Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Husband Doesn't Get Asked This Question

I phrased the title in reference to my own husband, but I'm basing this more on observations of other men (primarily coworkers, so the sample is recent and in the same general socioeconomic class, educational background, etc. as me - as well as working in the exact same office environment!) who have gotten married. (Abe is also on summer break, not interacting daily with coworkers as I am, so an alternative explanation for him, personally, not getting this would be his current daily circumstances.)

After taking two weeks off for our honeymoon, I've now been back at work for a few days. Lots of catching up on emails, as usual after a vacation. The typical "how was your vacation" questions are slightly modified to include congratulations and ask how the wedding went, or how married life is going.

But two significant differences have also occurred: First, I've had lots of forms to fill out, to change the beneficiary on my life insurance and 401(k) to Abe, and add him to the health insurance policy. Second, and this what this post is ranting about, virtually everyone I've interacted with for more than a brief greeting has asked me what my current last name is. 

Granted, sometimes this questions is worded in a less obnoxious way, making clear whether or not there is an underlying presumption as to what I did - "What do I call you now?" versus "You're still Margaret [Yourname], right?" - but I have never heard this asked of any male coworkers upon returning from their honeymoon. Ever. 

Marriage-related name changes vary by state, but in Oregon, both spouses have the exact same options. There isn't even a default for either spouse (i.e., it's not like the husband keeps his name and the wife changes hers unless they select otherwise) - you have to deliberately select one of the available options (either party's birth name, name at time of marriage, or some combination thereof) when filling out the marriage certificate. A woman changing her name is not the default, the automatic choice, or path of least resistance logistically! Why, then, would anyone, in this day and age, presume that a woman has, of course!, changed her name by getting married?

I'll give the older generation a little bit of slack. There's one very "good ol' boys" former-partner of the firm, actually, who I would totally expect to be shocked that a woman didn't change her name, and would find it rather amusing to witness his reaction (I haven't talked to him yet this week, though, to confirm this hypothesis). But if you were raised in the era of working moms and hyphenated family names - no. You get no slack for making such a ridiculously outdated assumption.

The worst interaction was actually from a coworker who I also went to college with (at a Quaker university - some might assume this Christian background would create a framework on more fundamentalist beliefs, but Quakers are actually a quite liberal branch of Christianity, with a history full of fighting for social improvement). She's one year older than me, same education, same cultural background, same professional environment.

She was emailing me yesterday afternoon (so I'd been at work for a full two days - surely, if I needed to do something like update my name on firm documents, I would have gotten to it by then) about a client, and then added "You haven't updated your [email] signature yet!!:)" 

Crossing my fingers that I was interpreting that the wrong way, I decided to play dumb in my response "Updated for what?" The email thread continued:

Her: Didn't you just get married!?
Me: Do our clients care about my marital status?
Her: Don't you want them to call you the right thing? Did you not change it?

Ding ding, we have a winner! Believe it or not, I, a married woman living in the year 2014, made the available choice to not change my last name! I'm still in shock at how long it took her to process that, oh, the assumption that I would change my name was incorrect (or she was also playing dumb and baiting me - I'm not sure if that's better or worse than her really being unable to fathom not changing one's name!)

If I had ever heard of a man being asked this question, I wouldn't care. Of course people do have the choice to easily change their last name when they get married, and it's reasonable for people to confirm with them whether or not they did. But men aren't asked this! Regardless of the legal options available, it's only women who are presumed to have likely made that choice.

I'm not saying it's the "anti-feminist" choice to take your husband's last name - I totally understand the practical and emotional reasons that it's appealing. But it is definitely anti-feminist to only confirm name changes with women, and to approach the confirmation with the assumption that she changed it!


  1. Adam and I have been together almost 10 years and we're still not married, so I guess we're pretty untraditional, but we always joke that if we do get married he will take my last name :) I would really dislike if people just assumed I changed my last name once married. I think in all liklihood I would hyphenate because I have a short last name and Adam does too, so it would be kind of cool to have a longer one by putting them together... but that's the only reason I would do it, haha.

    1. That sounds like a good approach. :) I would have been opening to hyphenated our names (*both* of us hyphenating, not just me), so we could have the same last name, but both our names are already two syllables and both end with a "es" sound, so there was really no aesthetically pleasing way to do so.

  2. LOVE THIS POST. I have a major issue with people assuming that the woman has to change her name. I love when people ask me *if* I am changing and when they accept that it isn't a given. One of the biggest arguments that I have had with some men is when they get super offended at the thought of changing their last name to take their wife's name. They don't see how it is offensive for them to be appalled at that, but assume that the woman should take theirs. Sorry, this is a rant at this point, but just trying to say KUDOS to you.

    1. Thanks!

      It's amazing the gut reaction some men have about this; even if they already have a more feminist stance on other issues, this somehow gets at something else! Some women too - I was engaged in a previous relationship, and he had a short one-syllable name, and we were both going to double barrel our names - he didn't have a problem doing so (at least, on the surface, I think it was eating at him at bit, though, and he would have eventually gotten resentful of it if we'd gone through with it), but his mom threw the biggest fit! It was ridiculous.

  3. I just found your blog link via GOMI (which is probably why I'm commenting on things a year old, heh) and I love this. I got married last September and when I came back to work after the wedding, EVERYONE was in my business about my nonexistent name change. I had one dude walk up to me, throw the name tag to my office door on my desk, and say "hey you might want to change that before your husband sees it." Several other people asked "what do we call you now?". I was like "um, how about Mandy? Since that's, you know, my name..."

    It doesn't matter to me if someone chooses to change their name or not, it's a personal choice. My husband and I were actually thinking about making a whole new hybrid last name since he hates his, but we're too lazy to do the paperwork. :) It did really surprise me the way some of my coworkers acted, even if they thought they were being funny. Of course, my husband wasn't asked once about his name, he was only asked if he was offended that I didn't change my name to his. Go figure!

    1. Hey, welcome!

      Oh my gosh, that's even more over the top than I had! I think some people think it's one of those "small" things that shouldn't matter, so they think it's funny when some people do get up in arms or offended about it. But it represents so much more than that!


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