Why I Decided To Change My Last Name
What's in a name, after all?
No, I didn't change my last name to Latte - should I? Image: Supplied.
Any woman who grew up with a shit last name in the 90s and 00s couldn't wait for the day they could change it. Generally, this meant through marriage. I grew up with a last name that is hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and easy to make fun of: Meisels (I'll tell you now - pronounced My-zils). In truth, I grew up hating it. I longed for one of the 'cool girl' last names like a Cameron Diaz, a plain easy Aussie surname like a Zoe Foster, a glamorous surname like an Ava Gardner. I always had to over-explain it, spell it out letter by letter on the phone, and found that some of my best friends still didn't know how to spell it after years of friendship. Sometimes to save time, I would change it altogether and just say Miles to stop the hassle. It was weird, annoying, bad, too Euro, too Jewish-y. But then, I got engaged - and it's funny how the prospect of actually changing alters your perception of what you've got.
When I first met my partner, I loved the idea of his name - Yates. It was everything I wanted - easy to spell and pronounce, sounded somewhat classy and elegant (his Australianisms would beg to differ) and would make me sound 'normal' and 'fit in.' And yet, when the time came - I was suddenly unsure.
Five people, three last names. Let the battle begin! From left to right: my mum, me, my partner the giant, my dad and my sister. Yes, I have only chosen images where my hair and make-up have been professionally done, what of it? Image: supplied.
For our parents' generation of women, changing your name was, you know...just what you did. Even my mum, who I look at as quite a feminist free spirit, buckled and changed to my dad's last name when she married. It was just...what was done, it wasn't really questioned all that much. Women became the 'Mrs.' version of their husbands, like 'Mrs. Thomas Brown,' and revelled in the creation of having 'the same name' as their family unit. The thought of this used to make me want to vomit. I am not a Mrs. Man, I am Ms. Me!
Why do people even change? Originally, there were no last names. But then there were so many Jessicas and Noahs wandering around that they started getting names like 'Jess Blacksmith' by what you did (I'm being a bit liberal here - I would be Jess Holiday or Jess Netflix and Chill). As men mainly worked, women would have no last name except for 'Wife of X'. According to The Conversation, 'The wife was the husband’s possession and right up to the late 19th-century, women...ceded all property and parental rights to husbands on marriage.' So why, with such patriarchal, archaic undertones, do over 80% of women still change their name after marriage, even in 2020?
At 31, I had had time to gain an understanding of what carrying on a name means, and how it has different meanings for different people. For some of my girlfriends, taking on a name was, to them, just what you did. It was tradition, as their mothers had. The act of changing wasn't really questioned, or they 'wanted the same name as my kids.' To that, I still question - why is your kid automatically getting your partner's surname? It is fine if they do, but what is the reason? Sometimes it simply matters more to one of you, and that's okay - personally, I want more say in a first name. I don't think it has to be a super deep reason (you like the sound of it? Cool, done) but I just don't think men should get blanket ownership for no reason. (I know a couple who have decided one parent picks the footy team, and one picks the last name - game changer!) I have some friends who have given their child the mother's surname, which I love, but is still also considered pretty different, even in this day and age. But some women don't want to be different, or seen as 'too feminist' or 'too difficult'. Maybe they can't be bothered with