My ex wife and I had one discussion about last names prior to our marriage. It lasted all of two minutes and ended in unanimous agreement that she would go with mine. At no point then or afterwards were concerns expressed that by taking my surname she would suddenly loose her identity, contribute to the perpetuation of male fascism, or wipe out decades of feminist advancement. The fact of the matter was every woman in her family had taken the same course and she saw no need to do otherwise. Not to mention I was a Southern Baptist by birth and anything less would have been an affront to tradition and doctrine.
Historically, a wife taking her husband’s last name upon marriage was usually a matter of protection and inheritance. Long before women garnered the rights they possess today her welfare and protection were often up for question. Until married she would live with her father, and with his last name reap the benefits of his provision. Upon marriage, and assuming her new husband’s name, a transfer of responsibility would take place with the charge now falling to her new spouse. This notion applied equally in the event of inheritance. And given the propensity over generations to exclude women in general from any legacy, the taking of another’s last name seemed a small price to pay.
While there are no official statistics, some estimates show that over 85% of married women share their husband’s name. Regardless of those overwhelming figures in favor this topic remains one that often divides. Traditionalists argue heritage and even cite biblical precedence, as the husband is to be head of the household. While the flip side has modernists with the opinion that women making the name switch is little more than buying in to society’s nostalgic notions and a continuation of patriarchal sovereignty. They offer up alternatives such as keeping the woman’s maiden name, combining his and her’s in some hyphenated form, and some go so far as to reverse the roles and have the husband take his wife’s name – an act that screams ‘I’m castrated!’ and would call for an immediate revocation of the company issued ‘man card’.
But no matter where one might land, this topic takes on an entirely new flavor when the ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t anymore.’
Shortly before the finalization of my divorce I inquired as to my soon-to-be ex’s intentions regarding her last name. Not surprisingly she chose to keep her married one making reference to the children plus the royal pain at having it changed back. Initially her desire to stay with something that now meant absolutely nothing put me off. The marriage was over, wouldn’t she want to get back to where she started no matter what hoops had to be jumped through? To me there was arguably no greater representation of a marriage bond than the taking of another’s last name – even more so than the engagement ring. And since that contract was over holding on to the reminder was sort of like quitting a job but continuing to wear the uniform. But with all that, I couldn’t necessarily argue with her logic, since our children were tee’d up for Pre-K and Elementary School, sharing their same last name would make Parent Teacher Conferences less uncomfortable and throw most nosey soccer moms off the scent.
However I certainly didn’t like my last name tied to the person who ended my marriage nor was I thrilled at getting no say in the entire matter, but part of divorce means what I want doesn’t matter anyway.
But things got their most interesting when the ex and Trainer became engaged a few years later. I could only assume, as with most men, his preference would be for her taking his name; I was even more confident of that considering her current name belonged to a man other than her father. But I couldn’t be sure she would go with it, and suffer the likely eyebrow raises from room moms, without a good fight.
My hunch however was confirmed shortly after their ceremony when she called to make sure I knew how to spell her new last name on the child support checks.