Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mrs. and Mr Who?

The ACLU has taken up the cause of a couple married in California in 2005, because the husband wants to take his wife's last name, instead of the other way around. Instead of the simple process of filing a marriage application (which is all that is required for a woman to change her name upon her marriage), he was told he would have to go through the "normal" channels of a court order and public notification process to change his name legally.

Huh? Women can change their entire name and become whoever they want to simply by filling in the blank under "married name" on the marriage licence in most states. Why can't men do the same? There isn't any real reason, except "that's the way it's always been", and some not-so-subtle sexism in the law that implies that a man would never have reason to change his name at marriage.

Having had a serious issue with my name change when I got married (well, not then, but recently when I was an International Woman of Mystery, acccording to the Social Security Administration), I can sympathize with the frustration. It's supposed to be easy to change your name when you marry -- based on the assumption that at least the woman will change her name either to her husband's surname or to a hyphenated version of it. Some couples keep their own names, but most follow tradition to share a common name.

I personally think a couple should have the same last name, but I don't really care which one it is -- husband's, wife's, a new one they made up on the spot, I don't care. I've also never been a huge fan of the hyphenation thing (which is why my middle name is now my maiden name -- kept my original name intact, just didn't end up with a 30-letter last name), but a lot of people are choosing to do that nowadays. Perhaps it's because people are marrying later, and have well-established social ties with their "old" name, I don't know. I rarely see that the man takes the hyphenated name of his wife. So you have John Smith and Mary Jones-Smith, which looks vaguely like the last names you might expect if there was a Mr. Jones involved in their polygamous marriage.

One of the things I do wonder about the hyphenation crowd is: what name do your kids (if you have any) have? Are your kids Jones-Smith, or Smith, or Jones? If it's Jones-Smith, what if they marry someone with the last name Johnson-Butler? How many hyphens can you have? At what point do you give up and make up a new name?

Ok, maybe a bit of hyperbole there. It's not an unreasonable question, though, at least not in my mind. My SIL and her husband kept their own names, and the Adorable Husband and I had a rather odd conversation about what last name the twins have. My sister gave her son a long string of names to cover KidName MiddleName DadLastName LastName, since she is not married to his father, but wanted his name in there somewhere. She usually drops DadLastName when she writes out her son's name, but it is in there legally somewhere. Admittedly, it's less complicated than some of the traditional naming schemes (look at some of the scandinavian countries, where daughters and sons have different "last names" (Johnsson, Johnsdottir, for example), or names are a string of patrilineal names. Maybe.

In the meantime, maybe we just need to add spaces to all the lastname fields everywhere.


The Tiger said...

FYI -- the girls have my last name. Laura's last name is their middle name, and they don't have any other middle names. However, our preferred clan name is the Finger-Ped Family Collective.

Phouka said...

I figured that the Finger-Ped's would get access again some time this week (since you all are moving, with all that attendant chaos -- and apparently problems) and set us straight. Makes perfect sense to us!