On Last Names…feminism
“I love your take on feminist issues, and I’ve enjoyed your recent posts on attire for a protest march and women helping women. I’m emailing because I’m a newlywed. Something I had A LOT of people ask me leading up to the wedding was 1) what would my new name be and 2) was I going to change my name. When I was hesitant and admitted I was leaning towards NOT changing my name, I got a lot of different responses. Most asked how my fiancé felt about it. This is something we talked about before we got engaged and my wonderful fiancé, now husband, understood my perspective 100%. This took people even more by surprise. On my wedding day a lot of my friends tagged a picture with me as #mrshislastname. That didn’t bother me since I know there will be a lot of confusion but I found it almost humorous how many of my friends and family assumed I was changing it.
I want to keep my name because the tradition of taking his seems icky and old fashioned to me, and I hate the historical reasons why women changed their last name. I am an independent adult and I’ve had this name my entire life. I’m relatively new in my career but I’ve been establishing myself under this last name for several years. Also, I just plain love my last name. And I consider myself a feminist.
However, I’m having the inkling of second thoughts, mainly because if/when we have children, I would really like us to have the same last name. I’ve floated the idea of changing it after we have a child, or not changing it but giving the child my last name as their middle name. And I’m not keen on the hyphen. I’m unsure though. My current last name just fits and I’m hesitant to change it. So, I was wondering if you changed your last name and how/why you came to that decision. If this is too personal to share on the blog or with a stranger via email I understand 🙂 But it has been on my mind a lot lately and when I think about it and come across your posts, I always have a feeling you would be the right person to ask.”
I’m so honored that you would come to me with this question! Truly, it made me tear up a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I’m asked fashion advice, but for something this important for your life? Wow!
My original last name was Ashpes. A. S. H. P as in Peter. E. S as in snake. Ash-pes. No not ass-piss. Not ass wipe. Not ashweppes. Not asheps. Not ash heap. Some relatives pronounce it Ash-piss and some say Ash-pez, but in my immediate family, we were Ashpes. Sounded the way it’s spelled. That is if you can spell it.
Speaking of relatives… not all of mine have the same name. See, when my family came to Ellis Island and were asked their name, those checking them in wrote what they heard. So there’s a lot of different spellings. On top of that, some relatives ended up changing their last names to something more neutral so they could get jobs and not experience prejudice. There’s a few folks out there with the last name Ashley who are likely related to me.
I grew up with a last name that was a hilarious joke every first day of school. Plenty of nicknames on the playground. When I went to college and encountered many other Alisons, Allisons, and Alysons most were called by their last name. Not I. Few wished to even attempt it.
My dad died in 1998 and for a while I swore I would keep our last name in his honor. But with time, I realized my dad is more than just the last name he gave me. My dad knew Karl, and I know he not only would have been happy to see me marry him, he would have been totally cool with me taking his name. Also on a totally superficial level, I always wanted a last name like Gary. When I was little, I dreamed of being a newscaster or actress and decided when I was an adult I’d change my last name to a male first name or a shorter name from further back in the family. Alison Blake. Alison David. Alison Chase. Meeting an amazing man with a pretty catchy last name was a bonus. When I went to have my last name legally changed after our wedding, I also had my original last name legally changed to my middle name. While I don’t use it on the daily, it’s officially part of me forever.
But that’s my story, and I am a completely different person from you, and from everyone else. Names are personal, names can carry a lot of weight, a lot of memories, a lot of pain, a lot of pride. And luckily we live in a time when women have the right to do what they wish when it comes to their names.
I live in an awesome, inclusive, and kinda crunchy town. There’s as many women who kept their last name as women who changed it. There’s a few couples who together changed their names to something completely different, couples who both hyphenated, and many couples who are happily committed but not married. It’s all awesome because it’s what is right for them.
I have learned in such a community you can NEVER assume a person’s last name. Jane Smith and John Doe may have a kid together, but that doesn’t mean the kid’s last name is Smith, or Doe, or Smith-Doe. Steve Green may introduce you to his wife Denise, but you can’t assume her last name is also Green. Amy may introduce you to her son’s father Greg, but that doesn’t mean Greg is her husband, partner, or even an ex. I know the addresses of Emerson’s friends’ homes. I know the email addresses of the parents. I text with them, I’ll chat with them for a whole half hour in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store but I may not know their last name. Often I don’t know their last name until we friend one another on Facebook.
So what does a kid call her friend’s parents? In our community, it’s usually their first name. This wigged me out at first, I felt there should be some separation between parent and peer. In Girl Scouts, we leaders tried to start the troop by having the girls call us Ms. Lastname. That lasted about five minutes. Kids who only call teachers Mr. or Ms. Lastname were utterly confused (especially when the kids of the leaders had different last names!). We got them comfortable with Ms. Firstname, but that didn’t sit terribly well with us. We as leaders, and I as a parent in this community have gotten used to just being called by our first name, sometimes with a Ms. in front of it, and often just being called “So-and-so’s Mom.”
A family is so much more than a last name. I know families where each kid has a different last name and each parent another different name and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because family transcends names and titles and cultural stereotypes. And love in a partnership transcends names. You live in a time where you married because you wanted to, not because you had to. As a feminist, you made the decision to have your union legally binding. The same holds true with your name, and the name of any child the two of you may bring into your family.
Rereading your email, I think you already know what is right for you. I fully support it, and it sounds as though your husband does too. People may say there’s no right answer but there is a right answer, and it’s the one that your gut and your heart is telling you. Celebrate the fact that right now we live in a time and country where we have this freedom!