When I decided to change my last name after I got married earlier this year, I expected plenty of questions about how to pronounce it.
What I didn’t expect were the unfavourable reactions to my decision.
I’m Sarah Bugden, editor of Amplify. A few months ago, I was Sarah Nolan. When I told my coworkers I’d be ditching my maiden name, many of them asked me why. One went as far as to say, “Women are still doing that? After all that we fought for?”
There are more choices than ever before when it comes to naming conventions after marriage. And that’s exactly the point for me as a feminist: freedom to make whatever choice I want.
So, by extension, I fully support other women’s choices too. For some women, including many writers I work with here at The Globe, changing their last name could potentially be detrimental to their careers. As Leah Eichler writes for The Globe, some people’s names are their professional brands. In other cases, women may just like their last names better than their husbands’. One woman I know kept her own last name and passed it on to her two children rather than her husband’s, because, as the only child on her father’s side, she was the last person in her generation who could carry on the moniker.
But in today’s world, deciding on a name doesn’t have to be a binary choice. As this piece in The Lily shows us, some couples are bucking tradition altogether by combining their last names. Meet Sharon and Yonathan Goldtzvik, formerly Sharon Goldberg and Yonathan Cwik. “When you get married, you’re creating something new. You’re creating a new family,” Sharon told writer Caroline Kitchener. “So to have one new name for that family just felt right.” And who could argue with that?
Kathryn Hayward, a former Globe editor, had a different name predicament post-marriage. In this essay for Maclean’s, she explains that her decision to keep her maiden name was easy. The real dilemma for her and her husband was which name to give their kids. They came to what she admits some might call a “totally weird” approach: Giving one child his last name and the other hers. When her husband floated the idea, she “immediately loved what an elegant (and egalitarian) solution it was.”
Indeed, any number of factors can influence a woman’s decision on whether to keep her last name. A few years ago, The New York Times asked women to tell them why they kept or changed their names upon marrying. An astonishing 16,000 women sent in replies. While the answers varied, a common theme emerged: the fear of losing personal or cultural identity. And at least one woman reported that, in fact, her husband chose to take her name. “Right when we got engaged, my husband offered to take my name. I didn’t ask him for it, but I took it as a symbol of his love and commitment. Even now that we are two years married, my heart makes a little jump every time he answers the phone with ‘Benjamin Vogels,’” writes Rebecca Vogels.
It’s also worth remembering that changing your name doesn’t have to be a decision set in stone, something writer Anna Hecker, who for a while became Anna Schumacher, can relate to. “I kept waiting to grow into my new moniker, but as the months stretched into years, it came to sit like an ill-fitting coat on my shoulders,” she writes for Elle. “I felt unmoored. My maiden name, no matter how I felt about it in middle school, had come to describe the person I became as an adult: snarky, strident, fiercely verbal …” After four years of marriage, she reclaimed her old name professionally and socially.
As for me, ultimately I want to have the same last name as my husband and any future children, and I’m happy being Sarah Bugden (in case you’re curious, it’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled). Before I committed to leaving behind Nolan, though, I thought long and hard about it, even musing aloud several times that it would be weird to no longer go by my maiden name after nearly three decades. Almost three months in, I can confirm it is, in fact, sometimes kind of weird. I’ve caught myself introducing myself by my former name on more than one occasion. And once in a while my coworkers (and even my husband) will address me by my maiden name, to which I playfully respond, “She’s dead.”
In the end, changing my name was my choice. I changed it because I wanted to. And that, to me, is true feminism.
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 1, 2019
Globe & Mail
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