I have been chastised by my elders. A few weeks ago I was filling out some paperwork. The administrator that I was working with was an older woman, probably in her late 60s or early 70s. Everything was going well until it was time to fill in my husband’s information (who wasn’t with me at the time). After telling the woman his name, she looked at me rather puzzled. “Wait,” she said, “What is your name?” I repeated what I had told her in the beginning. She still looked puzzled, “But you’re married,” she said. I confirmed that I was, in fact, married. Then came the infamous question-like accusation that I have now become rather accustomed to, “You haven’t changed your name?!”
She was not at all pleased by this response. The woman proceeded to tell me that if my name did not match my husband’s on the paperwork, they would not believe that I was married and would instead think that I was cohabitating. She said that in order to process my information, our names had to match, and went on to hyphenate his name onto mine. That, however, was not the end of it. This woman was aghast at the rising generation. She reminded me that when she was my age, women were excited to take their husband’s last name. She pitied the poor husbands of women like me and asked how my husband was coping with it.
I have been chastised by my peers. This semester I am enrolled in an Intro to Women’s Studies course. For lectures, the professor presents gender-related questions which we then discuss as a class. When asked about whether or not a woman should keep her last name after she got married, several hands shot into the air. One of my classmates said that is was completely unacceptable for a woman to keep her last name, and went on to ask, “What man would want to marry a woman with an identity crisis and that much drama?”
I have been chastised by my co-workers. Last week I was working at the part-time job that I do with my husband. One of our co-workers was asking us how to pronounce our last name. Since she looked back and forth between the two of us as she spoke, we were confused about whose last name she was referring to. She then asked my husband if he was Hispanic. He said no, and we knew she was talking about my name. I told her how my name is pronounced and that I hadn’t changed my name. “Oh,” she said, turning to my husband. “You married a feminist.” His response? A completely unashamed, “Yup!”
Not changing my name was a personal choice that I spent a lot of time and energy figuring out. While I knew it went against social norms, never did I expect to get so much grief about it. What is most striking to me is how adamant people are about what a woman should or should not do with her name. In another blog I mentioned growing up in Ecuador. In most Hispanic cultures, women keep their own last name and just add on their husband’s. In fact, most children have two last names because they take on both the father’s and the mother’s last name. Even in the Middle East and Asia, women keep their maiden names.
Growing up in a culture in which women do not change their name has definitely influenced my decision to keep my name. In my Women’s Studies course I made an effort to point out the cultural differences in society. Just because a woman keeps her name does not mean she is full of drama and has identity issues. She may do it because she is from a different culture. She may even do it because she has a different understanding of equality.
Speaking of equality, Spain is using this exact issue to push for gender equality. When a child is born, he or she receives both the mother’s and father’s last name. This being said, all Spaniards have two surnames. While the parents decide which name is listed first, they do not always come to an agreement. Traditionally, when this is the case, the father’s name automatically comes first. In a push for gender equality, a bill has been presented to Parliament that calls for the surnames to automatically be listed alphabetically when the parents can’t agree which to put first.
Now I’m not saying that the US should pass a law like this, but I think there is something to be said about Spain’s attempt to erase any and all male bias. I realize that women in the United States change their names because it has been written into the culture. It is generally a sign of family, and not of male oppression. I can accept that. But while I do not think it is oppressive, I also do not think it is egalitarian. This, however, is not my problem today. My problem is with the way I am treated for the decision which I have made; a decision that is personal and one that does not affect administrators, peers, or co-workers. I have never looked down on a woman for taking on her husband’s name. Never. Why should I be criticized for keeping mine?
Names are important. Names represent an identity, a family, the social order. Some cultures call for women to keep their names. Some call for women to change them. Some women don’t let culture dictate what they do. In the end, the most important thing is that women are free to choose and are respected, regardless of the course they take.
For more information on the bill in Spain, visit:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101104/ap_on_re_eu/eu_spain_last_names