Saturday, March 05, 2005

What's in a Name?

I didn't change my name after I got married. I had never really thought about it to be honest. I didn't see any good reason for it, and Brian said he didn't mind either way, so I just kept it. I didn't do it to make a point, or because I am not fully committed to my husband. I am not a radical feminist (although, I don't think feminism is a dirty word, like some). I am not even opposed to the idea of changing your name, I just didn't think it was right for me.

I have been surprised by the reaction to this choice. Koreans, of course, think nothing of it. Women here never change their names. Some of my friends have been supportive, others haven't seemed to feel one way or another and some have been surprised. Surprised bordering on scornful. I don't think either set of parents are overly happy about it. Seeing the impact of my decision has forced me to re-evaluate my choice.

I am certainly not alone in struggling with this decision. Women in this century have made so many advances in their struggle for equality, but it's not over yet. Did you know that in 1972 it was illegal to get a driver's license or vote under your maiden name, in America. 1972!! That's nuts!

I have always been a Knox and the idea of suddenly changing my identity because of my marital status, bugged me. It just felt weird. I have finished two degrees and published under my name. I have made friends and contacts under my name. It is who I am. Brian agreed. He said that the idea of his name suddenly changing from one day to the next was strange and that if he doesn't have to do it, why should I? Good question.

I have to admit that I find being addressed as Mrs. Brian West, rather insulting. I know it's traditional and that people aren't intentionally being disrespectful, but really, think about it! I am a thinking, breathing individual who suddenly disappears because I get married. I always feel torn about these kinds of moral semantics. Part of me thinks "Sheesh, it's just a tradition. Why get so worked up about it?" The other part of me knows that if people don't try to change the little things, the big things (like pay inequality, under-funding of women's healthcare and international torture) don't stand a chance. The little things make up the foundation for sexist attitudes and assumptions. It makes certain attitudes acceptable, and these attitudes ultimately lead to inequality. I don't want to make "a mountain out of a molehill" but I do want my daughter to know that she can be anything or anybody that she wants. I want her to think of marriage as empowering, not an abandonment of self.

Let me reiterate that I do not think changing your name is the wrong thing to do. My mother did it, and the majority of women still do it. People have lots of reasons for adopting the tradition - the desire to share a family name, because they prefer their husbands to their own, but mostly, because it's what you do. I guess that is what bothers me. If you think about it, consider the options, and then decide to do it, that's great. It's the automatic acceptance of a tradition rooted in sexism, ownership and paternal descent, without rational consideration that continues to irk me.

Who knows? Maybe one day I will change my mind, and my name along with it. Until then, I am just happy being me...and married.

1 comment:

Jax said...

you're sounding like the best kind of feminist to me - someone who has thought it through, and is doing what feels right to her.

Oh, and hi ;) I followed Gill over from Sometimesitspeaceful, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading - thanks!