What’s in a Name?
When Nate and I got engaged, I began to notice people assuming that I would be taking his last name and leaving mine behind, as is the “norm” in American society. To be honest, it wasn’t even something that I had thought about before.
I spent a lot of time weighing the various options, but deep down I never really wanted to change my name. After all, it had been my name, a part of who I was, for almost 21 years. All of my accomplishments so far had been attributed to “Grantham,” and I felt as if I would be disconnecting myself from them in a way if I were to change it.
On the other hand, I felt as if not changing my name would just be seen as another “radical feminist thing” by the people around me, even though that had nothing to do with it. I had already begun to see a glimpse of that before the wedding when I would tell people I was probably only going to change my name socially, not legally.
I was also afraid of what Nate’s friends and family would think of him. I knew that some people might see him differently as a result of my keeping my name. And even though Nate never pressured me or even suggested that I change my name, I felt as if I should do it for him.
By the time the wedding came around, the pressures of society and fear of other’s judgements weighed on me enough to make me go against my heart.
But in the weeks following our wedding, I hated it. I cringed when people called me, “Mrs. Horton.” I hated getting mail addressed to “The Hortons.” Every time someone called me by my new last name, I just wanted to yell, “That’s not my name!” But I couldn’t because it was my new last name. I couldn’t be angry at these people, because I had already publicized the change myself.
I have heard many women describe changing their name as a way of gaining something because of the love they have for their husbands. But I didn’t feel like I was gaining something; I felt like something was being taken away from me.
I eventually shared my unhappiness with my husband and a close group of girlfriends. They encouraged me to make the decision that was going to give me peace, and said that they would support me either way.
In the end, I decided to officially keep my birth name.
I know that there are more significant dilemmas in the world that I could be facing, but I am in this season now, and I wanted to give my story as an alternative narrative for others to consider. The fact that I was so terrified of the social judgement that would follow my choice says a lot about our society.
Yes, it’s great that women have the option to keep or change their name, but only twenty percent of American women choose to do so. If the social pressures were removed, I think that number would be higher.
This is not to say that there’s anything at all wrong with wanting to take your spouse’s name. In any case, there are a multitude of factors to take into consideration (for example, if your first name is Betty and his last name is Boop).
The point is, though, I think everyone should feel completely free and comfortable to choose what is right for them.
Laurie Scheuble, a sociology professor at Penn State University, says that this is “the strongest gendered social norm that we enforce and expect.” We have moved in that direction as a society in regards to so many other issues, so why is this such an exception?
Why do we pinpoint this topic and shame each other for it?
Some of you reading this may judge me as nothing more than an “unsubmissive wife,” some of you may just roll your eyes, but I hope that, at least to some, my story can provide some encouragement that it is okay to choose what feels right to you, even if it doesn’t feel right to others.
Charlie Olivia Grantham is a twenty year old college student from New Orleans, LA. She studies Sociology and Media Production, and hopes to work in the film industry one day. She enjoys blogging, yoga, and spending time with her husband and their pups! You can find her blog at charlieolivia.org and follow her on Twitter @charlieeolivia.
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