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?
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.
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