Alison Piepmeier1 recently wrote a great post on women not not taking their husband’s name upon marriage. I sputtered out a few random remarks in the comments section, but it amounted to little more than incoherent spam. However, it did get me thinking quite a bit on my marriage and Angela’s decision. Even more recently, my friend Kevin wrote about how he and his wife, Katie, have agreed that she should just remain who she is.
Angela grew up in a traditional enough family and had the notion of taking one’s husband’s name as the norm. I guess most women in this country do. Of course, we both are people who hold tightly to the traditions that serve us well and discard the ones that don’t (those who were at our wedding will understand that about us). I suppose I should state this clearly, for Angela and everyone: the thought of marrying anyone who would change their name to mine never crossed my mind in any way. The fact that Angela ever felt that she needed to apologize for wanting to keep her name seemed so silly to me. I kept trying to tell her that it wasn’t a matter of me being ‘understand’ or ‘just a nice guy,’ it was that I really hadn’t ever thought she’d want to take my name2.
Even though I’m probably too old now to wear a couple of earrings (at least that’s what Angela tells me), I still wear them pretty much everyday. They let people judge me early on, if they feel the need to judge people at all, and know to steer clear of me if it’s going to bother them. I wear them to job interviews and when meeting new people in general. If it’s the sort of thing that bothers them, then it’s probably not a place I want to be anyway. The fact that we share different last names kind of goes the same way. We don’t want to be where people aren’t comfortable with it.
Alison pointed out that this was a political statement for her, and understandably so. That seems to be a part of how she makes her living and the cause she is closest to: women’s issues. We’re all a lot better off having people like her to fight for us, or at least our better half. I suppose us having different names is not so much of a political statement as a small signal. If it matters to you, then you should be aware that we are the kind of people who do that sort of thing in other areas of life. That is to say, if us having different last names seems odd or uncomfortable, then getting to know us might prove to be just more of the same. To that end, I always make sure to introduce my wife as "Angela Dyer" (and Dr. Angela Dyer, when I’m feeling really smug). In all honestly, most folks are perfectly understanding and from then on refer to us as the Dyer-Colemans (or Coleman-Dyers, depending on the phase of the moon)3
As for the whole issue of children, well, we don’t have any of our own. Children, that is. Advice, we have plenty off. I’d say that you should through all the names you want to at a child. Hyphens, concatenations, blends… heck I’m even okay with Kevin handing his apostrophe down to his kids. Where is it written that you must only have three names? There are many cultures outside of our own where three names is hardly enough. They’d think you were a bastard child with only that many. In a situation where you can only use three (like say, an application with three blanks), then just pick your favorite. I had a Portuguese friend in high school who did pretty much just that, and that didn’t include all the "de"’s and "le"’s in his name. Again, tradition just for tradition’s sake is pretty weak. It has to be what you want. Further, naming your child after grandma Beatrice or great-uncle Francis probably does them a lot more damage than giving them a hyphenated family name, and isn’t that being traditional?.
It has also always been a concern of mine that if children were named only one-or-the-other parent’s names, then might some busy-body daycare personnel refuse to let the off-named parent take a child home, for fear (legitimate or not) that they were lying? Throwing all the names at your kid helps this situation, if every only most them are on paper are rarely get spoken.
Alison states that we, as a culture, don’t yet know if these conventions will be sustainable or if they will scale over generations. I say we absolutely have the answer: each generation will have to evaluate what is right for them and do that. You name is yours and yours alone. I’d say to children: if you think that you’re being named Bifflemeier4 or Mills-O-Rama isn’t working for you, then tell your parents. Say you’d just rather go by one or the other, at least on a non-formal basis. If they’ve been called Jason Dyer, Alison Biffle-Piepmeier, or Kevin Kills a few times and not really minded that much, they ought to be okay with it. How many adults do we all know that go by two or more different names, depending on the situation (aliases for committing crimes don’t count)?
Lastly, my advice for naming children if you’re stuck on what to do: give them the name that comes first in the Roman alphabet (sorry, Alison and Angela). That just puts them closer to the front of the line and hopefully gives them a slight advantage. Hell, the whole family could just change their name to Aardvark and be in front of everyone. Of course, you’re children will also be the first to never speak to you again.
As you can tell by the growing list of comments on Alison’s post, as well as all that Kevin and I had to write on our sites about it, this has been a fun topic to discuss. I suppose that I take a much more light-hearted approach to the whole thing than many, if not most. There’s never been any drama between us on the issue, other than Angela now reminds me that Dyer is less common than Coleman, and therefore cooler. I tend to not get upset with women who do change their name after marriage, although I sometimes wonder if they’re taking a step back from a professional point of view. I know how long Angela worked to be called Dr. Dyer and I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from her just to satisfy some misguided sense of loyalty to tradition. On the other hand, I know women who have done the same and look upon a name change as a sense of unity and togetherness. I suppose that falls under Alison’s false sense of romanticism, but it isn’t the worst argument I’ve ever heard5. If that kind of tradition is indeed important to you, then I’m hardly one to say that you shouldn’t do it just to be a shining example of individuality. You have to decide based on your sense of self and values, not anyone else’s.
- Alison is a person I know by one degree of separation via her brothers, husband, and some mutual friends. Of course, I left my Cookeville life some years ago, so even that’s a pretty weak link. Regardless, she and her husband Walter Biffle maintain a blog that always makes for great reading, even if they lose me on many, many inside jokes. [↩]
- Although, being named after a camping stove has it’s advantages. I’m sure they mostly have to do with the camping stove industry fortune, of which I have none. [↩]
- I love the older people we know from church who feel that they have to relate by telling us that there used to be a young couple at church and she kept her name, too. I can’t begin to make it sound as quaint as they put it. You’ve got to give them credit for trying to relate rather than just think we’re punks. [↩]
- Sorry about spelling that wrong in my comment on Alison’s site. I’d feel worse, if anyone with that name existed anywhere in the world. [↩]
- No, that honor would fall to JEB Stuart IV, a troll who’s pseudonym was taken from one of the South’s lesser known Civil War heroes. His comments are hilarious. I don’t even begin to care if they were meant to be or not. [↩]