I am scared to speak up to my family about some of this.

When I called my parents to let them know Patrick and I had gotten engaged, a couple of days after we’d had some time to sit with the decision ourselves, they wanted to know all kinds of things–when would the wedding be? Where? And etcetera and so on.

At some point, my mother mused aloud, “Andrea Michels ….” She didn’t ask, will you be changing your name? She simply said it to see how her daughter’s new name would sound, as if clearly my inclination would be to take his name, no questions asked. Her daughter who drives around with a feminist sticker on her car, who writes about feminism for a living. My mother knows me as well as anyone. And yet, “Andrea Michels” had to be tried out on her tongue.

To me, the question of taking Patrick’s last name isn’t, well, a question. Obviously I won’t take his name. Like, the question is so absurd to me that it seems bizarre to even address the subject. It is not something I would ever do. It’s like saying, I wonder if Andrea will begin training for marathons now that she’s engaged to Patrick. No fucking way.

Would I ask feminists who take their husbands’ names to think hard about what it means to continue a tradition that literally reinforces patriarchy? Yes. Do I think feminists can take their husbands’ names? Sure. But I will be honest: it still makes me sad. I wish we could get away from a system that asks women to define themselves in relation to men in all that they do. I wish more couples would instead create new names, or hyphenate names so that we can build up out of this patriarchal muck and find a new way to say, “We’re a family.” (One of my favorite suggestions, from @ScottMadin: that Patrick and I become Patrick and Andrea Mimes/Grichels.)

But women–smart, feminist, brilliant women–do take their husbands’ names, for all kinds of reasons. Feeling more like a team unit with their husband, knowing what it’s like to have a different name from your parents and what a hassle that is, disliking one’s given last name, deciding that you’d rather be patriarchally affiliated with your husband’s family rather than your own, and so on. I think the choice has to be a closely examined one in order to be feminist, but ultimately, choose your choice y’all. We can’t fight every battle all the time.

So, I told my mom: “Noooooooooo.” I’m known as Andrea Grimes in my professional life, I said. But I could change it for my personal life and still use Grimes to write under, she said. And that’s true. I could do that. Except I don’t want to and it seems wholly complicated and unnecessary. Did I explain that? No. Was I firm about it? No, I waffled and tried to change the subject. Before long, my mom asked, “What about when y’all have kids? What will their last names be?”

Again, I pretty much deflected the question. I said maybe they’d hyphenate. That it was too far in the future to talk about. But actually, it isn’t. It’s present, right now: no kiddos in the plan. Not ever. No hyphenating problems to discuss because there will be no kids to hyphenate. Easy-peasy. When my dad got on the phone later, his first question was about kids. Again, I deflected. Too soon to talk about all of that, Dad! Except, again, not. Because I know what the answer is. I just don’t know how to tell them what it is. (Do they read this blog? I have no idea. I think my mom follows me on Twitter.)

Why do I find it so difficult to assert myself to my family in matters that are deeply important to me? Things I’ve thought about long and hard, for years, that feel right and good? My family’s fairly traditional, though my parents waited a good long time to have me and I’m their only child. My mom went back to work after I was in school. But they’re churchgoing, conservative folks with deep Texas roots.

I’m afraid that if I talk openly and powerfully about these particular beliefs–keeping my name, not having children–my family will see me as a traitor. As someone who is trying to disown them and their values. As someone who is not “of” them. But I am the woman they made me. I am the lessons they taught me, the lessons they paid for me to have, the people they surrounded me with, the life they enabled me to lead. I hope when it comes down to hashing this stuff out–and oh, there will be hashing–they can see that while our beliefs about many things may be different, they come from ideas we, as a family, respect: self-sufficiency, resilience and resourcefulness.

So, readers: how do you tackle these things? How do you talk to your family about choosing something they may not want for you? How do you stand your ground? (I guess it helps if you’re paying for your wedding, something Patrick and I intend to do.) What’d you do about your last name? What reactions did you get?

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
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20 Responses to I am scared to speak up to my family about some of this.

  1. I’m so glad that you are opening up the converstations on these things! The last name changning makes me sad too. How are we as a society so okay with continuing a tradition that equated women with property? I kept my last name when I got married and I was so surprised to find out how many people were upset by it, and felt the need to offer their opinions on it. I think that in the end, the resistance was part of it though. Like I made this decision, stood my ground, and I’m proud of it.
    As for the other things, I give any of my friends that get married the advice to just not tell people things until you’ve made up your mind. Want to wear a red dress to your wedding? Instead of telling grandma your thinking about it, buy the dress. Then, if it comes up, you say “My wedding dress is red. And awesome”. And some people might put in their two cents, but mostly people are just forced into accepting it.

  2. Kyle says:

    How about if you tell them that you’re proud of the family and that is part of why you’d like to keep their name? If they persist, I suppose the best answer is to tell them that you love and cherish them but that ultimately this is about you and/or society and not a slight against them.

  3. I was married for 4 years before changing my name (mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to have to repeat the spelling of my maiden name every single time). My mother in law was pleased and my parents couldn’t care less… but when I told them that I didn’t plan on having children, the shit hit the fan. Nobody believed me and I got a lot of “don’t worry, you’ll change your mind” bullshit. My friends were actually just as bad as my family and I promise it’ll never end (at least it hasn’t in 6 years so far). I found it extremely difficult to tell my family but I just eventually answered their questions straight forwardly. I say that before you get in that situation, be sure you have all your reasons ready because they will question your motives as if you are a serial killer.

  4. Becky says:

    I discovered, when planning my wedding, that the magic word in dealing with my mother was “we”. I didn’t say, “I want to do ____”, I said, “We want to do ____.” And she really respected that, because she understood that in the long run, my relationship with my then-fiance (now husband of five years!) was more important than my relationship with her. (It’s really not a coincidence that my relationship with her has really improved since I got married.) This has been true with other decisions we’ve made that have disappointed her — for instance, we did have a kid, but we didn’t baptize him.

    I will also say that I kept my name right after I got married, but then hyphenated it shortly before my son was born, because I didn’t want to give him a hyphenated name. And I sometimes regret it, because it is long and clunky. Also, the archaic software used by travel agencies and airlines cannot handle hyphenated names, which is annoying.

  5. Well, I can sort of relate to this question – except that instead of telling my folks that I wouldn’t be taking my husband’s name, I had to tell them that I had a husband in my future and not a wife – i.e., that I’m a gay man and that I intended to live my life openly, proudly, and happily.

    Reading your post, it was easy for me to conflate my situation in comparison to yours – after all, being gay is at the core of who I am, and not taking your husband’s name is simply a choice you’re making – but I had to check myself. Taking your husband’s name would fundamentally shift your identity, as would having kids. In some very crucial ways, your situation and mine are eerily similar.

    So, if I can impart some hard-earned wisdom based on my own experience. Your parents love you. Furthermore, it’s actually not that important to your folks whether or not you take your husband’s name or have children. The bottom line is that your parents want you to be happy. The conflict comes in because their definition of happy is different from yours. They probabily see a childless woman as fundamentally incomplete, shrivelled up inside and full of regret – the same way my folks thought of homosexual men as weak, depraved, predatory, lonely, depressed, and quite possibly homicidal. But I saw a light bulb appear over my mom’s head when I told her that – since coming out to myself and to others – I was so much happier than I’d been pretending I was someone that I wasn’t. All your parents want to know is that you are at peace with your decision not to procreate, are making plans for your future (“who will take care of you when you’re old and grey,” etc.), and just deliriously happy about life as DINKs (Double Income, No Kids).

    Best of luck …

  6. Andrea! This feminist also recently got engaged and is planning a big fat feminist wedding! Let me tell you…the look on my future grandmother-in-law’s face when I told her I am wearing a red dress was both horrifying and hilarious. We’re in this together, lady!

    I’ve been struggling a lot ever since the ring was put on the finger, and I’d say mooooost of it has been self-imposed. I feel like I’m constantly treading the ground of keeping my feminist position and giving in to all the hot wedding industrial complex mess! But I have come to realize that my parents get why I am doing some of the things I am doing…they know me more than I realized they did. Weird. Nonetheless, you still get push back. The name thing is obviously something you cling on to and explain to whomever needs the explaining over and over again (I’m also not changing my last name. Gotta keep the Arabness explicitly in my identity!). But when it comes to the little things like sending out proper invitations, something my family insisted upon when I told them I really just wanted to do an email invite, and other similar things, you give….then, breathe, and remind yourself every little thing about the whole event doesn’t need to be changed into whatever we think is the more feminist way of doing things.

    All that said, let me know how it all goes. I’ll be reading whiskeywedding to commiserate, celebrate and everything in-between with you!

    Candice HADDAD ;)

  7. Brenda says:

    This is fucking awesome.

    The way you feel about taking your husband’s last name is exactly how I feel about mine. I didn’t change my last name when I married, because, are you serious? Like you said, it’s absurd. My mom, a feminist who kept her name when she married, asked me if I was going to do it. She didn’t assume either way, because it is a choice. A choice that, like you, makes me sad.

    Congratulations on your engagement and I hope you have a wonderful life with your future husband!

  8. Mary Kate says:

    Stay strong! I did not change my name and am very happy. Both my parents and his parents continue to bring it up. His family even sends us things addressed as if I took his name in some passive aggressive attempt to bring it up. I think the thing that finally helped me is to realize that I didn’t have an obligation to explain my decision. I have explained, several times, and they continue to say that they don’t understand. Finally realizing that I was not under any obligation to make excuses was like lifting a giant weight off of my shoulders. You have the right to do whatever you want – and people expecting you to defend your choice is almost as sexist as people expecting you to change your name in the first place.

  9. DK says:

    I really hate the “what about the children” reasoning. Whenever men give this to me, I ask them if they changed theirs for their kids. Oh wait, this is a sacrifice only asked of women. Also: hyper ethnocentric.

    Some tips for dealing with family wedding stress: planning and having one is not always fun and rainbows all the time. Once you throw that expectation out the window, you will be able to proceed easier. Figure out what is most important about your wedding with your fiance and stick to your feminist guns on those things, but realize that this is also something you’re sharing with friends and family. Let little things go. A good way of doing that is simply not offering up information on the items you don’t want unwanted opinions on and instead directing them towards invites or showers that you care less about. Make them feel included, but direct the message.

    As for the last name thing, I told people that I cannot disconnect the tradition from its history of coverture. My name is a representation of my ancestry. Disregarding that and taking my husband’s name is the antithesis of marrying as equals. I would never ask the same of him.

  10. Ashly says:

    Daughter of a devout Southern Baptist preacher here- got married 4 years ago. My husband and I walked down the isle together. There was no giving of the bride. There was no presentation of Mr. & Mrs. His Name Only. And there were no traditional vows. Yet we had an awesome beachside ceremony where my dad officiated. He cried tears of joy the entire way through it, as did I. Just make sure the lines of communication are open and make sure everyone is communicating in a loving way– not in a condescending “I can’t believe you guys did it differently when you got married in the dark ages” kinda way. It’ll work out.

  11. Allison says:

    I feel you on the last name thing. (I am 99% sure I’m keeping mine; the 1% is because I wonder if I am tired of having a last name no one can pronounce or spell and might I like to swap it out for one that people get? Also because we do want to have kids and our last names hyphenated are so ridiculously German and might be a lot to saddle a kid with.)

    I worry more about MY parents will handle it than how Owen’s parents will react. His parents will, I think, be fine with it, and he thinks so too. I wonder, though, if my mom will think I’m being “silly” insisting on keeping it.

    I intend to phrase it as something we decided together. “We’re not changing our names,” or “We’re both keeping our names.” Like it was equally possible that any names might have changed, and we decided together to keep things as they are.

  12. Heather C says:

    Luckily for me, keeping my name was never an issue. In Quebec, you don’t change your name when you get married. So, thanks, Quebec, for saving me that conversation! Because I had planned on keeping my name anyway.

    However, the baby question will never die. I was asked “So, when are you having kids?” at the wedding. On the honeymoon, I was feeling ill, and my aunt said “Maybe you’re pregnant!” I have been asked by family, friends, and strangers. I once had a customer at the bookstore I worked at ask when I was going to fill my condo full of babies. My father tried to stipulate in his will that his kids couldn’t inherit unless they had children. (To which I replied, “I don’t want your crap, especially if there are conditions attached.”) Nine years after the wedding, people are starting to finally get the idea and leave us alone about it, but it still comes up from time to time.

  13. Michelle says:

    I guess I will be the dissenting voice here — I looked forward to changing my name. Because I don’t have a good relationship with my dad and his name is a big part of that to me, I was more than happy to take on another name.

    Perhaps the more feminist solution would have been to change my name to something neutral before I got married and then stuck with that one…but when it comes back to having to argue with your parents or tell them something they don’t want to hear, “I’m taking my husband’s name” was much easier than “Our family name leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

    Of course, if I’d had to change my initials, maybe I would have felt differently. I’m a lot more attached to my initials than my last name. :)

    And dealing with the no-babies thing is no picnic either — there’s something threatening about the fact that you choose something out of “the norm.” Either people think you are subtly judging their choice to have kids by NOT having kids, or they think you’re some kind of selfish a-hole who wants to avoid the “reality” of adulthood and are therefore cheating at life.

    • Ashly says:

      Fantastic last paragraph there about not having kids. I finally decided to do it & am now preggo at 31, but I got sooooo tired of the “What? Really? You don’t have any kids?” conversation. But to be honest, I do kinda judge those people who are my age & have teenagers. I feel like I made better choices. Why is that my fault? :)

  14. Susan says:

    I didn’t change my name. I got married at 34 and it was just too much damn drama to change my name. Neither set of parents seemed to feel strongly about it one way or the other, but I really think my dad was doing a secret happy dance I didn’t change my name. What complicated things a bit was that I’m Susan, my mother-in-law is Susan, and the ex-wife is Susan. My honey’s real bad with names, y’all. Now, the ex is remarried, but she’s kept my husband’s name because they have kids. I get that, but now she’s remarried. Yeah. So now she says she doesn’t change her name to “honor” my husband’s parents because they were “the only parents” she ever had. Sigh. He tried to get it written into the divorce decree that she had to give it up. Did not work out, just so you know. I asked the kids what they thought about keeping my name and they were for it. Not in a “you’re not our mom” way. Just in a you are who you are way. Plus, they thought their mom was kind of a fake for keeping their dad’s name.
    Anyway, no one made a big deal about it. No one made a big deal about our decision not to have kids together. And I’m in the DEEP SOUTH–grew up in Mississippi and live in Memphis. What my friends DID make a big deal over was that I don’t have an engagement ring. And my brother-in-law always brings up how he did not get invited to the wedding. Well, my brother didn’t either. It was us, a minister, the two kids and our parents. In and out and on to a big ass steak dinner.

    There are times when I may refer to myself as a hyphenate, but that’s more if I’m dealing with someone who knows my husband. It gives them a frame of reference. I do have a friend who became a hyphenate, as did her husband. She told me the other day she wishes they had not done that. She’s missed her own identity for the past 20 years.

    Also, people are going to find SOMETHING to rag you about when you get married. Your dress, invitations (or lack thereof), rings, honeymoon. Screw ‘em. It’s your marriage, your life.

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