Am I a “Real” Feminist if I Change My Last Name?

    One of the questions I’ve been asked most often since getting engaged is what I plan to do about my last name.

    Some context:

    I’m older than the “average” bride. I’ve have spent more time than my younger self, developing a professional identity with my current surname. I have a very unique name (I’m the only one of me I’ve ever found on Google) and hold several degrees under my maiden name. I’m not particularly close to my paternal family, and my groom-to-be doesn’t have strong feelings one way or another (or, any other? there are many last name options these days).

    I also have a practical-to-a-fault mindset, so even thinking about all the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in officially changing someone’s name drives me almost to paralysis.

    But like, I’ve always assumed I’d change my last name when I got married! And TBH (to be honest) kind of looked forward to it since the alphabetical nature of my last name means I’m at the end of EVERY list. So like many brides-to-be (because, you know, the patriarchy), I’m in a quandary.

    I’ve spoken with other women who have contemplated the name-change issue as well. On one hand, it’s kind of an antiquated practice, stemming from wives being considered the property of their husbands. Also, it’s wildly heteronormative, by its nature assuming that marriage is between a man and a woman.

    On the other hand…

    It’s very traditional, and therefore culturally accepted in practice. Assumptions are made about marital and parental status based on last names, and folks can often be confused when something doesn’t fit into our understood scripts. There’s also an heir of whimsicalness about it! TBH the feminist in me often fights with the romantic in me (and the eternal single gal part of me that can’t believe that I’m actually getting married) and I kind of want to celebrate that and declare to the whole wide world that I’m my boo’s wife!

    There are admittedly, a myriad of options available that are gaining in social acceptance: The hyphenated last name, the two last names being morphed into a new shared last name, the maiden name as middle name, etc. The additional options, however, don’t eradicate outside opinions. In the conversations I’ve had about this topic, it is evident that folks in the bride’s support circle have very strong feelings about what each of the choices inherently mean.

    “I know that his mom would be devastated and offended if I didn’t take his name.”

    “My mother makes comments about ‘not knowing what to tell people.’”

    “I have a friend whose parents actually threatened to sue their own daughter if she didn’t give her son their family’s traditional first name”

    To me, feminism is about choice. Not necessarily about making choices IN SPITE OF the patriarchy, but rather making choices DESPITE the patriarchy. IMO (In my opinion) you don’t have to wear pants and cut your hair short and refuse to shave your armpits and forego a bra and defy every other feminist gender norm in order to stand up for women’s’ equality. Unless, of course, you WANT to. There! Feminism!

    In that vein, I’d suggest it’s important to explore the root of desire behind changing your name. Progress comes from shaking up the status quo, so don’t be afraid to choose a last name option – whatever that might be! – that works for YOU – despite the patriarchy.


    Colby Marie Z is a sex & relationship coach, educator, speaker and blogger based out of Providence, RI.  She is a doctoral candidate in human sexuality, an avid (slash obnoxious) football fan, and has been proudly talking about sexual pleasure, confidence, and satisfaction for 10+ years.  You can find out more about Colby at sexloveandallthefeels.com, or connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.

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