The problem of marriage and surnames—it just won’t go away!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

“My Feminist Name Quandary”
Earlier this week on the Ms. Magazine Blog, Careen Shannon wrote about the seemingly never resolved feminist issue of what to do about surnames in marriage. Although she never even considered changing her own birth name to her husband’s surname or hyphenating their last names, things changed when they had a child and had to decide on what last name to give to their daughter. Shannon wrote, “I did saddle my daughter with a long somewhat unwieldy name that virtually guarantees she will drop some or all of it at some point, inevitably to the private dismay of whichever parent sees his or her name disappear from our daughter’s public identity.”  Shannon talks about the problems of a hyphenated name that is too long to fit onto standardized forms, along with other issues that have shown up over the years because of her daughter’s name.  “As with global warming, Social Security, and the national debt, we may simply have foisted upon the next generation a problem to which we could not devise a workable solution,” says Shannon.  As is always true when this topic is discussed, Shannon’s blog post drew a large number of comments from readers eager to tell their own stories or voice their opinions on the subject.  Take some time to look through these fascinating comments, too.

Related: The problem isn’t confined to heterosexual marriages.  Some same-sex couples are also deciding about whether to keep their surnames or hyphenate them or take one or the other’s name to form a common family name. In his biweekly LGBT etiquette advice column for the New York Times, Steven Petrow responded to a question from a mother whose lesbian daughter was getting married and sending out wedding invitations.  The mother thought her daughter was being too “feminist” in wanting to  address the invitations with both persons’ names rather than the older “Mr. and Mrs.” form of address. In the course of his reply, Petrow talked about addressing not only heterosexual couples, such as the bride’s mother’s friends that she was concerned about, but also gay and lesbian couples, including some examples of celebrities who have either kept their previous names or taken the name of one or the other partners. Petrow refers to one couple who stated their name choice in their New York times wedding announcement, which said “Ms. Smith. . .is taking Ms. Epstein’s name.” Read what this couple said when he interviewed them about their preferred form of address.  Again, the article generated a large response from readers about married names in general, gay or straight.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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