Conversations with my man about our future always produce juicy material that I turn around and exploit for purely editorial — and, OK, sometimes basic entertainment — reasons. A recent chat about hyphenating my last name kicked up dust as we talked about my dreams of finishing (which means I’d actually have to start) my PhD within the next five years.
In the heat of my daydreaming, I took my would-be name for a test drive. “Dr. Janelle Harris-Williams,” I swooned like a giddy extra in the “Beauty School Dropout” scene of Grease. Boyfriend 4.0 jutted his bottom jaw, something he does when he’s about to serve up a verbal smackdown. “Harris-Williams!” he scoffed. “I think you mean Dr. Janelle Williams.”
Seems he takes offense to the idea of me tacking his last name on to the one I already have. The move — according to him — says I’m wishy washy about my commitment and (gasp) that I’m not ready to leave my family and be a wife. When I introduced the subject for discussion on Facebook, turns out plenty of folks from both genders side with his opinion. I didn’t tell him that, though.
There is no level-headed reason why a woman should have to abandon her family’s last name in order to prove her fidelity and allegiance to her man. None whatsoever. The concept is as archaic and patriarchal as, oh I don’t know, forgoing your dreams to be an apron-sporting housewife a la June Cleaver or pretending to be an airhead to appease your guy’s fragile ego. Puh-lease.
According to the recently released 2010 Real Weddings Survey from The Knot, only 6 percent of newlywed women opted to hyphenate their names — the same number reported on the stats from the year before. Responses from the roughly 20,000 brides polled overwhelmingly favored taking their hubby’s name, to the tune of 86 percent.
So it’s not necessarily a fire-hot trend. So I’m in a bit of a minority. At least I’m not flying completely solo. “We definitely see the conversation because everyone has an opinion on it. No one is really right because it’s such a personal decision,” offers Anja Winikka, an obviously brilliant individual who happens to be an editor at The Knot. “As years go by and couples wait longer to get married, more women are choosing to hyphenate because of their careers, especially when people are looking for them on Google.”
Indeed, those of us who have worked hellishly to build up some steam in our respective careers also have professional grounds to hold on to our original surnames. If Eva Parker or Jada Smith had a new flick coming out, the crickets would be chirping and we’d gloss over them like they were as generic and nondescript as Jane Jones. But add the “Longoria” and the “Pinkett,” respectively, the bells and whistles of familiarity go off, and the general public might contemplate going to see the movie. Might.
Because the average age of the American bride is now 27 (up from 25 last year, but who’s counting?), many women don’t want the hassle of converting their longstanding professional identities — email addresses, monogrammed attaches, and all — to a whole new name. "Most of my clients are businesswomen, speakers, or high-level professionals and have built a brand with their names,” says Christine Pembleton, an author who is also president of the aptly named relationship coaching firm, Ready to Be a Wife. “However,” she adds, “I had no problem changing my name. In fact, it was one of the things I looked forward to when I got married." Hmph.
So exactly what does a man have to give up in order to marry a woman? Fewer evenings at the nudie bar and neater housecleaning habits? Yet we’re expected to disassociate ourselves from the very families who shaped us into the women men fall in love with and want to marry. If I had been born male, I would’ve had no choice but to carry on the Harris name. But because I have an innie, not an outie, I’m forced to show my Post-Marital Pride by sloughing part of my identity.
Not I, said the brown cow. Can’t my hyphen rep for both my past and my future — and have a nice ring to it in the process?
Image via Andrew Morrell Photography