How Come I'm the Only One Who Kept My Maiden Name?

5 years ago
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My name is Christie O’Brien Tate. It's the name I’ve had all my life.  It will always be my name, even though I'm married with two children, and I'm the only one in my household with the last name Tate.  For as long as I can remember, I planned to keep my maiden name.  Long before I read the work of Betty Friedan or Catharine MacKinnon, I knew I wanted my name to stay with me.

Sometimes when people ask me why I kept my maiden name, I joke that I'm horrible with paperwork, so there's no way I was going to schlep down to the DMV to update my driver’s license.

But as much as I hate the DMV, my decision had nothing to do with paperwork. I wanted to keep my name, just like my husband would keep his.

When I went to law school, I assumed my female colleagues would keep their names as well. After all, we were in professional school, racking up debt under our own names and preparing for intense careers alongside our male colleagues.

But one by one each of my law school friends changed their names as they got married.  When I asked why, each one said the same thing: they wanted to have the same last name as their children.  I wanted to argue with them about their decisions, but kept my mouth shut.

Credit Image: Julian Stallabrass on Flickr

When my daughter started preschool in our large, diverse urban community, I couldn’t help but notice that, again, not a single mother kept her maiden name.  Like my law school colleagues, these mothers have impressive careers as financial executives, doctors, and curators of Chicago’s largest museums.  Two of them are their family's breadwinners. Other than their names, their feminist credentials are unassailable.

But I still find it strange that not one of these women opted to keep the same name they’ve had all their lives. 

The more women I meet, the more questions I have about this name thing.

Primarily, I want to know when was keeping your maiden name no longer a thing? Did I miss the cultural moment when all the women of my generation got together and decided, "Hey, let’s all go get jobs in any field we want and have babies, but take our husbands' names"?  Should I check my spam folder for that memo?

Second, I'm not saying that all women should keep their maiden names.  That type of compulsory mandate would be as stifling as forcing women to take their husbands' names.

Butnone of the women I know from my kid’s preschool or my law school wanted to keep their names?  Not a single one? Doesn’t that seem odd?

Third, I understand what women mean when they say that they want to have the same name as their children, but I don't need to do that to be their mother.I'm the one who has picked stuff out of their noses and fetched them endless sippy cups full of their beverages of choice. Oh, and I'm the one who gave birth to them via C-section. So yeah, I'm clear on the fact that I'm their mother.

Credit Image: The Love in Her Eyes on Flickr

Some mothers have said it’s too complicated to explain to their children why they have different last names. But, is it that complicated?And if so, why do we need it to be simple? And, more importantly, isn’t our society getting more complex every day—families come together through egg donors and surrogates and adoption. What’s with the compulsion to make it all tidy and heterogeneous? Aren’t there lots of ways to be a member of a family besides sharing a common name?

Finally, I feel lonely. It means something to me that my name was the same when I was in third grade as it is now that I am several months away from my 40th birthday. I assumed that choosing the profession that I did—law—and living where I chose to live—in the center of Chicago—that I would find like-minded people. This name thing feels like a symbol, and I feel a little "odd one out" as the only one who kept my maiden name.  Strangely, I feel progressive and antiquated at the same time.

Maybe my friend and very successful law partner (who goes by her married name) was right when she said that keeping a maiden name is “no longer a signifier of anything significant about feminism or anything else."


And, I have to admit she’s probably right. My name, however, signifies something significant to me, no matter how outdated my choice to keep it may be.

What do you think? Is keeping a maiden name a trend that is passé like fur coats and fossil fuels? Does it signify anything to you? Did you change your name? Was the decision a struggle for you?