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“Good luck! You really have your hands full with that one!” He said jovially, elbowing my husband lightly. He wasn’t talking about a naughty puppy. He was talking about me, and my decision to keep my last name.
I never imagined my not changing my name would cause such a ruckus. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if instead of “I’m still Virginia Wright,” people really hear, “I’ve burned all my bras. It was a magnificent bonfire. Mwahahahaha.” I’m not even really kidding.
Hearing of my decision to marry at 22 in 2014, I figured a lot of people would be all like, “You’re 22! How can you make adult decisions about the rest of your life? You don’t even know who you are yet!” To which I was ready to respond, “The world forces me to make adult decisions that affect the rest of my life about everything else. Why can’t I also decide who my life partner should be?”
But virtually no one questioned me on that. I got some raised eyebrows, but that was pretty much it. Yet as soon as I’d tell someone I was staying Virginia Wright it was like I had mentioned I was interested in in having a BDSM display at my wedding.
EVERYONE had an opinion on it, and 99% of those opinions were utterly unsupportive, and frequently patronizing.
Comparisons to disobedient animals aside, here’s a sampling of a few of my other favorites:
1. Don’t you wonder how your kids will know you’re their mom?
I’m sorry, but I don’t remember telling you I wanted kids. But let’s go with this. How about the whole taking care of them/giving them life thing? That usually tips kids off, right?
2. How will people know you’re married?
Do they need to? And I think the whole making-a-life-together thing is a decent clue. Also my sparkly ring is usually considered a tip-off that I have a man in my life who can control the threat my potentially unmanned vagina presents to society.
3. Well that’s really stupid. I bet you’re gonna work when you have kids.
Yes. That’s the plan. Ya know, like fathers do on the reg.
4. I know you think it’s funny and independent right now to ‘keep your last name,’ but you’re going to realize one day that all this is doing is hurting your husband’s feelings and destroying your relationship. Really, can’t you get over yourself for once in your life and do the right thing instead of making some stupid statement?
So why did I keep my name?
Around the age of 13, pre-feminism, I realized I spent a lot of time wondering what my name would be when I was grown up. But I could never think of a name that sounded nearly as good as Virginia Wright. And at that moment I thought to myself, “Screw it, I’m sticking with Virginia Wright.”
Virginia Wright to me is who I am. Virginia Wright is synonymous with my intelligence, perseverance, silliness, beauty, and every other facet of myself. Virginia Adams (who I could’ve been) is a non-person to me. When I see that name, I don’t associate myself with it, and I had no desire to spend the time trying.
I didn’t marry my husband to become a new person. I married my husband because who I am loves who he is and wants to grow old with him. I want his eyes to be the first thing I see every morning. I want to sleep surrounded by his scent. I want him to be the one I laugh with when I accidentally spill tequila all over the floor. I want him to be the one who holds me when my mother dies. And to me, Virginia Adams was never the person who did those things. That’s Virginia Wright’s story, just like all my college escapades, my childhood and my long high school days were all a part of Virginia Wright’s story.
And yes, now keeping my name has become an act of defiance. I’m a feminist, and when I realized how much ruckus my small choice caused, how could I change my name? I love being defiant. Just ask my parents. My mom has alway prayed I would find the right cause to defend, because I’m a force to be reckoned with and should never be on the wrong side. I know she thinks I am on the wrong side here, but Mom, if you’re reading this: I’ve put a lot of thought and time into this cause, and I couldn’t feel more right about this.
To be clear, I don’t judge any woman who chooses to take her husband’s last name. If that’s what you wanna do, do it! I’m sure you don’t feel the way I do about your name. I’m sure you’re excited to start this new chapter of your life with a new name. And that’s great for you. I’m all about that.
To me, losing my last name was a deal breaker. My husband offered to hyphenate his last name, if I did, too. But for me, it was never about compromise, because a compromise still meant losing the name I had. Virginia Wright-Adams was still not Virginia Wright. After literally a year of discussions, over the course of which my husband began to self identify as a feminist, he finally understood that keeping my last name really isn’t some shot at his manhood. It’s not me trying to hide my marriage. It’s not some huge sign of defiance, though to me, it’s come to mean that. I agreed the kids (if we decide we want them) can have his name, and only his name, but as far as I’m concerned that’s actually none of anyone else’s business.
It was frustrating, after I’d worked it out with my life partner, to have all those comments came pouring into my life. They started before my marriage, and frankly they have yet to stop.
So to the people who judge me, and my sisters who keep their names, stop assuming we’re stupid and don’t understand the world. Stop assuming we’re feminists and doing it out of defiance. Because I didn’t, and I’m certain I’m not alone.
If I can make the decision on who to spend the rest of life with and you can respect that, you can respect my decision on which name I want to use. Or, if you must, ask our husbands why they didn’t change their names.
To end things on a good note, there was a minority of people who were supportive of my decision. So here are the top 4 best reactions:
4. *Shrug* “Cool.”
3. “Good for you!”
And my favorite for last:
1. “That’s good, because I LOVE your name. It’s so beautiful. It would’ve been sad to see it go.”
Virginia is a libertarian feminist who spends most of her time thinking of ways to destroy the patriarchy. When she’s feeling peaceable, she can be found riding her horse.