My friend, Anne, got engaged this weekend and after all the congratulations, I asked, “Are you going to keep your last name?” And because she has known me since high school and even suggested last week that sometimes I adorn a judgmental bitch face, said, “I don’t know” when I suspect the real answer was “Of course not, you foolish feminist spinster.”
Most ladies in the U.S. agree with Anne. As in, of the 3 million women that get married each year in this country, 90% adopt their husband’s surname. And, despite what you would think, the trend of taking his last name isn’t shrinking, but growing: 23% of women kept their name in 1990 as opposed to 17% in 2000. The trend has more to do with the bureaucratic inconvenience of not sharing a name with your husband and children then it does the vestiges of being human chattel.
Okay. Okay. So I get that. We can send a shuttle to the moon and wade through the hell that is student aid forms, but distinguishing yourself as an individual with a last name that is separate from your spouse’s or child’s is too mentally taxing. Fine. Whatever. It’s complicated like recycling is complicated, but here’s a bold (or not at all bold) question: if it’s just a name and it’s just necessitated by a family unit, than why doesn’t he take her name? I realize the notion of a man changing his name is a mockable, hilarious idea, but in the United States it is also quite difficult and expensive (as in $300). As of 2007, there were only seven states that allowed a man to take his wife’s name with the same ease that a wife can take her husband’s name.
If women keeping their own name seems like some progressive idea from the future like universal health care or a female president, keep in mind that a lot of Middle Eastern nations are already there (see Iran, Yemen, Jordan and Syria.) Here are some more forward thinking countries where women retain their names as well: CHINA, Cambodia and Taiwan.
Many professional women in this country hyphenate because they’ve already established themselves in their field under their maiden names, and while this seems reasonable if not verbally prohibitive for the lazy mouth (trust me, I know because I have a laaaaaazy mouth), it irks me that this egalitarian solution still doesn’t apply to men.
Anyway, next time your woman is giving you some guff and talking about how she might like to retain the identity she had her entire life and not take on your last name, you can thank Lucy Stone. Credited with starting the movement, she was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (Oberlin in Ohio) and was the first recorded woman in the United States to retain her own last name (side note: her husband fought on her behalf to make this happen).
To that end, Haters, I haven’t made up my own mind on this because it’s not a problem for me yet (probably, the lazy mouth is to blame) but defaulting to the man’s last name suggests something about equality and it’s worth a discussion.