Why taking my husband’s last name still makes me a feminist

by Erika Torres

Sometimes, I think women spend too much time judging each other. From how we raise our kids, to whether we choose to work or stay at home, to even about whether we keep our maiden name or take our husband’s last name.

This can been seen most recently with Time‘s “Are you mom enough?” —  as if it’s  some kind of competition to see who can raise their children better using certain parenting tactics.

Frequently, I have come across posts from self-proclaimed feminists who can’t possibly fathom in this day and age why a woman would still choose to take their husband’s last name. This holier-than-thou attitude needs to stop.

What feminism means to me

Let me first start off by saying that feminism is not a four-letter word. It’s the ideology that women are equal to men–not that we are the same, but that we are equal, and that one sex is not more important than the other. It goes both ways.

Second, as someone who grew up in a predominant patriarchal Latino household, I can say that I have fought hardcore against any injustices I felt were placed against me simply because of my gender. Simple, stupid things from seeing my brother have the same curfew as me (even though he was five years younger), to seeing him be allowed to have girls in his room with the door closed even though I could never even have a boy in my room with the door open.

Whenever I felt that my parents treated me differently just because I was a girl, you can bet your ass I caused a huge stir. It was a big source of contention in my family and I caused my parents a lot of grief because of it.

Why I chose to take my husband’s last name

Which is why–in my marriage–I have fought so hard to create an equal environment. I have gone to great lengths to create as much of a 50/50 relationship as possible. So when someone claims that I am not feminist enough simply because I choose to take my husband’s name, it irritates me to no end.

To me–the name thing was simple. While some women may feel that their identity is tied to their name– I do not. My maiden name was common. There were at least several hundred women in my zip code who had the same first and last name as me.

I always knew I wanted to change my name. In elementary school, I hated being picked last. I was always one of the last “Students of the Month”. I was always one of the lasts to be called during elementary school graduation, middle school graduation, high school and college graduation– when everyone is already over it and just wants you to get off the stage.

I vowed that I would marry someone with an ‘A through L’ last name.

And I did. And now–there is no one else in the United States with my full name because it is so unique. I love it.

If you call a rose by any other name, is it not still a rose? If you call me by any other name, is it not still me? Of course it is!

Choosing to keep or not keep your maiden name is personal–just like a lot of other decisions. I don’t judge you for keeping your name, why should you judge me for taking my husband’s?

Feminism in my marriage

To me, feminism is more about actions than names. Sometimes, I still feel that I have to fight against societal expectations for women. At family events, my grandmother still expects me to serve my husband his meal. When I guffaw, she says he worked all day. Um hellooo?! So did I!

We are not in the 1950’s anymore. My husband is not the breadwinner, and I don’t get to stay home all day and make freshly-baked bread. My attitude is that if we both work, then we are both equally responsible for the household–and that includes all chores.

I resent it when it is automatically assumed that I should manage any kitchen-related duties simply because I am the wife. If we stuck to gender roles, my workload would be massive because most manly duties occur outside the home, such as yardwork and car maintenance. And that’s just not fair, since our yard is tiny and those things don’t require nearly as much upkeep as maintaining the inside of the home.

Recently, I left some of my co-workers with their mouths open when they heard that I don’t do Eric’s laundry. Why is it automatically expected of me to do these things? And yet, if Eric does my laundry it’s seen as him helping me, doing me a favor.

At the same time, I know my marriage is not just a partnership. And I don’t want to lose the romance and passion just for the sake of marriage equality. It’s a fine balance that I consistently trying to learn.

For example, I may not do his laundry, but I often help prepare his meals for work. I bake chicken and steam veggies. I may not iron his work shirts, but I make sure the bills are paid.

To me, feminism is more than just changing my last name. It’s finding equality in my marriage, and redefining the roles that our parents have adhered to for so many years.

What does feminism mean to you?

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City Girl Stef Woods July 22, 2012 - 5:46 pm

I RTed this post when you first wrote it, but only just read it in its entirety now. I think that the third wave of feminism was about trying to define what is right versus wrong. I hope that the four wave is trying to empower without judgment and with acceptance. You made a lot of great points here!

I never imagined that I would take a man’s last name without a lot of negotiation. (After all, my mom chose to keep her name back in 1971!) With The Man, though, I told him that I want to take his name, although I’ll keep my name professionally. That feels right to both of us. xoxo

Rosie June 17, 2012 - 6:58 am

Totally agree with this. I did a post on my blog a while ago about why I decided to take my husband’s name and why that doesn’t mean I no longer consider myself a feminist (http://dontthinkorjudge.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/why-i-decided-to-take-my-husbands-name.html if you fancy a read). I definitely agree that my identity was not tied up in my maiden name, but funnily enough, I feel like it is in my married name! I LOVE being Mrs B, and having the whole world know we’re husband and wife. At the end of the day, it was my decision, 100%, and if that’s not feminism, I don’t know what is! xx

Chad May 31, 2012 - 8:18 pm

It means an end to gender-role expectations and inequality.

No more men spending thousands (or even hundreds) on engagement rings without equal financial recriprocation. No more men getting down on one knee to propose, as if he’s lesser and must beg.

No more men being the sole bread winners even when children come along. Men doing as much inside work as women; women doing as much outside work as men. Men cooking and cleaning, women cutting the grass and getting up on a ladder and cleaning out the gutters.

Liz June 28, 2012 - 9:28 am

Yep, I can confirm I meet all these criteria. Didn’t want an engagement ring. Proposal was a joint decision. Contributed 50% to the household throughout – even after my daughter was born. Cut the grass every week and happy to clean gutters and even get in our stream to clear that out. So yes, I think I qualify in your eyes

Anne @ Unique Gifter May 24, 2012 - 9:11 am

This was a fantastic post, I agree with you on so many points. (Can you tell it hits home by all of my comments?!!) I also dislike that you’ve felt judged for changing your name 🙁
I didn’t change my name and get judged for that, too, so I’d venture that there are no winners in this game.
Also, good for you on railing against within your family, that’s a toughie. At the very least, you can bet your brother took notice and hopefully some of that passes along in his life. It makes me thankful that my situation was very gender-neutral.

Jordann @ My Alternate Life May 23, 2012 - 5:17 am

Love this post!

To me feminism is being equal, and contributing equally to the household, like you said. My fiancée and I are of equal value and we put in the same amount of work, whether that’s household chores or monetary income or whatever. However it gets a little more complicated for us because he owns a seasonal business, and so doesn’t work full time in the winter. On the days when he doesn’t work, guess where he is when I get home from work? In the kitchen, making me supper, after having cleaned the house. That’s often tough for my traditional family members to stomach, but that’s what equal work looks like.

And yes, I’m taking my fiancée’s name. My sister put it best: We’re on the same team now, but having the same name is like wearing a team jacket, it makes it official.

Anne @ Unique Gifter May 24, 2012 - 9:01 am

Hahaha – my spouse made the “team name” argument all the time. I kept my name, but I did get us matching hoodies that say, “team spouse’slastname” for an engagement party.

Kris @ BalancingMoneyandLife May 22, 2012 - 10:43 pm

Great post. To me, feminism is about being able to make my own decisions and choices, that are best for me and my family. My husband stayed home with our son until he was four – because I was the breadwinner at the time. It made sense for our family. I took his name because it was important to him – but not to me, so if it made him happy, it made me happy.

I cook, he does laundry. We divide chores by preference, not gender. (He hates cooking, I love it).

Feminism is the ability to design your own life – the way you want it!

LifeInTransition May 22, 2012 - 11:20 am

To me feminism is about respect and choices without judgement. Feminism is about celebrating what makes women unique. I hate it when feminists try to push women to be more like men or try to prove themselves better then men. Feminism shouldn’t be about competing with men, but being equal partners at home and at work.

As for last names, I am choosing to keep mine. For me, having the same last name as my husband gives us a sense of unity. Also, I am not very close to my own family and have a very common maiden name so I’m not attached to it. However, since I don’t have a middle name, I’ll make my maiden name my middle name as a reminder of my roots (and my sister always jokes that I finally have the added benefit of being able to get things monogramed).

One of my co-workers’ husband is taking her last name for the same reasons I’m taking my husband’s name. He just began the process and realized that he has a lot more hoops to jump through to get his name changed that women do, so on this particular issue, we have a lot more choices than men.

Anne @ Unique Gifter May 24, 2012 - 9:04 am

Are we about to be related? My future sister in law is in the same position – no middle name and will use her maiden name as one going forward.

Alex May 22, 2012 - 10:45 am

Thanks for this awesome post!

Carrie Smith May 22, 2012 - 8:48 am

I love this post and completely agree with your definition of what feminism is. My mom was one of the most well-balanced feminist I ever met. She did a lot of the “household duties” but she also brought in extra income with outside work. My dad did all the yard work and car maintenance, but they raised us kids together. I remember most of the time being spent with my dad at the grocery store, instead of my mom. I think my parents were great examples.

I also chose to take my ex-husbands last name, and I actually kept it post divorce. My maiden name began with an “S” so taking another “S” name wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m glad I did and don’t feel it affects my feminist attitude at all.

Angela May 22, 2012 - 8:38 am

I love this. This is pretty much exactly the way I see my marriage. My husband may ALWAYS take out the trash, but I ALWAYS scoop the litter box – fair trade off for both of us. It doesn’t always mean we have to split every chore 50/50. And I completely get the name change thing – my maiden name is 100% unique, and I struggled growing up thinking I might have ended up marrying someone with a common last name. Luckily for me, my husband’s last name is just as unique, so making the switch was easy for me 🙂 plus I work with my father so having a different last name as him makes it easier there too.

Amandalynn K. Sawyer May 22, 2012 - 7:18 am

Feminism to me is the fight for equality without sexism. We have come a LONG way from just 50 years back when women couldnt vote, rarely drove and were doomed to be an old maid if their marriage didnt work out. Though sexism still peeks into play in corporate high rises and hillbilly small businesses – it is far less prevalent in today’s society.

As for the name, 50 years ago when we DIDNT have a choice on which name we’d keep, giving your name was part of the bargain. The choice came with those women who pioneered for us, who made THEIR name count for more then their spouses.

I did something a little different – I have never had a middle name as my first is both a first and middle, so I just moved my daddys name into the middle name slot, and took my husbands surname. My daddy passed away near 10 years ago. I hold on to his name because it makes me smile, not for any other reason. So when I sign my name with the K. in the middle, I know that he is with me. It is always a personal decision, no more.

My husband didn’t mind either way, he simply expressed worry that if I kept my maiden name only and something were to happen with our future children and they called my office asking for me with his name, would the message be relayed or would the receptionist say that I didn’t work there?

Valid point.

Mary @ Buy Sell Funds May 22, 2012 - 5:11 am

For me, equality is the very essence of feminism. From another perspective, I guess the husband let’s you have his name to signify a divine role to serve and enhance you as a person.

SWR May 21, 2012 - 10:01 pm

Not only will I be keeping my name, but if we have children, they will also get my name. My partner’s last name comes from his paternal grandfather, who was a very bad man and doesn’t deserve the honor of having another generation keeping his name.

Feminism, to me, is not about any woman’s ultimate decision. It is about the fact that she has choices that weren’t presented to her before. It’s totally missing the point to look down on you for taking your husband’s name…the point is that feminism allowed you to have a choice at all.

It’s interesting to me that even in my little town my feminist ideals are well-respected, if not agreed with, by most people. However, my partner has felt the sting of being labeled as less of a man for being a feminist himself.

jobo May 21, 2012 - 8:24 pm

I read this earlier today and didn’t get a chance to comment. But like I said at dinner tonight, you two have already learned so much since you got married, I’ve loved the evolution! You have even taught me some things, like choosnig battles. Totally one I never thought of before. Thanks for dinner tonight!! SO good to see you!!

Teacher Girl May 21, 2012 - 3:47 pm

You need to submit this to Renee’s “Powerful Woman Monologues.” (http://bellerenee.wordpress.com/category/academia/powerful-woman-monologues/)
I loved everything about this post. It is so important for women to not judge each other, to accept that we all have the freedom to make our choices on our own. Bravo!

Yumi May 21, 2012 - 2:21 pm

Preach it, sister!

I am all for equality, and I also intend to take my husband’s last name. Feminism for me means freedom to make my own choices – not have society’s choices forced on me. It means acknowledging differences, but still recognizing that one gender is not better, or smarter, or more worthy than the other. Growing up in an African household and having to deal with African men today, this is something I am very passionate about and is very dear to my heart! But you’re right: we must not judge each other’s choices!

Fifty years ago being a Feminist may have meant choosing to work/fighting for the right to work. Today it can look like choosing to stay home after having two kids. The important thing is that the decision was made by mutual agreement, not by a decree by a “Lord and Master”.

ps. I’ve been lurking for a while. Love your blog & congrats on the marathon!

Brandi May 21, 2012 - 2:08 pm

I kept my last name, because for me, part of it was about feminism. A lot of people criticized that decision, but it was what was right for me, personally. My husband’s family is not as involved in our life as my family is, and I didn’t want to lose what I perceived as my identity. I am often disappointed that we don’t share a last name, because I think it is an important symbol of unity and it would stop silly reactions from people; but I’m not disappointed enough to change it.

I think you’re a perfectly fine feminist, husband’s last name and all. Choices like that are deeply personal, and you should get to do what feel’s right for you. I’m all about choices, even if the choice someone else makes isn’t what I would choose for myself. Isn’t that feminism?

CeCe @Frugalista Married May 21, 2012 - 1:23 pm

Old gender roles die hard. I think that’s why even though so much has changed a lot of expectations of about division of labor has not. Not that it makes it right or anything. My husband cooks and I have to try so hard to not feel bad that when it comes to the kitchen I don’t do a whole lot. I do the other stuff (’cause it’s more of a headache to nag him about it plus I’m better at it) but why can’t I just accept that he is the cook and get on with it? I don’t think it’s because I’m a woman I just think it’s b/c I always feel I should be doing more, more, more. Anyhow, I had a hard time letting go of my last name. I really liked it and it did feel like part of my identity. But, I also knew that taking his name is what I wanted and never felt like I was stuck in the 50’s because of it. I think it’s just about not having certain expectations and finding your own way as a couple.

bogofdebt May 21, 2012 - 11:57 am

Feminsim to me is about equality. It means I can make a choice on whether or not I want be a stay at home mom or work. I do the laundry in the house for the majoirty of the time but it’s because I don’t want to take out the trash. Can I? Yes and I have. But we both do the inside cleaning and the outside cleaning. I may not cook as often as him but I’m okay with that.
I decided that I’m going to take his last name when we get married but that was my choice. And I’ll go from having a name that is at the end of the alphabet to one that is kind of in the middle.

I try not to judge other people for making choices that do not concern me. If they want to be a stay at home mom/wife, that’s awesome. If the dad wants to be a stay at home dad/husband, that’s awesome. I don’t see the difference or how it hurts me and my choices.

Megan May 21, 2012 - 11:31 am

I think your message here is great and I really love the reasoning behind why you decided to change your last name. Having a unique name is the best! I haven’t decided yet if I’ll change my name when I get married, I have a super unique last name and I don’t know if I’ll want to give it up! I don’t think a person’s feministic ideals have to be tied to whether or not they change their name. I agree with you, it’s about being treated as an equal irrespective of a last name.

Emily @ evolvingPF May 21, 2012 - 11:19 am

I’m over getting worked up about feminism and feminist issues. I appreciate the people who worked for first and second wave feminism but I see that as something that was vital to my mom when she started her career and isn’t super-relevant to me now. (BTW, she didn’t change her name when she married my father and she achieved a few minor first milestones for women in the area that she grew up.) All people are individuals and we all deserve respect. My husband and I are working out our own mode of operation in our marriage, and I don’t care how much that does or does not conform to traditional roles. How we do things is based on our unique aptitudes and interests. I’m sure that is consistent with a broad definition of feminism, but it’s not a term I identify with because I see that battle as fought and won by my parents.

The name change debate specifically raged for years between me and my husband (back when he was my boyfriend). In the end I submitted to his wishes for me to change my name. Two years later, I think I’ve switched my brain mostly from my old name to my new one. Unlike you, I went from an acceptably rare last name to a supercommon last name, which paired with my supercommon first name makes me feel incredibly generic when I just use my first and last names.

Michelle May 21, 2012 - 10:57 am

This is a great post! I have decided that I want to keep my own last name, and when I tell people that, they think I am insane. I think everyone should have their own choice.

Kathleen @ Frugal Portland May 21, 2012 - 10:49 am

This post ruffled my feathers! it’s probably just that women have earned a higher place in society at a faster rate than the generational shift in gender roles. It’s really interesting to hear what other people say.

Amy* May 21, 2012 - 9:41 am

Great post! Do you read A Practical Wedding? They have some great posts on this topic. (Today’s is about a man taking his wife’s last name.)

When my husband got engaged, I was very offended by someone who offered to teach me to cook. Why not offer that to my husband? Just because I have lady parts I automatically need or want to hang out in the kitchen? Pass!*

Anne @ Unique Gifter May 24, 2012 - 9:07 am

I WISH someone had offered my spouse cooking lessons. He grew up in a house where his father never cooked, his father barely makes himself sandwiches. My spouse has come a long way, but I totally take for granted knowing how to do things to feed myself and am so puzzled at why people can’t. My parents explicitly taught my bro and I how to cook because my Dad got to university and had to teach himself from scratch.

Micah May 21, 2012 - 9:04 am

I so agree.

To me, feminism is about having the freedom to choose how we want to live our lives. For some, that means getting married. For some, that means not getting married. For some, that means having children. For some, that means not having children. For some, that means staying home with said children. For some, that means working outside the home. For some, that means not taking your husband’s name. For some, that means taking your husband’s name. That’s a lot of rambling, but, simply put, I don’t think there’s one perfect picture of feminism. It’s just about having choices and rights.

Also, I am tired of women judging other women on their choices. I face it constantly with some of my choices, and I have to wonder about the people who are so concerned with my life. What’s wrong with theirs?


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