Everyone has an issue or two that grabs them in the gut, and make them want to shake the world and get it to change. For me, it’s the family name issue. It’s not that I think there is one solution for everyone. It’s that it angers me that women are left to deal with the whole complex situation, while men get a free pass. You change your name, it’s your mourning process. You keep your name, it’s you fighting relatives until the end of time. You hyphenate, it’s you who caused the clunky solution and stripped your partner of his pure family name. (Note: We need a Remember The Lesbians post on this one…) Men who change their names have a special place in my heart (you can see two past posts on the subject here). Today’s post by Dan (Doucet) Nicholson, takes it a step further. He not only shares the burden with his partner, he willingly makes a choice that is profoundly personally difficult. On behalf of women everywhere, correcting people who address them by their husband’s last name, Dan, I salute you. Welcome to the team.
Equality. It’s a very broad stroke. For myself, it means that everyone is equal regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities—anything. It’s a goal that I firmly believe in, and I believe that the world would be a much better place if all people were treated as equals.
I’ve been dating a wonderful woman for nearly four years. She is my best friend and I would do anything for her, as she would for me. Early on in our relationship we discussed the topic of equality and what it meant to both of us. In particular, we discussed equality in a relationship and the importance of teamwork, communication, and cooperation—a small list of values that I would hope is relevant to every relationship.
She and I talked about marriage a lot in our relationship; it was something we wanted, but wasn’t feasible at the time. We were living in a city with little job prospects (a simple dishwashing job had over two hundred applicants—seriously). In order to build our family, our only option was to move from the city we loved and look elsewhere.
When I started my professional career, my dream was to work at an advertising agency. The one thing I understood very well about advertising is that it’s all about brand—personally and professionally. During our talks about marriage, we discussed a family name (something that usually arises when a couple talks about getting married). We talked about each option in great detail:
She takes my last name: The tradition here is that she is handed off as her father’s property to my property. While she values traditions, we both hated this thought. She isn’t my property, she’s my partner.
Hyphenate: This is somewhat modern, but what happens when our son/daughter meets Jane Doe-Smith and they get married. They’ll be named HerName-MyName-Doe-Smith. No dice.
Keep our names: This is another somewhat-modern solution but for us, we wanted one family name. We didn’t want to have to choose which last name our child takes, leaving the other parent as a bit of an outcast. Not only that, but practically it leaves something to be desired—the rules have become far more stringent when traveling to other countries with children; the parent who shares the child’s last name would have to provide written consent.
Create a new name: This is another modern solution that’s picking up, but our last names do not merge well. That, and we hated that idea.
I take her name: Regardless of gender, one person takes the other person’s name to create one family name; I believe this is actually traditional. It promotes equality whereas in almost every other option above, the female loses her family name. This way, we’re one family, our children will have the same name, and we’re not compromising our personal values.
Since I wanted to work in advertising, I decided to apply to jobs using her last name as my last name when we moved. I held off from telling any of my family members. I kept my Facebook account family specific, while my other social channels remained for professional use, avoiding mixing the two.
After a year incognito, I had the opportunity to tell my parents (and grandparents) in person about my decision. I’ve never been so nervous. Almost anything I could tell them would have been easier than the news I was changing my last name—a notion completely foreign to anyone from a small, conservative town.
Another thing about small towns—news travels fast; before I knew it, I was receiving Facebook messages from family members (and old friends of my parents whom I haven’t spoken to in years) about my decision. Comments such as it’s a bad idea, assumptions that my in-laws are putting me up to this, telling me my deceased mother would never approve of such delinquency—all-in-all, very hurtful things. At the time, I chose to ignore these negative comments.
Fast forward a few months, and the comments continued to spew forth. The wall I built to keep my Facebook account separate from personal and professional lives crumbled as these negative comments began to populate my office’s Facebook business page. I’m not arguing that this choice will work for everyone, but when ninety percent of women are changing their names, I want to stand up and present this as a legitimate option and talk about my own experiences. Together, my partner and I decided what was right for our family, and if our gender roles were reversed, nobody would think twice or question my decision to change my name. It wouldn’t be such a minefield of opinions.
At the end of the day, it’s a tough go—but there’s not one moment either of us regrets this choice. Earlier on I said I was a pretty private person—still true, but I hope my own coming out on this decision provides a bit of guidance, or at least reassurance, for other men considering it.
Photo by APW Sponsor Vivian Chen