I didn’t practice my signature in the margins of my notebooks for nothing. If I get married, my husband will have to deal with the fact that I am and always will be Giana Magnoli.
This will not be another column denouncing taking a man’s name because of the inequality of marriage, though that’s more than enough reason to keep one’s birth name. The tradition of patrilinearity is legal as well as social, as shown by the difficulty many men face when trying to take their partner’s name.
Two years ago, a man had to pay more than $300 in court fees and advertise a public announcement in the newspaper to change his last name to his partner’s. California Assembly Bill 102 changed that, guaranteeing “equal name change options available to everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation who gets married or registers as a domestic partner,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union Web site. Even with the 2007 bill, California is one of only seven states that make it as easy for men to change their names after marriage as it is for women.
My reasons for keeping my birth name stem from individual motives. Professional identity, convenience and family history all play a part.
As a writer, I’m recognized and market myself based on my name. My résumé, portfolio, business cards, signature, e-mail address and bylines are all consistent and changing my name would affect my professional identity. Other professionals whose careers are closely tied to their identities face the same situation. Academics, politicians, lawyers, teachers, writers and many more are recognized by their names more than anything else. Now more than ever, women are choosing to have a career and family life, not one or the other.
The inconvenience of redesigning my professional identity isn’t the core reason, though. Since I have no brothers and my paternal aunts have no children, my last name essentially dies with my sister and I. I can give it a longer life span by keeping it throughout my life. A person’s last name is a link to my family history and a way for friends and family to recognize each other over time. Mine is a link to a heritage and recognition I wouldn’t have if I were Giana Jones.
Despite these reasons, the first question people ask when I confess I want to keep my name is: What about the kids? Individual couples can tackle that issue, but there are a lot of ways to solve it, just as there are more diplomatic ways of solving the name issue than refusing to take the other person’s name.
Hyphenating is probably the most equal solution, but recent trends include men taking their wives’ name and meshing the two last names to create a new one. According to a USA Today article, more men are taking their wives’ last names than ever before. I am not completely against hyphenating my name, at least legally if not socially. For children, hyphenating or having a meshed last name is the most fair, or they can choose whichever parent they love more (just kidding).
A 2004 Harvard University study found the number of college-educated women who kept their birth names when married rose from 3 percent in 1975 to about 20 percent in 2001, according to the Associated Press. It spiked higher in the ‘80s and ‘90s, mostly attributed to feminism, but remains vastly different than our parents’ generation, proving I’m not the only one.
We’re the products of a contradictory culture when it comes to names; many people are obsessed with their family histories yet insist on using labels instead of names (have your parents ever been frustrated that you called them or grandparents by their first names?).
I could be just as loving to my partner even if I have my own name, and probably just as successful and connected to my past if I took his name, but that’s each person’s choice.
This is the 21st century — I don’t have to choose between being a wife or an independent woman — I can be both.
Giana Magnoli is a journalism senior and the Mustang Daily managing editor.