A Rose by Any Other Name By: January Kerr Firstmute posted

A Rose by Any Other Name
By: January Kerr
Firstmute posted “Marriage: Sharing Whose Name, Exactly?” on
November 29, 2011. The piece is thoughtful and persuasive. However,
my point of view is different and rests on the idea that as post modern
feminist theory evolves, so does the name game.
I hope to add more
ideas and perspectives on this debate.
On the eve of the 21st century, a new generation of professional
women entered the work force. With them, a trend in feminist surnames
was emerging: the taking of their husbands’ last names as their own. Is
the trend a shift backward? Or does it indicate the completion of a
Despite what people may think, the trend certainly
symbolizes a desire for simplicity. The past three decades witnessed a
deluge of information, new technology, and societal upheaval. As a
result of this chaos, time seemed to speed up. Modern professional
women were looking for a way to streamline the complicated issues they
are confronted with each day. Identity is just one of those issues.
As a young lawyer, I adamantly did not want to take my fiancé’s
last name. I wanted my identity and my career to remain intact and
separate from his. Fast-forward a few years later to a different fiancé: I
was giddy at the prospect of waiting on line at the D.M.V. to get my
husband’s surname emblazoned on my driver’s license. What
On the surface, I thought it was simply because my
husband’s last name was monosyllabic like my maiden name. The ring
of my name did not change. A deeper examination revealed that I was
beginning a different phase of my life and evolving into a new (and
hopefully improved) version of myself. I became softer. Maybe even a
little more patient. I was growing up.
Once I was frightened of
becoming someone’s wife or mother. I never wanted to become
someone else’s anything. I just wanted to be me. But slowly my fear of
background relegation began to dissipate. I started to relish the idea of
taking on the role of wife and mother. I was becoming aware of my true
identity and, ultimately, my place in the universe. A transition such as
this is often fraught with angst and fear as one struggles to pull away
from the person formerly known as “me.”
Once thought of as something people just did after college,
marriage came to symbolize so much more. Marriage is the coming
together of two individuals to form a powerful unit better able to
navigate time and space. Marriage is the creation of something bigger
than oneself — a concept that the younger me could never appreciate.
Marriage is an equal combination of characteristics of two people, where
weaknesses are diminished while strengths soar. Marriage is about
flourishing, not overshadowing.
Today, professional women rarely keep their maiden names for
their careers, while reserving their married names strictly for their
personal lives. In a world dominated by chaos and confusion, the use of
two different names became too convoluted. Even less popular is the
hyphenation method.
And even less popular than that is the blender
method, the blending of two names into one confusing last name devoid
of any history. Typically, once a professional woman gets married, she
will simply tack her new surname on after her maiden name with
nothing more than a space to herald her new identity. After a sufficient
amount of time has passed for colleagues to become familiar with the
new surname, she will unceremoniously drop the maiden name.
The idea of bucking the surname norm to assert feminist
individualism started in the middle of the 19th century. Lucy Stone was
the first American woman to keep her birth name after marriage, leading
to the moniker Lucy Stoners for all those who followed her. Women in
my generation didn’t have to shun their husbands’ names to earn the
“stoner” label.
In 1921, Ruth Hale, a journalist, formed the Lucy Stone
League. Seeing an impossible social task, the league slowly disbanded.
Since its inception, it has been revived three times. Now in its latest
revival, which started in 1997, the league touts “equal rights for women
and men to retain, modify, and create their names.”
Despite the
efforts of the league and its predecessors, a woman’s right to adopt her
husband’s family name as her own continues to be a widely practiced
tradition. According to a 2005 study conducted by Diana Boxer, a
professor of linguistics at the University of Florida, the vast majority of
women surveyed had taken their husbands’ surnames for the sake of
family unity. Ms. Boxer depicts this as a failure of the feminist
movement because “societal traditions and gendered hegemony are so
hard to overcome.”
Consistently viewing this tradition as harmful to a woman’s
individual identity is antiquated. Instead, the return to tradition should be
celebrated as a marker of the strength of feminist ideals and
achievements while simultaneously honoring family values.
in America are successful. The acceptance of multifaceted roles such as
wife, mother, and professional allows women to express themselves in
ways never thought possible. It used to be that when a young woman
was brought to the altar, her name was all that gave her any sense of
This is no longer the case.
Professional women do not have time to focus on a symbolic
gesture when this world has entrusted us with more important tasks.
Women make discoveries in science and technology. Women mold our
society with legal opinions and social commentary. Women produce
legislation. Women color our world with art while providing the
soundtrack to the stories we write.
While doing all this, they
continue to define our future as nurturing mothers. It is precisely
because of this ability to create and nurture as applied to their roles in
American society that women have also made more choice for
When a newly engaged woman starts thinking about her
surname, she has many options. Not only is it a testament to honor and
tradition that modern women are adopting husbands’ surnames, it is also
a wink and a nod to the notion that a woman’s identity inevitably
becomes entangled with her husband’s. Instead, she can continue her
life’s work while gracefully fashioning a coexistent life as a wife and
mother. If power is choice, then the feminist name game proves just
how powerful women are.
I did not examine the genesis of my husband’s surname nor my
maiden name until we were expecting our first child. We wanted to
grace our daughter with a moniker that combined the heritage of both
families, so I began to research our lineage. My Germanic maiden
name, “Marsch”, means exactly what it sounds like, marsh. This
indicates that my paternal ancestors lived near or made their livelihood
from the marshlands. The surname Kerr is descended from the Scottish
Kerr clan, a border clan that often lived in and made their living from