Today I posted a Facebook status that got a number of friends upset with me. That’s fair, the original status carried a bit of shock value (on purpose), but due to the status upsetting a handful of people, I decided to edited my status to say this:
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all my Facebook friends that due to my feminist beliefs, no, I will not be taking Peter’s last name. A-thankyou.
Statistically I am in the minority when it comes to keeping my maiden name. Most women in the United State continue to take their partners last name after marriage. I get it, it helps create a succinct family unit, and there is a sense of tradition there. If you plan on having kids, I can understand why one might consider merging names. However, what I still don’t understand is why is it always the husband’s name that is taken?
Now, we all know the reasons for this: patriarchy. We are all still born-and-bred into patriarchal societies, whether we like to admit it or not. The fact that men make one dollar to every $0.77 cents women make in the grand ‘ol US of A is proof enough, right? So when I choose to keep my maiden name, I am in a sense allowing myself a small amount of empowerment. Now, it’s not very much empowerment. I still will carry my paternal name (Kocka is from my father’s side), so the problem still exists in its more overarching form.
All of this name stuff got me thinking about semiotics, it has me asking, “what’s in a name?” This is an interesting question because if we think of names as words, isolated from their historical context, then names are just like any other signifier out there. Kocka in English is just K-O-C-K-A, but it doesn’t hold any specific meaning in particular. Only when we think about a name in context, with its agreed upon meaning does it become a sign, something that makes clear sense to all of us in terms of representative meaning. Kocka becomes the name you associate with me, with my family, or, if this was 200 years ago, with the family of the man I was married into. If we lived in a vacuum, then this name would be meaningless, just a signifier representing the signified. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum, and no matter what I do as a woman, I will always bear the name of a man, because in reality, all names, whether maiden names or married names, are paternal.
Now having a paternal family name isn’t all bad. These family names allow us to recognize and trace our family heritage, which gives us identity, meaning and a sense of history. I find my family lineage very interesting, so I will be the first to say that having a traceable unit that is represented by the name Kocka has been helpful in learning about where I come from, which in turn helps me better understand my place in the world.
So, what do you think is a fair way to view name changes in relation to marriage? Do you think that both partners should create a new family name that signifies their new unit and avoids any association with either side of their families? Do you believe that in a hetero-relationship men should take their female partners name? And speaking of straight partnerships, how do we apply these rules to non-hetero relationships? Weigh in the comments section.