If you’re like me, you probably won’t get around to reading Gail Collins’s new book for a few more months/years. Instead, you have to settle for reading all the articles about and interviews with the author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.
Among the quick-and-easy offerings is this interview with Jezebel‘s Doree Shafrir. The two talk about the book, feminism then and now and even stuff that’s not in the book. For example: women keeping their names. Collins’s explanation of why a woman feels it’s necessary to take her husband’s name surprised me.
You didn’t have much discussion of women choosing, or not, to take their husband’s name. Among my friends this has been rather controversial—women finding out that their fiances actually feel strongly about it, for example.
Keeping your own name has dropped down again. There’s much more inclination to do it the other way. It’s never knocked me out. If you’re planning on having children, it does get kind of complicated. I changed my name when I got married because the mailman said he wouldn’t deliver the mail if I had a different name. But once you’ve created a career with a name, you’re very unlikely to want to change it. I can see how it’s important to people. I was surprised at how much it’s become unpopular again to not change, after it became such a thing that you wouldn’t do it. I do feel sorry for little kids who have these really long names.
I agree with Collins that whether or not women keep their names isn’t the biggest equality issue out there, if it’s even one at all anymore. But, based on my experience, I couldn’t disagree more with her take on different last names in the same family. It’s nothing even approaching complicated.
I say this as the mother of three kids whose last names are different from her own. Their relationship to me has never once been questioned — by insurance companies, schools, other parents. In fact, only one preschool teacher out of many has even mentioned it — unsurprisingly my last name comes up as my husband’s last name on messages and paperwork from there. But that’s it.
So, I’m wondering: is changing one’s name really “for the children” as Collins perceives it, or is there a different reason? I kept my name because (1) I like my last name (I am, conveniently, a loud talker), (2) I didn’t officially get married until after my second child was born and named, and (3) I was raised by a feminist of Collins’s generation (though my mom changed her name when she got married). The name thing was a big deal when I was growing up and there was a lot of support for the choice to not change one’s name after marriage. So, yes, keeping my name is, in part, a reflection of my upbringing — old-fashioned as it now apparently is.
Collins also mentions the long names a lot of kids have these days. By world standards, names stuffed with people of honor and each parents’ surnames still aren’t all that long. My own kids simply have a second middle name, my last name. That extra name? Not much of a bother.
(Also discussed in the interview: why there are no women hosts on late night TV. Collins says she can imagine Ellen Degeneres getting a late night gig. No! I’d prefer Amy Poehler, for what it’s worth.)
Did you keep your name or change it? Why? How’d you name the kids? (And what woman would you like to see hosting a late night talk show — hey, it’s all relevant!)