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May 18, 2005

Feminism and Married Surnames

Eugene Volokh is asking married feminist women who had chosen their husband's last names to explain why, and if this contracts feminist thought. [Via Lauren at Feministe.] I don't think it contradicts feminism. Most of the women who had commented stated that they chose their husband's last names to allay any confusion regarding their children. A family with the same last name reinforces the family unit. Some women had maiden names they did not like, and chose their husband's names, which were easier to pronounce or not embarrassing, as their own last name.

I took on my ex-husband's last name as my last name, and I used my maiden name as my middle name. I liked the sound of it. If my husband's name was something dreadful like "Glotfelty" I probably would not have used it. I knew a guy in college named Dave Glotfelty. Once, when we were out buying ingredients for a pizza, he asked me what I wanted on it. I told him he'd probably gag, but I wanted anchovies. He froze, and stared at me. I thought he was going to go into a tirade about people who like to eat food that watches them while they eat it. I've heard that one before when I begged for anchovies on a pizza. Instead, he asked me if I played chess. I was thinking, "what the hell?" Yes, I played chess, although not very well. He then got down on his knees - in the middle of the refrigerated section in the grocery store - and asked me to marry him. I said "no," and told him to get up because he was embarrassing me. He then told me that he met women who liked anchovies, and he met women who could play chess. However, he had never met a woman who both liked anchovies and could play chess. He said that the moment he met such a woman, he was going to ask her to marry him, no matter where he was at the time. I gently turned him down (knew he was joking though), and we got our anchovies, ran back to my dorm room, and gorged on anchovy pizza. He begged me to play a game of chess with him, but I wasn't in the mood.

I would never have taken his last name as my own, even if I had married him, because it sounded dorky. Trish Glotfelty. Yuck.

I haven't taken my current husband's last name because I'm too well known in my professional circle by my first name and maiden name. Changing my name to include his last name would just make things confusing for me. However, I might take his last name for legal and purely vanity purposes, since he is descended from a Hungarian count. By marriage, I am a countess, even though the family lost its fortune years ago. The title is yet another one of those Eastern European worthless titles you've read about. It's a really cool name, too. With a cool accent over one letter. I'd pronounce it in Hungarian, not English.

Heh. I am a countess. Bow down and kiss my ring. evil_smiley.gif

Posted on May 18, 2005 at 02:26 PM | Permalink


My husband and I never even had a discussion about me changing my name. I never have and see no reason to in the future. Like you, I already had a "known" name in my profession and to change it would have been silly.

Posted by: Roxanne at May 18, 2005 2:54:46 PM

there was never really any question that my wife would not take my name when we got married (her last name is entirely different from mine--i know it is a little confusing to refer to her as mrs. noz). she never seemed inclined to rename herself, even before she got many publications under her own name (plus she actually knew someone in high school with her first name and my last name who she didn't like that much). on top of that, i really wouldn't have wanted her to take my name. it just wasn't the kind of marriage i wanted to have.

of course, even 8 years later, both of our families are still confused about what her last name is. part of the confusion is that my wife's twin sister hyphenated her name (as did her husband)

Posted by: upyernoz at May 18, 2005 3:17:20 PM

I made my middle name (which was given at birth) my legal last name. I did this when I divorced my ex. I like that fact that both of my names, first and last, are my birth names but neither of them come from my father's linage.

Posted by: lee at May 18, 2005 3:53:11 PM

that was a fun story about the anchovies; thanks

I like anchovies!

Posted by: lee at May 18, 2005 3:54:40 PM

but no chess, lee?

if i get married, i'm keeping my name. the way eugene set up his conversation makes it
look like i'm a freak, but i have publications, dang it. one of my kids is getting my
name, too.

if i married my current fellow, it'd be way too alliterative, too.

Posted by: Jami at May 18, 2005 7:09:54 PM

My favorite cousin's name was named John Jones. He loved it, because no one believed it was his real name. He was nuts, anyway.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at May 18, 2005 7:46:42 PM

but no chess, lee?

well ... chess was something my father required that I learn; it was on his "must have" list of life skills. I never got good it at, but I do understand how the game is played. My dad used to play in tournament chess.

Posted by: lee at May 19, 2005 12:47:56 AM

lee, I love that idea.

In my fantasies where I becomes a famous writer for all the stuff I haven't bothered to write yet, my pen name is just my first and middle names, no last name.

Posted by: Jenny at May 19, 2005 3:53:08 AM

(Of course, it would help if I learned to spell first, or use proper English, whichever works best.)

That was meant to be "become", not "becomes", Doh!

Posted by: Jenny at May 19, 2005 4:03:17 AM

If you refuse to take your husband's name then all you are doing is insisting on keeping your father's name! Any real feminist would get rid of both and call themselves simply Sister and then their first name... or maybe make something up... speaking as someone with a really stupid surname (no i'm not going to share it) and who doesn't really believe in marriage as a concept from the start, I would prefer everyone to call me Sister Cruella (both parts made up by me, note second part copyright the well-known feminist militant group Disney Corp). "Oi Gorgeous" will also do.

Posted by: Cruella at May 19, 2005 10:38:45 AM

also Trish if you are on gameknot and fancy a game of chess let me know and I'll tell you my username. I'm not great but I have my moments...!

Posted by: Cruella at May 19, 2005 10:40:01 AM

If you refuse to take your husband's name then all you are doing is insisting on keeping your father's name!

Funny, but not all of us have our father's name. And some of us wonder why our father's last name is considered his own, but a daughter's last name considered Daddy's, not hers.

If I'm named after my grandmother is it not really my name?

Posted by: mythago at May 19, 2005 10:50:41 AM

Back in the 70s, I knew all kinds of women with "made-up" last names, Lauris Willow, Thunder, etc. I wonder if they still have those names... Or whether they went back to being Jane Doe.

Posted by: silverside at May 19, 2005 11:32:43 AM

Well, I completely reinvented my name last year--took a new first, middle, and last name. That I chose to share a name with my husband (only after 5 years of marriage, mind you) symbolizes that we are a family. It's not a necessary symbol, it's one I chose.

Posted by: Kai Jones at May 19, 2005 6:32:12 PM

I use either my last name or my husband's last name, depending on what I'm doing. Legally and insurance, that sort of thing, it's both names; professionally I use my own for the same reason - too well known by my own name. I don't care if it's my father's last name, I like it, and it works rhythmically. I go for the flow. ;D

A lot of women keep their ex's name if they have kids. Well, My ex's name is dumb, and poor Bug is stuck with it. Just because the Amish couldn't spell is no reason to penalize two of us, lol. My husband's name doesn't fit rhythmically with my first name without Thomas in the middle. So there you go.

But if anyone knows anything about the 7 Thomas brothers who came over in a boat from Wales, email me.

Posted by: Moi ;) at May 19, 2005 9:13:25 PM

I wonder if they still have those names...

I know a woman whose mother did that (i.e. chose a 'nature-y' last name) and gave it to her kids. When this woman married her female partner, they combined their last names.

Posted by: mythago at May 20, 2005 12:33:40 AM

One of the reasons I married my husband was because I liked his last name. I figured I would never have to spell my name again.

If I marry someone else someday, I'm keeping Smith. I've had this name longer than my maiden name and it's real hard to find it in the phone book. I feel anonymous. I love it.

Furthermore, whether or not one takes their husband's name doesn't mean that she is a bogus feminist.

Posted by: Liz Smith at May 20, 2005 1:58:39 PM

My god, if you find a last name that nobody ever spells or pronounces wrong, please let me know, and I'll change my name to it. I don't care where it came from. ;)

Nobody is saying that name changing makes one a "bogus feminist." But I'd say it's bogus when a feminist decides that choices she likes, or that are comfortable and easy, must never be questioned or subjected to the same scrunity as choices she herself wouldn't like.

Posted by: mythago at May 20, 2005 4:25:31 PM

Let's see here. Your name is TRISH and you have a problem with the name GLOTFELTY? And you like ANCHOVIES and CHESS? Seems to me you should embrace ANY new surname some guy may want to bestow upon you. After all, how many chances are you going to get with all that baggage.

Posted by: Tom Glotfelty at May 28, 2005 10:12:18 AM

Poor Tom. Looks like I hit a nerve. Hey, I wouldn't want to take a name like Snotnagle, either. I'm happily married anyway, so I don't have to worry about any name some guy might want to bestow on me.

Now watch some poor guy with the unfortunate name "Snotnagle" come here and whine on my blog... ;)

Posted by: Trish Wilson at May 28, 2005 11:17:00 AM

Snotnagle was my Mother's maiden name.

Posted by: tom glotflety at May 29, 2005 3:03:19 PM

It was my mother's maiden name, too. We must be related! Oh, my God...

Posted by: Trish Wilson at May 29, 2005 3:36:05 PM

Wow, that is a co-incedence. I ran into your blog with a "google" on the name "Glotfelty". I was researching the family name (Glotfelty) for my ancestors that were pastors, priests, ministers and rabbis versus pickpockets, horse-thieves, rapists and drug-dealers. Turns out, my family isn't all that religious. I would suggest that we leave our common surname (Snotnagle) unexplored.

Posted by: tom glotfelty at May 29, 2005 9:56:34 PM

I have people ask me if I would take my boyfriend's name if we marry, and I have to laugh--Amanda Arroyo sounds stupid to me anyway. But that's not why I wouldn't, of course. And god, what a nightmare to try to rearrange everything in your life for something so unimportant as flattering your husband by taking his name. Presumably he knows you like him--you married him, didn't you? I wonder why that's just not enough.

Posted by: Amanda at May 30, 2005 9:26:05 AM

I took my husband's name, more for the ease and the fact that I was young (only 23 when we got married). That said, I definitely think it is easier on the kids... although I do hate the fact that unless my brother has a child, my family name will not be carried on!

Posted by: Nikki Katz at Jul 2, 2005 1:01:26 AM