It's Not the Name That Makes a FamilyMadeline Holler
I’ve been a wife for six years and a mom for nearly 11. But for decades I’ve been a Holler, and I doubt that will ever change. My three kids carry my last name as only one of their two middle names, something they tell me is a total rip-off, since their last names? Crazy common. But I thought I should throw their dad a bone. I not only got to decide whether they would be born in the first place but also got to be pregnant with them, nurse them and basically be their favorite person for their first three to nine years, give or take.
Also, last names just aren’t a big deal to me.
When it does get to be a big deal is when the fact that we have mismatched names could be somehow construed as a weakness in our family cohesiveness — that we have any less of a family identity than if we could all be alphabetized under the same letter. Which is something Meredith hints at in a recent post defending her decision to take her husband’s name full-throttle, no hyphenating, no nothing.
What mattered most to me, though, then and now, is sharing a name with my husband and starting our own family identity. To some people, a marriage license isn’t necessary to form a lasting union. To others, like me, I wanted the whole kit and kaboodle — the license, the name, the entire sense of family.
I know for a fact Meredith isn’t criticizing my family or others like us when she writes that — she’s simply trying to put forth her best defense. But I think it’s kind of dangerous and a somewhat exclusive way of talking and thinking about what makes a family, even (or especially) when it’s just your own family you’re talking about. Life can get complicated for groups of individuals trying to form a family — same-sex couples who aren’t allowed to list their names on their new baby’s birth certificate, much less go for the whole kit and kaboodle with legal marriage, for example. Or the various combinations of blended families. Older kids who get adopted or little ones being raised by their grandparents. Widowed step-parents raising their step-children. All families, all cohesive, many even happy.
The important thing about deciding on a last name after marriage is that it is the individual’s choice, one made freely and without coercion from spouses or in-laws or even tradition (influence, sure, just not coercion). Which is related to something else I take issue with in discussing married names: the idea that feminists shudder when women take their husband’s name. That may have been the case a few decades ago (though I question even that). Fairness in naming became pretty complicated pretty quickly (awesome New York Times article gets into the nitty-gritty on that), and I think what makes most reasonable feminists shudder at is the idea that a woman’s name is not hers to choose.
Or that choosing to keep hers loosens the glue that holds her family together.