While you can obviously be a feminist and change your last name, not changing your last name is making a conscious choice that this is your fight. It’s also choosing to fight the good fight for a long, long time. While I hope we get to a point where women choosing to not change their last names, or to pass on their last names to their children, is unremarkable (or even admired), we’re sure as shit not there yet. I say this as someone in her fourth year of marriage, who is still constantly correcting people who passive-aggressively address the fact that the members of this household kept their names. If there is one message that I think needs shouting from the rooftops, it’s this one: you can be a family and have different last names. In fact, having different last names has zero effect on your being a family (other than making you a family living your values, if name change is one of your personal issues). It’s not even new. The Spanish do it. In Quebec it’s illegal NOT to do it. And blended families do it all the time. So with that, here is Kari Tipton talking about becoming a stepmom and keeping her name.
I knew I was in it for the long haul with my partner well before we even started talking about marriage. One of the amazing things that my single-dad sweetheart did was tell me on our third date that I wasn’t going to meet his kids for at least six months—and as a child of divorced parents and blended families, I was very appreciative of that. Part of this appreciation stemmed from my own issues—I sure didn’t want to contribute to any one else’s abandonment complexes, nor did I want to screw up his kids in any other possible way. Mostly, though, I didn’t want to learn to love these kids and then never see them again.
[[TOP SECRET: One of the things that stepparents never talk about is the terror that your partner will leave, and take their children with them. That you don't have any legal rights to maintain a relationship with a child who might not like you at first, and that may require more work than you'd ever dream of investing to grow. It’s better to ignore this feeling most of the time. But when I met his kids, I wanted to make sure I was meeting them because they were going to be part of my life for the long haul, just like my partner was going to be.]]
After six or seven months of dating I met his kids as “Dad’s friend,” slowly progressed to staying over weekends, and even more slowly moved in. After about two years together the younger boy turned to me and said, “When you marry dad, you’ll be a ‘HISLASTNAME’ too!”
Oh my. You know, there’s a startling thrill in the tacit approval of your relationship by a seven-year-old. But then I had to explain to him about my name (T) and his name (G)—because I was really not going to change it.
Me: “Well, I don’t think I’ll change my name to G.”
Him: “Why not!?”
Me (terrified he thought I was rejecting wee seven-year old him and his daddy, striving for calmness): “Well, you really like being a G, right?”
Me: “And you love having family who are also named G, right?”
Me: “Well, I’ve been a T for so long, and I love my T family, and I love being a T just as much as you love being a G.”
Me: “So, I’m going to stay a T, even if we get married.” (Secret thrills for saying it out loud to someone not my partner for the first time.)
Luckily I have got a lot of people in my extended and blended family with many different last names. So I ran through all the families who have different last names. To be honest, these days the only people who share last names seem to be the ones who aren’t married to each other any more—my mom and dad, for example, while my stepmom changed her name to her mother’s maiden name when she married my father.
After that we told the kids they could have whatever name they wanted to when they turned eighteen, and the eleven-year-old determined he would change his name to Awesomepants Megatron or something similarly ridiculous. Then we made up a blended ridiculous name (Tip Grundzilla) for this new ferocious foursome. Phew. Case closed, problem solved, and no wee little dudes worried about how much I really loved them.
I feel like I dodged a bullet! I don’t want to change my last name. I never have wanted to change my last name. But at the same time, it was a super easy decision to make because my partner and I aren’t planning to have any children together. It would be more complicated if we were going to have a passel of babies, because I would sort of like them to share a name with their father and half-sibs. I imagine we would hyphenate. It’s really easy to imagine, though, and I respect the struggle that new baby-families have to go through as they make this decision.
I didn’t change my name because I love my last name. I didn’t change it because I have long-standing and important-to-me connections to my dad’s family. I didn’t change it because it seemed like a lot of work, and because it pisses me off that it’s another thing that women take care of for their families. I didn’t change it because I’ve got a paper published under my name. I didn’t change it because I want to be a Ms. anyway, and not a Mrs. At the same time I recognize the inherent conflict in my reasoning—I want to maintain a family connection with my dad’s family—one made possible by women changing their names throughout our long ancestry. I feel so connected to my paternal grandmother—who changed her name when she married my paternal grandfather.
Even though we sign all our holiday cards “Tip Grundzilla,” lots of cards came this year to Mr. and Mrs. G.—which is fine, really. My parents know my name, my mom and dad-in-law know my name, and the kids know my name. My sweetheart knows who I am, all names aside. My boss and the IRS know my name. I know that my lovely partner supports my choice and the kids know we’re all in this together, no matter what our official handles are. There’s a lot of different ways to build a family, and even more ways to refer to it… and this is the one that works for us.
Post-script: When my partner was talking to one of his colleagues about our wedding, he got in response: “Mrs. Kari G., …hmmm.” To which my clever feminist sweetheart smartly responded, “Oh no, Kari is keeping her last name. There are already two Mrs. Gs in town, between my mother and my ex…” Which, you know works pretty well for a flip answer. Hilarity ensued.
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