Every few weeks someone will bring up the question of women giving up their names when they get married. They don’t usually frame it as giving up, they always frame it like women taking their husbands’ names. One of the latest renditions of this tweet was a video in which a woman asks her fiancée if she can hyphenate her name after marriage and he asks her if he pays half the bills. There’s a lot to unpack there from why she’s asking him to why she’s hyphenating and what the bills have to do with it. That’s a discussion for another day, today let’s talk about why women’s names are so disposable, so easily discarded and why this must change. Women’s names matter.
It’s widely understood that upon marriage, women quickly discard their names and take on their husband’s names. This starts right at the church after the signing of the marriage certificate, with the officiant announcing some variation of, “I present to you Mr and Mrs Husband’s first name and Husband’s second name.” This continues throughout the reception and for the rest of their lives. The complete erasure of that woman as she’s subsumed under her husband. A reminder that marriage is always about ownership and the transference of ownership from the woman’s father to her husband.
The fact that people en masse still continue this practice in this dispensation where people insist that marriage is about love and companionship is astonishing. It’s evidence that we are as conservative as ever and more willing to stick with what we know than forge new ways of being, even when those old ways are rooted in domination and oppression.
If we took the history of dropping women’s names in favour of men’s names after marriage seriously, we would be experimenting with different ways of demonstrating our new unified state after marriage. Except we’re not. That would take too much time and effort and worse, it would bruise men’s egos so if you’re the type that wants to get married, it’s in your best interest not to entertain such thoughts.
Like someone once said, there doesn’t exist a man who can convince me that his name is better than mine. Knowing the history of marriage and the disdain society has for women, I’d argue that any man who asks you to change your name or is even okay with you changing your name to his is already problematic.
The history of children taking on their fathers’ names is just as problematic as that of women taking on men’s names after marriage. Getting your father’s name was evidence that you were legitimate. Men often denied children whose parentage they doubted (or plainly rejected) their surnames. The idea that we continue this tradition that suggests men grant legitimacy to children is dumbfounding. What legitimacy? Why do children need to be granted any kind of legitimacy? Why is it up to men to grant this legitimacy? The idea of legitimate and illegitimate children is archaic and the idea that it is men who grant legitimacy is patriarchal nonsense.
An obvious concern about legitimacy is inheritance. My only question is, what is the connection between inheritance and a name? Like, we can’t envision a situation where children receive their inheritance without having a man’s name attached to them. Don’t women leave their children an inheritance at all without them bearing their names? Isn’t that evidence that inheritance has nothing to do with your surname?
What’s a reason why present-day children bear their father’s names and not their mother’s names if it’s not about property ownership? What’s a good reason for it except our complete disdain for women and everything pertaining to womanhood?
All I know is there is no universe in which I could be pregnant for 280 days, dealing with untold physical, mental and psychological changes while growing this baby, then give birth in a painful life-threatening procedure, produce a baby and give it some man’s name. There is no universe in which that makes sense to me. None. That baby would carry my name. Women’s names matter.
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