What's in a Name?

My best friend and college roommate was the one we all assumed would marry first—not because she was desperate, mind you, it’s just that she was that good of a catch. But instead of getting her Mrs. degree, girlfriend became a gallerina. Most of her Friday nights were spent setting up wine and cheese tables at art openings, not getting her freak on at cheesy nightclubs. She toured Europe and made the obligatory art historian's pilgrimage to The Louvre. She obtained her Master's in Arts Administration, eventually landing a coveted curator position at a prestigious institution. All that hard work left very little time for play, much less meeting The One. But just when she thought she'd be kissing frogs forever, Ms. Right met her match. And apparently, he's the Magnolia Bakery-worthy icing on her cake; after a magical, eight-month courtship, the happy couple plans to wed next month. The professionally accomplished, thirty something bride has no intentions of keeping her name. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

A handful of feministas might assume that my dear friend thinks her new place is in the kitchen. But even with the granite counter tops and a shiny Sub-Zero, I'm pretty sure she doesn't plan on getting knocked up, kicking her mules off and slaving over Le Creuset just yet. In fact, I'm fairly certain that given her track record, the future wife will be just as goal-oriented as a "Mrs." as she was before jumping the broom. I say this mostly because even among my most ambitious married friends (meaning all of them), I have yet to see a clear-cut trend indicating how a married woman's last name influences her success. More than anything, the prenuptial name game seems like a matter of personal discretion and taste over anything else. For some, the choice to become Mrs. Hislastname is a no-brainer, prompted by a desire to establish a public cohesiveness with their partner and the family they hope to have. Others opt to leave well enough alone. And then there's always the Toyota Prius version of a bride's married name: the practical, politically correct, hyphen.

Before I got engaged, my husband told me that he didn't care if I kept my last name or changed it to his. He even told me that my last name sounded much better with my first name than his did. Once he proposed, however, all indifference flew out the window: "Take my name with a hyphen, baby...please??" All of the sudden it mattered to him that kids we planned to have would share a name that belonged to both of us. I loved this man; there was no point in breaking his heart over something so trivial (at least not to me). So I decided to use a hyphen not only because it would make him happiest, but also because it suited my needs at the time. For one, I was at the beginning of my publishing career: my maiden name had already made its way onto the masthead of a national magazine for an issue or two. I was proud of the accomplishment, and wanted that my title to reflect both my past and my present. Besides, there were so many high-powered, intelligent and successful African American women I'd admired who used hyphens: politician Carol Moseley-Braun, my Spelman College professor/author Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, just to name a few. I knew I'd be in good company.

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On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.


Yolanda said...

When my inlaws married they both changed their names- adding the hyphen for both. Its unique but whenever people see that my last name is hyphenated they assume I've hung on to my maiden name. It's always a shock when they find out neither name was originally mine. My maiden name just wasn't hyphenatable.

Is that you on the piece? Very pretty if so.

Mrs. J said...

Oh, that's just the power of a good press and curl! LOL Thanks, girl. :)

plez... said...

i'm from the old school, my wife took my last name when we married back in 1990. as a bit of a compromise, my wife replaced her middle name with her maiden name. she never liked the middle name, anyway!

i will admit that the first couple of months after we were married, i would seethe in silence whenever mail showed up at our apartment with her maiden name. call me old fashioned.

to yolanda's point, i used to work with a guy who hyphenated his last name with his wife's after they got married. i was a lot younger at the time and thought that was the craziest thing i'd ever heard of in my life... now, i think it's pretty cool!

Jennifer said...

Congrats on the column! I'll be reading :)

Mrs. J said...

plez- Yeah, I think it's kinda cool too, but unfortunately I can't see many brothers agreeing to that. I wish I would have tried to ask my husband to do it. He's progressive on many levels, but I don't think that would be one.

jenn - Thank you!:)

Teendoc said...

I'm a cradle feminist since the time that people tried to tell me that my mother couldn't be a doctor since she was a woman. (I tried to join NOW to fight for the ERA when I was single-digits in age.)

I honestly do not understand the name change issue. It never made sense to me when I was a little girl (I'm supposed to change my name but he doesn't? That's not fair!) and it still doesn't make sense to me now.

The origins of this practice are in the sense of women as property to be exchanged for goods when married. I just can't roll with that. I'm not chattel and I am certainly not a tool of the patriarchy.

The hyphenation was way too schizophrenic for me. It seems something someone in her 20s would choose to do. Yet as a full grown sista who married 2 months shy of her 40th birthday, changing my name was not an option.

My name is part of my identity. It isn't that I have strong ties to my patrilineal origins. It is that I have been one person for 44 years. Changing one's name is a shift in identity. I would never make this shift in deference to a man's ego. And for many men, it seemed to be about ego.

My husband, for what it's worth, didn't give a rat's ass what I called myself. He said, "You can call yourself 'peanut butter' as long as you are my wife." He gets that name and identity are intertwined for me, and for many women.

When someone refers to me as Mrs. HisLastName, I ask them why they are calling me his mother's name. If it is a telemarketer looking for Mrs. HisLastName, then I get to sweetly inform them that there is no one here by that name. Our adoption agency insisted on the Mr & Mrs convention until I politely rained holy hell on their assess until they updated their database system so that the large number of we women who insist on keeping our name of birth can be accommodated.

And our soon to be child? Hyphenated last name, natch!

jeni said...

I just happened upon your blog....and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!!

Spelman College

kim said...

Ah. So you're working it.

Congrats to you.

Mrs. J said...

teendoc - Thanks for your insight. Congratulations on the impending arrival!

Jeni - Thank you! I can't tell you how much that means coming from another woman who's worn a white dress with black pumps and was 100% confident in that decision. ;) Does the food still suck at Alma's? LOL

Kim - Trying to, anyway. LOL Thanks, girl. :)