Have you ever been asked: “What’s your married name? What’s your maiden name? How can they be the same?”
This question seems so ludicrous. It stems from a quaint custom, a rite-of-passage which is not, nor has it ever been, expected of men. For women, however, a public pronouncement of love and commitment to a chosen mate is not enough. A traditional band of precious metal worn on the left hand at all times is also not enough. For, I have been told, it is expected that a woman must become an adjunct to her mate, to be put; like property, in his name.
Let’s examine the common usage. Take “Mrs. John Smith” for example. Does anyone LIVE inside that name? Could be a Rachel, could be an Angela, could be a nobody. This appellation is Mr. John Smith’s portable label for his current spouse. It is not truly a name. Whose house is that? John Smith’s. Whose woman is that? John Smith’s.
I was born with my father’s name. All of us children were. My first name belonged to an Empress, and it is at the top of my resume, stating the necessary gender. Prior to marriage, I lived twenty-seven years with this name, the one I have always used, the one I am using now. It has been engraved on name plates, credit cards and business cards. I can be found under this name in school yearbooks, personnel records, alumni listings and the phone book. I have fleshed it out and made it ring with memories of a unique person.
Consider, for a moment, the name: “Mr. Jane Smith”. Does it sound ludicrous? Your first question may be: “What’s his first name”? But you won’t have to ask who he’s married to.
But what last name will the children have? Why not both? If one last name must be chosen, why not the mother’s name? And why is it assumed I will have children? That leads to another essay altogether.
I may decide to change my name someday – for convenience, or pure caprice. But many women have fought long and hard for the right to choose where and when that change may take place. In the not-too-distant past, it was illegal for a woman to keep her birth name. Hopefully the change in legislation will lead to a change in attitude. For the present, however, I will endeavor to gracefully field questions about the impossibility of having the same name after marriage as before.