What's in a Name? // Amandahbeth Tilus

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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.  

Written by Amandahbeth Tilus


  1. Or better yet,have nothing to do with men who are typically strongly socialized from the moment they are born into ''masculinity'',to be nothing like girls and women,and see them as nothing like themselves and to hate them,for no rational reasons,and what is so incomprehensible is that men are born from and nurtured by *women*! In the early 1990's I spoke with Rhea who was an editor at a Harvard University news paper,and now works at Emerson University's news paper, at the sadly long gone Women's Alliance Against Pornography Education project ,and I asked her to send me as much information on the harms of Playboy and pornography in general and she did. She said to me,that most men don not see women as being anything like themselves,they see them as the other,and she said most men hate women and then they marry them and that we live in a male dominated society that hates women.She also always said that the gender differences aren't natural,they have been socially manufactured so men can dominate women.

    And she also aid back in a 1992 conversation,that there is no such thing as a normal man,studies have found that the average man isn't that different psychologically from rapists,and that it's the abnormal guys who don't have sexist,violent attitudes and behavior towards women.I said to her it's mostly because of the pornography (before it so unjustly,wrongly was put all over the internet and mainstreamed) and she said it's mostly because of the pornography,but it's also because of other things too.I asked her like what,and she said like the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies teaching a violent definition of ''masculinity''.She also said that there are very few men who have not used pornography.

    Susan didn't even mention how women are expected to and often do,take their husband's last name,and how this all originated from the woman being owned by her husband as property,and how the father giving away the bride also stems from her being owned first by her father who used to give her away for money to be owned by her husband,and then gave her away for free.That is also why until 1993! it was perfectly legal for a husband to rape his wife in America in all states,it was made illegal in some states by 1988,and it also used to be legal for a man to beat his wife,it was called the rule of thumb law,as long as what he beat her with wasn't bigger than his thumb.

    Here Penn State sociology professor Laurie Scheuble explains that the origins of the wife taking her husband's last name stems from her being owned as property just like a cow.


    Here British radical feminist Julie Bindle explains all of these things too.


    A month after John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married, Yoko rightfully said to John ,why should she have to change her last name to his,that it's not fair to her identity as a person,and John agreed and said you're right that is unfair and so in April 1969,John legally changed his name to John Ono Lennon.

  2. This a great feminist article about all of this,Feminism,Liberalism And Marriage by Clare Chambers


  3. Also thanks to Yoko,she changed John from a very young psychologically messed up hurting,angry sexist guy,who often got drunk,and into fist fights with men,sometimes hit women and was a womanizer (although Paul,George and Ringo were terrible womanizers too) into a much more together,happier,and pro-feminist nurturing house husband and father to Yoko and their son Sean.