Q: Dear APW,
When I first mentioned to my fiancx that I thought we should both hyphenate our last names, I was totally taken aback that he didn’t want to… not because he didn’t want to change his, but he didn’t want me to change mine. Throughout the wedding planning process (and, you know, the five-plus years we were together before getting engaged) I have increasingly thought about what we would do when we got to this point and what my name means to me. I feel like my name and I have been through a journey together; my mom has a unique first name that she’s never liked, so my sister and I have first names that have been the most popular name FOR YEARS. My last name is a color. As a kid, I hated that it was a color. In college, my roommate joked that my last name was actually “greenlikethecolor” because that’s the line I always use when telling someone my name (somehow my last name still manages to get spelled wrong). Now I love that it is short and sweet, and it being a color makes it both unique and familiar.
So when I broached the idea of hyphenating, it seemed like the best compromise to stay me and still acknowledge the new family we were making. When my partner mentioned he’d prefer if we were just us, that made so much sense and felt totally right… but I am still a bit unsettled. The more I have thought about it, the more I have realized that I am craving something that tells others that I got married.
Intellectually, I know that things won’t be very different before and after we are married. We have lived together for years, have combined finances, and even own a house together. I am so excited to get married and want the whole world to know, but am afraid that no one will know or care if I don’t change my name. How do I come to terms with what I want really being okay? What will change if my name doesn’t?
—Let it Be Green
A: Dear LIBG
First off, I want to give a shout out to your soon-to-be-husband. He’s fine with you not taking his name in any form, and that doesn’t somehow make him feel less than. And I’m going to admit, giving a shout out to husbands is something I rarely do (I joke that I have given my husband a pass for being an okay feminist human, but it is a fully revokable pass. After all, he was raised in the patriarchy like the rest of us, and he’s internalized so much garbage, and some days I revoke it on some bullshit).
But I have done this job a long time, and I have heard so much shit about men who “just couldn’t cope” with their wives not taking their last names, because it “just meant so much to them.” I don’t have any patience for it. Of course, you’re a feminist (you even bought the t-shirt), but you’d like to be a feminist in a way that doesn’t impact your life or threaten all the benefits the world provides you (burn the t-shirt. You shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, because men wearing t-shirts proclaiming their feminism while they live in a patriarchy is gross).
But your future husband didn’t do that. And I want to take a moment to appreciate it. Beyond that, he was able to take a step back from toxic masculinity, and voice what he actually wanted (i.e., to not hyphenate his name). Being clear about your feelings is hard for everyone, but for men, wading into the world of feelings can be its own kind of tricky. Side note: My husband and I were going to hyphenate our names, and about one week before the wedding, he looked at me and said, “I actually don’t want to hyphenate my name.” Lucky for us, my reaction was, “OMG, I don’t want to hyphenate mine either, but I didn’t want to say anything.” So cheers to him for saying something.
That said, you don’t agree. And as much as I don’t have patience for men who “just can’t cope” with their wives not taking their last names, I also don’t have patience for any man who thinks the last name decision is one they can make on their own. OF COURSE you’ve thought about this for years. You’ve had to. This is the emotional labor that womxn have to do in our society, and that men don’t have to deal with. It’s possible (likely, even) that he hasn’t thought about it for half as long, and he just doesn’t want to have to change anything. Because men are not expected to give up or change their names, so why would he have to bother with that? (Did I mention all passes are fully revokable? If you want to revoke his now, feel free.)
So if you want to hyphenate your name, he has to deal with that. Fully, fully deal with that. In fact, he may just have to do it. (Will it make him cry? Maybe. Do I give a fuck? No.) My husband didn’t want our kids to have their name hyphenated with my name last, because—and I quote: “I was raised to think they would always be ‘Mylastname’ or Somekindof-Mylastname.” (Was it one of the only things I’ve ever seen him cry over? Yes. Did I give a fuck? No.) You wanna be a feminist, you put in the work and feel the pain, just like womxn do every damn day. So if hyphenating is what you want, claim it. He can live with it. The world is built to make his life easy, and if he’s in a feminist partnership, that stops when he walks through the door of his home. It better get hard at home, or you’re going to be left doing all the work, and holding all the pain.
That said, maybe when you root around, you’ll discover that your desire to have one unified name is rooted in the patriarchy and you’re good with keeping your (very cool) name. In many cultures around the world (China, Puerto Rico, Montreal, I could go on) womxn keep their own names, and families are families, just the same. In our family, our kids have the same hyphenated name, and we each have our birth names, and we’re a happy family just the same.
So all that said (and yes, the two of you likely need to have a lot of conversations), on to your question. What will change after you’re married, if not your name? Well, if you’re like me: Lots of stuff all at once, and even more stuff over time. Or if you’re like some other folks: Maybe nothing will change. But does it need to if you’re happy? For me, a million intangible things changed during our twenty-minute ceremony. It’s hard to boil any of it down into words, but making such a huge commitment in front of the people I loved most in the world was profoundly life-changing. And the slow process of knowing that we were in this for life, and making joint decisions and planning for joint goals, was a profoundly huge switch. We dated for five years before marriage, and I would have told you that we were in deep before that ceremony. But ten years later, I can say that those first five years were just a teaser for the depth of commitment that was to come.
And how did people know I was married? My ring, I guess, though I was never super obvious about it. But mostly, at the end of the day, I realized I didn’t want to telegraph my marital status to people that were not on a need-to-know basis. Because the second my husband had a wedding ring on his finger, the very patriarchal world we lived in viewed him as more serious, more grown-up, with more responsibility, and more ready for raises and promotions. The second I slipped that ring on, my workplace figured I was going to drop out soon to have a baby and stay home with the kids, so what was the point in investing in me? Note: I left that workplace, and here I am, proving that they probably would have been wise to invest in me.
Suffice to say: People you love will know that you’re married. If you have an obvious wedding ring, people in the general public will know that you’re married. But that may not be something that’s advantageous to broadcast to people who don’t need to know. And very likely, the internal changes are the ones that will bring you the most joy.
I started this by singing your future husband’s praises. But that comes with a catch. I’m only going to sing them if he listens to what you really want, and you have a deep egalitarian discussion about what’s right for you both, how you both interact with the patriarchal world, and what you really need. You, after all, are the one who’s been carrying the burden of this choice for very nearly your whole life.
As for me, whose opinion literally means nothing in this discussion, I say go Green. It’s a fantastic name. Keep it. Give it to your children. Let’s rebuild this world as a matriarchy. And if he wants you to keep your name, but wants to pass only his name along to any kids you have, his pass is fully revoked, right now.