17th 2011
Dear Katie Rosman,

Posted under: Gender, unhappy endings, wankers, weirdness, women's history

If it were so important to your husband that you share a last name with him and the children, why didn’t he change his name to Rosman?  After all, it’s easy to spell and easy to pronounce in English.  I don’t understand why you permit him to make this your problem.

Oh, and his little “jokes” with perfect strangers and your own children about your surname, and the fact that you wrote about them in the Wall Street Journal?  Maybe you two should see a counselor.

Good luck with that,



60 Responses to “Dear Katie Rosman,”

  1. Bardiac on 17 Jul 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Absolutely. He should change his name. (Actually, I wonder if there’s an easy box on marriage licenses for men to change their names, as she says there is for women?)

  2. ej on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Yeah, I don’t understand why he didn’t change his name. If it was so important to him…

    And no, there is no box for a man to change his name. My husband considered it, but he would have had to jump through a dozen hoops, including proving that he had never committed a felony and publishing the projected name change 3 weeks in a row in a major newspaper.

    Yet another example of how entrenched patriarchy is in our legal system.

  3. Indyanna on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:19 am #

    On the richter-scale of mirth the bar for “knee-slapper” keeps going down and down and down. It sounds like they both have cases of “recovered-early ’70s syndrome,” (RESS), but Joe a lot more than Katie. Back then people sometimes both changed their last names to common new names; shared varying hyphenated-versions of both of their names, or just did whatever suited and gradually moved on to other issues. The buried H-bomb was always understood to be what happens when kids with hyphenated last names married each other–what are they going to call THEIR kids? But that seemed too much like anthropology to delay planning the reception over. The part that opened my eyes was living in a neighborhood where kids call their friends’ parents and parents’ friends “Mr.” and “Mrs.” In my G.I. Bill suburb we used the fictive aunt and uncle trope, which allowed kids to know what adults first names were without any of the leveling familiarity of actually “first-naming” them.

  4. Sisyphus on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Wow, she married a total dick! Seriously? I-love-you-honey-and-you-can-do-whatever-you-want-but-hey,-change-your-name?

    And the whole “I should have bought you a smaller diamond” thing was squicky too, but maybe just because I think diamonds are too flashy and tacky. But way to go with the whole idea that all relationships with women involve paying them to get them to do what you want!

  5. Dame Eleanor Hull on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:32 am #

    DTMFA. Or at least make it very clear that the razzing about the name has to stop. Sometimes “guys” (a term I use in contradistinction to “men”) get so used to razzing each other that they forget that grown-ups don’t do that. My brothers are guys.

  6. Nicoleandmaggie on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Wow, she kind of married a douche. I hope he has other sterling qualities that make up for it. I also really dislike it when I read these kinds of articles– the NYTimes seems to be full of them, especially the Motherlode section. One watches people like Sandra Tsing Loh become increasingly more neurotic over time until finally they’re publishing details about their affairs and how they really feel about their children under their real names. Quiet counseling would be healthier.

    My husband wanted a common family name. He was willing to change his to mine (mine is much nicer anyway), but he’d already published under his so his mother and my mother and I kind of convinced him to just keep his own name. So we’ve kept our own names. It has been fine. Much easier than the rigamarole our married students have to go through when they do name changes which is a hassle for everyone involved. Lazy wins!

    Also, no diamond. We didn’t want to start our married life in debt.

    We have friends who changed both their names… since they’re academics they changed the end of the alphabet to something starting with Aa. Might as well get a career boost.

    It is very nice not being married to a douche. I am happy not to have that fodder to write about. It might cause me to encourage douchy behavior so I’d have something to write about.

  7. Historiann on 17 Jul 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Part one zillionth of my ongoing series as to why it’s important not to marry or partner with a douchebag. As nicholeandmaggie points out, it may give you fodder for your columns, but not everyone is entertained by tales of marital hostility.

    He needs to seek therapy as to why he chooses to see his wife’s surname as a bellweather of her love for him. After all, women change their names for marriages that will ultimately end in divorce. A name change is no guarantee of marital stability.

  8. shaz on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Brilliantly said, without all the profanity I was tempted to unleash.

    Wasn’t there just a NYT piece on a similar subject? http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/03/marriage-the-next-chapter/marriage-options-a-simple-hyphen-will-do

    Can’t people come up with more original topics than hand-wringing about The Children v. My (Professional) Identity? Methinks they all protest too much when an array of simple solutions are available.

  9. Historiann on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Especially when the woman in the relationship clearly doesn’t care that she is the only person in her family with a different last name!

    I heard a great piece of relationship advice years ago, and it works for pretty much any relationship you can think of: family relations and relationships at work as well as romantic/sexual attachments. It goes like this: If a task is that important to you, do it yourself rather than bitching that it’s not getting done or that it’s not getting done the way you think it should be done. Alternatively, figure out some way to live without it.

    IOW, do it yourself or get over it. We can’t change or control other people, we can only control our behavior.

  10. Liz2 on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:20 am #

    My son has my last name, not my husband’s. On occasion people ask if my husband is his step-father and we say “no”. When we point out that our son’s first name would sound REALLY stupid with my spouse’s last name, everyone says “oh yeah, that’s true”. And it never seems odd to them afterward. But the women will often later tell me they think it is cool our kid has my name and they wished they thought of doing it. And the only person who wanted me & our son to have my husband’s last name was his mother.

    So glad not to have married a douchebag (oh wait, I did that the first time…at least I learned my lesson when I married the second time).

  11. Historiann on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:52 am #

    People would be a lot better off and a lot freer if they just didn’t care what other people thought. A lot of the tsuris over the name issue is all about bourgeois fears about being thought of as promiscuous and one’s children as bastards. But instead of interrogating why they have these fears, many women–even women (unlike Rosman) who embrace feminism–cater and kowtow to these fears.

    I always figured that my marital status and family details were our business alone. If anyone made erroneous assumptions or thought less of me because of the collection of surnames at my home address, why should I care about their ig’nance?

  12. Comrade PhysioProf on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:53 am #

    When we point out that our son’s first name would sound REALLY stupid with my spouse’s last name, everyone says “oh yeah, that’s true”.

    I went to high school with a kid named Richard Wiener.

    Both Katie Rosman and her husband seem like total fucken outwardly directed “what will they think!?” social-climbing fuckebagges.

  13. Widgeon on 17 Jul 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I was recently grilled at customs as to why I have a different last name than my husband. I said it was because I was a feminist, which led to some uncomfortable joking. Where we live it is relatively uncommon to keep one’s own name and causes much comment. My daughters have my name, not my husband’s. That was his choice, but his parents are still upset about it. So this simple, and to me obvious, decision continues to cause consternation. Weird.

  14. Leslie on 17 Jul 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Call me naive, but I was really surprised at how surprised people were that I didn’t change my name. My husband didn’t care one way or the other (he also would have been fine with the kids taking my last name, since we both think hyphenated names are stupid). My family never slipped; it took us about 2 years to get through to his family.

  15. Janice on 17 Jul 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I hyphenated my name with his a while after marriage. I felt that would support my case with Canada immigration (still took YEARS to convince them that we were legitimately married and I should be allowed to stay in the country). I don’t teach or publish under the hyphenated name because nobody can manage one barrel, let alone both. Our kids have his surname because it is somewhat easier to pronounce.

    We made the decision about the kids’ surname together. It was my decision, and my decision alone as to what name I use for myself and I’m rather shocked that Mr. Ehrlich carries around so much lingering resentment about his wife’s decision.

    I don’t mind whatever surname and address people use as long as it is polite and well-meant. He gets a kick out of being addressed as Mr. Mysurname on occasion. Otherwise, we really don’t think much about our surnames, here, except to laugh at how they’re all misspelled!

  16. shaz on 17 Jul 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    It strikes me that everyone has an rationale (his surname worked better, we don’t like hyphens, it was my father’s name anyway…) but the bottom line is: we all make the choices we make on purpose.

    If you are choosing not to directly challenge patriarchal equilibrium, that is your choice. Please don’t pretend otherwise.

    I wonder if there are stats on how many (few?) children who are born to committed het couples wind up with anything other than the father’s surname in the U.S.?

  17. thefrogprincess on 17 Jul 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    It strikes me that the name issue clouds over what’s more important: the dynamic within the relationship. (And I say this as somebody who can’t wait to get rid of her maiden name; the only thing that will stop me is if I think it’ll be too complicated professionally. But my first name is distinctive enough that I’m not worried.) You can stick with your old name and still not be challenging patriarchal equilibrium. You can change your name and challenge it.

    What’s more problematic to me here is Rosman’s husband’s reaction, which signals to me that he’d be jerky over something else, if it wasn’t this. Surely after several years and a few children, he should be over it.

  18. HistoryMaven on 17 Jul 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I’ve a “strange” surname (strange to English speakers) that no one spells or says correctly. (I’ve a lot of colleagues who thanked me in their books’ acknowledgements and unknowingly misspelled my last name. Endearing, really.) Now, I’m not married, but I am female, and I am always amazed at how many individuals (male and female) make a joke when they try to pronounce my name and I (at their behest) correct them. What’s weird is that my father and brothers don’t receive the same jokes or any joking at all. They own the name; I’m just borrowing it.

    Several weeks ago I received an unsolicited sales call. When I corrected the caller’s pronunciation of my surname (again, at her request), she told me that my five-letter surname was “stupid” and that I should consider changing it.

  19. DickensReader on 17 Jul 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    She negated her purpose of holding on to her name when she named the children his name. Either way, her name dies out.

  20. Anne on 17 Jul 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    I agree, maybe counseling should be in order. Quietly. Your kids will read about this when they’re older, Ms. Rosman. I wonder if the answer to “what does marriage mean to you” would be the same for each other?

  21. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Jul 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    I grated at the phrase “not to overplay the feminist angle”, but the point she makes afterwards is interesting: she notes that for most of us, our name is our fathers’ name, which our mothers took upon marriage way back when. And this got me wondering: has there ever been a movement in feminism (radical or otherwise) similar to Nation of Islam, to ditch the Name of the Father as a vestige of patriarchy, and adopt a post-patriarchal surname?

    (I don’t have to worry, since my surname is “Ph.D.”)

  22. Historiann on 17 Jul 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    I went over to the WSJ website and read the comments from the knuckle-draggers over there, and I felt a little bad that I picked on Rosman. After all, many of the people on this thread made the decision she made to keep her own name, and she’s getting beaten up over there for daring to keep her name, which of course means that she’s not committed to her husband, she doesn’t love her husband, her husband should never have married her in the first place, and feminism has ruined the world for douchey men.

    So Rosman can’t win. Although, I was gratified to read that the first comment was essentially my main point, namely, that if it were so important to the husband, why didn’t he change his name?

    HistoryMaven makes a really interesting point, from the perspective of someone who has an “exotic” last name that others refuse to learn how to pronounce. I find it so interesting that your father and brothers have had such different experiences with the name, and I fear that you’re right that people assume that you’ll just ditch or change the problematic last name because you’re a woman, and that’s what women do.

    Notorious also asks an important question about post-patriarchal names in feminism. I have to say that I’ve never heard of such a movement, although I think it’s a terrific idea! From now on, I’ll sign myself “Historiann XX.”

  23. Western Dave on 17 Jul 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Not only did my wife not change her name, but we agreed that any girls born to us would get her surname and any boys mine. Our naming protocols were incredibly complicated as we pulled names from my side, and one each from her mom and dad’s side (they’re divorced). The girl is named after my father, has her maternal great-grandmother’s (grandmom’s side) name for a middle name, and her grandfather’s surname. This worked until kid three who is named after my mom (although since she is alive, technically he is named after his great, great grandfather) and has the Navajo word for snow as his middle name with my last name. However, this can be a pain when trying to schedule appointments in doctors’ offices with high turnover as they sometimes get confused when you try to schedule everybody’s appointments at once (as my kids have a genetic disorder that requires some regular doctors’ visits at a special clinic, this turns out to be more of a pain than one anticipated).

  24. Cloud on 17 Jul 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    @DickensReader – I didn’t keep my last name when I married so that it wouldn’t die out. It is an unbelievably common last name. It is in no danger of dying out. I kept it because it is my name, and I had published under it already.

    My husband doesn’t care. No one in either family (not even my grandparents) really cares.

    But random men I work with make snarky comments.

    Also, we gave the kids my husband’s last name, mostly because that was easiest. But also, his last name is not unbelievably common. With it, they stand a chance of getting simple email addresses that just require a first initial and a last name. I always have to use my middle initial or name, or some numbers, or just some random other word.

    What can I say? We’re geeks. These things matter.

  25. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Jul 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Trivia note: Spanish people have double surnames: their father’s, and their mother’s. But the patronymic usually precedes the matronymic, and usually people go by their first surname only except in official documents (or, for academics, publications). Also, it’s the first of the two names that gets passed down to the child, usually in the same order. BUT… parents can decide to reverse the order (though this is uncommon). So, my surname is Ana Vilas Gonzalez, and my spouse’s name is Roberto Blanes Riera. Our children would generally have the last name of “Blanes Vilas” meaning that “my” name drops out after a generation… unless we agree to name them “Vilas Blanes.”

    Boggles the mind a bit. And now that same-sex marriage is legal in Spain, who knows how that’ll work out.


  26. rustonite on 17 Jul 2011 at 8:40 pm #


    The Spanish (and some Hispanic cultures) have had hyphenated last names for centuries. The kids just bear some combination of the parents’ names (usually the two paternal names, but not always).


  27. Mary Catherine on 17 Jul 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I kind of like the surname that I was assigned at birth/baptism, and never even considered changing it upon marriage. For a while, I am now a little embarrassed to report, I felt (unduly, I now think) proud of “keeping ‘my’ own name” as some sort of defiance of the patriarchy, especially when confronted with the inevitable criticism (‘you didn’t change your name? are you one of those feminists?!’). But a moment or two of reflection led me to the inescapable conclusion that I hadn’t really escaped a patriarchal system of nomenclature at all, or at least, not by much.

    The name that I was given at birth is that of my father, who inherited it from his father, who got it from his father, and so on all down the line. It does not even gesture toward the name that my father’s mother was given at her birth (but which was that of her father, of course), and so on down the maternal paths of the paternal line; and nor does it have anything to do with the surname that my mother was assigned at birth (but which was that of her father, so; and again all down the maternal paths of yet more paternal lines).

    I’m not sure what the answer is, unless we start assigning numbers instead of names to infants upon birth, in order the escape the unbearable weight of so many centuries of various patriarchal naming systems?

    I no longer feel much irritation with women who change “their” names upon marriage, though (no, not until we come up with a viable, alternative system that doesn’t sound like something out of Gattaca, basically).

    It’s kind of embarrassing when people opt to air their dirty laundry in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, though.

  28. caseyOR on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    My parents married in the early 1950s, so there was never any question that my mother would change her name. She did not want to change her name at the time, but it never occurred top her that she had an option.

    When my parents divorced in the early 1970s my mother wanted to change back to her birth name. The court refused to let her change her name because she had minor children at the time. She was angry, but so beaten down by a horrible marriage and a text-book ghastly divorce that she didn’t pursue it any further.

    These day if a woman takes her husband’s name when they marry how difficult is it for her to change back if they divorce? My hope is that the divorce court doesn’t weigh in at all anymore.

  29. LadyProf on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    Rosman is easier for USians to say & speak than Ehrlich. Funny how women who change their names on marriage often comment on the inferiority of what they started with but douchenozzles never acknowledge the superiority of their wives’ natal surnames.

    I hope the writer makes her way over here to ease the pain of WSJ.com comments!

  30. Susan on 17 Jul 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Back in the 70s, there was a feminist movement that either created new names, or used matronymics. The historian Rochelle Ruthchild is (I assume) an example of this. Iceland uses matronymics for women, patronymics for men. It really isn’t rocket science.

    I didn’t change my name. Among the many reasons was that my husband was divorced. If you want to be reminded that in patriarchy are interchangeable, it’s realizing that you would be Mrs. John Jones, that’s exactly what your predecessor was. No thanks!

  31. Passive-agressive dickwad « The Crawdad Hole on 18 Jul 2011 at 3:06 am #

    [...] Historiann: Katie Rosman Was My Name. And Still [...]

  32. myiq2xu on 18 Jul 2011 at 3:06 am #

    If Katie is airing this out in her column at WSJ, I suspect they have deeper issues as well. I give them two more years – three is they try therapy. Then Katie will be glad she kept her name.

  33. ugsome on 18 Jul 2011 at 4:37 am #

    I took my husband’s name because hearing French people trying to pronounce my maiden name is the saddest sound on earth.

    Thing is, I’ve had a coupla marriages so I’m beginning to have a name like Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel. Oh well. And I as I ask people who wonder, “So, you tell me. My father’s name or my husband’s name: which is the big feminist statement?”

    Some day I’m gonna say to hell with it and drop all my last names. My middle name is my mother’s first name. A matrinymic would be perfect.

  34. Feminist Avatar on 18 Jul 2011 at 5:04 am #

    Historically in Scotland, a woman kept her own name on marriage and even now married women legally keep their own name and have to use it, along with their married name if that is what they go by, when signing legal docs.

    For a discussion of a variety of naming practices: http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?p=307

  35. Wini on 18 Jul 2011 at 6:00 am #

    I know several women who were thrilled to get rid of their father’s name, either because they never knew them or because they had an abusive relationship. Of course, then the question becomes why they didn’t do it earlier. My cousin gleefully gave up her 10-letters-one-vowel name for “Smith” this summer. I think her brother is planning on taking his fiancee’s name.

    My last name is Irish. Dealing with the apostrophe is bad enough, but for awhile I wanted to hyphenate. What is cool is that we just add O’ to my husband ‘s Very Jewish last name in order to refer to our family unit.

    Since I use my mother’s maiden name as my middle name professionally, everyone thinks I changed my name. I want my son to do the same one day, since it is increasingly common around here.

  36. other side of the pond on 18 Jul 2011 at 7:11 am #

    On the issue of ‘my surname is only my father’s name anyway’ – I have to say I have never understood this. Men don’t think this way: if they did, Katie Rosman’s husband would have said ‘Oh Ehrlich’s only my dad’s name anyway, I’ll change to Rosman.’ Why do men feel ownership over their surnames and women don’t?

    But more generally, I tend to feel that passing on surnames is just a reinforcement of the nuclear family/patriarchy anyway. There’s an Ursula Le Guin novel (The Disposessed maybe?) where people are given a single, unique name at birth. I’d be favour of that. But in its absence, here’s another tale of radical 70s naming practices:

  37. Katherine on 18 Jul 2011 at 8:37 am #

    Year’s ago I wrote an article, and my brother helped me with the statistics and the graphs. I thanked him and my then husband, with whom I did not share a name. When my graduate women’s history class read the article, they wanted to know why I’d changed my name when I got married. We had an interesting discussion of why they never imagined a sibling helping out on an article, and simply assuming I’d changed my name. We unpacked a lot of class assumptions.
    If I had changed my name when I got married, my name would have alliterated, and if we hyphenated, the resulting name would have sounded like a pastry.

  38. Historiann on 18 Jul 2011 at 8:52 am #

    other side of the pond: I’m with you on the “it’s my father’s name so there’s no escaping patriarchy” argument. and I think that Katie Rosman’s piece made that point, which is that she felt ownership of her name & so was loathe after 30+ years to change it.

    Katherine & others who rejected hyphenated names: as someone who has a surname that is an adjective married to someone whose surname sounds like a common noun, I’m completely with you.

    Thanks for everyone who has commented on the history of feminism’s struggle with patrilineality & experiments to change it.

    (Anyone else going to follow me in choosing XX as a surname? I thought that was kind of funny.)

  39. Rachel on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:08 am #

    What an arse, that Mr. Ehrlich appears to be. The male expectation that women will take their husbands’ names continues to amaze and infuriate me. I also find it a tad puzzling how few women insist on giving their children their last name (assuming they’ve kept theirs). Why should Katie Rosman need to call the doctor’s office (b/c if course she is calling) and identify herself as Katie Ehrlich; name the kids Rosman and she can have her name all the time. Then again, the NYT weddings refrain of keeping a name professionally but not personally boggles my mind as well. What happens when a personal friends needs your professional wisdom or a professional colleague becomes your personal friend? Who are you?

  40. Indyanna on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:21 am #

    I almost forgot that there are accounts from Early Modern England (and perhaps elsewhere) of sometimes- powerful men who take their wives’ last names, hyphenated or otherwise as the case may be, usually by provision in the wive’s male kin-protector, sometimes an uncle, who doesn’t want to see the name lost. [I'm sure a non- Americanist could explain this better than I'm doing]. Of course, a huge inheritance and sometimes a nice country “seat” as well as perhaps a parliamentary seat often hangs in the balance, and no, the patriarchy doesn’t end up crashing in flames. My students smile at the story of George Montagu, Viscount of Sunbury and Second Earl of Halifax, who became George Montagu-Dunk upon marriage under the terms of a tasty will. We call him “Slam” Dunk, of course, and he thereafter signed his office correspondence simply as “Dunk.” Also, none of this prevented him from helping the King lose the American colonies from a series of important offices.

  41. Nicoleandmaggie on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:29 am #

    The other solution, of course, is for Mr. Ehrlich to do all the doctors office phone calls and the school and so on. Heaven forbid the father from doing child-related errands.

    @Indyanna– One of my favorite parts of P.G. Wodehouse novels are all those pfeffington-pfeffington-smythe kinds of names among Bertie’s former classmates.

  42. nicolec on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:45 am #

    It was a non-issue with my husband and me…neither of us expected to change our names. We never understood why anyone would change their name…
    I’m saddened to learn that his sister, who always told us she’d never change her name, is now going to change her name because it really hurts her husband-to-be’s feelings that she doesn’t want his name. Blech…

  43. Historiann on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:49 am #

    It seems like it’s fair to expect the same-name parent to make the doctor and dentist appointments. Stamping your name on children comes with certain responsibilities, after all!

    In any case, I doubt that these offices (and schools too) are all that wigged out by different last names. Colleagues of mine gave their child her mother’s surname. My male colleague told me that at the time, he worried about being recognized as her father in the event they had to go to the ER or seek urgent care for the child, but he said it was never a problem. Doctors’ offices, schools, and etc. are very accustomed to families having two or even more different last names among the members, because of the many households that include stepparents, foster children, etc.

  44. Notorious Ph.D. on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:55 am #

    “Anyone else going to follow me in choosing XX as a surname? I thought that was kind of funny.”

    I say we use the old women’s lib symbol, and (like Prince) let everyone else figure out how to pronounce it.

  45. Liz2 on 18 Jul 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I like XX – very funny! And so easy! I hyphenated my first married name (both were Irish names with the standard beginnings of Mc & O’) was a nightmare with the introduction of computers since no one put them into a computer the same way. So happy to ditch both the name & ex. Thinking XX would be ideal solution to all naming problems.

  46. The Rebel Lettriste on 18 Jul 2011 at 10:16 am #

    The pinnacle of Mr. Erlich’s douchery:

    “We were driving with our kids a few weeks ago and my two-year-old asked if she could throw a scrap of paper out the window.

    “No,” my husband answered, “Team Ehrlich doesn’t litter.”

    After a few minutes, my five-year-old piped in: “Is Mommy on Team Ehrlich?”

    “Sort of,” Joe told him. “She’s our mascot.””

    What an asshole.

  47. Perpetua on 18 Jul 2011 at 10:38 am #

    @Indyana – yes that was going to be my comment too! We pretend that this system of taking the father’s name is the only one possible in the patriarchal west. But of course many people in the early modern period still didn’t have last names, or their last names were their trades, or they were religious and had different, spiritual names, or they took their mothers’ last names (peasants on up) because the mother was the one who owned the land. In the examples I’ve come across, it was always associated with inheritance – you could even take the name of a non-relative who decided to raise you. It was about being associated with a specific lineage/property, even as I mentioned, peasants in parts of SW Europe. There was a lot of fluidity in naming practices. A little history lesson sometimes is useful, like how at the beginning of the twentieth century people thought boys should be dressed in pink because it was a “strong” color and girls in light blue because it was “delicate.”

    My kids have my last name too, and I have no idea why exactly, but it does give me pleasure to share a name with them. But I chose this as a middle finger to the patriarchy, basically. Mr Perpetua doesn’t seem to mind, either having a different last name from his kids, or being addressed as Mr. Perpetua. (Of course, my relatives still send mail address to Perpetua XY.)

  48. anna on 18 Jul 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Some women have changed their last name to a completely new name, not their father’s or their husband’s, for feminist reasons. Feminist writer Kathie Sarachild changed her last name to reflect that her mother’s name was Sara, instead of carrying a patrilineal last name as usual. Amateur feminist historian Laura X changed her last name to X because, like Malcolm X (to quote her) “I don’t want to have my owner’s name either.” And feminist artist Judy Chicago changed her name to Chicago to divest herself “of all names imposed upon her through male social dominance…”, as she wrote in a full page ad in the October 1970 Artforum that announced her name change from Gerowitz.

    Anyway, I don’t care if a woman wants to change her name when she gets married, but all this pressure on women to do so is horribly sexist. If a man can be considered a good husband while keeping his last name, a woman should be able to be considered a good wife while keeping her last name. And the argument that “it’s your father’s last name anyway, not really yours” makes just as much sense when aimed at a man, but nobody ever does that.

  49. Leslie on 18 Jul 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    “It seems like it’s fair to expect the same-name parent to make the doctor and dentist appointments. Stamping your name on children comes with certain responsibilities, after all!”

    It’s been a non issue in my experience–daycare, afterschool programs, doctors’ offices. The kids are even on my HMO (cheaper and better), complete with different last names. The whole “different last names are confusing for people so change yours” is just a complete non-starter as an excuse for anything.

    Division of labor is another topic entirely.

  50. Emma on 18 Jul 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    has there ever been a movement in feminism (radical or otherwise) similar to Nation of Islam, to ditch the Name of the Father as a vestige of patriarchy, and adopt a post-patriarchal surname?

    It was big in lesbian circles for while.

  51. Mary Catherine on 18 Jul 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    ‘And the argument that “it’s your father’s last name anyway, not really yours” makes just as much sense when aimed at a man, but nobody ever does that.’

    Totally agree. Men, no less than women, generally inherit a surname that once upon a time was seen as the property not of an individual (whether male or female), but of a broader (though no doubt patriarchal) family/kinship group. What rankles now about this naming business is that names are now seen as belonging to individuals (“his” name, “her” name, and so on), but it’s only women who are expected to unsettle their sense of individuality by going all pre-modern upon marriage.

    I certainly do not believe that “it’s your father’s name, anyway, and not your mother’s” means that women should therefore just capitulate to the default and change their surnames upon marriage. In fact, I’d prefer that women *didn’t* change their surnames to those of their husbands. But I’m no longer inclined to get all judgmental about women changing their names, given the obvious difficulties of escaping patrilineal nomenclature.

    In Scotland, as noted by Feminist Avatar above, historically a woman did not legally change her surname upon marriage (but that name was not really “hers” in the way that we now understand names to refer to unique individuals: it was that of her kinship group; but then, so too was that of husband’s not really “his” name either, but that of his kinship group also). From the mid- to late-eighteenth-century, though, as I understand it, Scottish women were increasingly, if informally [though still not legally], known by their spouses’ surnames, in the English mode, which may have been considered more “rational,” or perhaps “classier.”

  52. Feminist Avatar on 19 Jul 2011 at 1:49 am #

    In Scotland, the move to women changing their names (which tends to be an elite phenomenon- the lower-classes take a lot longer to catch on to this trend) is because of changing ideals about marriage at the same time as move towards the social elite thinking of themselves as ‘British’. The first part of this is the decline in wider kin networks as the priority for marriage and the move to the prioritisation of the nuclear unit in marital negotiations, shaped by the changing economy, the rise of ideas about ‘independent manhood’ and the promotion of marrying for love, that all placed the emphasis on the newly created conjugal unit, and not the wider network. At the same time, the Scottish elite were having a bit of an identity crisis, trying to raise the status of Scotland within the British union, so adopting English fashions as a marker of ‘civilisation’ is fashionable in certain circles (but certainly not all- and I would argue the first reasons are more important).

    Also the non-Anglo-Irish in Ireland don’t change their names either until after the mid-nineteenth-century.

  53. Rosemary on 19 Jul 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I changed my name for my first marriage and did not for my second. The name change was MY idea for the first marriage. It was more trouble than it was worth. Part of this has to do with the nature of that marriage – I was the one who took responsibility for finances, etc., and so started bank and investment accounts. When we split, it was entirely my responsibility to write the letters documenting the name change back to my birth name (no way was I going to keep his name when we divorced) so that I could access the accounts. After living for so long in a miserable marriage, that really ground my gears. He didn’t have to do a thing for any of it! So my attitude became, “my name is MY name.” My second husband has no problem with my decision, but then again, unlike the writer’s husband, and my first husband, he’s not an asshole. He also suggested that our son carry my last name not his. He’s a generous guy.

    I have had people ask me why I didn’t change my name, and look sad when I explain. If a name change is supposed to represent the unity of marriage, the furthest I can go is hyphenating the two names, sorry.

  54. Western Dave on 19 Jul 2011 at 6:58 pm #


    Couldn’t resist.

    “Alma tell us/all modern women are jealous
    You should have a statue in Bronze/ for bagging Gustav and Walter and Franz”

  55. I said a link chicka link « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 23 Jul 2011 at 12:26 am #

    [...] discusses a lame WSJ article wherein a woman unwittingly shows the world that she is married to a douche and allows the [...]

  56. Leah on 23 Jul 2011 at 9:18 am #

    I just got married, and it would have been simple for my husband to change his name. In Oregon, you get a screen pop up with all the possible permutations (that are legally allowed) for names of both husband and wife. It’s pretty nifty. I decided to change a small part of my name. But I did get him to say that it was completely my choice because he understands not wanting to change a name — he definitely didn’t want to change his name. So I put a lot of thought and consideration into what *I* wanted.

  57. bogart on 23 Jul 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Here via the Grumpies.

    Hmph. Yeah, I legally changed my name to my DH’s b/c I was delighted to have the opportunity to get rid of my father’s, except I kept that one (informally only) because I’d already published under it. It’s surprisingly maddening not to, e.g., be able to remember whether my health records are in my maiden name or my married name (depends … did I last see this doctor when I was covered through DH’s work’s insurance or mine, where I’m listed in my work, i.e., maiden name.). OTOH it greatly simplifies my life in that I maintain separate Facebook accounts for each identity and needn’t worry that my colleagues aren’t really interested in seeing yet another photo of my preschooler.

    (If I had it to do over, I might have left my name alone knowing that, as Miss Manners assures me, I can never (grammatically) be Mrs. Myfirstname Hubbylastname anyway but that I am Mrs. Hubbyfirstname Hubbylast name (i.e. never “Mrs. Jane Smith” but by definition Mrs. John Smith whether I take his name or not, since Mrs. means ‘wife of’). So Mrs. (and Mr.) Joe Ehrlich can chill out.)

  58. Feminist Avatar on 25 Jul 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Mrs does not mean wife of. It means Mistress and historically denoted adult status, and not necessarily marital status. Many never married women were mistress (and thus Mrs) by right of their status in the community.

  59. oilandgarlic on 25 Jul 2011 at 8:18 am #

    I think the emphasis on last name is so wrong. The new rule should be to take the last “better” sounding last name, or whichever one is easier to spell. If the husband’s last name doesn’t work with your first name, don’t take it!

  60. Surname follow-up: Flavia crunches the numbers and says “wev.” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 11 Aug 2011 at 8:04 am #

    [...] days later, and I would have liked to have seen and replied to it much sooner, since she linked to this post of mine from a few weeks back about surname tsuris in one [...]

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