Saturday, 1 February 2014

Is it feminist to ... take your man’s name?

Bump and ring highly visible for work.

I am pregnant and engaged; both things involving the same handsome man (just to clarify).  The pregnancy was entirely unplanned, but in no way unwanted (we are thrilled and excited), and the engagement was entirely planned (not due to knocking me up, so he assures me).  Obviously at the moment my partner and I have different surnames.  The first decision about surnames we must make will be the surname of the wee one, as he (yes, I had to find out) will arrive before we get married.  But that is irrevocably tied up with what my name will be in the future.  I had always, even after discovering feminism, been comfortable with the prospect of changing my name at the time of marriage.  Although that has not changed as such, I now have a dilemma.  Due to recent deeper involvement with feminism (research and starting this blog) I find the idea of changing my name to his rather troubling.  The reason I was fine with it before recently is because I was never that attached to my given name and, due to re-marriage, always had a different surname to the rest of my nuclear family.  I didn’t want this to happen when I made my own family, I felt very strongly about the symbolic nature of a family all having the same name.  I was fed-up of being the odd one out for the first part of my life.

                                            Me, him and our first baby purchase for the boy.

Recently though, as my involvement with feminism, and therefore my feelings about the cause, have deepened, it has lead me to question this.  As well as a family all having the same surname, what I also think is very important, mainly when it comes to bringing up my children, is teaching them that men and women are equal.  When two people create a child it is a 50/50 effort.  Ok, so men don’t have to surrender their bodies to the cause, but that’s not their fault, and my partner for one is making up for that by looking after me as if I were royalty.  So if this is a 50/50 thing then shouldn’t the name be too?  I like the tradition of having a double barrelled surname with one name from each parent.  Nice and equal; symbolically representing the forming of a new family by creating a new name.  The fusion of both of our families to make a new one.

We've known each other for a while...

“But then what’s the problem?!” I hear you cry.  The problem is, he doesn’t want to change his name; not at all, not one bit.  I am more than happy to put our two surnames together in a pleasing order and for all of us to take this on as our family name.  As a woman, I was brought up in a world where surnames are flexible.  Keep it, add to it, change it all together; whatever you like really.  My mother has been married twice and has a child with each man, and both times has chosen to change her name and give me and my brother the names of our fathers.  It was her choice to do so and she is very comfortable with said choices, but she has always emphasised the idea of choice to us.  So, in essence, I am used to the idea that one day I will change my name; most men are not used to this idea.  For most, they haven’t even considered it due to the patriarchal society in which we live.  One in which, historically, men rule and their names are more important than ours.

Even though changing my name does not trouble me, what does irk me is the idea of completely surrendering my identity for the sake of tradition.  A lot of the time I see traditions like these to be the practice of doing something purely because loads of other people have before you.  But I wouldn’t consider asking my partner to surrender what he considers his identity either.  His name has very strong family ties and connotations; he is very close to his whole family and they are so often known by their surname to friends and aquaintences that I think it would just be too odd for him to change it.  We also cannot ignore the fact that in society it is still unusual for men to change their surnames; however subliminal this may be as an influence, it cannot be dismissed.  My lovely man is more than happy for the kids and myself to have the double-barrelled version of our names, but he will not (at this point in time, things can change) change his name at all.  So if the baby and I both had a double-barrelled version this would then leave my partner as the odd one out, which takes us back to square one.

The source of so much debate; how he looked at 20 weeks.

So I am left with a dilemma.  Either I change my name to his and we all have the same name, or I stick to my feminist values and go for the option where the kids and I have (what I deem to be) the feminist version and he has a different name.  I am unsure whether I feel so strongly for the double-barrelled version due to wanting to set my children a good example and have that symbol of equality, or whether I am worried that I will no longer be considered a feminist if I ‘just’ take his name.  Beyoncé, always a strong female icon, but especially since her recent forays into outspoken feminism, has changed her name to Knowles-Carter.  But, so far as I can tell, her daughter Blue is simply Blue Ivy Carter.  No Knowles in sight.  It would trouble me for my children to have a different name to myself; after everything I will have been through to create them, surely I deserve an input into their family name?  Although on the other hand my mother is no less my mother just because she has a different surname to me, and in no way was I ever made to feel like I was the odd one out amongst the three people I grew up living with, despite them having a different family name.

Does the symbol of equality that a double-barrelled surname provides really matter?  Or are the actions of how you live your life more important?  I am filled with rage if anyone ever calls me Miss and I’m sure Mrs will bother me just as much after I am married.  Ms and Mr are equal titles for men and women; they represent equality.  But that really is my choice alone; the surname of my fast-developing family is not only my choice.  I want to, and must, consider the feelings of the man who is my best friend and partner through life. 

After much discussion we recently came to a deal that I think could suit everyone.  If I compromise my feelings on the matter and we all take his surname, then I get final say on the first names of our future children.  What do you think?  Does that seem fair or logical?  How would you, or have you dealt with this situation?  Is this business of names really important in the battle for equality?  Do I still get to wear my feminist badge if I take my beloved’s name and discard my own?  How far should your beliefs affect the decisions you make when it comes to the feelings of the one you love most?  Will it make me a bad role-model to my children if I concede?

Comment down below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me


  1. I see where your coming from personally I'm not a feminist but I completely agree with you, I myself always said that I would keep my last name if I were to get married, but again you have to consider the thoughts and feelings of your partner. I would say that it is more about how you and your partner bring up your son if he is brought up in a thriving and positive home then I'm sure he'll be fine, you just have to remember he will grow up to develop his own views and opinions on the world, and he will grow up in a very different world to you and I all you can do is be there for him when he needs you. All in all I don't think that whether he has your name, your partners name or both that it would effect who he grows up to be that's all down to his bringing up. Congrats though on your new baby and engagement :)

  2. Thanks so much for your input. I really appreciate your point of view, mainly because it makes me feel better! I think you are totally right and I forgot about him growing up and getting his own opinions, is that terrible?? I think because I'm pregnant I can only think of him as young and vulnerable but that doesn't last. May I ask why you don't consider yourself a feminist?

    1. Yeah sure. I'm not sure really for me i think growing up i was never really told about feminism or aware of it, i mean don't get me wrong now that i'm older i am more open to different opinions and in no way would i say that my own opinions are concrete, but i dont think i know enough about feminism to really tell whether i am or am not a feminist :)

    2. I see, I was exactly the same. I have a very strong independent mother who has always been the breadwinner but she would not call herself a feminist. I found out about it when I was at university and just found it fascinating. Obviously it's developed a bit further than that now and it really affects the way I see the world but it was a very organic process. If you ever wanted to know more about it then I'm sure you are capable of researching but equally if you want some recommendations of things to read/blogs to look at etc then let me know :) xx

    3. yeah i think i will have a look, i mean reading through some of the stuff you have posted i genuinely find it very interesting so it might just be because i haven't really researched it. i would love to read more if you could send me some recommendations that would be great :D xx

  3. Congratulations on both ring and bump!

    No bumps for me alas, but I agonised about the name thing. Eventually, I got to a stage where I would read an article about the name question every few weeks, become enraged at the author telling me what I should do and thus decide to do the opposite! I honestly think too much is placed on this and where someone does stop to think about it at all, it is an immensely complex, personal decision, inevitably influenced by the two families, one's friends, community, religion and things like, whether or not you ever need to prove you're a family for legal reasons (some folk do).

    This is my second marriage and I didn't think twice about keeping my name the first time round (wisely - I should have thought twice, or indeed at all, about the whole business of associating with, let alone marrying that particular person). But this time, much love, strong sense of family, wonderful in-laws who became second parents to me. It appealed to share a name and we also talked about it together.

    In the end we decided on his surname, but added, by deed poll, my surname as a middle name. My surname was Kelly, so it sits quite naturally in both our names. Neither of us liked the idea of a double-barreled name, but this comes close - family have referred to us as a the Kelly-Hisnames to distinguish us from other branches of the Hisname family.

    I write under my original name and that won't change, and honestly, I do think that's a freedom chaps don't commonly have - I like having more than one name to do things with, just as I enjoy being the Goldfish on-line.

    Meanwhile, for on-line purposes, he took my name and became Mr Goldfish. That was pretty cool.

    I wrote about it before we'd finished working it out. I'd also very strongly recommend the Let's talk about names series at Are Women Human?

    (Please forgive the rambling comment - I can't handle caffeine and suspect I accidentally had some earlier).

    1. It looks like I never replied to this which I really thought I had! I am now on maternity leave so can actually catch-up with myself. Thanks so much for this, it helped to know others had been through the same dilemma and I read the links that you left which helped a lot too. I have come back around and changed my mind a lot since I did the post so I will probably be doing another one soon that should represent my final decision!

  4. Here in México we have two surnames, first goes the father's and then the mother's. I am Ana Quintanilla (dad) Varela (mom). But actually I'm not close with my mother so I usually go just by Quintanilla. What I don't know is if we mexicans do the surnames different than everybody else, or if the "odd" ones are the folks from the english speaking world.
    By the way, awesome blog!

    1. Thanks so much Ana. I haven't been writing for ages because of having my baby and then getting married two weeks ago, but I really appreciate you reading and commenting. The odd ones are definitely us in the English speaking world! I know that in many countries in Europe it is much more common to have both parents names as well.

      My son Albert has both our names but even though we got married we have both kept our own names and not changed at all yet. I hope one day the whole family will have the same double-barreled last name but I am not going through all the hassle of changing my name until my husband agrees to change his too! I reckon he will come round to it eventually but he's not there yet... xxx

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