What’s your choice? Names as a microcosm for a feminism at the crossroads

This is the third post in a three part series about changing your name as an academic. Be sure to check out our earlier posts: Changing my surname was a personal choice, and No good options: when your name change indicates a gender change.

I kept my name when I got married. Growing up, it had never even occurred to me to change, and by the time I got married keeping it had become a matter of principle. The process was quite smooth (considering there was no paperwork), and aside from correcting a few stubborn family members who insisted on mailing things to Mr. and Mrs. Husband, my choice has been drama free. I’ve had my share of awkward customer service interactions, and I’ve had to explain to strangers that my husband and I have two different names. We don’t have kids together yet, and so haven’t had to decide how to handle that (right now we’re leaning on any hypothetical baby taking my last name, since my husband has a child with his last name already; it seems only fair.). I had already published under my own name, and it was nice to not have to worry about making any changes — to my drivers license, my CV, my Social Security card, my life.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched a growing number of my friends and colleagues get married. Naïvely, I’ve been surprised that the vast majority of them have taken their husbands surnames. I watched as some of my staunchest feminist friends have had to defend their choices — or, more commonly not defend them. Because what you do with your life and your name is your choice; you don’t have to defend it. This is the promise of third wave feminism: we are now responsible for our bodies, our selves, our lives. Our choices.

Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy...Run! it's coming for our choices!

Actually, this is kind of how I pictured patriarchy…Run! it’s coming for our choices!

But… What happens when our choices are the same choices that The Patriarchy would have made for us? Bear with this clunky metaphor for minute — I don’t mean to think of The Patriarchy as some sort of 1950’s supervillain that bears a mysterious resemblance to the Mecha-Hitler at the end of Castle Wolfenstein. Rather, the patriarchy in this context is shorthand for both an overwhelming societal pressure (the kind our great-grandmothers would’ve faced); but also a more subtle, insidious socialization.

Basically, after decades of feminism, it surprises me that so many heterosexual married women still take their husbands surname. Is it really is a choice, if the choice isn’t changing?

I want to be 100% clear here: I am not blaming individual women for their decisions. As a feminist, it’s extremely important to me that women support one another. If you changed your name for any reason, please do not take this as a personal attack. Rather, I want us all to interrogate the broader culture that results in the overwhelming patterns of inequality that persists for time. Similarly, I would never hold it against a woman for leaving a career in science, or for being a stay-at-home mom. But I am interested in pushing back on a broader culture that results in fewer women in science, and an the overwhelming majority of stay-at-home parents being women.

As individuals, “it was my choice!” Is a satisfying and respectable answer– we should not have to defend our choices. As a society, though, I worry that by focusing on — and ending at — choice, we are letting ourselves off the hook. Because our choices do not just affect us; they participate in a broader society that is still unequal. Most heterosexual married women still take their husbands’ surnames. Most stay-at-home parents are women. Women are not paid equally for equal work. Women are more likely to be the targets of sexual harassment and assault. In an unequal world, individual choices are subversive. They are powerful.

I really started thinking about the perils of choice feminism when the 50 Shades of Gray movie came out (bear with me here). First, people critiqued the movie for its problematic depictions of BDSM culture and abusive behavior. This in turn sparked a number of rebuttals from those who argued that that what we choose to find sexually gratifying is our own business, and we don’t have to defend those choices. Here’s the problem I have with that: what we find sexual is highly influenced by society — our kinks are largely socialized. It therefore follows that if the society that those kinks come from has problems, some of those problems are going to carry through to what we find kinky. This doesn’t mean that we should stop enjoying things (so long as we’re not hurting anyone); rather, it means that we need to take personal responsibility for how those things might reinforce unequal societies and harmful power structures.

Similarly, we may not need to defend our individual choices as women to take our husband’s name or not — or to stay home, or not; or to have babies, or not; or to wear makeup and skirts, or not; or to enjoy cooking and sewing, or basketball and carpentry; or to be tops or bottoms, CEOs or secretaries. But we cannot end at “choice.” We have to dig deeper, and understand how our choices (and our actions that follow from those choices) reinforce or undermine the work for equality. We have to do the personal heavy lifting of asking ourselves why we are making the choices we are, even as we respect the choices our fellow women make.

It may seem contradictory to say that it’s okay for individuals make choices, but it’s not okay for a broader group of individuals to make choices. I don’t think so, because we can simultaneously respect women’s autonomy while also critiquing broader patterns and the cultures that produce them. We also need to take responsibility for equality of individual women (even as we encourage subversion), and place that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the institutions, cultures, and societal structures that are unequal. We also need to place responsibility on the people who stand to benefit from that inequality: guys. Someday, I’d like to see men taking their wives’ surnames, and couples forming new names, and for those choices to be just as common.

As long as individuals of one gender disproportionately make the most sacrifices for the other– to stay home, to change their names, to abandon a career to support the other’s — I worry that our choices are not really, fully our own. So while I will always support my fellow women and their choices, I will continue to interrogate my own, and to take the opportunity to be an activist in my own choices. The personal cost to me is small, and the goal is pretty damn awesome. It’s going to take a lot of choices, big and small, to get there.

31 thoughts on “What’s your choice? Names as a microcosm for a feminism at the crossroads

  1. Nice essay. I went for the wimpy choice: like you, I married a man who had a child from his first marriage, and it was important to us that the three of us have the same name, so I redubbed myself Ms. Birthname MarriedName, and always use all three; I also did a legal name change to Birthname MarriedName. Later we had a child of our own and his name is Child MarriedName. I did feel a pang when my equally feminist brother’s two daughters took their mom’s last name, because our childhood birthname is on the verge of disappearing now.

    My marriage preceded my PhD by 11 years, however, and my one regret is that MarriedName is so blinkin’ common. Citation counts have trouble finding me, Google has trouble disambiguating me, it’s a royal pain. If I had it to do over again, I would have hyphenated just to make myself more distinctive.

    • You bring up a great reason why name-changing can be a plus, or why it may have nothing to do with activism (pre-existing family structures). If we could just get the guys to do it more often, too…

  2. Hi Acclimatrix,

    Interesting post, especially the part about the societal influence of collective vs. individual choices. I just wanted to throw in a few random thoughts and explain my choice to take my husband’s name (while also keeping my own).

    1. Children. Our kids will have my husband’s family name, which is now also part of my name. I don’t want our kids to have a hyphenated surname, partly because my choice to give my daughter a hyphenated name could potentially take away her choice to do the same, should she decide to take on her husband’s name and keep her maiden name. As you say, in the future couples forming new names could become more common, especially in the situation where one individual already has a hyphenated surname.

    2. My ‘family’ name didn’t mean anything to me. My maiden name was my Mum’s married name. She was married to a guy that I have never met who is not my father. Therefore, I always thought this was a bit weird and didn’t feel particularly attached to my surname.

    3. My maiden name was very common and I have no middle initial. This means that it is very hard for people to look me up on publication databases. If I’d have thought about this back when I was starting my career maybe I would have invented an unusual middle initial to differentiate myself. As it is, I now have a very distinctive last name on which to ‘build my brand’.

    It was a choice that I put a lot of thought into and not one that people necessarily expected me to make. In fact, I have had the opposite experience of people always referring to me as my pre-married name (I’ve made myself feel nauseous by writing ‘maiden name’ with all of it’s patriarchal connotations so many times) but for the reasons outlined above, I ultimately found the name change to be right for me.

    As an aside I do have one male friend who, along with his wife, has hyphenated his surname. I think that this will become more common in the future.

    • Interesting things about hyphens — this is dine commonly in Hispanic cultures, but I’m not sure how the additive part works/ We should take pages out of their book!

      You’ve also highlighted some really great reasons why changing your name may have absolutely nothing to do with, say, historical sexist practice. I have a friend who had an abusive father, and she didn’t want to keep his name for sure. I think these are all great reasons why men and women should have the flexibility to change names or hyphenate as suits their needs best.

      I have a couple male friends who talked about changing their names, but once they realized how much of a hassle it was they decided not to in the end. I think in most places it is harder for men to change the names than women, which is part of the problem.

  3. Great post. I think it’s a really important thing to accept and support the choices women make individually while working against the status quo on a larger scale. There are so many examples I see where what is right for one person (and should not be judged) is largely dictated by systemic societal structures. E.g. my sister in law, who left a full-time job (permanent, but not TT, and so less permanent than TT) now teaches as an adjunct at the U where my brother got a TT job. She’s frustrated on many levels w/ her career (and my brother is too), but would make the same choice if she had to do it over given the situation. Many other choices, such as changing names, are less problematic (or not at all to the people involved) but do certainly come out of the intrenched societal frameworks.

    For myself and my name – I, like you, had always assumed I’d keep my name. It never once occurred to me that I might change it. I also thought that if I had kids they would darned well carry my name not my partner’s, be that partner male or female.

    Well, reality is I’m the one with the higher powered job, with benefits, etc., and in the end, I couldn’t make myself force that issue on tehgroom – societal structures already make my position of relative power difficult on several levels. I regret that tehkiddos don’t share my name a bit, but… I am who I am, living in the culture I am, trying to balance so many things. That was just not high enough on my list.

    • Thanks for your comment. You highlight the importance of mutual give-and-take, and I think compromises are really important– I’m really fortunate that I have the safety to make choices I have, and to feel relatively supported in most choices. I don’t have a family that’s going to disown me (we are not close), etc. Everyone’s circumstances are unique.

    • I made a very similar choice. I kept my name when I got married and my husband and I had the conversation about whose last name our kids would have. I wanted them to have mine because my (awesome) last name will die out with my generation. But my husband, who is transgender, felt like if the kids weren’t going to be biologically his, having his last name was a way to tie them to him more explicitly. I felt like his argument was better than mine, so that’s what we will do when the time comes, and they’ll have my last name as their middle name.

      I hadn’t thought about the individual versus population implications of “choice feminism” but this post was incredibly thought provoking, so thank you.

  4. Nice piece, well articulated.

    A question re: the worry that our choices aren’t truly our own if they reflect the culture around us, and that this is a problem. In general (and I’m thinking very broadly about all our choices here), isn’t is useful, even essential, for us to often make “default” choices without conscious thought? Indeed, even when we do consciously consider the pros and cons of different options, we often do so not one choice at a time, but rather to choose some new “default”. (e.g., having thought about it once, I’m now going to only buy organic produce in future, or no longer ever vote for candidates from political party X, or whatever). If I want to have the time, mental energy, etc. to make some of my own conscious choices, then I need to conserve those finite resources by not bothering to think about other stuff–quite possibly including stuff that other people really wish I would think about consciously! So in that sense, I’m glad to have a society or culture that gives me “default” options, even while recognizing that the “default” options we’re presented with often are problematic in various ways, and that other people might not like my choices of what “defaults” to go with and which ones to consciously consider.

    So I’d hesitate to criticize someone else’s choice to keep or change their name not just because I respect their right to make their own choices, but also because I’m reluctant to tell someone else what they should be making conscious choices about–i.e. to what issues should they be devoting some of their finite time, cognitive resources, and physical and emotional energy? I suppose the answer, or a answer is what you did in your essay–lay out your own reasons for making the conscious choice you did, and for thinking that this topic is one that it’s worth making a conscious choice about, and then let others make up their own minds.

  5. Great post! I also always thought I would keep my maiden name. Slightly out of feminism, but more just because the idea had always seemed strange…all of a sudden you have a new NAME.

    In the end I married a great guy with great last name and I think a large part of my decision to change my last name was that I liked his so much. If it was reversed, I wouldn’t have changed my name. Also, I did want our kids to have the same last name as us for purely practical reasons-I’d seen some friends go through headaches picking kids up, etc when they had different names. I actually proposed that we both change our name (his mom’s maiden name was awesome, even better than her married name, and I suggested we take that one so as to still honor the family). He was supportive of the idea, but he researched it a bit and came to the conclusion that there was just not socially accepted for him to do change his name the way there was for me.

    So, I’m very happy with my new name. Heck, it’s an upgrade. Also can understand when others wouldn’t want to. And absolutely agree that we need to work on changing the system all the while too.

    (Side note: when changing names in academia, I found it helpful to set up a website even as a grad student ot postdoc. That way you can control the content that people see when they search for you online…and can specifically reference work done under both of your names in one place).

    • That such a great point about men and social acceptance for name changes — it’s definitely going to be a riskier choice for a lot of men (patriarchy hurts everyone!), and it’s logistically more challenging for men, in many places. Breaking down that stigma is going to be an important part of the process.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. “Most stay-at-home parents are women.” – So? Why is that bad?

    ” how our choices (and our actions that follow from those choices) reinforce or undermine the work for equality” – My problem here is that you assign responsibility on everyone for promoting female equality. The individual is first of all responsible for himself. A woman is an independent individual that’s more important than the collective ‘women’.

    My problem is here is that you discuss less the reasoning behind the choices, and talk more about the patterns. Patterns always emerge. One population will always dominate one field, probably. You will need a lot of control to make sure everyone is equally represented everywhere. It doesn’t matter if most women or stay at home, or take their husbands’ names, or if most men go for dangerous jobs while women’s are much easier. What matters is why.

    “As long as individuals of one gender disproportionately make the most sacrifices for the other– to stay home, to change their names, to abandon a career to support the other’s — I worry that our choices are not really, fully our own.”

    This is what I’m referring to. You decide that the choices are not fully our own because a pattern exists, not because of its reasoning behind it.

      • You still failed to address this reasoning.

        There is no ‘everybody knows that’ in good discourse.

        If you think it’s bad that most moms stay at home, giving me numbers mean nothing. You have to prove how social expectations still force women to do it.

        There’s a very logical explanation why most women will stay with their kids: They’re bearing them. They come straight from them. It immidiately creates a different relationship.

        • Dude, there are thousands of books and articles on this topic. I write one blog post focusing on one aspect of this topic– choice feminism. You can educate yourself on the multitude of data out there on the “why.” Don’t ask me to do the heavy lifting for you– and don’t try to fault my post because it’s not exhaustive on the entirety of feminism.

          My post is on names. There is no biological reason for women to disproportionately take their husbands’ surnames.

          As for moms staying at home, there is no biological reason for shitty daycare or stigma against dads staying at home, or hostile sexist work environments that make staying at home a better option, etc.

          Being a biological mother does not require staying at home with your kids. Kids can survive with fathers at home, or in daycare, or with adoptive parents. And that’s my last word on a subject that wasn’t the topic of my post to begin with.

          Go google “gender essentialism” to get yourself started.

  7. I kept mine, partly because of the sexism inherent in the system: if I was to change, I could just do it by signing my marriage license with the new name. For him to do it, he’d have to do a big pile of legal rigamarole, including going to explain himself to a judge. But there was also the Mr. Data explanation: “One is my name. The other is not.”

    Our kids are hyphenated, again because feminism. Why should children be automatically “assigned” to the paternal family? So we chose a hyphenated version of our names for them. If they want to pick one or the other as adults, they’re welcome to. (So far, my daughter likes her dual name. “I have your name, and Daddy’s name, because I’m part you, and part Daddy.”)

  8. I legally changed my name upon marriage but continue to use my maiden name professionally. Just want to report that it has worked out really nicely. My professional name feels like a pseudonym (secret identity!) and allows me to keep my work and personal life somewhat separate. I did not have to re-brand myself professionally but I get to have the same legal/social name as the rest of my family. The only thing that is annoying (and only slightly so) is that I have to be sure that people booking flights for me are aware of my legal name.

    • I have known many people do to this – actors and actresses for example. It also brings to mind the current penchant for people to use creative on-screen names as pseudonyms.

      but seriously, yes it is convenient for others to know both your names.
      A colleague was in hospital with high blood pressure prior to the imminent birth of her child. She had booked in under her husband’s name, because that is what she used for family matters. But I did not know that surname, so I could not call and enquire about her health (nor tell her how her students were going, as I was marking their exams for her). I just had to wait until she or her hubby contacted me – annoying, but no big deal (and no deal at all now, with mobile phones).

  9. This is a really lovely and thought-provoking post. Thank you. I’ve been a long-time reader and fan of this blog, but haven’t ever commented before. Discussing what to do about our names and our children’s names has been a long-running issue for my wife and me. We very much felt that 1) we had both published in our previous names and wanted to keep that visibility but 2) we wanted our family to all have the same name. To make matters trickier, I already had two last names by virtue of having feminist parents (which, while I’m happy I did, having two last names was always really annoying throughout child and adult life and isn’t something I would wish on my kids).

    As it sounds like one commenter above, we decided to both change our name personally but keep publishing and going professionally by our previous names. In terms of balancing personal preference with keeping this professional brand, it has (so far) worked really, really well. No one at work knows our “true” last names, and it’s totally fine that way. We just had twins and have given them our one last name, so our whole family has that last name.

    That’s the good news. The bad things and pushback were immediate, though. We both went through the name change process and took one of my last names (the coolest one). At every single step of the way, whatever agency would change my wife’s name instantly and NEVER easily changed my name. It was so egregious that in changing our passports, we sent in all the same materials *in the same envelope* and the passport agency sent back her new passport and a letter with my old name saying that they couldn’t change it because I hadn’t provided the documentation for a name change. Apparently a marriage license wasn’t enough for them. At most places, it took physically arguing with them, often multiple times, to get my name changed. One state’s DMV wouldn’t do it at all, so I had to get a drivers’ license in a different state with the new name. Then, we didn’t really appreciate how much strife and general upsetted-ness my changing my name would cause on my father’s side of the family. What I’ve come to conclude is that, despite our best intentions of wanting to share the name change burden, have the same names as our kids, keep our professional names, and not burden our kids with endless hyphenating names, there is probably not any perfect solution on names. Just a bunch of tough trade-offs with a lot of downsides. I don’t know what we’d do if we had to do it all again.

    • Just to clarify – we chose my mom’s side of my previously hyphenated last name (I had published under my dad’s side name). Hence the strife on my dad’s side.

  10. I kept my name when I married, for a variety of reasons. One reason was that my spouse had previously been married and his ex HAD changed her name and then kept it after the divorce – and frankly, I didn’t really want to be associated with the ex. But I also kept it for a variety of other reasons. One downside is that my last name is much more common than my spouse’s last name, which makes it harder to find me professionally (lots of other people with my first AND last name, even in academia).

    Our kids have my name as one of their middle names and my spouse’s last name as their last name. At an earlier point in my life I was adamant that this wouldn’t be the case, but at the end of the day, I decided this was not a battle I wanted to spend the time and energy fighting. And frankly, even though a friend once told me that I should change my name to match my kids’ because otherwise school officials wouldn’t know I was their mom (WHAT??!?), there haven’t been any issues with the fact that my kids and I don’t share a last name.

    The thing that annoys me the most is my mother in law continuing to address things to us as Mr and Mrs Husband’s Last Name (sometimes even Dr and Mrs Husband’s Last Name, even though I am a Dr too…).

  11. I kept my own name (i really dislike the term “maiden name” – it gives me the yucks). I did it for feminist reasons and not because I cared at all about my name for sentimental reasons, or to sustain my father’s line (which actually would have died out had I not passed the name along). I made this decision before I got married and it was a non-negotiable. Another non-negotiable was that our children would have my last name. I have never really understood (personally!) the idea that everyone in the family has to have the same last name. Surely, we have so many blended families about that it would be foolish for people to assume that different last names = unrelated. I can also report that my husband having a different last name for our children has never been a headache or problem at all. A few raised eyebrows but that’s it. No one seems confused (and by ‘no one’ I mean, their pediatricians, teachers, friends’ parents). It makes me sad that more women don’t keep their names and that more children don’t have their mothers’ names.

    You mentioned Hispanic names – something I can clarify for you and your readers. In Spanish speaking countries, people customarily-legally have two last names (sometimes more, which is why the word for last names on forms – apellidos – is always plural). Let’s say Juana García Martínez. Her name would be alphabetized as García Martínez, Juana. “García” is the “first” last name and Martínez in the second. If someone pares down the name (in newspaper for example) they would say Juana García. “García” would be Juana’s father’s first last name, and Martínez her mother’s. If Juana García Martínez married Manuel Rojas Caso, their child would be Beatriz Rojas García. Legally, you keep your name the same if you get married, which is why the now-Queen of Spain used to be referred to as Letizia Ortiz, (not Letizia de Borbón) even after she married the prince.

    • Oh and I forgot – Hispanics (and Spaniards) in the US often hyphenate because it’s illegal in the US to have two last names. Hyphen makes it one name. Weird but true.

    • I’m with you about last names and family — I grew up with divorced and remarried parents, so a lot of my siblings have a different last names of me, and it never once bothered me.

      Thank you for the clarification on Hispanic names! It seems like a cool system.

      • Thanks also for clarifying this. Yes, the Hispanic system does seem cool. I went through hurdles working it out at one time, because a grad student was citing papers from the same person as if it were two or three different people (can’t remember the details), because different Anglophile journals were using the Hispanic surnames in different manners as explained above (one name, two names or hyphenated names used variously in different journals). I did my research, then argued and argued with the student that it was the same person, but he didn’t believe me so cited the work(s) as if from several different authors. I guess the Hispanic researchers got used to it! I hope they didn’t take offence.

  12. Thanks for writing this. It was a breath of fresh air. I have always thought of taking husband’s name as such as flagrant symbol of patriarchy and am always surprised when other women don’t see it this way.

    Yet, I too get the reasons for personal decisions. I grew up with a mother with a different last name and it was a pain and socially awkward back then. So I really get wanting to all have the same name.

    Our solution was my husband and I both changed our names to something new: a hyphenation of our mother’s maiden names.

    Our reasons why:
    – Both of us disliked our birth surnames–they were hard to pronounce and spell and mine was very long. There was no way I was keeping it or dooming a child with it, but at the same time the idea of taking his name made me sick to my feminist stomach (literally).
    – We liked the idea of having a unique, matching, new nuclear-family name and saw no reason ours should match one side of our family and not the other.
    – We don’t care at all about passing down family names. Too many relatives have taken on that call.

    The practical and reaction:
    – I’m actually surprised to hear of other men having trouble or hassles. We got married in CA and the law there is you can change your name just by consistently using the new one. We both had to go to the DMV and just request a new license under our new name. Once we had it, we just used that at the bank, Social Security, etc. Once you have old and new SS cards, it’s never been a problem anywhere. Even for me, my new name is written no where on the marriage license (as it isn’t either of our prior names) and it has never been a problem, even now living in a different state.

    – The only person who had any problems with it is my MIL. I suspect other relatives found it strange, but they’re too polite to say anything. Maybe it’s because my DH has always been a free spirit and it just doesn’t surprise them.

    My MIL doesn’t like it b/c we have a son but my husband’s brother has two daughters, so the name isn’t carrying on. She has actually mailed things to my son with her last name. Our take on this is that (1) one of my FIL’s 5 brothers is sure to have enough progeny to pick up that torch so it’s really not a concern and (2) even if they don’t, then score one tiny point against patriarchy. Why should this one male-line grandchild be special to them over his sister or 7 cousins?

    – The hyphenated last name IS a bit of a pain in everyday life, especially since the first part of our hyphenated last name is a female first name. So people get really mixed up with what is my first or last name.

    But overall, I’m glad we did it this way. I have come to realize that had we chosen a single last name, everyone who met us after we married would have just assumed it was his and I had taken it. Wouldn’t have changed perceptions at all.

    Since we’re both hyphenated, everyone assumes the first name was the one I grew up with and the second is the one he grew up with. But the fact that his is hyphenated brings up the conversation, and gets people to realize there really are choices.

  13. My wife took my name not upon marriage, but just before the birth of our first child. Since she stayed at home with the children, it served as a symbolic social indicator of my responsibility during that time. As a queer family, sharing a name silences questions about how or whether we are related. This eliminates some of the stress associated with traveling in places where our family isn’t legally recognized.

  14. This has given me a lot to think about. I´m from Argentina and in hispanic countries, as some have said, women don´t change their last names and children take both parents´ last names (the first of each as we use two last names, one from mom and one from dad). Now that I live here in the US I have discovered that keeping my name appears to be more complicated than I ever imagined. I´m especially puzzled by the idea of people not believing my kids are mine just because we don´t have the same last names! Anyway, what I wanted to bring to the table here is that for hispanics like myself the decision has to take into account other problems. First, since I have a long hispanic name it is a hassle to spell it every time. Also, let´s be honest about it, it´s a racial/ethnic marker that I would prefer to avoid not because I regret who I am but because now I live in a society where people will make assumptions just based on my name (this would never happen in my country for obvious reasons). Third, if I take my future husband´s name it will be easier for me to go through the paperwork that implies getting the green card and all that (now I´m F-1). If I keep my name the system will “punish” me by making it more difficult for me to go through all the process. I don´t have to make that decision yet but I´m troubled because I had never thought about changing my name until I came here and I have to take into account that my boyfriend´s family will be my family now (and the only one I will have here). To make it a little bit more complicated I have published with my name and so I have to consider that changing it would have professional implications. So, as you´ve said, this is a very personal decision but one that has social reverberations as well. And when you come from a different cultural environment this is evident from the very beginning. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • My husband is American and I immigrated to the US through him but kept my own name. It didn’t cause any problems or delays with immigration. Our kid has four names: first, middle, my last name, dad’s last name. We didn’t hyphenate his last name because it would have been too long to fit on standard forms. He goes by first name, dad’s last name. We haven’t experienced any problems or weirdness beyond some of my husband’s relatives assuming that I had changed my name when I hadn’t. That was quickly put to rest by his aunt telling everyone that I was a “professional” and professionals often don’t change their names. (They are traditional people in the South, where apparently most women change their name.)

  15. I’d like to add another nationality into the mix. I’m icelandic, (though not brought up there) where there are no (or very few) family names. Everyone has a patronymic, ie you are your father’s child. Sometimes this becomes a motronymic, though this is less common. I was brought up outside iceland, and my father’s patronymic got tacked on to my name, even though it’s not mine, and is not on my birth certificate. But the name I am known by is easier to spell, and so I am fine with that.
    But when I got married, it never crossed my mind to change my name because it is not what we do. It would make no sense to take someone else’s patronymic as a surname. But I ended up justifying this decision to most people for “professional” reasons, as I had already published, where the reality was really that it never crossed my mind – for cultural, rather than feminist, reasons. It did take my in laws an exceedingly long time to buy into that, though.

  16. Pingback: Having it both ways: on changing – and keeping – my name | A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman

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