Friday, April 3, 2020

What's in a Maiden Name?

What’s in a name?

You are familiar with the old saw: when a feminist marries she strikes a blow against the patriarchy by keeping her father’s name.

So, yesterday a woman who is engaged to be married wrote to Carolyn Hax about a disagreement she is having with her fiance. She wants to keep what she calls her maiden name. Her fiance wants her to change her name when she marries.

So, Hax tells her to call off the engagement, to walk away from her commitment because she must get her way. It is genuinely bad advice, offered by a woman who ought at the least to tell us whether she, being married, has kept her name. By my understanding she has, but she is a writer, so her maiden name is now a nom de plume. 

As it happens, Hax is behind the times. Women today, by my decidedly unscientific sampling, are more likely to accept their husbands’ names. They have seen the kinds of confusions that are produced when a woman does not have the same name as her husband and children. They also understand that a married woman and an unmarried woman are treated differently. Thus, they want the world to know their new status. And they want men to treat them accordingly.

I also know that some couples choose to connect their names, so that each partner will henceforth be known by a hyphenated name, something like: Fauntleroy-Rubinofsky. It is, as the example suggests, positively idiotic, if only because, a child who bears such a ridiculous concatenation of syllables will undoubtedly be mocked by classmates on the playground. Besides what happens when Fauntleroy-Rubinofsky marries Teagarden-Postefowich. One does better to accept custom, and to understand that the custom is there for a reason. People who make up their own customs subject themselves and their offspring to ridicule.

Anyway, here is the letter:

My fiance and I have been butting heads regarding changing my last name. I have the typical arguments for not wanting to change it, for my career, but it is complicated by the fact I work for a large multinational organization and have spent close to a decade building my career in this organization under this name. I am also the last in my family to have my maiden name, and we believe it will die off with me.

My fiance does not sympathize and believes it is because I don't want to go through the hassle of going to court, changing all my documents, etc., and he argues that if society forced the male to change their name, he would do it, no questions asked.

He acknowledges that short of putting a gun to my head, he can't actually make me do anything, but he is quite upset we will not "look like a family" on paper. I am unsure of what else to tell him. Help?

The woman is obviously not very bright. She is worried that her father’s name will die out if she changes her name. In truth, if she does not name her child with her father’s name, it will obviously die out, either now or eventually. And why, after she is married does she insist on remaining a maiden… because this is what the maiden name suggests? 

So, Hax considers the man an anachronism and sets out to wreck this woman’s engagement. We cannot call her a home wrecker, but we can see in her attitude the kind of thinking that has destroyed many relationships.

Here are her thoughts, such as they are:

[I]f society forced the male to change their name”? Wha?

“Society” isn’t forcing you to do it, either. And it’s disheartening that he’s okay with your paying a significant personal price to feed an “on paper” standard that is decades past being standard anyway.

It’s even more disheartening that he treats you as disingenuous — you gave your reasons! He has decided you’re not telling the truth. Wow.

If he doesn’t think you’re honest, then why is he marrying you? And if he doesn’t think you’re honest, then why are you marrying him?

His problem-solving skills aren’t so hot either: His taking your name would make you “look like a family” as surely as your taking his would.

Whatever you decide about the name is your business, but please don’t budge on his accusations of dishonesty. Right now he’s a no-go — as in, no-marry. There’s no happiness in a marriage to someone who doesn’t trust you or take you at your word — because it’s never just about this one thing you’re fighting about.

Of course, this has nothing to do with trust or with keeping one’s words. Hax is not thinking very clearly here.

Besides, wouldn’t we like to know the attitude of the couple’s families, to say nothing of their entourage. And what would the world think of her if she busted up her engagement because a muddle-headed advice columnist advised her that it was the moment to make a statement of feminist principle? Would it advance her career? If she acts in the office as though she is still single, doesn’t this change the way people relate to her.

Would her friends and family rally to her defense or would they look on her as a pathetic sap for still wanting to make a feminist statement, long after most women, Hax notwithstanding, have discovered that bearing a husband’s name is convenient and economical. 


Anonymous said...

This is just wild. I can't believe the advice, completely idiotic... Sometimes I really want to know what the letter write ultimately decides to do.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you.... I agree that it is perfectly idiotic. That's the reason why I put these columns up. One recognizes that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people read this advice, and take it to heart. Perhaps one small voice will convince them to be more skeptical about it.

370H55V said...

That would have been a dealbreaker for me too, but before we got married I asked my fiancée about it, and she said "OK" without hesitation. That was almost 23 years ago.

UbuMaccabee said...

The benefit of this madness is it allows you to identify the crazies without much effort. I do the same for preposterous "African" names and other made-up nonsense. The woman with the husband with different last names gives me a strong reason to decline the invite. Life is short, and obvious people make it obvious.