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May 15, 2006



This is just weak. First, it's entirely plausible that your first wives didn't trust you, but not changing their names wasn't necessarily a manifestation of that distrust. You don't really have an argument that there's any connection between names and their committment to marriage, except in your own head. Maybe you didn't trust them because they wouldn't take your name.

The implication seems to be that women should change their names to show commitment and gratify male vanity, but men show commitment by "sharing" their names. Isn't this just a variation on the idea that the needs of the family are primarily the woman's responsiblity, and that women should make some kind of ritual personal sacrifice for the marriage that shouldn't be required of men? A man could just as well express his committment to wife and children by changing his name, instead of foisting his on everyone else. Changing his name is much more of a sacrifice and thus expresses more devotion than "sharing" his name, which causes him little inconvenience and allows him the pleasures you describe.

I've never really thought you were a feminist, just neurotic, but this is pathetic. I think you're buying into the whole "men need women to rely on them or they can't be good" thing you sometimes criticize. Vanity in applying one's name to others ought not to be gratified. Really disappointing.


Interesting thoughts Hugo. I (the feminist) wanted to take my wife's name, and she (not quite a "feminist", but somewhere in the middle) wanted to take my name.

I actually thought it would be cool to take each other's name. Then you share in the committment AND the sacrifice.

But alas, she took my name, I kept my name, and we lived happily ever after (or for four years at least).


Z, it certainly is weak as an argument. But I'm not constructing an argument, I'm sharing a story -- and explaining that for me at least, the Kass and Kass argument makes a great deal of sense.

Certainly, I would never suggest that a man whose wife doesn't take his name has any excuse for misbehavior. Male responsibility is not bought at the price of female vulnerability -- and that isn't the point that the Kasses are making (though I can see how you could reach that conclusion.)

I try and walk the line between endearingly neurotic and downright pathetic, and clearly, in your view, have transitioned into the latter camp. Cheers for your candor.


Oh, dear. I think what you just managed to get a across, depite all your protestation and qualifiers, is that you think *real* wives with *real* commitment to marriage take their husband's last name.

Smooth move, Hugo.


Well thanks, Hugo, but since you're implicitly endorsing the article it's more than just a personal anecdote. The article is overwrought, essentialist, and poorly reasoned. Look at this:

"A woman who refuses this gift (the husband's name) is, whether she knows it or not, tacitly refusing the promised devotion or, worse, expressing her suspicions about her groom's trustworthiness as a husband and prospective father."

This is to say a woman who doesn't change her name, no matter what's in her head and heart, can't possibly be fully accepting her husband's devotion. Do you really believe that?

And again, couldn't a father just as well profess choice and devotion by changing his name? If it's really a new estate, he should undergo a fundamental change too, and "sharing" his name is a little too convenient to count. In light of these points, why does the article make sense to you? It seems like it's just telling you what you want to hear.


Aldahlia, was it my words or those of the Kasses? My very real happiness at my current wife's decision and its very real effects on my psyche are probably NOT universal.

I was reacting to the notion that a woman who takes her husband's name loses her feminist credentials. I certainly did not intend to imply that a woman who doesn't take her husband's last name is not committed to the marriage.

Help me out here -- how can I accomplish the following:

1. Express my real and sincere happiness that my wife has taken my last name

2. Give no offense to my feminist colleagues or to those women who have chosen not to do as my wife has done?

Those were my goals, and I apparently barely succeeded in number one and flopped in number two.


Z, I'm perfectly prepared to believe that the article may be telling me what I wanted to hear.

FYI, I don't assign the Kass article in my women's history classes. There, I'm more likely to sing the praises of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell.


A woman who refuses this gift (the husband's name) is, whether she knows it or not, tacitly refusing the promised devotion or, worse, expressing her suspicions about her groom's trustworthiness as a husband and prospective father.

You know, this sounds suspiciously like a lead-in for one of those asinine arguments about complementary masculinity and femininity.

Please know that I deeply respect those women who do choose to keep their surnames, or those couples who choose to hyphenate!

Except that your entire post gives lie to this. Frankly, your entire point seems to be that deeper committment is achieved when a wife takes her husband's name.

Hugo, I normally have a lot of respect for you, but this post is making my skin crawl. Your vanity needs to be gratified in order for you to feel as you do? That's deeply disconcerting and (to me) seems to suggest less committment rather than more, because it's so contingent.


So how about the substance of my posts? You say the quote rings true for you-- but is it true? If not, what are you trying to say?


I believe I have the most interest in this particular phrase:
" but I couldn't help but interpret their reluctance to take my name as a symbol of a lack of complete commitment to our marriage"

You honestly "couldn't help" feeling this way?


The quote that y'all are focusing on rings absolutely true with my experience. But I'm confident it isn't true for everyone. I'm arguing from anecdote, and probably ought to have done a better job of making that clear.

Annamal, poor choice of words. I should have said simply "On an instinctive level, I interpreted their reluctance..."


It's somewhat frustrating to see you get around to the non-universal admission in comments, while your post gives head-fakes in both directions. It seems to me that what you're saying *is* universal is this--there should be things, elements, practices, what have you in marriage that celebrate and remind each other (and perhaps the rest of the community) of the depth of the mutual commitment. I doubt many would disagree. Given what I imagine the social and cultural context of your marriage probably is, your wife taking your name makes fine sense as one of those things. But there are plenty of other ways to do this--couples draw on the social and cultural customs available as well as the shared culture of their relationship to come up with their own. I'm sure yours are profound to you, and I (and I doubt many others) would begrudge you and your wife taking delight in it. It's the head-fakes towards the universal valorization of not the general practice of customs and traditions that emphasize unity and commitment but this particular one--one that is quite often (but not always!) problematic from a gender equality perspective, as well as other potential reasons--that rubs me, and I'm guessing a few thousand other readers--the wrong way.

(You do know that Kass is a Straussian, right?)


Methinks I would have been better off leaving Kass out of it entirely.

Should I republish the post, Kass and Kass deleted? Would that be more effective and less, well, disingenuous?


(I should probably state in the outset that I'm female.)

I skimmed this article and maybe I missed this, but what about combining both spouses' names by hyphenation or perhaps something more creative? It seems that most of the men whom I know that are against this idea suggest such an act would be like "admitting defeat" to those crazy, radical feminists. They talk like even considering it threatens their masculinity! I can't figure out if they truly feel it's a masculinity issue, a desire to keep with tradition, or just a fear of altering or sacrificing a part of their identity that they've kept near and dear for so many years. If any or all of these issues are true, who's to say women don't labor over these issues in their minds prior to marriage? Perhaps women are just less vocal about them than men are. It has been ingrained in us ever since we were children in a western society that it's only natural for a woman to take the man's last name in wedlock.

Now that significant efforts have been made to level out the platform between men and women over the previous century, perhaps it's time to make the act of sharing a combination of both names as a socially acceptable option for spouses. Culture is a thing that is never stable, always changing to suit the groups and individuals that are parts of the whole. If our western society claims to be as socially progressive regarding the roles of women, why does the majority (in my opinion) find the combining of last names so unacceptable?

As one who is currently engaged, I am personally grappling with this conundrum. I feel like my last name is a part of my identity, but since I do believe marriage requires compromise, I'm considering hyphenating my name and adding his. I also think it's a lovely gesture that appropriately symbolizes the marital union. Deep down, I wish he'd do the same so we would share the same last name, but I'm a bit libertarian about the idea of letting one choose the name that best suits them. The announcement that I am going to hyphenate my name when we marry made my fiancé very upset. Well, at first he thought I was joking. When he realized that I wasn't, he got a little upset. (In fact, I can see him going through the five stages of acceptance in the coming months. I think he's still in the shock/denial stage right now. ;) ) He acts like it's an attack on our relationship, that it's like showing the world that "I have limited confidence in us." I've explained to him until I am blue in the face that it's not that at all, that I think a true union should unite last names, as well. (He's very sentimental and old-fashioned, so while I found his worries a bit silly, I'm trying to be patient about them.) He said that we need to unite under his name because "that's the way society intended it to be." Although I respect rules, mores, and norms, the inner revolutionist in me rejects this idea immediately. I don't care what society thinks is best, I'm going to do what I think is best for me. We've gone round-robin on the whole thing several times now and I'm convinced he's not going to change his name and will give up on me hyphenating mine.

And the wife does not so much surrender her name as she accepts the gift of his[...]

And this part of Kass's and Kass's discourse makes me nautious.

Blah, I said enough already. Back to homework!


I didn't know Kass was a Straussian. All I know of him I read in First Things, or in his lovely little book with his wife, "Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar."


Sacy, I wrote this:

"One could, of course, make up a new name -- L.A.'s splendid Antonio Villaraigosa (born Antonio Villar) and his wife (once Connie Raigosa) offers a fine example. But should we do this every generation, thus ensuring that there will be little if any continuity between a child and its grandparents? What hell this would be for genealogists! One could also hyphenate. But what do two already hyphenated children do when they get ready to marry? What happens when Megan Callaghan-Ramenofsky wants to marry Woodrow Ramirez-Thanatopoulous? Someone's heritage will have to give, or the name will soon not fit on any documents. If both parents keep their own name, whose surname attaches to their offspring? Is it in the best interest of a kid to grow up knowing that one parent shares his or her last name, but one doesn't?"

David Thompson

the thorny discussion of whether or not a real feminist can take her husband's last name when she marries.

It's only "thorny" if you're a dunce. A woman's name is her own and she can do as she pleases with it. Anyone who has a problem with that principle can get over it.


The thought of future kids with impossibly long last names is pretty amusing. (Although I feel bad for them.) :)

Well, I guess there I am willing to make a further compromise and just give my children my maiden name as their middle and my husband's last name as theirs. I'm not so pushy that I would outlaw the idea of giving my children my husband's last name entirely.


I take it this is the same Leon Kass who expends a lot of ink bewailing the loss of female chastity while blandly remarking that, of course, men have always enthusiasically sought out both pre- and extra-marital liaisons? I can't be the only person who finds the idea that men are 'parents by choice' while women are not to be vaguely sinister, but considering Kass' positions on contraception and abortion, it's not really surprising. The practice of a wife taking her husband's name is ultimately too trivial to merit all the handwringing that it engenders, but did you really have to choose such a blatant anti-feminist to make your case for you, Hugo?


Hugo, I'd really urge you to read some more of Kass before using him as your example. I've got a fisking of one of his articles here.


So far, the vote is, drop the Kass from future versions of this argument!


Actually I was looking at your words, Hugo. Particularly these two sentences--

"It's deeply unfeminist of me to acknowledge this, I realize, but I couldn't help but interpret their reluctance to take my name as a symbol of a lack of complete commitment to our marriage."

"And it's true that whether I ought to or not, I do feel a greater sense of responsibility and commitment towards my wife because she shares my last name."

Now, first, if that's not an unfair set-up for failure, I don't know what is. Do you honestly think that your commitment issues actually had anything to do with names? For real?

I took my husband's name in my first marriage, against my better judgement, because Josh said that rejecting his name was pretty much the same thing as rejecting *him.* That seems to a point your Kass couple brings up--that a woman that keeps her name rejects the "gift" of his name. Of course, that's total BS. Your last name is not a gift. I'm really having a tough time resisting the urge to pull a snarky "God's gift to women" comment out of this one.

I'm not the type to say a woman that takes her husband's last name can't be a feminist.

But, I will say this--you've never done it. You've never changed your name. You don't know what it's like. It's lovely that you offered to, but you didn't have to, and no one tried to guilt you into it, and no one is currently doubting your commitments because you didn't, and you've never reworked your signature then sat there looking at it like it belongs to a stranger. No one will *ever* tell *you* that you are obligated to lose your identity in order to prove your love and worthiness as a partner.

I guess what I'm saying is that you're in an awfully privaleged position to question the loyalty of the people that do.


"No one will *ever* tell *you* that you are obligated to lose your identity in order to prove your love and worthiness as a partner.

I guess what I'm saying is that you're in an awfully privaleged position to question the loyalty of the people that do."

Fair enough, Aldahlia. My intent was not to question anyone, merely to make a point about how powerfully the decision that my current wife has made has affected me. I can see how using Kass (which I've now struck out) made it impossible to separate my own story from a universal position that it is better to take the husband's name.


"But should we do this every generation, thus ensuring that there will be little if any continuity between a child and its grandparents? What "

In the way that I completely lose continuity with my maternal grandparents?

Honestly the argument above is kind of silly, I have lost the name connection to 99.9999% of my ancestors, have I lost continuity with them?
(and I'm lucky in that my acestors were mostly Scottish, if they'd been Polish imigrants instead, there's a damn good chance the family name would have changed anyway).

Names are a personal and individual thing, they should be decided only by the individuals involved (although the societal pressure in terms of naming should probably be acknowledged).

There are a huge number of factors to consider when choosing a name (is my family name going to disapear, is my published identity going to be lost, is my partner's name much cooler than mine) and anyone who pronounces on other people's name choices (even if it's only to say that he/she still respects them...) should probably just stay silent.

It's also worth noticing that the comment that annoyed you in the first place was immediately swooped on by a swarm of other people disagreeing with them and supporting the idea that people should not face judgement whatever their naming choices.


My (delightfully feminist) husband was the first to suggest, when we got engaged, that I should keep my maiden name; I'd already published my first chapbook of poems under this name, and it made sense to keep it.

We briefly considered hyphenation, since we liked the symbolism of both of us taking on a new name to mark our new status. But "Barenblat-Zuckerman" (or "Zuckerman-Barenblat") is a mouthful, and a double-dactyl to boot; we decided to just stick with our old names instead. *g*

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