tell me they have decided to change their names, many do it with the same sheepishness most people had when I’d tell them I was a vegetarian. “Oh, good for you! I don’t eat that much meat,” they’d say, as they chomped down on a bacon double cheeseburger. “It’s OK if you do,” I’d say, “I’m not judging you.” Similarly, women who have changed their names, especially if they know I’ve kept mine, generally respond to my question with feigned disappointment. “Yea,” they sigh, and then they immediately give me a reason why they made the decision they did.
To all of the women out there who change your names when you get married, I am not judging you. You made a decision that was right for you. I made the one that was right for me. These decisions don’t have a thing to do with one another.
Some argue that there is no such thing as a neutral choice, that all choices we make play into some system of classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. simply by virtue of the way we’ve been raised. Furthermore, it is a commonly held belief that, whatever choice we, ourselves, make is a way of showing the world how we think it should function. Our choices sometimes speak for themselves. “I’ve made the right choice,” they say, “and if you don’t choose to do the same thing I did, you are wrong.”
I am of the mind that there are no wrong choices, just different ones. I am not going to tell someone not to chow down on that bacon double cheeseburger if it makes them happy, and I am not going to tell someone to keep their name if they don’t feel it’s the right choice for them. Sure, chomping on some red meat can mean you don’t care about how that meat got to your table, or about how many hormones were pumped into it to get it nice and juicy for you, or that you haven’t thought about any of these things at all. It can also mean that you know about all of these things, and still made the decision to eat it anyway after weighing the circumstances. What do I care? It’s your body. Likewise, changing your name when you get married can mean that you’ve bought into the patriarchal notion that a woman should take a man’s name, or it can mean that you want children and you want the whole family to have the same name, or it can mean that you didn’t think much about it at all or that you did think about it ad nauseum and came to the conclusion that it was the best choice for you and your family.
What do I care? It’s your name. What you choose to do with it is your choice to make. I don’t need a reason, and I don’t need you to pretend to be disappointed about the shift. I am not judging you.
Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago. She is currently blasting music with her husband in their brand new house, where they live with their dog, Penny. She writes about feminism, relationships, and teaching at her own site—Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com)—and Care2 (http://www.care2.com/causes/author/ashleys). You can follow her on Twitter @samsanator.