This post was written as a submission to The Last Name Project, a joint series by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique that explores what people do with their names when they get married, or what they are thinking of doing if and when that happens.
I am a high school teacher. And I kept my last name when I got married.
As you might expect, there was a range of reactions to this. I got married in October, so when I came back after the long weekend (we didn’t take a honeymoon right away), everyone asked what they should be calling me. When I told them they could call me what they’ve always called me, I got responses ranging from, “What kind of man lets his wife keep her name?” and “What, are you some kind of crazy feminist or something?” to “ Good for you!” or “I wish I had kept mine.” One person asked me if I was keeping my name just for the year to make it easier on the students. One person looked at me funny and, when I asked him if he had a problem with it, he said, “Well, it’s your life, I guess.”
It is my life, so I guess I can do whatever I want with it. And I did. And, frankly, besides the initial shock, it didn’t affect anyone else at all.
You see, people are often very surprised that I kept my name, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m a teacher. No one bats an eye when famous writers, actors, or other celebrities keep their names. They have, after all, already made a name for themselves, literally. (People who know I write say, “Oh, I guess that makes sense because of your writing.”) But when you are a teacher, your job isn’t seen as important enough to retain your identity for. Teaching is, after all, made for the family life, and lots of people become teachers because they love teaching, sure, but also because they want to have children and teaching has some great benefits: good hours, summers off, great insurance, decent job security. If you’re setting yourself up for the family life, why wouldn’t you want your whole family to have the same name?
I didn’t keep my name because of my teaching. I didn’t keep it because of my writing (most of my work is published without my last name so my students can’t Google me anyway). I didn’t keep it because of my family.
I kept my name for me.
My husband, also a teacher, had a hard time accepting that I would want to keep my name. Dropping that bomb on him well before we were engaged was my way of testing whether or not we would make it for the long haul, and we almost broke up over it, in fact. A few days later, though, he came back and told me he was fine with it, if that is what I wanted to do. When I asked him what changed his mind, he said, “I thought about it, and I’m not willing to change my name, so why should you have to be?” That’s when I knew, for sure, I’d marry him.
Keeping my name has made very little difference in our lives. Occasionally, he cannot check into a hotel room if I made the reservation, and sometimes we get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. R (his last name). Or, even worse, Mr. and Mrs. Timothy R., as if marriage has deleted me from the earth entirely. Even better is when we get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. S (my last name); I hang those envelopes on the fridge.
My students don’t even care. Some think it’s weird, and others think it’s cool, but, for the most part, it affects them very little, just like it affects the adults in our lives very little. We thought for about two seconds what we would do with a baby should one come into the picture, and we immediately decided that, since a baby would be a combination of both of us, it would have a hyphenated last name. What will they do with that big name once they’re married? Just like us: whatever they want.
Even though not changing my name has not had a huge effect on our life together, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was able to retain some of my identity when I started my marriage. I was terrified of losing myself in marriage, so it was a way for me to realize that wasn’t going to happen. It has helped my husband and me realize that a name does not bind a family together; love does. And what better realization to have when you start your lives together?
Photo Credit: California Cthulhu (Will Hart)