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Friday, August 27, 2010


With our impending marriage, the decision about whether or not I will change my name has been an important and ever-present one.
First, I want to be clear: this post is not meant to be about the general practice of women changing their names, it is about me in my personal decision about what I plan to do.  In no way is this meant to be commentary upon what other women choose to do.

There are many thoughts out there about the practice of the new wife swapping her father's last name for her husband's.  As someone who very much identifies as a feminist, I had thought about this decision long before beginning my relationship with Chris.

Some of the ideas against a woman's changing her name at marriage are compelling.  Opposers of this practice note the origin of this practice and how it is linked to women being treated as property, and as such, the last name becomes a mark of ownership - first on the part of the father and then on the part of the husband.  In this light, it is also seen as a women abandoning her previous identity for the sake of a new one in which she is subordinate.  Less grandiose philosophers also note some aspects of simplicity; that is, if Emily Post changes her name to Emily Stewart, her friends from high school may have a difficult time finding her.  Similarly, if a woman is already established in her career, changing her name may produce confusion - for example, if a researcher publishes under the last name Brown and then changes her name to Green, her previous publications may not be as easily recognized as her own work.

Some of this thought seems to be what has led to the more common practice of last name hyphenation.  This way, a bride may retain her own, pre-martial, identity while still acknowledging her new identity as a wife.

Traditionalists mark not only the history of the practice of a woman changing her name, but also the cohesion that having one surname in a marriage - particularly if that couple intends to have children - in the creation of one family unit.  There are also many religious traditions on this matter, but I am choosing not to go down that long and sticky road.

While in some countries, women may have little choice about changing their names - and often in whom they marry - in the United States, persons may choose to change their names essentially whenever they like and for nearly any reason; it is also by no means mandatory that a woman change her name following marriage.
Still, the current default expectation is that a woman changes her name.

I made my decision about what I wanted to do quite a long time ago, but have felt the need to explore this choice.  I have a habit of making decisions on instinct, and then searching out information to check in with myself about what I really prefer and why that is.

I am choosing to change my name.  I am also choosing to keep my current last name, but without hyphenating.  I will be taking, instead, my current last name as a second middle name and taking Chris' last name for my own.

First, something about doing this, with him, feels right to me.  We had conversations about this early on, and, to be clear, this decision what 100% my own; Christopher wanted me to do what I want to do.  There are pragmatic considerations: no matter what, when we're married, people will call me Mrs. Langsdale; we plan on giving our children his last name; it is simpler given that this is the default expectation; it makes financial endeavors simpler, since it makes it more clear that we are married.  Similarly, some concerns are non-applicable to us at this stage; for example, my career has not begun and I can have my diplomas reprinted with my new last name at any time.

Primarily, however, this decision was an emotion-based one for me.  Something about getting married, to me, speaks of one-ness; it is about moving forward with our relationship in a way that makes us the primarily family unit in our lives...instead of our families of origin.  We become closer and more unified through this allegiance, and it speaks to others that my name has changed to his.  It feels like the right thing to do for me, for us, in our lives.

I don't feel like I will be losing part of who I was, who I am now.  It feels like growth - like having people call me Dr. instead of Ms. (when that time comes).  I'm not ignoring or denying who I have been for the past 25 years; I am taking a new step towards becoming a true adult.

One problem: I'm having trouble practicing my new's so much longer!!!

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