Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What's in a Name?

I first read of Michael Bijon's struggle to take his wife's surname on Blue Milk, but Feministing has since picked up the story and noted that dumb laws getting in the way of people's ability to make their own decisions about what they will be called is far from rare. For Mr. Bijon (the former Mr. Buday), changing his name upon marrying would have been easy, had he been female:
But it took two years, a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination and a change in California law before he picked up his new drivers licence in the name of Michael Bijon on Monday.
Yup, while it is free for women to take their spouse's surname, the Bijon family was told "it would take a $US350 (A374) fee, court appearances, a public announcement and mounds of paperwork to make a change on his driving license." So he and his wife Diana went to the ACLU, and now it won't be so hard for men to take their spouse's name in the future. Thanks, guys!

All this talk of name changing has me thinking about my own situation, though. I've been married for nearly a year now, and I haven't taken any steps to legally change my name. I get one of two reactions when people who know me find out that I haven't filed any paperwork yet:
1) They assume I never meant to change it in the first place, due to my feminist philosophies
2) They assume I got cold feet, brought on by my feminist philosophies
Who knows, maybe they're right. Certainly I've always identified with my last name. Since my first name, Lisa, is so common here in the States, I was called by my surname throughout high school and college. For the first 21 years of my life I was rarely called Lisa - I went by my surname or Lis, the constant abbreviation. So it does feel a little weird to cast my old name off completely.

Yet, I don't think my reluctance is prompted by a deep philosophical objection. Certainly I would tell you that feminism is about opening up doors for women, not creating new rules. Yet...

So I'm curious to hear what other self-identified feminists (male or female!) have done with the Partner's Name Game. If you are married, did you change your name? If engaged, will you? If fate or discriminatory laws are keeping you from such decisions, do you think you could?


Mächtige Maus said...

Since I am not allowed to marry, I have never given much consideration to what is, for me, a moot point.

Maybe I just don't get it, but the concept of a woman taking her husband's last name upon marriage has always felt like an antiquated notion of possession.

My previous employer(s) are married. She kept her own name. I have always her respected her decision to do so as well as her husband's acceptance of the decision. Along the same line, I respect the husband in this story for wanting to take his wife's name.

The short version of my viewpoint is that it should be acceptable to do whatever one wants rather than a set in stone expectation from society for a woman to take the husband's name. It should not raise eyebrows when she does not.

Choice is a beautiful thing.

Dee said...

Why is the previous commenter not allowed to marry I wonder?

I added my husband name. Interestingly my obstetrician felt my son would want me to and she was right. Note I said I added because I still kept mine so it is just joined on except in my passport where I had to take it completely and my original surname is placed in a section marked maiden name. Gosh so much confusion. Thank god for my driver's licence.

Mächtige Maus said...

I'm a lesbian living in not the most accepting of environments for gay marriage. Translation: I live in the almost Deep South.

La Pobre Habladora said...

I have known lots of women to keep their own names, but only one man to add his wife's name to his - like Dee did with her husband's surname. When I get the occasional 'what's the big deal?' comment from men, few have even treated the idea of their taking their partner's name as a serious suggestion - and few have been able to recognize that a woman might identify with their surname every bit as much as men do.

It is odd how little empathy there is sometimes. Mr. Bijon sets a good example as well as paving the way for others.

Kris-Stella said...

I like my current surname. I also wouldn't think it was a big deal to have a different surname to my husband, so I would prefer to keep my own.

However, I would also like to share my surname with my children, and I would completely understand if my husband would feel the same about his name. This might make it complicated... maybe two surnames for the kids is the way to go?

P.S. Thanks for your visit to my blog and the compliment! I think this blog is great too!