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What’s In a (Last) Name?

You may or may not have seen the story circulating the internet about actress Zoe Saldana’s husband Marco, making the decision to take on HER last name.
Of course, this sparks the debate about why women always have to change their names in the first place.
My initial reaction is that I think couples should do what’s right for them and for their family.

On one hand, the romantic and family oriented side of me loves the concept of signifying familial unity by sharing names. You have become a tribe. And the Saldanas have done just that, just in a more non-traditional way. Does Marco’s decision represent a shift in male/female power even within a relationship? Or does Marco’s decision reflect that his wife has established her name and made it famous off of her own hard work and merit and that he’s proud of her? Well, only Marco can answer that, but it is a bold move on his part. Even Zoe herself was hesitant and reminded him of the cultural implications and outside views on his manhood, to which he replied that he didn’t “give a sheet.”

On that same romantic and family oriented hand is the black consciousness side, that wants to preserve black families. I know the stats. 60% of black households are headed by black women, yet if a successful black woman marries a black man, especially one that is not the main breadwinner, in most cases, he would be staunchly against taking her name. I’ve even heard of black men being offended by the notion of hyphenation. But there’s all sorts of murky historical stuff that I could go into as to why black men may feel this way, but I can save that for another time and another post.

I had always said that I never wanted to be in a position where my children didn’t share the same last name with everyone else in the household. (I’m not knocking blended families or single parents who have different names this is my personal preference.) I just remember the confusion and embarrassment of a lot of kids at church and school who had a bunch of brothers and sisters but different last names. My dad was the superintendent of Sunday School and after being corrected several times for our annual Christmas program, he learned never EVER to assume siblings had the same last name, when he would introduce them prior to a speech or a song they’d present.

****TANGENT WARNING: While this is part of the reality in the black community that can’t be ignored, I hate the assumptions placed on black mothers that they are automatically single mothers. Black women– black people, for that matter never get the courtesy of being judged individually or on a case-by-case basis. Generalizations prevail unless we go out of our way in further discussion dropping tidbits like “when I got my masters degree” “or my HUSBAND said the other day,” and then there’s a shift in how we are received and how our narrative is processed. This disarming of employees in stores, or even at the doctor’s office or the bank, or with the realtor is necessary to possibly ensure better treatment. As soon as I say words like, “I’m from Long Island” or “I go to George Washington” something changes, people loosen up, they want to learn more about me, and become impressed with my accomplishments. Not sure what they assumed about me, but it was probably nothing like what I told them. And it’s frustrating, there are times I hate even having to stoop to that level as if my education or where I’m from should give me a pass from subpar treatment or service. I should have that right simply because of my humanity. But that’s not the case.

Sometimes when BOTH of my parents showed up to my parent teacher conferences, you could tell by the look on the teachers faces that this was indeed rare, and my parents were given rather condescending comments praising them for taking an active role in their child’s education after collecting themselves from the shock. That bothers me and I’m sure it pissed them off being talked to that way, as grown, responsible, tax-paying folks just like everyone else. I’ve heard stories from married black women who face those assumptions if they go to an obstetrican appointment or when they go to have their babies, people assume FIRST that they aren’t married and no man is in the picture. And all of that is very disheartening.

People automatically police and dissect the morality of single mothers, but sometimes automatically put those same labels on married black mothers too!

***TANGENT DONE

The feminist in me loves my name. I wouldn’t want to change it to something wack, and sometimes, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around arriving to this planet as one name and then leaving as another. The professional writer says whatever published work I produce should always have my name, regardless of my marital status. I’ve built my career off of that name and it will stay with me, professionally.

In some cases, people have chosen to hyphenate, in an effort to retain everyone’s name and give the children both names, and seemed to be a natural, logical choice for same-sex couples.
But change is the nature of life. We either evolve or we die.
As we evolve into a very new world, where does tradition still play a role? Is there room for tradition or can or should traditions evolve with the times? If they do, can they even be considered traditions?

There are all kinds of valid arguments for taking on your partner’s name, hyphenating or not making a name change at all… which goes back to my original view. Couple’s should make that decision for themselves… but most importantly they have to agree on what the world should call them.

What do you think?

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