The other day my mother called me by my full name and tacked Josh’s last name on as if it were my real last name. She was not so much looking for a reaction as trying to state things the way that she thought they should be. I shrugged it off with a smiling “isn’t it funny that my mother does not know my name?!”
What is more funny is that the only pressure that I get about the last name issue comes from women who should not care.
There is my mother, the woman who surprised others by not identifying as Mrs. Husband’s Full Name. And then there is Josh’s sister, the one who unhesitatingly dropped her family’s name in favor of her husband’s family’s name, and may or may not know what my legal last name actually is.
Of all the things my mother taught me, I do not recall her ever mentioning the last name thing… until one of my sisters got married without changing her name. Then my mother corrected my sister’s name the same way that she does to me. But that is hardly the didactic strategy used for most issues in my childhood.
My mother adored her father. Her parents were apparently saints compared to my father’s parents. My mother was the youngest of sisters, but presumably gave no thought to the fact that her late father’s name would die out with him as she replaced it with her husband’s father’s name.
Josh’s sister equally adores her family and her father, and does not feel the same about her in-laws. Yet there was no sign that she ever thought of doing anything other than dropping her family’s name upon marriage. Her son’s name has no connection to her birth family, but is doubly connected to her husband’s family.
Somehow though, this sister-in-law is the only one other than my mother who will make comments. You know, comments about how her brothers need to hurry up and have sons so that the family name does not die out. I love my sister-in-law (she really is fabulous), but we are not quite close enough for me to laugh at her and point to the fact that she is the only one with a son, and she chose through naming to connect him to her husband’s family as opposed to her own. What if we never have children and Josh’s (unmarried) brother “only” has girls? What if we make choices differently from her and do not choose to use names as a way of connecting children to their father’s family? All lovely theories of naming aside, reality could ultimately declare that this sister was the only one who actually had a choice about her family’s name dying out, and she already chose to go with the local naming convention rather than what she actually cares about.
When one of my older sisters (who did change her name) found out that I was not taking Josh’s last name, she told me that she regretted ever changing her name. She changed her name because it was expected, and presumably was a little happy to sever a small connection with our family. But those are not especially good reasons to change one’s name.
The truth, the terrible truth, is that I don’t really care about names or what anyone does with them. I can still see the downsides of various choices and the harmful symbolic significance of the way that most people approach the question, but I just don’t care. I feel old.
Before my very young brother got married, several people in my family were sitting around, and a few of my sisters and I were talking to his fiancée about wedding plans and such. We asked, in the most neutral way possible, if there would be any changes to names. My mother got preemptively defensive of my future sister-in-law’s plans to change her name to my brother’s, but my married sister (who did not change her name) and I could not have cared less about the couple’s actual decision. We told our brother’s fiancée with a wink that we agree that we have a fabulous last name, so of course she should want to take it.
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