Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's in a name?

What do you do with your name when you get married? It’s a very personal question, and yet it’s bigger than that. Do you hyphenate? If so, in what order, and do all of you hyphenate, or just your offspring? Do you keep your name, but give your kids another (an answer I’ve seen a lot among professional women)? Do you create a new name? Or go with the traditional patriarchal answer? If you pick any answer but the last, you can expect questions and judgments, and they don’t end.

Now, add a new layer to the question. Your parents were liberal feminists ready to change the world. They gave you a hyphenated name. Now you’re going-on-30 and getting married. What do you do? The world wants to know. Welcome to my life. For as long as I can remember people have been asking me what I’ll do with my name when I get married (and before that they asked my parents!!). Seriously, this has been going on since before I was born! It has always annoyed me that people think this is appropriate behavior when they wouldn’t ask that of an acquaintance of similar closeness who did not happen to have a hyphenated name.* So I coyly answered, “you’ll find out when I get married.” When I got engaged, I stuck to the same response I’d used since childhood.

As it turns out, one of the nice things about having a hyphenated name to start with is that fewer people simply assume that you changed your name when you get married -- they actually ask! After all, you were clearly raised in a weird multi-named feminist environment, and people have been asking for your whole life, so you've probably put some thought into it.

*(Yes, sometimes there was genuine curiosity, but frequently it was tinged with a “Ha! See you and your silly feminist parents – you’re stuck now!” sentiment.)

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