It’s The 24th Century, Shouldn’t We Have Fucked Up The Patriarchy More Than This By Now?

4 Sep

The other day I was chilling out on my couch, eating Cheetos and watching Star Trek (TNG, for those of you nerdy enough to care), when I had a sudden realization:

Almost all of the married women on Star Trek take their husbands’ last names.

Doctor Crusher. Keiko O’Brien. Jennifer Sisko (sidebar: I guess the name Jennifer is popular again in the 2300s?). On Voyager they actually make a hilarious joke about how weird it would be for a dude to take a woman’s last name, like haha oh man can you even imagine?

PARIS: ‘B’Elanna Paris’. That has a nice ring to it.
B’ELANNA: Thanks, but I already have a ring. Anyway, I kind of like the sound of ‘Tom Torres’.
PARIS: I hope you’re kidding.
B’ELANNA Hey… it is the 24th century.

Yes. It’s the 24TH CENTURY, TOM. It’s the 24th century, race is a social construct, humans are atheists, there’s a fucking KLINGON on the BRIDGE (not that they ever listen to him – sorry, Worf), but women are still expected to change their names when they get married.

Like seriously how can you imagine a future where dudes are totally comfortable in mini-skirts but Bev can’t be Doctor Howard?

Male-lt-skirtvar-eaf

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. The other day my kid asked me why he has two last names when my husband and I only have one each and I was like, “Because I’m trying to fuck up* the patriarchy here, duh.” But names are kind of more complicated than that. I mean, sure, I didn’t take my husband’s last name, and my kid got both of our last names but, like, what about everything else? It kind of seems as if it’s just as patriarchal to keep my father’s last name – in fact, that is basically the definition of patriarchy. And what if my kid has a kid, how is that going to work? Especially if his future partner also has a double-barrelled last name? Will their kid have four names? Or will they just choose the name they like best? I mean, I assume that they’ll figure it out because by then they’ll be grownups, but still. 

The idea that women should change their names when they get married seems to be a tough one to shake; it’s all tied up with culture and tradition and the nagging conceit that it’s somehow more romantic if a woman takes her husband’s name. There’s this weird belief that if a woman doesn’t take her husband’s last name, then she’s somehow less committed. Like legit, I know some otherwise very nice, very liberal men who believe that they should have been able to foresee their marriage not working out because their ex didn’t want to change their name. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. That’s the level of shit we’re dealing with here.

One argument I’ve heard from more than a few women for why they changed their last names is because they thought it would be “confusing” for their kids to have parents with different last names. Which like first of all is totally weird because it ignores the fact that lots of kids have parents who never married and never had the same last name, and second of all just flat-out isn’t true. I know that from experience, because my mother didn’t change her name when she married my father.

I never found it confusing to have parents with different last names. At times I was annoyed, because I wanted us to be a cozy one-last-name type family unit, just like all of my friends and cousins had, but that really says more about the culture we live in than it does my capacity to understand which people I was related to. I always knew that even though my mother and I didn’t share a family name, she was still my mother. I was never confused, although I was sometimes an asshole teenager who yelled stuff like, “I’M GOING TO TAKE MY HUSBAND’S NAME WHEN I GET MARRIED AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME” in the middle of a fight. Because that’s how you rebel when your parents are liberal feminists, I guess.

Teenagers, man.

Anyway, then I grew up and realized I had a really fucking rad last name (with accents and silent letters, even!) that was tied to a really fucking rad cultural background and I knew that I absolutely didn’t want to change it ever. I also knew that I wanted my kids to have my last name because I just can’t deny them that amount of awesome. No one had any problem with either of these things, least of all my charming husband. 

Oh, and my kid? Isn’t confused. Children are hugely adaptable and have a pretty broad idea of what “normal” is. To him, mom has one last name, dad has another, and he has both. As far as he knows, that’s just how the world works.

The name game is tricky, I get that. There’s so much pressure for women to change their name when they get married, both from society at large and possibly from their partner or their partner’s family. On top of that, there’s the question of how to escape patriarchal ideas about names if your only choices are your father’s name or your male partner’s name – and for sure you could take your mother’s last name, but eventually that runs into the same patriarchal problem of her name coming from her father. All names lead to dudes, is I guess what I’m saying, which isn’t really a big deal except that it kind of feels like one sometimes, you know?

But I have faith that we can figure this shit out. And unlikely Gene Roddenberry et al, I think we can figure it out sometime before the 24th century. I mean, c’mon. We will for sure have fucked up the patriarchy real good by then! We have like over two hundred years to make things more equal. We’ve totally got this, you guys.

*I did not actually say “fuck up” to my kid, I promise

 

 

 

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40 Responses to “It’s The 24th Century, Shouldn’t We Have Fucked Up The Patriarchy More Than This By Now?”

  1. athenarcarson9 September 4, 2014 at 1:14 am #

    “Yes. It’s the 24TH CENTURY, TOM.”

    But the show is still very much a product of the 20th / 21st century. It is very revealing what cultural values they think will change and which ones just aren’t really questioned, like the name changing.

    For me it was very important for everyone in my family to have the same last name. Not because anyone would be “confused,” but just because it felt like the household would be more cohesive if everyone had the same last name. And then I screwed that up – I took my husband’s name, BUT my oldest daughter has my maiden name, my younger daughter has my first married name, and my son has my (and my husband’s) name. And you know what? The sun continues to rise and set just like it always does.

    I did, however, keep my maiden name as my middle name. Because I have a really great maiden name and I didn’t want to get rid of it just because I married some guy.

    “What about everything else? Like isn’t it still patriarchal to have my dad’s last name?”

    And that’s a big reason why I don’t overthink the name thing. This issue is inherent in the merging of households regardless of how progessive / traditional anyone happens to be. There’s no way to “win” this one if we see it as a way to fuck up the patriarchy, so I suggest reframing the issue.

    The way I see it, regardless of how I got my name, it is MY name and no one can tell me otherwise. In fact, when I got divorced, I kept my first married name until I remarried. I figured, after being married for five years, the name was as much my name as anyone else’s. Now, it just so happened that my ex-husband got remarried (and his wife took his name) before I changed my name. I will never know why, but it REALLY bothered the new wife that I still had my first married name at that point. Like anyone was going to get us confused! And like I said, it was MY name in my mind.

    “*I did not actually say “fuck up,” I promise”

    Why not? I swear in front of my kids all the time. Just teach them not to use the “bad words” they hear you say and you’ll be good. Promise.

  2. pattimouse September 4, 2014 at 1:26 am #

    I knew a couple that the man took his wife’s name when they married. Claimed that’s how it used to be done. *shrugs* i say to each their own. I refused to pass my name on because of personal reasons. I still have my original last name but none of my kids do.

  3. Tracy September 4, 2014 at 1:50 am #

    Thirty-one years ago when I married, I told my husband he was welcome to take my name. He said “Oh, now I understand.” Our kids do, however, have his name, unhyphenated. I am okay with them being a part of his clan.

  4. esse636 September 4, 2014 at 2:18 am #

    Yeah as much as I love TNG- the gender stuff is unfortunate, mostly. So interesting how people approach names. Would be good to know percentage of women who change their names, be interesting. Thanks for the good read.

  5. Beth Caplin September 4, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    I don’t watch Star Trek, but if the women wanted to take their husbands’ names, and did so of their own volition, that’s not patriarchal. Patriarchy is not allowing a woman to have any say in the matter of what she does or does not want to be called.

    I’m taking my fiance’s name because having a new identity will be like having a fresh start, and that’s something I need in my life right now.

    • Ashley Krista (@AshleyKrista) September 4, 2014 at 4:29 am #

      I think you’re confused. I would hope that presently when women, like yourself, take their husband’s surname they are also doing so freely. Certainly no one is going to point to your case, and say “that’s patriarchal” – BUT the trend, that overwhelmingly women who marry men take their name, IS. I’m sure Crusher, and ultimately Torres, aren’t forced to take a new name, but with Paris being appalled by the idea of taking his wife name, it’s clear that the patriarchy is still present, and influencing these women’s choices – not in each singular case but on a societal level (and across races, apparently).

    • Mark September 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      No, no, no. Patriarchy is not requiring women to take their husbands’ names, it’s expecting them to, making it a cultural norm. I would have hated it if my wife had taken my name; she was my partner, not my property. Our children have her name because (on my part) I like it better than mine.

  6. Sol September 4, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    No shit they never listen to Worf. I don’t know how he didn’t go postal.

  7. loCAtek September 4, 2014 at 3:31 am #

    Was the 24th Century really all atheist? Captain Kirk expresses his monotheism, ” “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.” (TOS: “Who Mourns for Adonais?”) and Uhura sounds like Christian with her revelations about the Son of God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Efi75W5U1Q …need I mention DS9?

    • athenarcarson9 September 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

      Re: Kirk – I heard that more as an expression of the 60’s society that produced the series, when America was still pretty firmly culturally Christian, and certain basic tenets of belief are assumed to be held by everyone. I didn’t really see it as an affirmative delaration of Kirk’s monotheism.

      Re: Uhura – She was observing that THAT culture worshipped the Son of God, which doesn’t necessarily imply that humanity still worshipped the Son of God.

      Deep Space Nine is interesting, because the Prophets are very clearly referred to as “wormhole aliens,” yet toward the end of the series the characters mostly accept that there are things about the universe that we cannot control and that we do not understand. So from that perspective the series adopts a sort of spirituality, but because the underlying assumption is that we are dealing with advanced aliens rather than a deity, DS9 doesn’t really deviate from the underlying atheism.

      Picard explicitly states in First Contact that mankind has outgrown the need for religion; in combination with everything else, I took that to mean that mankind as a whole is atheist at that point.

  8. Ray H September 4, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    I enjoy the Star Trek reference. The various shows always tried to push the social envelope, but they are still a product of their times. Not just the 60s, but the 90s as well.

    Hey did you know that women in China don’t take their husbands surnames?

  9. sarah September 4, 2014 at 6:38 am #

    Excellent; although I have to say, I’ve got some impending wedding bells myself coming up, and I’ve decided to take my fiances’ last name. This has my somehow more feminist than me friends in an uproar; I just don’t want to explain over and over that my current last name is one I hate because the “person” ( really hesitating to use that word to describe it,) whom my mother married molested me for four years and I can barely stand to write it. Not to mention I love his last name. I like that you say “Hey, maybe people will be choosing their own names”. Thank you!

  10. Chloë September 4, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Love love your blog so much but have never commented because I’m still pretty shy on the Internet! Just wanted to let you know that there is a culture existing right now in 21st century where things are better regarding names, if not ideal, and I’m lucky enough to be married into it – in Spain. In Spain, women never change their last names. Everyone has 2 last names (no hyphens needed), the first traditionally from the father and the second traditionally from the mother (although now you can choose which order for your kids, but must be the same for all offspring, which is a bit of a pain). So no one ever expects a woman to change her name and they find it pretty weird that other cultures do! Of course, traditionally the mother’s name is lost in her grandchildren’s generation, but that’s no longer necessarily the case because people can choose order of names. So a great example of a culture where no one’s confused but there’s no need for name changing by anyone. I also like the fact that mothers give away their sons in marriage ceremonies and fathers give away their daughters – balanced, I’d say…

    • Sacha September 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      I was going to point out the Spanish tradition too! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_naming_customs I have no personal connection to it but I’ve known several Hispanic women over the years who have tried to explain it to me.

    • Mark September 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      Chloe, it’s an interesting thing, this shyness on the Internet. I suffer from a somewhat crippling social phobia (although I deal with it now a lot better than I used to but, like you, it makes me nervous and shy about commenting online. One would think that the it wouldn’t carry over into the online world but, for me at least, it does.

  11. tendernessontheblock September 4, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    I don’t feel there is anything to “figure out” on this issue. I consider myself a liberal feminist, but this is one of a number of issues that gets on right on my tits. Not because women choose to keep their name, but at this compulsion and assumed right that they should be questioned for doing so, and it’s presented as a relic that needs sorting.

    The implied assumption is that to be truly feminist, women most embody all aspects of feminism all of the time. You can’t wear a white wedding dress, and fight for equal pay; you can’t freely enjoy traditional expressions of femininity, and attack the exploitation of women’s bodies; you can’t be well-off, and speak out against injustice; you can’t be white, and object to the racist sexism against black women. You challenge any of this and take your partner’s name. Take that to it’s logical conclusion. It’s a nonsense.

    I hate when women feel they have to explain and justify why they change their name, and their reasons are interrupted through a narrow menu of theories based on outdated romance, or strict practicalities. I wish they would shut up, because like much of our lives – as it is actually lived and not framed in theory – there are nuances and complexities that inform that choice, and it is no-one’s business what they are. It is another example of painfully imposing the political on the personal. It’s not always possible.

    I say that as a liberal feminist who didn’t change my when I got married.

  12. weebluebirdie September 4, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    Well here’s some more to add to the mix! We didn’t marry, but do have a kid. His Dad has lots of siblings, all of whom have children, all carrying on their family name. I am an only child, so last of my line. I insisted that our son have my name because of this. This was fine until the Kid was born, when his Dad came over all paternal and wanted him to have his name too. Dad suggested the two name thing – I wasn’t having it. Stalemate for 3 weeks until the day before we were legally bound to register our Kid’s birth – with a name! A friend suggested Dad’s surname could be a middle name for the Kid. I agreed! I admit I sometimes felt a little guilty when his Dad was picking him up from school, or filling in forms in case people thought he was a step-dad. But now it’s good because our son attends the same school where his Dad works – so different names are useful! (The Kid also insists that his Dad never speaks to him at school, but he is allowed to nod as they pass in the corridor.)

    On a different note, there were many naming traditions here. Middle names were often surnames of either paternal or maternal side; either mother’s maiden name or grandparents. There is a whole system to it!!

  13. samatwitch September 4, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    My cousin and his wife hyphenated both their names when they got married. His parents were not pleased.

  14. albinogoth September 4, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Seeing the quick/slow rise of feminism and equality in Korea is interesting for me, particularly in light of the family name issue. In Korea (and I think most of East Asia) the wife doesn’t take her husband’s name. But, thanks to the patriarchy, of course the children do. In some aspects this really shines a light on Korean style patriarchy, because until very recently the husband had all the rights regarding children, or rather the husband’s family did.

    It was quite possible for, when the husband does, his family claim the children and kick the widow to the streets. The wife for many was not family, just a baby factory.

    That’s not true for everyone, but legally was possible. It’s changed recently, but like with any culture shift, not everyone catches up.

  15. Samantha September 4, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    I am planning to take my husband’s name when I get married, but will use my maiden name as a pen name, or some other one I choose, maybe. Already having writing attached to my name as it is now is part of the reason for that, but also for anonymity if by some slim chance I ever became famous. 😛

    What’s interesting is that my grandmother’s maiden name (and most of her family’s name) actually came from her grandmother, not from her grandfather, because her grandfather came to America illegaly from Spain, and married a Native American woman, and took her name instead. Everyone in our family always jokes about how great that is because his last name was not so great. 😛

  16. Jazz September 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    I wouldn’t have changed my name, but lucky for me, I live in Quebec, where, legally, you keep your last name when you marry – and you have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to change it. Sort of like in Spain (as mentioned by Chloë) I guess.

    It just seems bizarre here to take your spouse’s name.

  17. Kepin September 4, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    Here’s an idea I had years ago. Why don’t women inherit their mothers’ names, and men, their fathers’ names.

    When it comes to genetics, the Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son and the mitochondrial DNA is passed through the female line. In other words, nature has provided each of us with genetic markers that we inherit from our parents, one that is passed down through women and one that is passed down through men. If women took their names from their mothers and men from their fathers, there would be no patriarchy, no matriarchy, and no business of compounding names until a child is stuck with 4 surnames!

    • Mark September 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

      Kepin, I suggest you investigate Iceland surnames. 🙂

      • bookmole September 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

        The Icelandic system still mostly takes the father’s name. So a Jon Einarsson will have a son surnamed Jonsson and a daughter surnamed Jonsdottir. It’s uncommon for the woman’s name to be used, and I don’t know the cultural pressures there.

        What I do like about Iceland is they use first names formally – if I bumped into Bjork, I would call her Bjork, and not Ms Guðmundsdóttir. Which is good, cos I don’t think I could pronounce Guðmundsdóttir at the best of times, and definitely not when overcome with fannishness!

        I like Kepin’s idea.

  18. Lee Wilkins September 5, 2014 at 2:43 am #

    When I went back to work after I got married, my co workers were all like, “So, hey, what’s your last name now?” And I was like, “Uh, Wilkins” some were visibly shocked that I wasn’t changing my name. So I would state bluntly, “yeah I guess I don’t love my husband as much as woman who take their husbands name and I have thousands of business cards with my name on it so…well there it is”

    I thought maybe I would kick start them into understanding how silly it was to me for them to be so shocked that I kept my name. These were supposed to be progressive union leaders, my co-workers, who knew I was a raging feminist (how I was described often).

    Anyway, that’s my comment, first time commenting here. I’ll do better next time. 🙂

  19. Martin Gerard Audette September 5, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    I suspect that you will be living your old age in a nut house, if you do not end it before then.

    • bellejarblog September 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      What a nice and helpful comment! “I bet you’re gonna end up on a psych ward if you don’t kill yourself because it’s just so utterly bananas to question why women change their names.”

      Legit.

    • Mark September 7, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      And Martin Gerard Audette is no doubt this blog’s nomination for Internet Dick of the Week.

    • dbp49 November 11, 2014 at 4:55 am #

      And you promised to stay on the meds.

  20. mildredmolina91 September 5, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    ya know Latin America does this. Women keep their maiden name and the kids get both last names.

  21. Sacha September 5, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    I know an American couple who took a different name altogether, one that was a sort-of combination of each of their surnames. I think that’s cool.

  22. Ninasusan September 8, 2014 at 5:07 am #

    I get it! I spent a lot of time questioning the wife takes the husbands name thing…I did it 35 years ago…would I do it again? I don’t know.

  23. Josie September 9, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I never considered taking my husbands name. I don’t remember how he reacted when I told him – I guess it wasn’t a big deal or I would! I wanted the kids to have my surname but it was really important to him that they had his, which I figured was fair enough – I got to carry them, birth them and breastfeed them. My attachment to them would never be in question. So my kids have their dad’s surname and my name as a middle name. They love that they have mummy’s name and daddy’s name and so far have had no confusion as to their identity!

  24. Leah September 10, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    “Like legit, I know some otherwise very nice, very liberal men who believe that they should have been able to foresee their marriage not working out because their ex didn’t want to change their name. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. That’s the level of shit we’re dealing with here.”

    This–and that they can’t articulate why having different last names or having a woman’s last name hurts their feelings. (Also, the law in the US allows any woman to change her name on the occasion of her marriage, but half the states won’t let a man do it without doing a full legal name change–wtf, patriarchy?)

  25. bookmole September 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    I kept my surname on marriage. One, I had already had my name changed once, by adoption, and two, I disliked my husband’s surname. But the children have his name, which I thought was the law. But on checking, I find that you can give the child any first names and any surname you want, even if it is not your’s or your partner’s. Wish I’d known that before!

    Although my not taking Husband’s name led to his mother refusing to put my name surname on cheques to me – she would send me a birthday cheque with my first name and his surname on. FOR YEARS! If I had given the four kids differing surnames, she would not have coped.

    Link to naming in the UK – http://www.dad.info/expecting/legal-stuff/what-surname-will-the-baby-have

  26. Renee Robb-Cohen September 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Back in the 90s, I thought a great system to have would be that each partner kept their last name, and passed on their last name to the gender represented, and crossed gendered the last name to the middle name of the opposite gender. So if Frank Doe and Sally Smoe had a boy and a girl, the boy would be Tom Smoe Doe and the girl would be Jane Doe Smoe. I thought genealogy line would be easier to track that way.

    But I got married in the 80s, long before I had this idea. I told my husband that I’d take his last name if he’d take mine. So we hyphenated. I also like the symbolism of sharing names, bringing in what is unique to each of us and creating something new.

    My daughter, on the other hand, wants to take her husband’s name when she marries.

    I also know of another couple who made up a surname when they married.

    We are all figuring this out as we go along…

  27. K October 24, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    Hmm… The fact that women in Latin America keep their own family name shows that it’s not an indicator of equality 😦 I’d say equal pay for the same job would be a better indicator – so which country does that leave? Certainly not the USA or UK.

    Anyway, back to SF… I’m disappointed that Sci Fi Films haven’t yet portrayed a society with matter-of-fact gender equality. Some SF books have but very few where this is just the way it is and not the main point of the fiction. (Iain Banks is quite good at this – in his SF, the gender of the protagonist isn’t always obvious. And AIs don’t try and kill all humans (and miss).

  28. Sara Flower Kjeldsen November 11, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    I wish I had a mother more like you or your mother when I grew up.

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  1. link farm #11: bumper crop | massive hassle - September 4, 2014

    […] rundown of some of the more egregious cases of whitewashing in Hollywood’s recent history. It’s The 24th Century, Shouldn’t We Have Fucked Up The Patriarchy More Than This By Now? Isn’t weird that science fiction can conceive of literally almost anything except a world […]

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