Sunday School

Sunday School: On Marriage

Following Elly’s marriage article at Teen Skepchick, I’m wondering about married names outside the cis/hetero context. As a married hetero ciswoman who remains Ms. Me, I feel that I’m missing a large amount of nuance due to that bias.

How is name change on marriage discussed by various LGBTQIA persons, for good or ill? Is there pressure for one or both partners to do so in a formal marriage, or conversely a negative pushback on name change? If one changed to a name that better reflects one’s identity prior to marriage being discussed, how does this impact the discourse? –M.

Short answer: there is no short answer, because marriage is a pretty intensely personal thing, especially for same-sex couples since most of us don’t feel the same pressure to conform to the cultural script about it.

Long answer: I can’t answer for everybody, but here’s one cis lesbian’s take.

I like my name. I like the cadence of it, I like that it’s unusual for women to have three first names, and I like that the username “rkclair” is almost always available on everything, ever, because it makes my life a hell of a lot easier. That being said, I kind of hate that I inherited my surname from my abusive sociopath father (even more than I hate being a walking Lesbian With Daddy Issues stereotype) and I would ditch that shit in a heartbeat if I were to settle down with a lady whose last name I liked better and (more importantly, I think) wanted me to change it.

As a general rule, the thought of both partners hyphenating has always made me really happy, because it indicates to me a lasting equal partnership. To be absolutely honest, though, I have no idea how anyone on the queer side of the aisle feels about it–although I know an adorable het couple who apparently had the same idea.

In the end, it really does just boil down to personal choice. I mean, we could probably argue for weeks about the significance of a name change for a couple whose very right to marry is in dispute in most of the United States, versus the frankly icky idea of conforming to the gender-based baggage associated with “traditional” marriage. There are queer people who don’t think we should be getting married at all, because it’s just reifying an oppressive cultural institution!

So that’s my answer, as helpful as it probably isn’t. Maybe we’ve got some Smug Marrieds who can sound off about their experiences in the comments.

If you have a question for Sunday School, then have I got a comment form for you!

Featured image from The Princess Bride, which is probably the most gender-problematic movie I grew up with, and also the most difficult to give up.

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Rachel is a queer lady from Texas who currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin. She studied history at Texas A&M University and has spent more time than she cares to admit arguing social justice with junior Republicans. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood and enjoys knitting, media criticism, and comic book slash fiction.


  1. July 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm —

    Two of my good friends this year, both queer, are getting married (one of them with legal benefits, as she’s marrying a trans man, and one without, as she’s marrying a woman in Georgia): both of them are changing their names to their partner’s. One of the couples might have hyphenated, except that their surnames are Brown and Green.

    Both my friends have somewhat estranged relationships with their families of origin, so for both of them letting go of their original surname is in some ways a relief. Also, I think for both of them it’s an additional way of asserting the marriage’s validity, given that both of them know many people who would question it. Both of them grew up in households where it was expected that a woman would take her husband’s name on marriage, and I think for both of them taking their partner’s name feels like an affirmation that the marriage is real and legitimate. (In contrast, when I got married to a cis man, I kept my surname: full legal and social recognition of my marriage gave me increased privilege to play with traditions without having people conclude that our marriage isn’t “real.”)

    Of course there are also the factors that any couple considers, such as not having to figure out name to give the children.

  2. July 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm —

    Wouldn’t hyphenated names lead to exponential growth across generations? Like, I like my grandparents and I’m proud of my heritage and all I just don’t know if “Arac-McQuity-Abbot-Montgomery” would fit on a credit card.

    Maybe we should start making up new names when people get married. At the very least it would make for fun conversations: “Honey, don’t make plans for Thursday, Wendy invited us to dinner with the McAwesomes.” “Okay. Wait, Wendy Derpsen or Wendy StarCrusher?”

  3. July 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm —

    I am not married, nor am I likely to be any time soon, but a friend told me about friends of hers who both changed their names – to their cat’s. Given that I have one paper published under my birth surname and will have at least a handful more before marriage even becomes a remote possibility for me, I unfortunately (my surname is about as boring as it gets) wouldn’t change my name, for purposes of continuity, but I have this ridiculous fantasy of a cosplay wedding and both of us changing our names to “Shepard.”

    (I shit you not, I would do it, if it wouldn’t be a pain professionally. You may laugh at me. I am laughing at me.)

    As a general thing, though, I’m very much enamored of the idea of choosing/creating a new name that both partners take.

  4. July 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm —

    i’m a big fan of my last name (i even used it as my day-to-day name for a while, since it can also be a male first name) and would be unlikely to change it unless i found a partner with an especially awesome surname. i think the expectation that anyone (though of course women face this the most) change their name in a marriage is hella oppressive and any partner who expected that of me would face an immediate dtmfa.

  5. July 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm —

    just to clarify, it’s the expectation/pressure that i find oppressive. everyone should be free to change their name if that’s their personal decision, as people have all different reasons for doing so.

  6. July 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm —

    Personally, I like the Spanish method for children’s names: Everyone has two last names. Their children take the first last name from one parent and the second last name from the other (I think it might depend on gender in some way, but it could easily be chosen arbitrarily by the parents). This avoids the exponential growth problem alt3 mentioned, and it allows names to be passed down to children.

    I’m not sure what they do for marriage though… I’ll have to ask a Mexican friend of mine.

    • July 9, 2012 at 1:22 am —

      That avoids exponential growth, but it still has problems.
      What about polyamory? Privileging bioparents would defeat the purpose, and even the problematic “normal” system doesn’t do that in cases like adoptions or surrogates. Increasing the limit doesn’t help, because there isn’t any maximum number of parents. Removing the limit just brings back the “absurdly long names” problem.
      And when there are only two parents, how do you decide which of the two surnames each parent has to pass on? Like the order, without the “patrilineal is more important” answer to fall back on, it just becomes arbitrary, and what is even the point of having a “method” then? And that’s really the answer, I think. Why does anyone need a system? Just “name your kids whatever you damn well want to” works for me, as long as they can change it later if they don’t like it.

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