Every feminist knows the inner struggle that occurs when they get engaged: Do I take my partner's last name, or keep my own? Taking a partner's last name is a tradition rooted darkly in a history where women were denied their rights and viewed as property. In biblical times, women were seen as no longer existing as themselves when they got married; they were viewed only in terms of their relation to their husband, as "the wife of--". With this in mind, it should be obvious why many modern women choose to keep their surnames after getting married. Some people do retain their surnames because of an inherent opposition to the oppressive traditions that cling to the practice of changing surnames upon marriage, and that's totally understandable. Personally, I chose to change my name for feminist and self-empowering reasons. How is that possible?
Not only did I change my last name when I got married, I changed my first. This may seem strange, but my reasoning for changing my first name is the same as changing my last: I don't have a relationship with my biological family, the ones who named me at birth. I didn't feel right having the first name that my abusive biological mother gave me before abandoning me, and I didn't care to be tied to my family through my last name, either.
My name felt like a weight around my neck; the final link to my abusive and tumultuous childhood that I just couldn't shake.
Naming myself felt like finally losing oppressive dead weight, like cutting the last tie between my horrible past and my bright future. I chose a name- Minerva- that was both similar to my original first name and symbolic for me, being that Minerva is traditionally the goddess of Wisdom and I believe that, to quote JK Rowling, "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure."
Had I not gotten married, I'm convinced I still would've changed both of my names eventually. If I'd not had such a terrible emotional connection to my last name, however, would I have changed it? It's hard to say objectively, but I don't think so. The original thought behind the seemingly innocent tradition of taking on the man's last name is abhorrent to me, and I hate the idea of being "completed" by someone. I am my own person. I've fought through a lot of trials and tribulations to become this person and develop this identity and life for myself; I don't particularly care to have my identity being construed only in terms of my relationship to someone else (my husband).
Still, standing up and changing my name for me was a feminist act of personal revolution; a symbolic taking back of my identity.
Changing my name meant a lot to me because it meant that I was no longer a part of my abusive biological family. I've created a beautiful, childfree family of my own with my husband and our rescue dogs. Changing my name symbolized that I didn't need my biological family anymore; that I've grown to be complete within myself and within the perfect family I'd made with my husband. Growing up, I never thought I'd change my last name. I used to view it as giving up part of oneself, as a sign of weakness; of being incomplete without a partner.
That being said, I did change my last name to my husband's, because my negative feelings towards my original name trumped my inclination for complete and absolute autonomy.
I love my husband very much. I never believed in the cheesy idea of 'soulmates' until I met him. Our very first date ended up lasting 10 hours, and it felt like minutes had gone by. However, he doesn't 'complete' me; I'm complete within myself, which is why I'm able to be such a great and supportive partner to him. To quote Alanis Morissette, "I don't want to be your other half. I believe that one and one make two." Having the same last name makes me feel like we're more of a unit than we were before, which both irks and comforts me. I have a strong Sagittarius independent streak that gnaws at me a bit, wishing I would've chosen to take on an entirely new, invented last name instead of my husband's. (Minerva Screwtape, in reference to a demon in The Screwtape Letters? Or maybe I'd become Minerva Chaucer, after my 12th great-grandfather, author of The Canterbury Tales?)
Either way, the decision of whether or not to take on your partner's last name is an entirely personal one. There are so many emotional, professional, social and historical factors that can come into play when making this significant life decision. The bottom line is that it's up to you personally to decide whether or not to take on your partner's last name upon marriage; there are probably just as many reasons to do it as there are not to.
Changing my name was a feminist statement because it symbolized owning my identity and cutting all ties with my abusive and absent biological family. It was an act of rebellion; of radical self-love and a refusal to remain connected in any way to those who'd hurt and neglected me.
Whatever your reasons for changing your name or for keeping it, if you listen to your heart and do whatever sits right with you, you're sure to make the right decision!
All images in this article are of SpookyFatBabe and her husband, taken by Cayan Ashley Photography in Milwaukee, WI