What’s Her Name’s Husband — Part II

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.

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []
  3. 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. []
  4. 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. []
  5. 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. []