Sunday, October 24, 2004

Jason Has A Maiden Name: Get Over It!

When I got engaged, I never seriously considered becoming Mrs. Jason T___. That's a little too archaic for my taste, not to mention sexist. To be honest, I am shocked that any woman this day in age is still blindly doing the name change thing. It would be really easy to become a T___; in fact, it would probably save me from that blank stare that cashiers and such give me when they have to spell E____. But a name is about more than just convenience, it's your identity. I'm not that attached to the name E____ itself, but it was the name I was given at birth, and I certainly won't be trading it in just because of convention.

If I had asked Jason to simply take my last name, I know that he would have. And it's hard for a man to change his name because all of society oppresses it. On the man's side of paperwork, there is never a box for his maiden name. By definition, since Jason was never a maiden (a young, unmarried woman...although the defintion also contains connotations of "servant", "modest", "delicate" and "virginity"), he cannot have a maiden name. However, there is a very strong argument that I was not a maiden either, and I certainly detest the word. But shockingly, there is currently no alternate word for the name you held before you got married. However, I did not ask Jason to take my name. Some people argue that to be a feminist, sometimes we have to endorse ideas that are a little unfair to men to make up for all the iniquities that women have faced. Well, the fact is, I am not a feminist. I have always held myself to be a humanist: I believe that men and women should be equal in all things. So that meant that when we got married, we would either hyphenate or take a whole new name.

Early on, I lobbied for a new name, using the beginning of my last name melded with the ending of his, short and sweet. But in the end, we decided on E___-T___, in that order for aesthetic purposes. And we are really happy with this name because to me, it is the symbol of how I want our marriage to be. I was a whole person before I got married, and so was Jason. We are still 2 whole people. Traditionally, one whole person, one whole identity, is just lost (the woman, of course), and it's as if she never existed or mattered before her wedding. Lots of people still ask us about it. Some family members still criticize us about it (we expected no less). We were married in 2002, and we'd like to think that the world has made progress, but the truth is, here in North America, 90% of women still lose their last names entirely when they get married, and less than 1% of men change theirs.

Lucy Stone is a name you may or may not be familiar with. She was born in 1818 and lived under her father's rule until the day where she would be transferred to her husband's care. Her education was a non-factor to her father, so she worked as a school marm and did housework for others to earn the money to put herself through college. She graduated with honours, the first woman in Massachusetts to do so, and was asked to write a graduation speech. She refused because as a woman, she would not be allowed to read it aloud at the ceremony; a male classmate would have that honour.

Her first public speech would be on women's rights, and she continued work in the field and in abolitionism despite the fact that people would pelt her with prayer-books while she talked (one of her speeches in 1850 convinced Susan B. Anthony to join the movement). When she met her soulmate in Henry Blackwell (a man 7 years her junior!), the couple renounced marriage law and she became the first woman in the United States to keep her own name after marriage. Of this, Henry stated that he would never "degrade" his wife in that way (Henry's sister Elizabeth became the first female physician in the U.S., so he was indeed a modern man who came from a family with a new way of thinking). The house and property were owned in Lucy's name throughout the marriage, and she often refused to pay her taxes because she did not believe in taxation without representation. In 1878 women in Boston were allowed to vote on the school committee, but Lucy was prohibited from doing so unless she voted under her husband's last name.

Anyway, it's because of women like her that we can keep our own identities today. But you shouldn't keep your name in her honour, or anyone else's. You should keep your name in honour of the great person that you were for the 20 or 30 or 40 years before you got married, and for the same great person you will continue to be after it. By accepting a man's last name, you also accept his inherent right to give it to you.
I am proud to be a family of E___-T___s (and do you know, that we are the only 2 E___e-T____s in the whole entire world!), and I am also proud that after 20 years of being an E____, my mother has reclaimed her name and goes by C____ once again. Neither she nor I are pioneers, but my mother is the matriarch of a group of very strong women, and that is something very important to hold on to. She has made me into the kind of woman who continually challenges the expected male-female stereotypes (I carry my own canoe). And she, in turn, cuts down her own Christmas tree, pumps her own gas, and she has more uses for duct tape than any man I know.

p.s. I am not against women taking their husband's last name, I just think it should be a decision, requiring a thought process and some conversation. Know that there are alternatives. Don't do anything just because it's tradition.


Anonymous said...
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Jay said...

Well the thing about that is that you are making a choice. Sounds as though you've already put a lot of thought into it. And that's the most important part; that women (or men, should that time ever come) shouldn't just be parting with their names "just because" - it's not really about choosing one way or another, or going a whole different route, it's just about making the choice.

Jay said...

Like the right to vote, I suppose, we all have different opinions, but at the end of the day having the right to vote isn't about who you choose, it's that you choose. And for the record, I think that McBlank makes a really funny last name!

Jay said...

And all these years later, I have a new husband, and a new husband's last name. And also my mother's last name. A lot of names, a lot of choices.