I’m an advice column junkie, though I have to admit, I’ve never had a problem that rose to the level that needed advice from a stranger. I’m not sure if that bit of information about me makes me sad or happy.
Anyway, I’m a regular reader of Carolyn Hax’s column over on washingtonpost.com and I almost always agree with the advice she offers. I decided I loved Hax even more when I learned of her own sordid relationship history, which you can read about on Wikipedia, for what that’s worth. It’s like she’s one of the advice letters, come to life!
On Thursday, Hax’s column featured the following letter.
I would like to take my husband’s last name after we marry. I will probably use my maiden name professionally since I’m in academia and have published with that name.
However, friends have given me a lot of grief about it. I’ve been told it is “outdated,” and why doesn’t he take my name, or hyphenate, or whatever.
I want to do this, and it is right for us. How can I explain that to friends who talk about setting women’s lib back decades or giving up my own identity?
I’m one of those women who kept my maiden name after marriage, though it was more of a way of honoring my parents, who had both passed away before I married, than to give a big “Fuck you” to the patriarchy (though it was a bit of that, too). It was also a cost saving measure, as I didn’t have to throw away boxes and boxes of business cards, as I am
I never encountered any problems, other than brief puzzlement on a face when my husband introduced me as “my wife, Karen Different-Last-Name.” Sometimes there have been awkward moments when we were mistaken for brother and sister (we’re both tall) rather than husband and wife, but that was about it.
Until I got pregnant.
Once I got pregnant, my easy going, taking it all one day at a time, don’t sweat the small stuff husband started to display signs of anxiety whenever we got to
fighting talking about baby names.
Pregnant Me: (deranged from pregnancy hormones) I’m thinking Nicandro for a boy and Frusilla for a girl. What do you think?
Him: (sweating, tugging at his shirt collar) I’m thinking we’ve still got plenty of time to decide on a first name. But I was wondering, what are your thoughts about the last name?
Pregnant Me: (bursting into tears) You hate me, and you hate little Nicandro/Frusilla!
Him: That’s not true! I couldn’t love you and little Nicandro/Frusilla more!
Given my emotional state, it took a while for my husband to come right out and say he wanted our child to have his last name. I think he expected the worst response from me: a feminist tirade insisting the child be called Frusilla My-Last-Name or, worse, the hyphenated abomination of Frusilla My-Last-Name-His-Last-Name. (Frusilla is starting to grow on you, isn’t it?) But I was fine with the baby having his last name. My problem was only with me having his last name.
Still today, the decision to keep my own name has continued to cause awkwardness. I can see the gears turning in the heads of elementary school teachers who, too polite to come out and ask, wonder about the relationship that produced the young student in their class. Are my husband and I divorced? Maybe we never married. Maybe I am the step-Mom. Maybe I’m a lesbian and my husband is the surrogate hired to impregnate me? Or maybe I’m the surrogate and my husband is the gay one . . .
If I’m feeling like torturing them, I let them go on wondering the entire academic year. If not, I’ll offer a too long explanation that includes the details of my parents’ deaths, my introduction to feminism when Mike Greco told me “Girls don’t play baseball” in second grade, and I may even quote Shakespeare (What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet) if I’m in a good mood, and Gertrude Stein (A rose is a rose is a rose) if I am not.
You can find Carolyn Hax chatting live on line every Friday at noon Eastern at this link.
Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG.