The Real Reason I Didn’t Take My Husband’s Last Name

“Are you ever going to change your last name?” is a question I’m asked nearly every time I visit family. It’s inevitable, like the question of how many kids I will produce (note the overbearing nature of the verb) or if I’d like a second slice of coffee cake. Answers: TBD and yes, thank you, Oma.

It’ll be eight years this Earth Day since my partner and I exchanged rings. So, you know, no; I don’t think I’ll ever be changing my last name. Not for any particularly noble reason — just a general disinterest that happens to run bone-deep. In fact, it was this very apathy that served as the original motivation for the decision. If you can even call apathy a motivator.

My partner and I began our marriage with a spontaneous elopement. Perhaps the act cut short my opportunity to mull over the name change decision with any real intensity. When the time came around to finally address it (to certain relatives, as an “issue”), I quickly came to the realization that I simply didn’t care. I was just too lazy to pull together all of the appropriate documentation. I was too lazy to even see if it was that much of a hassle to begin with. It just seemed like work — work I didn’t feel compelled to undertake.

It’s in that vein that my “decision” has often felt a bit like a lie. For years, every positive affirmation I got from women for keeping my maiden name in spite of societal pressure imbued me with a subtle blush of shame. I didn’t feel rebellious, I felt lazy. I worried I was acting as a false paragon for a principled stance I hadn’t actually thoughtfully cultivated. But with the recent public unmasking of the true extent of the gender imbalance in American society, I’ve begun to question whether my indifference was actually, in some small way, a feminist victory. Can boredom be a manifestation of progress?

Perhaps the fact that I’ve so nonchalantly refrained from an act that, by one study, 94% of women still perform and 50% of Americans believe should be mandatory by law — and that affects the perception of both a woman and her male partner (occasionally to his detriment, I might add) — is proof that a new era is materializing. One where our decisions don’t have to carry the burden of a paternalistic culture. Where we can decide to keep or change our last names as a matter of taste and without repercussion.

It’s a small shift, this act of apathy, but it’s one I’m holding onto. Movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo have given voice to the individual and corporate inequality that women endure — especially women facing systemic oppression for their race, ability or class. The conversations, both invaluable and emotionally exhausting, serve as a reminder that the world is not built for women and, for me at least, have dredged up personal reminders of unpleasant, demoralizing experiences predicated on my womanhood. That’s why when I am asked, yet again, if I will change my name, my thoughtless decision to break tradition reminds me of the progress already made: The privilege to be careless in this department was hard-fought and won by women before me. And I am motivated by all of the delightfully unexpected ways our difficult work today will manifest itself for future generations of women, too.

Society still has a long way to go, but when my grandmother or dad or aunt asks me if I’m ever going to change my last name and I get to casually respond that it’s not high on my list of priorities, I get to rest for just a moment in what the future of gender equality may mean: something too banal to even bring up as small talk, just another decision to be made depending on your temperament that day at the courthouse.

It’s a welcome victory during such a charged time — to have one lazy act bleach my feminist guilt into a recognition of progress. That future females might feel bored by the patriarchy instead of threatened by it is a nice thought. Far off, sure, but still a warm spot worth sunning in from time to time.

Illustration via Getty Images; GIF by Emily Zirimis.

Rachel Siemens

Rachel Siemens is a writer living in Portland, OR.

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