pet peeve #3

when the topic of my last name comes up and people give me reasons why it makes sense that i didn’t change mine, implying that while this decision makes sense in my special circumstances, a wife should generally still change hers to her husband’s.

if you know me, you know that, after much debate, i chose to keep my last name when i got married. i recognize that the decision about what to do with your last name after marriage, for both men and women, is very personal, and everyone needs to figure out what’s best for them. this is what was best for me and robert, and i’m very happy with the choice i made.

since getting married, i’ve been mildly surprised by the ways in which some people have responded to it. even though it’s the 21st century and this practice isn’t new or revolutionary by any means, i expected the decision to be more of a surprise in some circles (e.g., christian ones) than others, given that it’s less common in some contexts for wives to keep their last names. but sometimes the way that people respond, while well-intended, is irritating at least and offensive at most. they tell me why it makes sense that i kept my name, implying that this is the reason why it’s okay that i did. because were it not for my special circumstances, i should have changed it, because that’s the way things should be.

this pisses me off to no end. allow me to illustrate with some (real-life) examples:

“oh, it makes sense for you to keep your name — you’re a professional. you have publications and degrees and stuff. changing it would make things so complicated for you. but for women who don’t have all that, there’s no reason for them not to change their names.”

i’m sorry, i graduated about a minute ago. i have virtually no publications or licenses to my name, and even if i did, i got married while i was in school, so i easily could have made it so that robert’s last name showed up on my diploma. the reason i kept my name has nothing to do with the fact that i have degrees, and there’s no reason why women without degrees shouldn’t be able to keep theirs too.

“it makes sense why you would keep your last name — it means something to you because you’re asian.”

this is a true statement. however, even if my last name had no evidence of my ethnicity, i still would have kept it.

“oh, many people of chinese descent keep their last names.”

this is also true — in the motherland, chinese women keep their last names after marriage. however, i’m american, and my chinese heritage is not the reason why i kept mine.

what i sense from comments like these — and please feel free to argue with me if you think i’m wrong — is that in more conservative circles, people are uncomfortable with the fact that i kept my last name. it threatens the established order of things, the way that things have always been done. so they need to create excuses for why it’s okay for me to deviate from this norm — because i’m asian, because i’m professional, what have you — so that their understanding of the world doesn’t get threatened, and things for “normal” people can go on as they have for centuries.

but the reality of the matter is this: i kept my last name not for reasons of race or education but of equality. robert and i are equal partners in this marriage, so why should only one of us have to change their name? either both of us should (which i was also open to) or neither of us should (which is what i ultimately chose).

back in the day, women had to change their names because when they got married, they lost everything. their identities, their possessions — everything became their husband’s. this idea was certainly reinforced in conservative christian cultures, where women were/are instructed that the man is the head of the house and a wife needs to submit to their authority.

i know that that’s not why all women change their last names now, but i didn’t want any part of that patriarchal history in my marriage. so i kept my name. it’s not because of my 2 publications. it’s not because of my ethnicity, though that’s certainly important to me. it’s because of equality, and it’s because i didn’t want to perpetuate that legacy of patriarchy and oppression in any way.

so please, world — don’t make excuses for my last name. if you think it’s weird, it’s not — it’s really quite common. and if it makes you uncomfortable, maybe that’s something you should think about.

3 thoughts on “pet peeve #3

  1. First time here. Love your posts! I am so glad that you post it here as I ponder about, not so much about keeping my last name or not (no one will "delete" the family last name in Hong Kong), but "expanding" my last name to Chin-Lee.I actually encounter the similar name crisis in another context – should I keep my Chinese name on poster/publication? I never realize the linkage btw name and cultural identity until I have to insist that "my name is Chin, Y. K. E. but not Chin, E." =)

  2. It'd be nice if, after speaking your piece, you allowed for two things, one being that marriage equality is not predicated on keeping one's name (assuming that's not an argument you'd like to make), and the other being that it's fine with you if a married couple decides to share the man's last name…unless it isn't. Granting that your comments are particular to your situation, it nevertheless seems that you run the risk of either overstatement or generality, or both.

  3. I'm sure we never had this conversation, but I had a REALLY tough time with it too. Ultimately, convenience won out. I had all this identity stuff wrapped up in what my last name was, and didn't really feel like I wanted to re-create a new one. Plus, I just liked it and thought it sounded better. Name vanity? (Liz Lin has a nice ring too!) Being from NC, people (not shitting you) asked my mom if we were having marital problems because I hadn't changed my name on facebook! LOL I got oodles of monogrammed stuff with my "new initials" in the fashion of last named now moved to the middle, because that's how everyone does it around here. It was thoughtful… or was it thoughtLESS? Anyway, my point is,about 3 minutes after we got married and discovered Miss Emmi Claire was on the way, I decided it would just be easier, less of a hassle, to go through life with the whole family having the same last name. And I didn't want my kids to have their dad's last name and not mine. Yet, that somehow wasn't up for discussion! Andy and I did briefly talk about him becoming a "Darrow" but then he realized he didn't want to give up his identity either! PSHEAH! Know the feelin! Plus, it's so freakin hard for a guy to change his name. Double standard, sister. One day.Nice post. And happy for your decision. 🙂 I think other people probably are too, they just don't know how to express it so they say dumb things about degrees and such!

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