What's in a Name? // Amandahbeth Tilus
Image from Picture retrieved from http://cliparts.co/cliparts/8TA/EnM/8TAEnMEAc.jpg
My husband and I were married this summer after ten short years of dating, plus one year of being engaged, much to the relief of both of our anguished and aging families. My side of the family knew me well enough to not push the issue of marriage often, if at all, as my consistent response over the years was either, “If we do get married it will be when I’m ready,” or “I’m not planning on getting married just to make other people more comfortable with our relationship.” Obviously, I’m more of a realist than a romantic and saw no need to rush into a covenant which I believe to be a spiritual and physical lifelong commitment to another human being. In addition, planning and executing a wedding is an emotionally and financially expensive expedition.
Hashing out the details of what was and was not important to us for the big event, with a small budget, was a fun time of bonding and problem solving between my husband and I. Unsurprisingly, after eleven years together we knew each other pretty well and were flexible in areas where one had a stronger emotional investment. One small exception to this was in the area of the word that would follow our respective “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, that is, our last name(s). Yes, it’s true, I had been a lazy feminist in never fully exploring what this process would mean to me in the future. In my defense I had been busy doing other important feminist things such as exploring the relation of feminism to my spiritual system of belief and advocating for greater equality in that realm. I had purposely avoided the feeling in the pit of my stomach that marriage would mean becoming “Mrs. Someone-else’s-last-name” and that as a doctoral student, I would be giving up the ability to one day become “Dr. Tilus” in the footsteps of my father.
I have a tendency to be direct, and therefore asked my husband point blank if he would be upset with me if I didn’t take his last name, to which he replied that he wouldn’t as long as he knew my reasoning. I explained that I loved my last name, that it was rare, and that I was proud of the heritage behind it. Being a gentle and kind man, he was receptive, but I could tell that he wasn’t wholly convinced of the merit behind my choice. I then asked him, in a serious manner, if he had considered taking my last name. His eyes first grew wide and then became lost as he scrunched his face in confusion, shook his head, and sputtered “That...idea…makes me…really uncomfortable.” Seizing the opportunity, I quickly responded back “What you are feeling right now is exactly how I feel” and then waited for the gates of feminist understanding to be joyously thrust open. In a happy ending, he did understand and the issue dissolved as a point of possible contention between us (we are both feminists after all). I was, and am, so grateful for the partner that I have and his ability to create a space where I feel safe bringing up such a non-traditional view. For many of my married friends, getting married and changing their name brought a sense of the loss of a unique aspect of their personal identity, family heritage, and/or independence. In discussion, they admit that although they were distressed about the issue they never thought to bring it up with their partner. This needs to change.
In sum, although my husband and I are happily Mr. and Mrs. Our-own-last-name(s), the expectations of others are always more complicated than we would like. As such, questions from “the concerned” regarding the future stress and confusion this decision will decidedly curse our as yet unplanned, unconceived, unborn children with still remain. If we decide to have children, when we are ready, the important and uncomfortable task of choosing their last name will occur. Until then, I hope to continue doing important feminist things to ensure that in the future these types of discussions aren’t as uncomfortable or as uncommon as they are now.