Sunday, January 1, 2012

What's in a Name?

In my sophomore year of college, I took a gender studies course. My university requires that students take classes in social institutions and, as someone who identified as feminist from age thirteen (pro-life views notwithstanding), it sounded interesting. The course did not disappoint. We analyzed cultural constructions of gender in every single institution, from health care, to the work force, to the institutions of marriage and family life. We did a huge unit on how gender impacts weddings and one topic that came up was name changing. According to some studies, younger women were likely to change their names while older women kept theirs. In my own life, I've found this to be true. I've found that most of my married friends (younger women, like myself) were likely to change their last names. I am probably one of the few who chooses to keep hers. While I do not condemn this choice, I do find it interesting.

I choose to keep my name because, while marriage changes my life and soul (yes, soul, for all you Catholics out there), it does not change my identity. If it did change people's identities, why is my husband not expected to take mine in return? I choose not to change it because I don't believe I disappear into him. The changes that happen within us are the same, yet we still are the same at our core. This is reflected in the way the Church chooses to document marriages. Even if a woman changes her last name in civil documents, her last name remains the same as the one she was born with in Church documents. A marriage is egalitarian and I want my choices to reflect that. Of course, my friends are professional, educated women who still make this decision and I respect that. At the same time, I shouldn't make the same one if I don't find it represents my belief in what marriage is and should be.

Some people are curious as to what we'll do when we have kids. We're thinking of simply giving them both of our last names. People will question paperwork but I'd respond with the fact that it's not quite as complicated as it used to be. In professional circles (and certainly academic ones), we're not that unique. To be honest, regardless of that, I don't believe conforming to culture for convenience's sake is a good idea. In addition, for questions of family unity, that is still preserved. Latin American families still manage to preserve that element and they seem to do fine. Besides, how do families manage paperwork if their kids have two first names (Catholic examples like Mary Catherine or Mary Margaret come to my head)? Yes, people will make mistakes with the names and my own kids will have to figure out how to do it when they get married. I can't let that stop me from passing on good names, just like I can't let society stop me from raising my kids to be devout Catholics.

My name still stays the same and so does my title. I will always be a Ms. unless that is replaced by Dr. (yes, academia is calling to me a bit). Some of my friends see differently and that's fine. However, this is my choice, the choice I and my fiance have made for our family. It is possible to be orthodox Catholics without adhering to the dictates of culture-especially when that does not work to my benefit (aside from identity, it also results in me facing even more discrimination in terms of pay). I want to have a marriage that is pleasing to God and that also shows us as standing on equal footing. To me, keeping our names and passing both to our children accomplishes exactly that.

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