What's in a Name?
Every Sunday, I open up The New York Times to check out the wedding announcements. They call that "the sports section for women," which is annoying, because it presupposes that, because I'm a chick, (a) I don't like sports and (b) I love weddings. To which I say, (a) I know what a hat trick is and (b) wedding invitations are just bills written in calligraphy.
No: I check out the wedding announcements because I want to see how many women change their names.
I am freshly gobsmacked every single Sunday morning when I see that about half the women—mostly under 35, all women with careers, all women who chose to submit their announcement to the putatively liberal New York Times —are electing to give up their identity.
What would Lucy Stone say? She was a 19th-century suffragist who was the first American woman to revert to her birth name after marriage. She even had to chastise one Susan B. Anthony by writing to Suze, "A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers." Stone's followers—women who refused to change their names upon marriage—were called Stoners.
Today only about 20 percent of American women are Stoners. In other words, 80 percent of women change their identities—I mean, names—upon getting married.
It makes me wish we were a more progressive country like…Iran. Yes, Iran, where Muslim women keep their names for life. So must women, by law , keep their names in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Malaysia, Korea…I could go on, but I really like the way they do it in Spain.
There, people have two surnames—their father's and their mother's. When they have a child, she receives the first surname from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother, and the parents choose whether the father's or the mother's surname goes first, although this order must be the same for all their children.
If that was a bit confusing, it's just because they use the metric system.
Why your name is your identity
Let's cut through the most platitudinous argument: "A family shares a name." Um, nuh-uh. Did your grandmother have the same last name as you? Was she still your Nana? Conversely, does having the same last name mean you'll always stay a family? Ask the Gibsons or the McCartneys or the McGreeveys or…
What's in a name? You tell me…
- Would you want to lay down seven grand to buy a wedding dress from Vera Becker? (Vera Wang?)
- How about listen to a song from Mariah Cannon, Jennifer Anthony or Barbra Brolin? ( Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Barbra Streisand)
- Read a cover story on Angie Pitt? (Angelina Jolie)
- Netflix an old film with Elizabeth Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Warner Fortensky? (Elizabeth Taylor, natch)
- Or get your nightly news from Katie Monahan? (Katie Couric)
- Gloria Bale needs her surname like a fish needs a Steinem. (Gloria Steinem)
- And does the name Sonia Noonan suggest an "extraordinary journey"? (Sonia Sotomayor)
Faith Salie is a writer, actor and humorist who contributes to O, The Oprah Magazine 's ethics column. She is a television commentator and a former public radio host.