swansworth st. billingtits hoggfarthing-picklesdale


Looks like Tessa’s article on HuffPo brought out some of the crazies, some of the crazies-masquerading-as-rational, and even the rational types who are somehow made crazy by this topic. My wife may disown my take on her thesis, but to me it’s simple: if you live in a world where you are expected to take your husband’s last name, you live in a sexist world.

Moreover, a world that naturally assumes that any children you have will automatically bear the father’s last name… well, that’s sexist too. Even if the mother fought the power and still goes by her maiden name. Those facts are simple, but the real question is this: does this particular sexism actually bother you?

To put it another way: you are allowed to determine if something pisses you off or not. You are also allowed to ignore certain slightly-imperfect aspects of our society. You are also allowed to change your last name if you want to, or if you don’t care one way or the other. What you cannot ignore is this – a culture than constantly discards the mother’s name is teaching your kids something about gender equality.

Often, mothers don’t just lose one name, they lose two – their maiden name, and then their original middle name (when it’s supplanted by the maiden name). Guys, put yourself in that position. Imagine getting married and contemplate taking your wife’s name, and losing your middle name for good. My guess is that 99.999% of you contemplate it with an odd feeling of sickness, as though the mere suggestion were disturbingly unnatural.

Of course, the comments on Tessa’s article were best when unintentionally funny, like this one:

“Like just about everything else these days this is yet another thing to tamper with. Sometimes it is nice to stick with the way its always been done if only for that reason alone. Not everything has to be changed all the time.”

Yes indeed. Like slavery, stoning, and thalidomide.

Another one, carefully throwing baby out with bathwater:

“I can’t believe the first thing the author and many other ‘hyphenating’ women feel is that taking your husband’s name is patriarchal and sexist. Anything and everything is offensive if that is how you choose to view it.”

Well, actually, no. Just the thing the article is about. The one you were responding to at.

And here’s yet another genera, the “voice of authority” looming oe’r us all:

“The custom of children receiving the father’s last name is a question of paternity. The mother is incapable of denying her role since she carries the child in her womb for nine months but the father may not even realize he has a child… If he gives his name to the child it means he has accepted his responsibilities as a father… A couple could just as easily take the wife’s last name but that requires you come up with a rationale as to why that option is better than the standard approach.”

First of all, in the age of DNA, paternity is no longer in question, nor is “giving” your name to a child. Secondly, Tessa’s article is not asking anybody to take the wife’s last name, she was discussing why we hyphenated Lucy’s.


Ian Richard Williams, Lucy Kent Blake-Williams and Tessa Ellen Valentine Blake enjoy Catalina Island, summer 2011

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I had no problem discarding the notion that I needed Tessa to bear my name, or that Lucy had to use it exclusively. I honestly could not care less. Then again, I always chafed at the “ownership” tradition of marriage, such as the use of highly-visible wedding rings and codified childrearing roles within the relationship. It seemed like a relic from the 12th century.

Does that make me Johnny McEqualPants, an emasculated sparrow boy, snorting in asthmatic disdain at the barbarians who forced their wives to kowtow to their will? Or is it just luck that I happened not to give a shit? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure about this: whether or not you care, whether or not you kept your name or didn’t, if kids take the man’s name 95% of the time, that says something.

You may have a sentimental fondness for everyone in your family having the same name. You may simply like the tradition. You can even think it’s a little unfair and be okay with it in this instance. But if the husbands were to honestly tell you how they’d feel about taking your name as the “JUST MARRIED” car drives away, that painful unease has a definition: sexism.

20 thoughts on “swansworth st. billingtits hoggfarthing-picklesdale

  1. Bozoette Mary

    When I discussed keeping my name with my husband – 32 years ago, I might add – he said, “I don’t know anyone named Mary Flynn. I’m in love with Mary Wise.” I enjoyed Tessa’s post very much!

  2. Lurker Ann

    Thanks for this post and an earlier one you’ve done on it. I pretty much never queestioned that I would keep my own name when I got married but I was a little less clear on what I would want to do if I ever had a child. I think I would have ended up hyphenating anyway, using the same sort of logic that made me decide to keep my name, but your earlier post just helped me make clear in my own mind the wrongness of giving a child its father’s name only, and to therefore stand firm in the face of the downside (saddling the child with a cumbersome surname and a dilemma to be addressed upon marriage).
    Again, thank you.

  3. jje

    I like the tradition of taking the husband’s name. I love the romantic sense of belonging to him. I like that my boys and I all share the same last name. So that’s what I did. Happily. Actually, I shed my middle name ages ago when I opted to legally drop it, shift my last to my middle and take on my mother/stepfather’s last name post-college (it’s complicated). So now my maiden name, which was my mother/stepfather’s last name, is now my middle, in keeping with the usual Southern tradition.
    Put me in the camp of completely understanding why other people find it sexist or unappealing for whatever reason, and not caring one fig how others choose to handle it or what they think of my choice. If my boys’ takeaway is “sexism is awesome” because of a single decision I made out of love and tradition, then clearly I will have done damn poor job in other aspects of raising them. (They will also be the men who open doors for ladies, among other social niceties.)

  4. avoidthisblog

    I’m curious to know which of the anti-Tessa comments you least saw coming.
    I don’t think it’s as plain as “it’s sexist for a woman to take her husband’s name, y’all”. No more sexist than it would be for a man to take his wife’s name (to wit, my next door neighbor in grad school, who did have an especially hilarious name).
    For me, when I got married, I told my fiancee that it really didn’t matter to me if she took my last name or not. She did (and kept her maiden name), and I don’t imagine it would have been a problem if she hadn’t.
    I think lots of these sorts of conversations go down some rabbit holes, some of which Tessa points out, not the least of which is that a woman keeping her last name upon marriage isn’t any sort of blow to the patriarchy. It’s simply her father’s family’s last name. And on and on.
    I would think that keeping a woman’s maiden name is simply a matter of personal, and not family, identity.
    Although, I’ve run across some rather conservative people who have rather conservative reasons for keeping and/or hyphenating her and her children’s last names. A colleague of mine, who is quite conservative and by no means a feminist, hyphenated her name upon marriage because she comes from a prominent family (ie old money) in the state and didn’t want anyone forgetting it. Sometimes, aristocracy is a sufficient motivation. In fact, for most of history, the rationale for having compound or hyphenated etc names is exactly from aristocratic notions. Look at some of the Spanish upper classes and their litany of names, lest we question the blueness of their blood. Just another of the wormholes of these conversations.
    In another light, I’ve got some other friends who decided not to hyphenate, but for the wife to keep her surname, and for male children to take dad’s last name, and the girls to take mom’s. Not sure what this solves, but it is one angle.
    Finally, some other friends over in Durham got married and both husband and wife took the new hyphenated name. That’s something too…probably the most symbolically egalitarian, but still doesn’t solve the problem of toppling the patriarchy.
    I’m a teacher, and I come across all sorts of fantastic and cringe-inducing names on my roll; hyphenated names are not among them.
    Much more than the impact this will have on society at large, I’m concerned that it’s not too long in the future until a majority of my students have names rhyming with “-ayden”.

  5. CM/CL

    You’re probably preaching to the converted here. I didn’t realize people were so uptight about this issue, but I guess I’m naive, living among liberals and all. I have actually had people question my lack of liberated-ness because I took my husband’s name. Liberation is about being free to decide either way. I took my husband’s name ’cause I was sick of my own and I thought it would make life easier when we had a family, and I was kind of honored to take it, but I still use my maiden name for my writing so my legions of rabid fans can find me.

  6. Carla Sumka

    I am pretty sure it was by accident when my parents gave me both names. I am Carla Yolanda Paciotti Utrie (now Sumka). I would like to cut off both guttural last names altogether. Merely because it sounds better. Utrie wasn’t any better than Sumka in terms of a good name- a complete lateral move Blake and Williams- those are nice sounding last names. I can see why you’d use both:). I have tried to convince ken to let us change our last names to Summers, but it’s not taking. Carla, Abby and Bennett Summers has a nice ring to it! I’m a name snob.

  7. Karin

    My husband had a way cooler last name than I did – no brainer. Had the circumstances been different, I may have kept my maiden name, with total support from hubs.

  8. Kathy

    It’s interesting that even among your readers, there’s so much variety. I didn’t change my name when I married, I married in my 30’s and had seen some of my friends divorce and have to wait to get back their old name. Now, I’m not planning on divorcing but it solidified the idea that I am this person, with this name, and I don’t want to change it. Before then, I sort of mooned about with boyfriends’ names, trying out how they sounded, etc.
    We did not hyphenate our daughter’s last name, she took my husband’s last name and that was fine with me. Someday she may shed that for her husband’s name or keep what was given to her at birth. She has my last name as her middle name and of course that’s only symbolic of the male side of my family.
    I have to admit that I’m often surprised how readily women give up their names.

  9. jje

    CM/CL nailed it – liberation is about being free to decide either way.
    I will add that while my sons have my husband’s last name, firstborn has my maiden name as his middle and secondborn has my grandmother’s maiden name as his middle (one that he might lament one day sounds like it could be a girl’s name).
    My cousin and her husband created a brand new last name out of their names. It’s a bit unwieldy as names go (and he had the lovely last name of True), but it works for them.

  10. JB

    Despite loving my father’s family unconditionally and being proud of my heritage, I have one of those last names that’s caused me (and continues to cause me) much grief throughout my life, to the point where I have seriously considered dropping it and using my middle name (which was my mom’s maiden name). Professionally, I use both, unhyphenated. But I could not imagine asking a woman I love to ‘take it on’. I’m 43 now, unmarried (so far) and don’t think it’ll be an issue when and if I do get married. I’ll keep my name and she’ll keep hers. Kids? Don’t know if I’ll have them, but if I do, I’d be okay with them taking her name. Still, as a man, I’ll admit I have some consternation about this whole thing…

  11. noj

    our neighbors did the fairest thing they could think of, gave one kid the dad’s last name and the other kid the mom’s last name. their middle names are the other parent’s name. a little confusing but ultimately a pretty cool way to go about it.
    catherine kept her name and the kids have my last name, pretty much for the reason that ‘gray’ is simple & easier to write. i didn’t really have a preference one way or the other.

  12. dob

    The problem with hyphenated last names is that it just pushes the decision downfield a generation. What happens when two hyphenated parents procreate? Madness.
    My wife kept her last name and we gave our child the last name that sounded best with the rest of the name.

  13. Piglet

    If you weren’t the kind of person who didn’t give a shit, Tessa would have married someone else, and so would you. It’s because you are who you are that she was right for you.
    My brother in law really did take his wife’s last name. He didn’t like his blood relatives much. It seemed a little odd at the time, but no one’s complained or anything.
    Hyphens are OK but won’t work for the next generation. What happens when Lucy Kent Blake-Williams and Peter Michael Johnson-Yamomoto (or whoever) one day mate and have offspring? The Redhead and I gave our children last names by coin toss. Two with my last name, one with hers, by chance.

  14. Josie

    I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, but there are many countries where sexism is commonplace, but taking the male spouse’s name is not.

  15. Caitlin

    Never thought about changing my name. OK, it helps that my spouse’s last name is weird and hard to pronounce in English. We elected to give our kid my last name, and also gave her our last name as her middle name. This confuses the relatives, who think we hyphenated, and made the rigid people at the German embassy people freak out (Verboten!), but we were both happy with this approach.
    I’ve always felt that families are made more by an ongoing act of choice and love than by mere bonds of blood. Perhaps because my family of origin is nontraditional and includes adoption, fostering, divorce, remarriage, stepsibs, and the first wave of the lesbian baby boom in the 1980s. The last name is gravy.

  16. GFWD

    Sometimes it’s not sexist. Sometimes you just want the family to all have the same last name so it’s easier to get those little return address labels. They only give you so many boxes and if you go a hyphenating everything, you risk not getting your labels.

  17. tregen

    Isn’t giving Lucy any last name related to either of you simply an act of both of you putting an ownership stamp on Lucy? Why not just give her a “placeholder” last name until she turns 15 and then letting her know that it’s not important at all if she has your last name or Tessa’s last name
    as those names simply represent people with control over ever aspect of her life you who are determined to turn her into them, forcing their ideology and beliefs on her in order to ensure that the world continues to be blessed with their genetics?

  18. AJay

    I wouldn’t care if my wife didn’t have my last name.
    Would I feel weird about taking hers? Yes…only because it would be extremely unusual. If it were common, I wouldn’t care. It’s not a matter of sexism, it’s a matter of not being too unconventional. In theory, I have no problem with taking my wife’s last name. But in practice, our society has made it very weird, and since there’s no harm (except in the head of those who are confused by labels), I just go with the flow.

  19. AJay

    On another note…I don’t like the current tradition of women taking their husband’s names. While I think men and women are equal and naming conventions are just that, I also get that some people are simplistic enough to be influenced by conventions.
    But even though I don’t like it — there’s no solution. Although the tradition is poor, it’s the best we have. Hyphenated names are a noble try, but when Lucy meets Mark Smith-Cline and they have a child, what last name do they give it? There’s simply no solution good solution, so we’re stuck with the best of the bad solutions.


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