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?