Weddings: Game Changer, not Name Changer.


As you might have guessed from my oh-so-clever heading, this post is all about how I am planning to keep my name after marriage.

Not only planning it, in fact, but relishing it.

Celebrating it, even.

One would even say I am calling it.

Okay, I am going to stop with puns now. I suck at puns.

But it’s true – I have no intention of changing my name.

I never have.

I won’t say I never planned my wedding. As a (precocious?) ten year old, I remember doodling on a huge piece of yellow construction paper my “wedding plans”. On the back of that page was the diagram of my future house, by the way. It was to have a pool filled with balloons and a driveway of bottlecaps that glittered (we had just read a book where a boy discovers a treasure trove of pop bottle in the house he’s just moved into), so you can imagine what my wedding would have looked like: hot pink dress with fairy wings, Spice Girls as the band, lots of food and by “food” I meant sweets – particularly a huge chocolate fountain with balls of icecream for dipping, and, of course, no groom. Seriously. Ten-year old me wanted the dress, the party and the fun of it. Groom, or lack thereof, be damned.

Funnily enough, I also remember being around that age and my grandmother teasing me about some boy I liked, calling me Mrs. So-and-So. And even then, with  my legs still hair-free, bookshelves still lacking de Beauvoir and my drawing of the elephant I would have – as a pet – in my backyard when I was older – I knew I would keep my name.

You remember when you had a crush on someone in highschool? Well, those of you Readers who are heterosexual cis-female girls or were at any rate? How the movies say you start doodling Mrs. Crush’s Last Name on your notebooks with hearts, butterflies and smoochies everywhere? I didn’t do that. I practiced my own name a lot – cursive is one of my favourite things to play with, creatively, but never Mrs. Amanda So-and-So. And I had plenty of crushes. Loads. But never one strong enough to override my will to keep my own name.

And why would I have been any different?

I mean, I have had my name for as long as I can remember … well actually, a tad longer I guess.

For better or worse, my parents graced me with a full name – first, middle and last – and I have been filling it out on documents, legal and otherwise, ever since. I like my name. It suits me, I think, though not for its meanings. My first name is “Amanda” – as in Latin for “Beloved”. You can take what you want from that, but suffice it to say, it is a beloved name of mine. It was shortened to Ammy in the seventh grade when my friend Ewa nicknamed me as such, and it stuck. I like it better than Mandy. A lot better. My middle name is “Isabel” – that is, “Beautiful”. So, so far I am beloved and beautiful – and who would want to get rid of that!? Of course, dear Readers, you’re probably rolling your eyes reminding me that I wouldn’t need to get rid of those names, just the last one if I were to have a traditional (re. WASPy) sort of marriage. And so we come to my last name. It’s Portuguese, Jewish-Portuguese to be specific, though I only learned of that when I was in my teens. “Pereira” as in … “Pear Tree”. Yep. I am the Beloved Beautiful Pear Tree.

Go ahead, laugh.

I totally do.

Never a more beloved and beautiful pear tree … ha ha. What makes a pear tree beloved ad beautiful? tee hee. etc.

Don’t even get me started on the pronunciation.

… Oh no, I’ve started: You see, I grew up in Canada. Canada is (asides from being the best country in the whole world) pretty multicultural – and I got to grow up with all sorts of different people, ethnicity, foods and music, etc – but it’s also still very white washed. And if you are an immigrant from anywhere that isn’t English or French Speaking, or the child of such immigrants, and you are at the bank and someone calls out what you think is your last name – you know where I am going with this. I have gotten all sorts of strange and sometimes just baffling interpretations of my last name: When anglicized, we say “Purr – air – ah” – pretty simple, right, and you can see how we get to that phonetic pronunciation through … you know, looking that the letters that comprise my name (In Portuguese btw, it’s pronounced “pray-rrrha” or some variation of phonetic spelling that allows “r”s to be rolled). I have gotten “Perry” “Perry-ah” “Pair-hey-Ja” “Pure-ear-ee-ah” and a host of others. I have laughed, rolled my eyes, grit my teeth and finally asked “Seriously? How hard is it to just look at the bloody letters!?”. And as much as this is annoying at times and how sometimes, it’s still my name. It has meaning for me, it makes me feel like “Hey! Yeah, that’s me!” as opposed to this stranger with a weird new name people are imposing on her because she did the tax-incentive thing, and got married.

Romantic, right?

So I am keeping my name!

What has me less happy is the myriad of … concerns, shall we say? … I get from family, friends, in-laws and the like, that address my choice as either “childish” or “just a part of that feminist shtick I’ll get over when I have babies”.  Further, what surprises me is the amount of negativity and animosity I have gotten when people find out about my lack of name-swapping. I mean, I get curiosity – welcome it, even. But what I don’t understand is that in the 21st century, people can still be angry that I choose this. Angry, in fact, that I get to choose in the first place, I think. And so, for those people with those angry questions and incredulity that I get, this post is for you.

And to those people I say …

(1) Choosing to Keep my Name is not Childish.

“You’ll grow out of it!”

No I won’t.

“You say that now, but in a few years you’ll think differently.”

Yeah, because that’s not the most patronizing thing you can say to me.

Really people? The choice an adult woman (and men, too I suppose, though not as culturally accepted) has to keep or change her own name isn’t an easy one. I make it seem like it is, I know – I’m all like “My name forever and never another!” and make it seem like I haven’t thought of it for a good long while, considered to merits and taken a side, but I have. Telling me my choice is childish is rude and says a lot more of you than it does of me.

Also – it may be childish to look at an otherwise adult situation and say “Why the heck do we do that?”, but it is a completely adult response to consider that question and put it in its proper context.

Changing your name is a big deal, with a lot of societal pressures to go one way or another. For Portuguese, and many other southern European women, the choice was made for you – you kept your own name, maybe tacked on your husband’s, maybe. This is why my mother has seven names, btw. In other societies, including the one I currently live in, the societal norm is to change my name to my husband’s so we can make a sort of cohesive family unit – nuclear family unit. The rise of feminism in the 1960s and 70s has given us even more options in this department, allowing for females to decide truly what they want to do. Of course, this doesn’t really lessen pressure – for every new decision point, a million people are telling you to do it the other way, but it does give credence to the idea that it takes a lot of brainpower and a lot of thought into deciding which way to actually go.

Also, and I will say this again: it’s rude. Just stop.

So next time you want to call me childish for deciding to stick to my own name, maybe rethink you’re approach?

(2) This feminist thing that you don’t seem to comprehend. You should – and here’s why.

Pfft, it’s just that feminist thing. You’re only saying that because you’re a feminist and feminists hate men/have no fun/hate families/etc.”

Tee hee. Yep, that’s it.

Feminism hates everyone, blah blah, angry, something something, down with the patriarchy!

Now, while I am totally down with that last statement – the patriarchy really must go – I kind of have to combo roll eyes and laugh at the rest. Feminism isn’t making me stick to my name, honest. Feminism does not give a fig whether I change my name or not – feminism is solely preoccupied with my ability to choose, and only my ability to choose. You see, feminism is the belief that men and women are equal (crazy, right?), and as such, what’s good for the gander … you know what I mean. As men have always been allowed to retain the use of their birth names, why not women? Feminism asks. Truly, if it were an equal society, men and women both could choose to keep or change or exchange or combine or whatever their names when they were married. Feminism is saying “You do what you want, girl, because you ought to be able to exercise that right.” It is not saying “Taking the name of your husband is anti-feminist and wrong!”

Personally, I think that name changing on a personal level is not anti-feminist. I think that there are many valid reasons to change your name – first, middle, last – and if you want to change it, that you should totally do it. What is wrong is having this generalized rule that says “When woman marries man, she taketh his last name as her own, forever to be known as Mrs. Husband’s Last Name.” There is a difference there, do you see it?

Maybe with a little history lesson …

See – why do we change our names, ladies? Like, really? Well, as I have mentioned before in previous posts – marriage was traditionally a property transaction where fertile-woman-of-breeding-years would be transferred from her male head of house (father, uncle, brother, guardian of the male sex after one fashion or another) to a different, hopefully young and virile, male head of house. So, when Lady X married Guy Y, she ceased to be an “X” (her father’s name) and became a “Y” (her husband’s name). And all the bureaucrats in the kingdom rejoiced because … well, less paperwork.

See what that is? Not a personal choice, but a societal-mandated rule. Moreover, a societal-mandated rule that runs contrary to the assertion that women are equal. So, yep – I have a problem with the generalized approach of wives’ changing their names to their husbands.

Again, if it’s a personal choice – go for it. If you’re doing it because God/The President/Hundreds of Years of Ill-Suited Puritans that represent the manifestation of Patriarchal Power said so … then maybe rethink that? Because it’s not me who has been brainwashed …

(3) Think of the your future children! I am … also what does that have to do with this?

I get this one a lot.

“But … don’t you want your future children to have the same name as you?”

Uh … Sorry, but … who says they won’t?

No, seriously. Do I have to repeat the above manifesto?

My kids will have my name. Of course they will, because I am not a factory that pumps out children – risking my own life in the process – in order to have them taken from me symbollically by stamping them with a name that is not mine. Will they also have The Boy’s last name – likely. We’re currently arguing over the best type of hyphenation available to us … since The Boy turned down my proposal to nix the hyphenation for a new name, like Moonunit. Or Strawberryrainbows.

There are two main things I am trying to say with this: (1) There is nothing in this world, asides from arbitrary rules, that will make my future children not mine – and those arbitrary rules should be abolished; and (2) I cannot believe you’re using my hypothetical, future offspring as leverage to make me think like you. It’s offensive and sort of telling – is this the best you’ve got, guys?

As Alice Walker has said – the way you give up power is by thinking you have none. And I am thinking I won’t be giving up that power.

(4) Yes, I am starting a new family, and no that doesn’t change my position. Also – double standard much?

“You’re starting a new family!” I am told my one so starry eyed a person. “Breaking away from your old family, and cleaving to a new one!”

Like an exploring pioneer, amiright?

Anyways, there is so much wrong with this line of questioning. I mean – yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious that I am one of a two-part team that is beginning a new bloom on the proverbial family tree. Children, or not, we are very distinctly a different, new branch on a much larger tree that encompasses a lot of little family units. The language of “leaving” your old family, again, is traditional and patriarchal (and very much found in church services which is likely why I hold religious marriage ceremonies in such contempt) and not exactly very accurate. You don’t cease to be a member of your own family just because you get married. That’s absurd. You may not be around them as much, or hell you may be around them more, but there is no leaving, no exile, no abandonment.

Are you cleaving? I am not sure. That word is too wrapped up in various Bible sentiments that I can’t much separate it out anymore (asides from its use in the kitchen, of course). But taking it to mean, starting off with your partner – sure, cleave away! I am just not sure why all this cleaving and family building requires me to leave my name at the door and go forwards as Mrs. The Boy. I am fairly sure, in fact, that it doesn’t.

And those who think it does … have you considered hyphenation? Or combined names? Or made up names like Vunderbar or Riskybizz? We do it on the internet, why not IRL!?

But in all seriousness, if there is something I want out of this beginning new family unit, it’s to start off an equal footing – and that means bringing into the marriage both parts of us – so both names, both families. The way it’s intended, as far as I am thinking. There will be no absorption, I will not be cut out of a family tree, and there will be no sacrificing of my last name on the altar of “Good Marriage”.

(5) Finally, My marriage will be a partnership, not a Property Transfer.  Also, principles matter.

“But wouldn’t it just be nice to have just one name? Mr and Mrs. So and So? Wouldn’t it make life easier?”

Oh, hell yes.

No, seriously – like, hell yes.

It would be so, so easy to just nod, smile and accept that. To start the proceedings to change my name to Mrs. The Boy, and never have to answer all these questions, justify my actions or feel my hackles rise whenever a card comes in the mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. The BOY TheBoy’sLastName.

But I would never do it.

Firstly, because my principles matter to me. I believe that a fair and equal society is one in which the questions that are being asked of me will disappear into the mist, and in the future, we will have an understanding that woman are not exchangeable as this practice would suggest, but really and truly their own persons. I also believe that marriage will change – become less like those stories you read about where the husband is the chief and the wife is merely a player (or the neck to his head), and will instead have an understanding and practice that marriage is a partnership – an agreement made by two independent individuals with the same rights and privileges, that choose to be together. I believe that one day, our world will reflect those ideals.

And so, I will adopt them now.

Because I believe the Boy and I do have a partnership – we’ve been together since we were 18. We finished growing out of our awkward teenaged years together, navigated university, post-university, combating desires and goals, and came out the other side, a stronger couple. We have our disagreements, but we also have a better understanding of one another. And one of the things we’ve come to understand is that the only way our relationship works, is when we both respect the equality between us. That is to say, we both have equal say in things, we come to each other for advice and guidance, and together, hand in hand with whatever wonderful metaphors you can bring to mind, we face the problems that come out of the woodwork.

And an equal partnership does not adopt societal norms unthinking. It doesn’t just go with the flow and demand obedience without considering the fallout for both parties. And it definitely isn’t anti-feminist, as a rule.

So, the only response, even if I wasn’t so attached to my name, would be to keep my name. On principle.

I suppose, in conclusion, what I am saying is this: Do what you want, newly engaged femmes. Just do it knowing you have options, that you do not have to do what is traditional if you feel uncomfortable with it, and that if you do want to do what is traditional anyway, you only have to justify it to yourself.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about the whole identity thing …

Now if only I can get people to stop addressing me as Mrs. Boy’sLastName…

What are your thoughts on the last name debate?




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