“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
— Juliet, from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Juliet is wrong.
There’s a lot tied up in a name: identity, independence, history. I’m getting married in a few months, and even before I got engaged, I’ve been plagued with the decision of whether or not to change my last name.
Most women gladly assume the name of their husbands. Even celebrities with established and recognizable names. Kim Kardashian planned to become Kim Humphries after she married Kris Humphries (but got divorced too quickly to actually change it). And Jessica Biel legally changed her last name to Timberlake when her and Justin married last fall. And Jennifer Garner took on Ben Affleck’s last name when they wed.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered changing my name. But I guess it’s one of those decisions you can’t speculate about until you come head-to-head with its implications.
If I did change my last name, I wouldn’t do it because that’s just what you do when you get married. My reasons are simple: I want to communicate to myself and to the world I’m on a team with my husband, and if we ever have kids, I would like the same last name as them.
But if my name stayed the same, it would reflect the kind of equality that’s already present in our relationship. And it would say that being a wife doesn’t suddenly turn me into a completely different person.
I’m so excited to be married. To go through life hanging out with my best friend all the time? To be known and loved so completely, and continue to grow closer? To operate as one? Seriously, what an amazing thing. I am honoured to unite my life with my fiancé’s. But even though my relationship is one of the most important parts of my life, it’s not all of my life. And I don’t necessarily want to be defined by it.
My fiancé and I make sacrifices for each other. We share in each other’s successes and are completely honest about our needs and fears. We’re friends. Partners. Equals.
So would changing my last name convey we’re not so equal after all?
There are Christians out there who argue that the Bible lays it out for me pretty clearly; that changing my name indicates becoming “one flesh” with my husband, and that it affirms my husband as being the head of the household. And because marriage is symbolic of Christ and his bride, when a woman changes her name, it demonstrates the new identity we have in Christ.
But isn’t Jesus a feminist? When he came to earth, he challenged sexist laws, treated women with dignity, and taught and healed women just as much as he did men. Jesus turned the social mores and norms of the day upside-down. He was a radical.
So in the end, does it really matter all that much?
I went into the engagement thinking there would be about an 80 per cent chance I would decide to change my name. My fiancé and I had discussed it; I would keep Janzen as a middle name, and assume his last name. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just couldn’t do it.
If I changed my name, I’d be doing it out of some weird expectation I’d placed on myself. It wouldn’t be because I actually wanted to. My fiancé supports whatever decision I make; he’s attached to his name, so he understands why I’d be attached to mine. He was even a bit gleeful at the prospect of being “one of those really modern couples.”
I don’t think every woman should keep her name after she gets married. It’s a personal decision, based on someone’s individual values and priorities. No choice is a bad one.
So I guess I take it back; Juliet wasn’t entirely wrong. She just had different priorities than me.
This article originally appeared in Converge magazine issue 13 July/August
Flickr photo (cc) by Slewrate