A Tale of a Feminist Who Took Her Husband's Name

3 years ago

My last name has undergone a few makeovers. There was my given last name, my father's, which my mother had taken when they married. My first and last name together had a nice ring to them. They were both fairly uncommon names, and I grew up enjoying not being another Jenny Johnson. (No offense to the Jenny Johnsons of the world; I'm sure you are lovely!)


Image Credit: Flood, via Flickr


When I got married the first time, I was but a wee baby feminist. I was not interested in giving up the name I'd come to know and love, to be known as Mrs. MY HUSBAND. I knew better than to submit to an archaic patriarchal tradition! I was no man's possession! Still, I wanted a connection there, and a connection to the children we might have who would likely have his last name. (Those children did not come to fruition, if you're wondering.) I did what many young wee baby feminists do, and I hyphenated my last name, resulting in a cumbersome tongue-twister that didn't fit on any form ever. I didn't care. I was an INDEPENDENT WOMAN, thank you very much.

That first marriage wasn't the healthiest or happiest one. Towards the end of it, I started grasping at straws, trying to find ways to fix my marriage, trying desperately to avoid divorce. One of those straws was my name. I felt that I needed to reclaim my identity, re-establish myself as an individual, and not the wife of someone. With his support (how naive were we that we thought this would help our miserable marriage? SO VERY.) I went to the trouble and expense of legally dropping his last name and going back to just my own.

I figured that would be that. Regardless of the outcome of our marriage (he moved out and I filed for divorce not long after the whole name-changing business), I would forever be known by my given name. There would be no more hyphenating, and as a "good feminist" there would certainly be no taking of a man's name.

Fast-forward to marrying my now-husband. I kept my own name, just as I'd intended. No hyphenating. No argument from him. When our daughter was born, we gave her his last name. This didn't bother me. After all, I have a different last name than my own mother, who had re-married, and it ain't no thang. On we went, him with his last name, me with mine, happily married.

As the first year of our marriage came and went, some things transpired with my father that left me disconnected from him. Sharing a name, and nothing else, with him became a painful reminder of a lot of hurt. My other main connection to my name was my sister, who was getting married and shedding it herself. 

I didn't want to make an impulsive decision I might regret, and I was still holding strong to my feminist principles. As I worked through my thought processes, it occurred to me that my own last name was the result of a patriarchal tradition, and that no matter what I decided, I'd be carrying the last name of a man. At least if I took my husband's last name, I thought, it would be a choice I made consciously, a choice to share a name with a man who loved me and treated me with respect. I decided to go ahead.

I had been through the legal name change process once before, so I started getting the paperwork together. I contacted my state's licensing board to get permission to change it on my professional license. I saved up to cover the associated fees. I went to the clerk of courts with my notarized copies of my paperwork to schedule a court date. "The Judges will be out until 1:00, you'll have to come back then."


I went over to the newspaper to arrange to have the requisite legal notice printed, which I found out was going to set me back another $80. "When's your court date?" "I don't have that yet." "You need that first."


Why wasn't this falling into place? Was I making the wrong decision? If it was the right decision, shouldn't it be going more smoothly?

I ignored that little voice of doubt. I went back to the court house at 1:00. I spoke with a different clerk. "What's the reason for the name change?" "I didn't take my husband's name when we got married. I want to now." 


"When did you get married?" "September 19, 2009." "Hold on."

I held on. She came back. She asked me if I knew that I had 2 years to do a name change due to marriage, without having to go through the legal name change process. All I had to do was take my marriage license to the Social Security Administration Office and the DMV.

Why wasn't this falling into place? Was I making the wrong decision? If it was the right decision, shouldn't it be going more smoothly?


I practically jumped over the counter to hug that woman. I told her she had made my day. She smiled.

I went to the SSA office. Only one person in line ahead of me.

I went to the DMV. Only 2 people ahead of me. No joke, less than a minute after I arrived, at least 20 people piled in there.

It must have been the right decision. It sure went smoothly, afterall.

I shed the name of a man who chose a life without me in it, and took on the name of a man who loves, honors, and respects me through all of life's ups and downs.

I took my husband's name. I became a Mrs. MY HUSBAND. I did it by choice. I did it in my own time, on my own terms, and in my own way. 

And really, isn't that what feminism is all about anyway?


Fine and Fair

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