Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Feminism, 2008

After graduating from an all-girls, progressive private school, a liberal arts college, and now living in an extremely tolerant town, I feel more strongly than ever about the idea of keeping your last name. This conversation has come up a lot in the past few years, specifically with college friends who were getting married, most of whom chose to keep their names.

Over the summer, I attended a southern style, traditional wedding. While being asked to fill out the check on the day of the ceremony, I hemmed and hawed on how to fill it out. I finally decided that it is 2008, and the bride probably would have some trouble cashing it, should they cash it that week, if I did put his name on the check. So, I made it out to Mr. Groom and Mrs. Bride. Then, I snickered, knowing damn well that this conventional woman was going to be irritated by the way I wrote out her check. This was confirmed when I went to the wedding, a few hours later, and for the first time in my entire life, saw a bride being given away by her father, only. Her mother was escorted by someone else... Old fashioned, much?

I think a lot of people do not understand the meaning of "Mrs. Smith." When we refer to someone as "Mr," we are referring to a gentleman in a formal fashion. By calling someone "Mrs," This really means "Mr's," as in "Mister's lady." So, you are no longer a person, but a possession of Mr's. Ms. solves this problem, and was popularized in the 1970s. With Ms., we don't know your marital status, and why should we?

Sometime in my pre-teen years, my parents received a letter in the mail, addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Robert Winston." My whole family was appalled. They pointed at it, making comments, stating, "Why did he write that? Doesn't he know that women don't go by "Mrs. Tom Jones anymore?" This is also another possessive and outdated format. I will never be "Mrs. Tom Jones." Did women completely lose their independence and identity? In this day and age, addressing something in that format can be offensive. I am not saying that my family was angry, or insulted, but I do remember the kid who wrote it, and I will never forget it....

Let me be clear in saying that I support you if you choose to take your spouse's surname (especially if you are the guy!). You can do whatever you want. I imagine if my last name was awful, I would change it, too. My mom's generation wasn't hot on keeping their maiden names, (although, I am proud to say, a lot of her relatives did)! I suppose it would be fun to have a "new name" after all of these years. But remember, you can also do what a lot of my high school and college professors did - combine the names. How about turning them into one name? Take my sister, for example. Say she had chosen to combine Winston with Lebarron. They could have been the LeWinstons. Classy, right? (They each have kept their last name).

A challenge may come when you have children. I always assumed my nephew, Sebastian, had a hyphenated name. When I finally asked, I guess they thought the whole Sebastian-Winston-Lebarron- I forget his middle name- would have been too long, so he has Lebarron. What some people do is give the father's last name to one child, and the wife's to the other. I would recommend that. In fact, I know someone who did that. And yes, there were a lot of rumors in college that these two brothers were half brothers, because they had different last names, but once it was explained, everyone thought it was pretty cool.

While explaining the definition of "Mrs" to my Madison born cousin, he said to me, "Oh right. I remember that now. I had some teachers in school who would get mad if we didn't call them 'Ms.'" Now that, I have never heard of, but, it's a liberal town. I imagine Madison probably has more couples combining their names, or women keeping their names, or men taking the women's names.

If I am ever crazy enough to get married, I would certainly keep my name, but I don't look down upon you if you don't. It's the name I was given. Being that there are currently only five of us, who bear this name, and my dad is the only male, we will have to carry it on the best way we can.

Please remember one thing. Ladies, try not to let people call you "Mrs." Remember that when they call you that, you are an object.


  1. It is easy to say that when you have a name like Winston. It is short, catchy, and easy to pronounce. Check back with me when your name is Groner...it may have you thinking twice!

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  3. Great post. I took my wife's last name, and our kids all have her last name. Having done this, I completely agree with you that we all need to question the traditionsof women taking their husband's name and of using the title Mrs. upon marriage.

    We worked things out somewhat unusually. We originally kept our names when married. Then, when our first child came along, I stayed home and we agreed that he would have my wife's last name. Little did I realize how important that decision would be. When you're lugging around a baby, and are his dad, everyone calls you by his last name. At first, I always corrected people but as time went on (and as we had another son) I did this less and less. Finally, when I'd call doctor's offices and other contacts for the kids, I just identified myself by the kids' last name (i.e., my wife's not mine). Ten years ago, my wife became pregnant with our third child and we planned to move to another city, to follow her job. Since we were moving and starting out in a new city and state, I figured we'd make a new start, so I offered to take my wife's last name. She was somewhat mortified at first, but we eventually agreed to do it. She took my old last name as her new middle name. I got a lot of criticism from some people, but in the long run it's made things simpler.

    It's an unequal situation in that the name that defines you, for most reasons, is your last name and mine is the one that changed. It was hard on my male ego at first, but I've basically evolved over the years and am proud of it!
    Your post is so good because it addresses two distinct but related points - the tradition where the wife takes the husband's last name AND the tradition where she is known as Mrs. after marriage. My wife and I have reversed tradition on the first point, but of course there is no "married" title for a man, so I have not had to grapple with the second. I have done a lot of reading on the topic over the past several years (your post really stands out in terms of what I have read), and I recall at some point an article suggesting that we should either drop Miss and Mrs or keep these terms but use parallel terms for men. The first idea is probably better but the second would be equitable too - what's fair for one sex should be fair for the other.