When Feminists Marry: What’s in a Name?

There are hard parts to getting married. You are blending two families, two personalities, and two households of stuff. It is a major life adjustment. But the hardest part about getting married for me was deciding what my last name was going to be. I cannot begin to describe how many times I agonized over this issue. A million questions raced through my mind: If I take my partner’s name, am I abandoning my already-established identity? If I take his name am I abandoning my ties to my family of origin? If I hyphenate my name will it fit on different forms? If I have a different last name than my future/possible children, will they feel disconnected from me? Will changing my name make my CV look less uniform? (Let’s face it. It’s all about the CV).
I approached the topic of my identity as if it were a research question. Naturally, I began with a literature review. I turned to the internet for support (I am a child of the millennium after all). I read articles and threads on wedding forums. I read laws on what you can legally have as your name. I read research articles about name changing. I asked friends and family. I sat at my desk writing out the various combinations of my name – like a preteen doodling her name with her crush’s last name.
On one site, an individual asked what name-changing meant for them and their identity. Immediately people responded saying, “Why does identity matter?” and “You will be with your partner longer than your family of origin.” These responses were more unsettling to me than comforting. Why does identity matter? I am in the field of psychology and it didn’t take me long to learn that identity is a pretty big deal. How you view yourself matters. Identity matters to me and that is why this whole name-changing business became such a source of analysis.
Since I knew dropping my name completely was not an option for me, I started looking into other ways of naming myself. The next option I looked into was hyphenation. Hyphenating names in academia is very common. To me it was a natural solution to my identity issue. When discussing this solution with family, again people had negative responses. One of the main reactions to my possible name hyphenation was, “But won’t that make it hard to fill out forms?” I was dumbfounded. You can’t claim your identity and who you are because it might be difficult to fill out the occasional form? How much time do people actually spend in their lifetime filling out forms? And if this is indeed an issue, isn’t it an issue with the way forms are set up rather than an issue of identity?         
Another option I considered was just keeping my current name. After all it has served me well the past 20+ years. I had developed an identity, a persona. It made me, me! In discussing this option with people, again there were reactions. But what about your partner’s name? Why don’t you like his name? Don’t you want to be a unified family unit? I love my partner. But does not taking his name make it a slap in the face? To me it almost wasn’t about him. This was about me, people! My name and who I want to be as a person. Of the men I asked (N=small sample size; convenience sampling), none of them said they would ever consider changing their last name to their partner’s name. My internal four-year-old was screaming at me, “but it’s not fair!”

After months of obsessing and research, I decided that the decision of what I am going to be called is going to be my decision alone. What I decide is not etched in stone. As I explore what it means to be married, I can establish what my identity will be. Until then, I am staying away from internet forums and halting my random polling of friends and family. Today I am Amanda Backer Lappin, tomorrow I may just be Amanda Lappin or Amanda Backer or Amanda Backin or Amanda Lapper, or Amanda Backer-Lappin. And that’s okay with me.

- Written by Amanda Backer Lappin

2 comments:

  1. Amanda Backer LappinFebruary 10, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    *****I also acknowledge this is part of my heterosexual privilege.******

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  2. Thanks for this post! I am going through this debate as well and am currently considering hyphenating. Best of luck in academics and marriage! -Jessica

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