So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

08 November, 2009

His Mind is Engaged in the Rapt Contemplation

Lissy at Thinking About My Kink wrote a post linking to a Feministe post about the changing of names, and now that Feministe is back up from whatever it was doing before, I'm reading the comments over there.

And the person in there who annoyed Lissy is almost making me annoyed enough to post a comment on Feministe explicitly denying that my nonexistent feminism was 'why' I didn't change my name when I was legally married. (That feminism made this possible for me to do readily is a given historical fact; it doesn't have so much to do with my decisions on the matter.) It's not about your goddamn movement, okay? (And I'm even setting aside here the rant in which I note my opinion that talking about whether something is a "feminist choice" is pernicious, not least because it always degenerates into the sort of "you're calling me a bad person", "no I'm not I'm just saying your choices are bad" froth that's going down over there.)

My lion and I talked briefly about whether or not I was gonna change my name. He was profoundly touched that I had even, for a moment, considered it, as he had assumed that I wouldn't. And that contemplation made clear to me that my surname was the only part of my legal name that I had any sense of strong identification with - annoying though it is to have because nobody can spell it and nobody can pronounce it, it is my goddamn name. If I were going to "change my name" it would be mucking about with the forename portions, and certainly at that time I had no idea what I would change my first name to if I changed it.

(I do know how I would legally change my name if I did so at this point. I have not done so, not because I'm 'waiting to get married' or any of the other things that have been raised in that thread, but because I am undecided about the hassle, kind of tickled in a pseudo-anarchist way by the idea that the government knows me by a name that isn't 'mine', and, fundamentally, haven't gotten up my arse to wrestle with the paperwork. It's apparently not that hard to do around here - a friend of mine changed her name, both fore and aft, a few years ago - I just haven't gotten my shit together. And that's for a forename change where I know what I'd change it to. I make notes on legal paperwork sometimes with an aka in case I ever do make a legal change?)

So, yeah. I have this surname thing. It's attached to an ethnic heritage; it is in fact attached to the ethnic heritage that is the smallest part of my genetic makeup, but a greater point of personal identification than many, and from a beautiful part of the world with a landscape that feels right to me. (Perhaps not as right as my more recently ancestral stones and streams of New England, which is more recent bloodline, but still comfortably correct.) It is also attached to the side of my family I have more cultural kinship with. In some ways, all the hassle that came of having the surname made me more attached to it, as opposed to the rather generic-for-my-generation forename and distinguished-but-only-used-attached-to-the-forename middle name I got.

Further, though I was not involved with my liege when my lion and I got married, it was pretty well established that my ideal situation would involve me having two marital relationships. In a multi-spousal poly situation, the whole name-change-upon-marriage thing turns into a level of relational calculus that is frankly beyond me. My liege comments that this is what clan names are for, but unfortunately we don't have any way of establishing a legal-socially meaningful tribe. It's just easier this way, even if it means that the four adults have four different surnames.

(Oh gods. Someone's using 'the personal is political' to mean 'your private choices are reflections on my movement's effectiveness and thus mine to harsh on you for' again. The same someone who irked me enough to write this post. Gods be. What is it they say, never read the comments? And, I mean, yes, the social convention of name-changing irks me, though it doesn't piss me off like getting letters addressed to Mrs. Lion Hislastname, like I don't even have a fucking forename of my own.)

I also find it useful to be able to respond truthfully to telemarketers asking for Mrs. Hislastname that there is nobody here by that name, but hey.

So we get into the iterative decisions about names. Like kids.

Honestly, my expectation was that my first kid would have his surname, next one mine, to do equal time for everyone. But in the larger family discussions, we talked about it, and there was general argument that it was probably for the best to have siblings with the same surname to make social things easier. And that for children I bear, that surname would be mine - because I feel strongly about my family name and want it to persist, because my brother does not intend to have children, and because it cuts off the implied answer to "But which one is her real father" at the fucking knees and requires that people who want to be that unconscionably rude actually verbalise rather than assume they know the answer based on differing surnames.

(When I announced Little Foot's name to my relatives, my father asked me if she had my surname because of his notion that female children should take their mother's name and male children their father's. By the way.)

And maybe that choice "makes it easier for others" to choose to keep their name, or change it, or whatever else. But the thing is, I don't give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about that. There's just, y'know, time better spent. And for matters like surnaming, that time's probably best spent trying to get the legal stuff changed to what it apparently is in Quebec, where a name change requires getting a name change, not getting married. Rather than talking about how Those Women are doing it wrong - not even about the apparent half the population who thinks that women changing their name should be legally mandated, nope, Those Women.

Always doing it wrong, Those Women. Pretty sure I did it wrong by not Striking A Blow For Feminism there. (Alternately, that feminist motives will be projected upon me by people who are inclined to do so, whether for or against. Which is further evidence that "feminist choice" is nonsense phrasing.) Oh well then.


Aqua, of the Questioners said...

Idunno what it says about me, but when I started thinking about the children's surnames thing, I thought it would be fairer if the sons took the mother's surname and the daughters, the father's.

But I can also see the usefulness of all children sharing a surname, whatever is chosen.

thene said...

...from that Feministe post:

What throws me off even more is when I see feminist-minded or liberal women take their husband’s name, and then defend it with “Well it’s my choice” or “My last name was my father’s anyway”

...because there is no conceivable reason why a woman might be deeply uncomfortable with the fact that she shares a name with her father. Obviously.


Dw3t-Hthr said...

Aqua - I had that thought too, when Dad suggested the 'children of same sex get the surname' notion as a possibility (which hadn't occurred to me prior), that it felt more ... balanced? To cross over.

Thene - one of the things that boggled me about that post and comments was the complete lack of empathy for pretty much every position on the name thing.

Lissy said...

What is it they say, never read the comments?

I so need to learn not to do this... don't go read the comments on feministing on the Trans people having sex and not disclosing that they are trans threads... so much fail... my head it exploded... all I can think is these are feminist sites? WTF?!?

My son doesn't have my last name because I hate it- it would be kind of impossible for any other children I may have to have the same last as my son unless I get back with the ex- which is soooo not happening.

So while not changing my surname was more about feminism in the context of my old relationship (not that it mattered- cause I got dumped at the altar), now not changing my surname is actually more about not wanting my son to feel alienated from his family, ie I don't want my son to be the only one with a different surname.

People like to crap on that this sort of thing is confusing to kids- my response: bullshit- I grew up in a blended family- half the kids had one surname and half had another- we were never confused about who was who and that we were all loved by our parents- it was other people who got confused that our family didn't conform with the hetero-normative nuclear model.

one of the things that boggled me about that post and comments was the complete lack of empathy for pretty much every position on the name thing.

I also found that incredible considering the post was pointing out a study that said 50% of people thought a woman should be legally required to change her name after marriage... FFS that's a lot of social pressure for any individual woman to swim against but instead of railing against that social pressure, ie patriarchy it's all 'Those Womens' fault. puh-lease!

Peeeeka-chu said...

I wasn't overly fond of my last name, which is part of the reason I changed it. Now I have the Amazingly Alliterative Name of Doom, but it was my choice.

I think being mandated to change my name would have made me dig in my heels and say Heck no!

And totally with you on the stupidity of getting letters to Mrs. hisname lastname. ARGH!

Frozen Capybara said...

As someone who didn't change her name on marriage, I actually find myself nodding in agreement with the Feministe post, and at least sympathizing with many of the comments. I find it frustrating as hell that so freakin' many women don't even consider not changing their name.

I completely and totally agree that the decision is an individual choice. If you want to change your name, go right ahead! No skin off my nose - it's your name. The problem comes when you look at the statistics - the overwhelming majority of women change their name; 50% of people think it should be legally required for pete's sake - that's just ridiculous. Of course there are reasons a woman might want to not keep her father's name, or reasons she might want to adopt that of her spouse - but I'd be willing to bet that those reasons don't apply to every one of the 95% or so of women who do change their names. And as someone who didn't, it's frustrating to see that. It's annoying that I have to spend ten minutes on the phone with HR explaining that yes, I did get married, but yes, my name is the same, because they don't see it as an option, because so few people do it. (Yes, that happened. And yes, I am painfully aware of the fact that I work at a WOMEN'S COLLEGE. It's not exactly a glaring violation of rights or anything, just a minor inconvenience - but really, now.)

The question is, how can I express frustration at this, without offending people who wanted to change their names? There seems to be no good way to do that. So while I try to avoid the argument, I totally get the "well, let them be offended, this is important to me" position.

(As an aside: I don't know if I was striking a blow for feminism by not changing my name, but it was part of it. Mostly, I didn't change it because it's my name, it's part of my identity, and I don't see my identity changing because I got married - so why would my name? Then again, I was raised by old-school feminists. :)

Vieva said...

I didn't change my name - it wasn't worth the hassle to me, mostly. I found the convention distasteful.

Do I care if OTHER people change their names? Hell no. Go ahead and change it if that's what fits! Don't if it doesn't! A NAME does not identify the relationship (I've been told that I clearly don't love my husband because I didn't take his name!) nor does my child's surname directly affect the relationship. (I chose to use hubby's last name. Yes, I CHOSE. Something different is better than something that's half the planet, IMO).

Then again, I think that if you're going to start making laws about name change, there should be one where the man is legally required to change his name to the woman's name. Just to see heads explode. :)

mamacrow said...

i'm guessing most of you are american?

cos its really not unusual AT ALL for women here (south of England) to keep their own name, or to change their name but to keep their maiden name at work, or really... anything goes.

to be legally required to change one's name?! that's crazy!

I did wonder about giving my maiden name to the kids as a last middle name - which is what my mother-in-law did - but didn't in the end for a variaty of reasons - not least that there are male relatives on my dad's side 'keeping the name going' as it were (which there wasn't in my mil's case)

We already had a child when we got married - part of wanting to get married was that i wanted us all to have the same name - it equated to really being a family in my mind for some reason... also I was sick of having a different name to my son, and being called Mrs (maiden name) - which is my mum's name, obviously! I tried to be 'Ms' for a while but got fed up of saying 'no, it's Ms' and even more fed up of trying to get people to just call me by my first name.

sorry - random ramblings - but a very interesting subject!

what I find weired is the concept that all women should want the same, or should be forced to do the same - er, why?!