The Intersectional Feminist Name Game
June 10, 2016 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Are there questions about race and culture that my fiancé and I should be asking ourselves as we figure out the answer to the dreaded Last Name Issue?

I'm a white woman and a feminist. My entire life up to this point, I always assumed I would keep my last name upon marriage.

My fiance is a biracial man and also a feminist. He has a Chinese surname. (He's African-American and Chinese-American, if it matters. The Chinese side of his family has been in the US for several generations.) He has always envisioned everyone in his family having the same last name, but as a feminist he doesn't have a preference for which last name that is. He's very seriously considering taking my name.

Both of us want to make the other happy, first and foremost. We're having trouble coming to a decision because each of us is more than willing to take the other's name. There's no secret deep-down reservation about it on either of our parts. (At least not that I can discern at all.)

But it's starting to occur to me that no matter what we do, race and culture loom large over the Name Question.

I've seen people in roughly my situation on forums and blog comment sections say that they kept their name precisely because their husband's name is Asian. Which seems crazy to me, but maybe there are angles to this I'm ignorant of? It does not in any way bother me that someone might see the name Sara ObviouslyChinese, expect an Asian, and get a white lady. Like, who cares? We're all people. Fuck people's expectations. Also, I'm all-in. If there's some form of privilege I lose by giving up my very Anglo surname, so be it.

A (male, non-white) friend of my fiance's thinks he should definitely not take my last name, because he's a writer in a field where it sometimes matters that he has an Asian-American perspective. If he becomes David McWhiteguy, will he be seen the same way in a professional context? Is he giving up opportunities of some kind? My instinct says no, but I'm the white lady here.

What about our future kids? Is giving them my very Anglo name going to have an impact on their identity and what parts of their heritage they have access to? Is there a best practices for multiracial families, or some optimal way we can hack this because both of us are open to taking the other's name?

I also have some worries about intersectionalism and whether my white-lady feminism is erasing others' cultures and experiences by insisting that it's MY name that is the important one, not his, or that my name must somehow be better. I'm especially thinking about this because of the long history of Western culture emasculating Asian men, and the fact that some people view a woman keeping her name (or worse, a man changing his!) as emasculating. At this point I feel like I'm really starting to overthink things, but I also want to be an ally, or at least listening to others' perspectives and thinking about what my choice reflects out into the world.

I know that this is a gigantic pile of beans, but WTF should we do? Have any other Mefites navigated these waters, and if so, how did you decide? If you're multiracial, how did your parents decide things, and are you happy with that choice? I'd also be very curious to hear from folks who look like they belong to one race but have a surname that doesn't correspond to that race. How does it impact your day to day life?

(In case it's important: our names are equally easy to spell and pronounce, and aesthetically they are both nice names that go well with both of our first names and any name we'd give a child. They do not blend to form a new name well, nor does a hyphenation roll off the tongue.)
posted by Sara C. to Human Relations (52 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
My sister took her Asian husbands name and so she is very white lady with very Asian last name. This doesn't really impact her day to day life. People seem to immediately grasp it is a married name. She has two children. Somehow one appears very white. Grandma gets questioned with him in China town. The other appears very Asian. People seem to assume my sister adopted her. A hyphenated name could maybe help, but first impressions rarely include a last name.

As for last name, do whatever feels right. Since your family will be multiracial, anything goes. I'd hyphenate chidlrens names and leave both yours the same, personally. I can also see the argument to take a white last name, because people are inherently racist, and why not make life easiest. Congrats on your engagement.
posted by Kalmya at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2016


I'm an anglo white guy and my wife is Asian with a very common Arabic name. We're not really big believers in marriage, but it was convenient for us to have one.

We kept our own names. As we don't put much stock in the whole institution, it seemed the most sensible thing to do. We don't plan on having kids, though, so I'm not sure what we'd do – but it'd probably involve the kind of hyphenation Kalmya mentions above.

One thing my wife has said is that she'd want any hypothetical kids to have Arabic names, which would be fine by me.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:05 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm Chinese. My white husband took my last name when we got married, for Reasons.

The only impact he's noticed is how HILARIOUS it is to troll people who are VERY CONFUSED and don't look his way when searching for a "Dr/Mr [ChineseName]". And it happens across many nationalities.

Otherwise I suppose it brings the usual annoyances with name changes, which can be harder for men, because patriarchy. He had to go to family court to have it done.
posted by aperturescientist at 2:06 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


My husband and I chose an entirely new name when we married, so keep that option in mind if you like it. It would have felt like a betrayal of my feminist beliefs to take someone else's name or to give my children their father's last name but not my own.
posted by metasarah at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


My wife is Caucasian. I am of Chinese ethnic heritage. We are both feminists, such that I left the decision entirely to her. I had no interest in insisting she take my father's last name, anymore than I would have had an interest in her insisting I take her father's last name - traditionally in Chinese names you keep your maiden name even when you get married, it was just the children that would take the father's family name. The matter of changing your family name is largely a western convention.

She didn't like the idea of hyphenating and the potential for our children to have continual hyphenated names with each generation. Her solution was to take her maiden name and append it to her middle name, and to take my Chinese last name. I know this sounds convenient for me, and this may not work for you, but it's the decision she made.

From what she tells me, her day to day life isn't seriously impacted outside of the occasional confusion over people who see her last name first before meeting her, and she also has now has a smattering of amusing stories of microaggressions that asian people experience daily from people who don't meet her in person (i.e. voicemails that start with hamfisted NIHAOs, or people asking about the best chinese food restaraunts in town). When people see her in person she still gets all the usual white lady privileges and that does not appear to have changed because of an asian last name.

In terms of the professional opportunity thing - if having an asian perspective matters, having an asian last name still gives cred. I can't give hard evidence of this outside of the same sort of microaggressions I face that my wife now faces - I am the go-to office expert as to where the best asian food is in town, so I would presume that plays the same way in terms of publishing. Similarly, it's well known that racism playing a huge role in "black" sounding names on job applications - I am unaware of whether that extends to asians in a negative context.
posted by Karaage at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


My spouse and I have very different backgrounds and each kept our names when we married (she wasn't interested in taking mine, i was indifferent to taking hers, both of us figured there were benefits to staying the course, so to speak).

I think you may want to consider going "retro" with the hyphenation. As "mixed" marriages become more and more common i expect it will be increasingly less unusual to run across a visibly-probably-asian person with "McWhiteness" as a last name, or white people with decidedly "ethnic" names - but that doesnt really fix the problem of his desire to retain some identifiably asian part of his identity in his name, where hyphenation would.

you could also just pick/make up your own new last name, but im not sure how you could do it to adequately capture his desire for retaining a link to his background while not making it a little weird for yourself. The pick-a-new-name option always seemed appealing but also like a rabbit hole i couldnt go down without endless bean plating.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:11 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


This doesn't answer the heart of your question, but my understanding is that it is much more of a pain for a man to change his name upon marriage than a woman. (Per the close friend who did so.)
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2016


They do not blend to form a new name well, nor does a hyphenation roll off the tongue.

A little note here: it will sound euphonious after you've said it a thousand times. And your kids will grow up not second-thinking their name. It'll be natural to them. All change feels weird, even if it's just hyphenating.

We got married but each kept our own last names. I'm stepdad and our kids kept biodad's last name. That seems to have been the path of least resistance (with schools, state agencies, doctors' offices, etc.). Doesn't bug me a bit to not have my inherited label applied involuntarily to my kids. If they want to do that when they get older (which is something that happens in the step-parent universe, modifying a name to reflect both parents) we'd be happy to have them do so.

I don't say this to be a downer, but... it doesn't much matter? This is something that partners/parents dwell on that is only marginally noticed by people outside the relationship (in the U.S.). Leaving the country is a different story, I suppose--I don't have anything resembling a unique name, but when I'm in Finland for work people think my name is super off-kilter for being something perceived as non-standard (I have one of those very southern names where first/middle names are said together and Finns are always commenting OMG YOUR NAME MAKES ME THINK OF A TRAILER PARK WHY WOULD YOUR PARENTS DO THAT?).

In sum, people will take issue with whatever naming convention you settle on, but you'll be answering to it so choose what you like not what you think you ought to like.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2016


I think if you want to be feminist and non-erasure-y and your fiance wants everyone to have the same name, you need to at least revisit the question of combining your names (or choosing a new name). So what if it doesn't roll off the tongue? That's exactly the same argument that someone would make against taking their spouse's "foreign" name.

(FWIW, I do sympathize; I always figured I'd keep my name forever until I fell in love with someone whose last name is my grandmother's maiden name, and now it seems weird and petty to *not* go with that name and I can't decide.)
posted by mskyle at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2016


In the state of California (which is where we live and where the wedding will be), both spouses of any gender have the same process to change their last name upon marriage. It won't be easier for me to change mine or harder for him to change his. This is not an aspect of our choice at all.
posted by Sara C. at 2:17 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is, obviously, not a perfect parallel to your situation but my wife, who is visibly not the same ethnicity as I am and who I would not hesitate at all to describe as, like, actively feminist, took my very ethnic last name over my halfhearted objections ("look, no one should be changing their name to one that sounds more Jewish") because the most important to thing to her was that everyone in our family have the same last name and I didn't want to change my name for a whole bunch of reasons. I would've actually preferred her to keep her name but I voiced my concerns and that was as much input as I wanted to have on what she wanted to call herself.

The way I understand her thinking, she had picked the One Important Thing that changing/not changing her name signified for our family and went with that over any the perceived risks, problematic contexts, feminism demerits, etc. So now she has a very Jewish last name and says "hey asshole, my name is [Jewish lastname]" when someone makes an anti-Semitic remark around her because, again, no one would confuse her for a Jew.

Again, not the exact same thing as your situation, but I believe that's how she decided to take a name of a different ethnicity.

(As a side note, she uses her maiden name when she works as an artist.)
posted by griphus at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


I took my wife's last name when we got married. I thought it was important to have one family name, and it was doing my part against the patriarchy. That said, you probably inherited that last name from your father, so it's not entirely feminist to keep it.

It sounds to me like you might be best served by creating a new family name, which gives everyone an awesome story to tell. In fact, as someone who'd known people with last names like "Pancake," "Batman," "Troutman," "Beaver," etc., you might consider the last name "Awesome." Maybe not very humble, but surely true.
posted by rikschell at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


We kept our own last names, gave our kids one of our last names as a last name, the other as a middle name and then flipped it for the second child (e.g., Jane Le Smith and Joe Smith Le). Flipped a coin to decide which name went where for the first child and then were done with it. Benefits are: includes both of your names in each of your children's names and gives each you a chance to have a child with your birth last name (if you have more than one child, of course). If you two want a shared name, you could take each other's last names as second middle names.

This solution has worked for me as a lady who doesn't GAF about what other people think of me or my decisions. This might not work if you fear social opprobrium but, I will note, people mostly don't really care. Logistically -- for things like schooling, airplane flights, or things where a last name or parentage might be questioned -- it's never been an issue. There is no perfect solution to this problem though, so it is best to pick a name and be done with it as quickly as possible because a long drawn out discussion could turn into a battle that just isn't worth it.
posted by scantee at 2:27 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


My husband and I each took each other's last name as our Middle name (so John Q. Smith and Sara A. Jones became John Jones Smith and Sara Smith Jones). We each have our own original first and last name, non-hyphenated, and we also each have each other's last name there too. That way if it's ever questioned/important we can just use the full name and have all the names in there.

Incidentally, we decided to go rather traditionally with his name order for kids, so they are Sally Jones Smith and Jimmy Jones Smith, but we could have done other things there too.
posted by brainmouse at 2:27 PM on June 10, 2016


One thing to consider, if it's helpful - there's your legal name, your professional name, and your everyday social name. So, you guys can marry and go by McWhitebread socially but never change your legal names, and your husband can keep ObviouslyChinese for his byline (or any permutation you can think of).

Another thing - whatever name you decide to call the kids is likely to become "your" name (and your partner's) at least in the school social sphere when you get notes home, phone calls, etc.
posted by sallybrown at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2016 [9 favorites]


I am an Asian-American woman and feminist, married to a white man with an obviously European last name. My immediate family all shared a last name where almost all of his had different last names from each other, so we talked a lot about what I wanted to do, with the understanding that it was entirely my choice. I decided to change my name to his, partly because I really wanted to shed a lot of unwarranted internet baggage attached to my old name, but also reasoning that I could either choose to take a new name or be saddled with my dad's by default, and my husband's was much easier to spell. Neither of us really wanted to mess around with a clunky hyphenation or create a blended name, but I did keep my original surname as a middle name, a practice followed by my sister-in-law a year later.

The race thing has been mostly a non-issue, although I have tripped up a few people who were expecting a Caucasian woman, and I end up fielding a few more obnoxious questions about my ancestry since people can't try to guess based on my surname, but people can be stupid when it comes to race no matter what you do. I had one particularly dumb person ask if I was adopted, despite having met my husband a few minutes earlier. Also, for some reason, my husband and I don't "read" as if we're married to a lot of people, so when we're traveling, having a shared last name has made things much faster in establishing our relationship to total strangers, but that had never been a major inconvenience in the 7 years were were together before marriage.

But really and truly, you should just do what you want, because there is no one right answer. One of the best things about feminism is that you have a choice about this. Hell, a large chunk of my friend circle would never change their names solely because it's a huge pain if you want to maintain a clear academic publishing identity, and to me, that's a totally valid reason to keep a name.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2016


It sounds like a lot of the challenge is figuring out what the decision process should be, assuming either option is more or less fine. My fiance and I sort of got around that by randomizing: we both wanted to have the same last name, and we were both willing to change our names, but (since we're more selfish than you guys) neither of us really wanted to make the switch unless it could have gone the other way. So we agreed to a binding coin toss.
posted by cogitron at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2016


That said, you probably inherited that last name from your father, so it's not entirely feminist to keep it.

Respectfully, no.

My last name is my last name. It's no more my father's name than your last name is your father's name.

Not interested in ANY answer to this question that is "but you should take your husband's last name because your last name is not really your name either". Or any other patriarchy-influenced approach.

OK, threadsit complete. Just had to get that out of my system.
posted by Sara C. at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2016 [17 favorites]


A (male, non-white) friend of my fiance's thinks he should definitely not take my last name, because he's a writer in a field where it sometimes matters that he has an Asian-American perspective. If he becomes David McWhiteguy, will he be seen the same way in a professional context?

First impressions may be more difficult. I think there will be some negative professional impact.

Is he giving up opportunities of some kind?
Yes, especially if an Asian-American image is tied to his professional work. But this probably also depends on how well-established his career is at this point.

What about our future kids? Is giving them my very Anglo name going to have an impact on their identity and what parts of their heritage they have access to?

Your kids will (to put it bluntly) benefit overall from an Anglo name (vs a "minority"-sounding name). Giving them an Anglo name means giving them some form of white privilege, even if they won't be entirely white. They may feel as if there is some erasure of identity etc but... the material benefits of white privilege are pretty undeniable. (I'm not saying you should give them an Anglo name... just that, they would stand to gain a lot more socially/materially with an Anglo name vs a Chinese-sounding name, given the reality of white privilege.)
posted by aielen at 2:35 PM on June 10, 2016


No offense meant. My father-in-law considered the last name I took to be his and wondered if my family were criminals such that I didn't want to pass on my own name. And obviously it sucks that names have been passed down patriarchally for generations. But if you feel that much ownership of your name and you like it, there's no reason not to keep it.
posted by rikschell at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2016


I hyphenated.

I don't love it. It sounds clunky, especially because I'm used to saying just the first half of it. Honestly, I often forget to add my husband's last name when people ask my name.

BUT.

I found that when it came down to the wire, I was pretty invested in being Euphoria Lastname, and I couldn't give it up. It felt like it was giving up part of me. But I didn't really want to make him change his identity either. I was in favour of just keeping our own last names, but it felt kind of nice to have a married name, so I opted in favour of hyphenation, since it seemed like the simplest way to have both. There are some pretty crazy last names out there, so I figure I'll just get used to it.

My sister in law is Chinese (my brother is white whitey) and she chose not to take his last name, because being canadian born Chinese, she has a typically white first name, so erasing her last name didn't feel good to her. That's my only persective on the race issue, as me keeping my pennsylvania dutch heritage mattered not a whit into my decision.

Honestly I think you have to go with your gut. Say your name all the ways. I chose the one that didn't make me feel like a traitor to myself and the cause of feminism, and also had a nod to what my husband wanted. If he hadn't wanted me to take his name a little (your husband sounds more casual about this than mine did. He wasn't demanding or anything, but I could tell he kinda cared) then I wouldn't have changed it at all. Family unit last name is just a convention.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:44 PM on June 10, 2016


The problem with hyphenation is that it just passes the buck to your kids. My wife's surname was already hyphenated, and adding on my surname too for three names and two hyphens would have been unwieldy at best. If you hyphenate you're just forcing your kids to have to deal with figuring out what their married name will be, but without the hyphenation option.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a feminist who happens to be white (hopefully I avoid the kind of non-intersectional thinking that gets the label "white feminism"), if I were in this situation, I would keep or hyphenate my own last name, but give my children their father's last name. After all, they will be biracial, and as such, that name will be a much more important part of their identity than it is for you. I know this doesn't tick the "everyone in family has same last name" box, but it might be better from a standpoint of non-erasure for all parties to not be as hardline about that requirement.
posted by katyggls at 2:49 PM on June 10, 2016


Whee, I can give you the multigenerational perspective :)

I'm mixed-race Filipino-American (3rd gen; grandparents fled the war) and mostly-white WASP. Both cultures have a tradition of the wife taking the husband's surname, so that's what my Fil-Am mom did back in the 70s when she married my WASPy father and took his German-Jewish last name. I definitely got (and continue to get) some very confused looks for having a "white" surname with a "what are you" not-clearly-Asian appearance.

My husband is Korean-American with a Korean surname. The Korean tradition is that the wife keeps her name, but the kids take the dad's name, so until they came to the States in the 70s, she kept her last name. The kids did indeed take the dad's name, and she eventually took it as well, because that's what you do when you're a visible immigrant raising kids in the South, but whenever she visits family back in Korea, they still refer to her by her original surname.

When we got married, we kept our surnames for numerous reasons, even though like you, we got married in California and had an easy name-change option should we have figured out something we could agree on: we're both feminist, we got married late enough that we'd started to establish careers (my first name combined with his surname is about as generic as you can get; his first name combined with my last name by itself would be a recipe for "pull the other one, what bot came up with this name?"), we both like our names well enough, and honestly? We're both lazy. ;) And, admittedly, indecisive - we figured we could deal with a name change if it felt like the right thing when we had kids, but since that hasn't happened yet, well.

One thing that I've seen that does not have a particularly feminist result: the "two last names not hyphenated" thing. A couple of friends have gotten married and their surnames have officially been changed to "Wife'sLast Husband'sLast," not "Wife'sLast-Husband'sLast." Five years in, everyone involved just goes by Husband'sLast for their surname; I guess two last names is just too hard for the general public to comprehend.

One possibility that might work better? Another set of friends took each others' surnames as new middle names; the girl-child has taken the mom's surname, and the boy-child will take the dad's surname.

Surprisingly to me, most of my other female friends in mixed-race marriages have straight-up taken their husbands' names, though not all. Most of my female friends who have kept their surnames did so for career or academic reasons, regardless of race. One of my male friends took his wife's last name, but this was two white feminists marrying each other; she was an only child, so there was that extra dimension of passing that name down. (He had a brother who already had kids, so his surname was being passed down elsewhere.)

I guess I just thought that *more* of my female friends would have kept their surnames in marriage than have actually done so. Then again, I did grow up in Berkeley, went to college just across the river from Northampton, and now pass through Cambridge every day on my way to work, so it's plausible my expectations aren't exactly calibrated to the average American's.

But yeah, I had all of this in mind as we tried to navigate whether or not we would change our last names, and if so, to what. Pretty sure this is why we still have the names we were born with. :)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 2:54 PM on June 10, 2016


I have never felt like my identity was hugely tied to my name, possibly because as a visible minority, my ancestry is written so plainly on my face, but I suspect that if you feel that strongly about your last name being yours, you should probably keep it.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:54 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


We got married in California, and my wife decided fairly last minute that she wanted to change her name somehow, but still keep her last name. She added my last name as a second middle name, which was an option on the marriage form for both of us (at least in San Diego county). Doesn't quite solve the issue with any kids, but you don't have to take each other's name as your last name.
posted by LionIndex at 3:05 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a feminist, I sometimes feel like we should have taken a blended name - (I'm Chinese and my wife is Indian), even though it would have created a funky name for us and our kids. But inertia/laziness won out and my wife didn't change her name and my son has my last name with an Indian first name.

It would have been a weird blending, though-- because of the peculiarities of our names, a blending one way was an actual German name, and the other, an actual Vietnamese name. I thought it would be confusing to do that. If you can be more creative that we were, maybe something will work.

The other thing we considered was a blending of all four of your parents' names, which would probably give you more options and flexibility, while maybe giving some life back to your mother's maiden names.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:18 PM on June 10, 2016


Friends in this circumstance chose a new name that related to the location where they decided to marry. Think: John and Jane Yosemite. They enjoy explaining its significance to people who inquire.
posted by carmicha at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


If I were in your shoes (and I'm not), I would find a new, mutually-acceptable last name.

I would pick something that started with the letter "C."
posted by aniola at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Two points to consider:

1. I haven't seen anyone mention it, but it's worth pointing out that traditionally Chinese women do not change their names upon marriage. So you could see it in that light: by keeping your own name you're not erasing his culture, but honoring it by acting in accordance with its tradition.

2. Passing on a hyphenated name to the next generation is really not as big a problem as people think. There's several possible solutions; the most obvious one is that each generation passes down the mother's matronym and the father's patronym, so that if Jane Doe-Smith marries Rufus Xavier-Sasparilla, their children will be named Doe-Sasparilla.
posted by waffleriot at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've been through almost this exact decision process (right down to Asking MetaFilter about it!). I do not envy you. It's a tough one. After a ton of deliberation, I took his last name and we both added my maiden name as a second middle name. In retrospect, I think we both wish we had somehow found a less Chinese sounding name as we read more and more about discrimination against Asians in college admissions. But then we review what our options were and none of them were good :P I'd be happy to talk this decision through with you on Memail if you want to chat with someone who's Been There.
posted by town of cats at 3:40 PM on June 10, 2016


And btw by far the best thing about the whole situation is when people expect me to be Chinese and I'm not. Lots of recent Chinese immigrants actually aren't familiar with the American custom of changing one's name on marriage and find my very existence baffling and amusing. I thought I would hate this but I totally love it.
posted by town of cats at 3:45 PM on June 10, 2016


"In the state of California (which is where we live and where the wedding will be), both spouses of any gender have the same process to change their last name upon marriage. It won't be easier for me to change mine or harder for him to change his. This is not an aspect of our choice at all."

Actually, while that's moderately true of state government documents, when my wife and I looked into it we found that it's massively more of a hassle for men than women, and even more so if you don't do it at the time you fill out the marriage license. It's easier than it once was, and at least in theory the feds are supposed to be fixing this, but it's still a much more lengthy discussion.

(The level of hassle for either of us was a significant argument for last-name inertia.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:46 PM on June 10, 2016


klangklangston, really? My husband and I both did legal name changes when we got married (see above) and I don't remember it being more of a hassle for him, on his Social Security card or his passport (well, they misspelled his name on his passport so he had to go get it redone but I don't think this was related to the fact that he was a man). This was 2009 in California and I imagine things have only gotten more equal.
posted by town of cats at 5:00 PM on June 10, 2016


So actually, the fact that it is more of a pain for men is a good reason to both change your names, in my opinion!

But my tale: I am mixed and my parents kept their names and hyphenated mine. Then, when I got married, I swapped my father's name for my husband's and he added my mother's to his, so we have the same hyphenated last name. (Very briefly it looked like the state of New York was going to force us to have all three, which I was super into but my husband less so.) Anyways, I would like to really advocate for the hyphen. It means a ton to me that my husband and I have the same name and that it has aspects of us both. It is clear we are a team. He had to deal with the pain of changing and the incredulity (so much incredulity) and I think that was a really important experience for him as a feminist. And I think both my names are euphonious but that is because they are mine. I think you will surprised.

Other than that I would go for the Asian name to fuck with people.

Sometimes Anglo names give you more "credibility" (and my name sounds super white because the racial mix is not obvious in the last names), and I have definitely had times I have shown up and people were like "oh, I totally thought you were white" but evs. Messing with expectations is great!
posted by dame at 5:28 PM on June 10, 2016


Being a feminist and anti-racist isn't always easy or melodic. The clear answer is to hyphenate both of your names and your kids' names. Everything else -- especially if it means only you changing and your kids getting his names -- is a rationalization.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:05 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why is it important to him to have the same last name? My family has six people and five different (though some are hyphenated) last names. It works fine. As you say, fuck people's expectations.
posted by Etrigan at 8:05 PM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Our solution to this (white lady, Japanese dude) is more names. So many names. Your legal name has little bearing on the name(s) you actually use.

Him: no name change.

Me: Added his last name to the end of mine, for passport purposes. Note that if you plan to do international travel, there is real benefit to having a shared family name. Also, because multiracial kids, I wanted a shared last name so strangers would believe they were mine. For professional / publication purposes I use my maiden name. For daily life I have always used my middle name, which happens to be ambiguously gendered, and my last name. In Japanese I use middle name and husband's last name. I can be read on paper as American lady, Japanese guy, and everything in between. (E.g. Legal name - Sally Taylor Smith Takeda, published name Sally Taylor Smith, daily name Taylor Smith, Japanese name Taylor Takeda). I get the occasional stunned silence on the phone but it's really never been an issue.

Kids: American first, Japanese middle, Dad's last. They use their American names in school and Japanese names at home / with Japanese people.

Basically what it boils down to is I took my husband's last name on paper and I use it when it's convenient, and don't when it isn't. The kids got a name from each culture and we use both. This does not confuse them in the least. More flavors of name works smoothly for us. (And it's fitting anyhow - the four of us travel with six passports and a green card. We have lots of identities.)
posted by telepanda at 8:41 PM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm going to chime in and say that international travel has been shockingly easy for my family even when it's just me and my kids. I am
white; they are black (not multiracial but adopted); we have different last names. We don't match at all, and I always travel with multiple proofs of our legal relationship that I've never had to show. We even lived overseas for a few years. It has never been a thing, at US or international customs.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:57 PM on June 10, 2016


As a counter to bluedaisy's experience, my friend was stopped at the airport & not allowed to travel with her children because she is white, they are asian looking with different surnames. She was furious but they would not let her leave the country without more paperwork so she missed her flight. This happened only once.

But back to choosing the name, I am chinesey, my husband is Englishish and we're both Australian feminists. We chose to blend our surnames. Maybe there is some blend you can do that's not a straight joining. Have a play with the letters and sounds. Ours merge okay, did take getting used to, we flipped a coin to decide which name went first.

I kept my own surname, he kept his, our kids have their blended name and as a group we often call ourselves the Chingsmiths. No hyphen. Only the kids are officially Chingsmiths, I didn't change any official paperwork.

For me, not taking my husband's name as a principle was the main thing. Work out what matters to you the most.

And about your partner's writing; no reason why he can't continue to write under his original surname if he takes up a new family name. My journalist friends particularly like having this option in case they, whether specifically or as a member of the journalist category, might have trouble when traveling.
posted by stellathon at 9:21 PM on June 10, 2016


I am married; my husband and I both kept our last names. I have two children - one with him, one from a previous partner. The kids have last names that are not mine, nor my husband's, nor my previous partner's, nor are they the same. Two adults, two children, one deceased adult... five last names.

School officials hate dealing with our paperwork.

I know that there are some communities where people pay attention to these things enough to cause someone grief over them; I don't live in one of those. (I'm in the SF Bay area.) I suspect that if you can't come up with specific examples of "this name would cause that problem," it's not likely to matter much now, and less so in a couple of decades.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:05 PM on June 10, 2016


Don't decide now.

Get married (congratulations!), and over the next couple of years try out different combinations. Occasionally introduce your husband as Mr. (yourlastname). Sometimes you'll be Mrs. (hislastname). Sometimes, you'll be that recently wed couple, the (hyphenated-lastnames). See what feels comfortable in fairly low-stakes situations, note the reactions you field, how you both react to those reactions, and so on. By the time the children are en route, it's likely you'll both know what feels right for your family.

(Were I in your particular shoes, I'd likely keep my birth name professionally, my husband would do the same, and in our personal life and on the kids' birth certificates we'd use the hyphenated name. That name will sound less clunky over time, and it seems to be the clearest route to providing that unified front you both want.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:34 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't comment on anything else, but I do want to speak to this particular concern:

"I'm especially thinking about this because of the long history of Western culture emasculating Asian men, and the fact that some people view a woman keeping her name (or worse, a man changing his!) as emasculating."

I am Chinese-American, and I am Chinese. I would like to second that traditionally, in regards to their Chinese name, women do not take their husband's last names when they get married. I'm not sure why, but if I had to guess I would say it's because the family name is such an integral part of the name itself that it would be akin to changing your name from Cassandra to Cassidy or Cassette.

From a traditional Chinese perspective, if you were a Chinese woman who got married to a Chinese man, I would expect you to keep your full name, and would not find it emasculating of the man if you did so. However, as you are a "foreigner", so to speak, I probably wouldn't really know what to think no matter what.

I apologize if you or your partner know this already, or find it unhelpful. l hope you find something that is meaningful and satisfactory to you, and I would love to hear what you end up deciding!
posted by wym at 12:56 AM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


My observation is that no matter what you choose, you will get criticisms, some of which are just weird and some of which will really sting. So I would largely dismiss the question of how other people feel and what will make them happy, because there is simply no name option that will prevent people from (rudely and inappropriately) saying hurtful things. Go for what makes you and your partner happiest, and the rest of the world will have to deal with it.

Men having separate professional and legal names is a lot less common than for women, and he may get some friction and confusion on this if he chooses that path. That's not the end of the world, but just something to weigh in the balance.

I know so many families with different last names (including my own) that it feels normal to me, though I know that for some people having one last name for everyone is a big part of their family identity. My mother and aunts were all of a generation where women taking on their husband's names was automatic, and I've watched them deal with the complications of that with divorces, careers, and family reconfigurations, where some of them have ended up feeling stuck with names that they don't feel particularly connected to. I don't mean to be unromantic, but it's worth thinking about the worst case scenario of a later separation and how the name choice you are making now might play out then.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on June 11, 2016


Ethnically Chinese from the diaspora, husband is white. We kept our names. Partly feminist reasons but mostly cultural (Chinese people don't change their family names, not traditionally!). Any children will have his family name and a Chinese 'first' name. My reasons were more cultural than feminist
posted by moiraine at 7:20 AM on June 11, 2016


You could go two surnames, no hyphen. Then you can each continue to use your own surnames primarily, both use your surname primarily, or both use his surname primarily. For this writing career the advantage is that whether he's using it in day-to-day life or not, the full name will appear on the cover of his books or byline of his articles which will make his Asian perspective clear. Any kids can also get two surnames and will also have the choice of using both, one or the other.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:31 AM on June 11, 2016


I have thought about this a bit, being a Japanese/white American with a super white first/middle/last name, and I'll type up more of those thoughts if I have time, but I want to address this part of what you wrote:

I'm especially thinking about this because of the long history of Western culture emasculating Asian men, and the fact that some people view a woman keeping her name (or worse, a man changing his!) as emasculating.

As a feminist, what do you think of those people, generally? What does your fiance? Total douchebags, right? Does that change if you bring race into it? I don't want to say anything that implies that there are situations where race doesn't matter, because it should always be considered (and bless you for worrying about this, seriously), but I consider this to be negotiating with terrorists. For perspective, consider that those people probably think it's just as emasculating if an Asian American woman doesn't take an Asian American man's name, and then there is no intersectionality to consider (except that they probably think Asian American women are privileged relative to Asian American men; see: douchebags).

I also want to encourage you to trust your fiance on this. Which is not to say "omg just always defer to the ethnic person" because internalized racism is a thing (as is people becoming reactionary anti-feminists in response to the emasculation of Asian men, see again: douchebags) and you are very right to be thinking about this and I appreciate that. But I'm sure he has spent at least as much time thinking about Asian masculinity as you have, and he is a feminist. It's okay to trust him.

And, I think, as with the whole concept of emasculation in general, any effective response to the shit Asian American men face has to be feminist. All the most noxious stuff they deal with (gendered insults, erasure) is anti-feminist anyway. Shoring up masculinity by buying in to patriarchal norms is just feeding the beast; better to get off the treadmill. I'm sure you know all this, but I thought it might help to hear it from another Asian person; you are not being a clueless white person on this one, your feminist instincts still apply here.

OK, so a few things about names in general. As a small counterpoint to the whole thing about Chinese women not taking the man's name, this is largely not true of Chinese Americans. (My sample size of one, fifth-generation, says he did not know this about Chinese culture.) Asian American culture in general, particularly among later generations, tends to value certain ties to one's heritage, names being one. So your kids might like to have that, or they might like the privilege that comes with a white name - it's impossible to say. I think the amount of thought you are putting into this shows you will be okay either way, and having a story (any story) about how you chose will be nice for your kids.

The question about your husband's writing makes me think of the author Jamie Ford, who is Chinese/white American and wrote a novel about Chinese and Japanese Americans in Seattle. His author bio, wherever it appears, includes both a photo (very unusual for a paperback) and an explanation of how his great-grandfather took the name Ford upon immigrating, "thus confusing countless generations." It's pretty clear that this was carefully thought out to lend him the authenticity that his name on the cover doesn't provide. So I think you can get around it, but it takes some gymnastics that you wouldn't have to deal with if you had the "right" name. Not an argument for or against, just food for thought.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2016


My mom had a very ethnic, obviously not-white, maiden name, but we all took my dad's very Anglo surname. You could never guess anyone in my immediate family's ethnicity or appearance from our names.

I have some thoughts about this which I will just list, because I couldn't possibly formulate advice for you. But as someone whose situation is somewhat similar to your kids', here are some thoughts I've had--

I suspect that having an Anglo name has helped me professionally and academically in many, many concrete ways that I can never prove-- simply due to the fact that on paper, my name does not trigger other people's racist biases.

There's a blogger named Penelope Trunk- she's Jewish, and her ex is Latino. Their kids have Hebrew first names and a Latino surname. She has said that one reason for keeping the Latino surname because the kids look white and she felt it would help them stand out on their college applications.

I will say that sometimes I wish I had the more ethnic surname. To most people, I don't "look" like that half of my background, and if my name pointed to it, I might have grown up feeling more connected to people from that ethnic background....
Or not!
It's certainly not a culture known for its love of mixed-race unions. Right now people from that group see me as a complete outsider, and the xenophobic ones treat me with dismissive disinterest. But if my name announced that I'm actually a mixed-race member of their group, they might actually be bigger assholes about it, and level-up to active contempt. Not going into specifics, but I'm not making this up- there are many documented instances of this kind of prejudicial exclusion of mixed people from that particular culture.

If your kids turn out "looking" white vs. if they look very ethnic, that might change things for them (looking ethnic and having an ethnic name, looking ethnic with an Anglo name, looking white white with an ethnic name, looking white with an Anglo name... all of these are different).

You could also weigh how easy the names are for clueless Anglo people to pronounce- Chow over Lorbschnitzki, for instance- because that also has an effect on resume acceptance.

It's pretty hard to say how your kids will feel about it. I think it's a good thing you're thinking hard about it- it's an important and weighty decision with legitimate cultural and feminist themes.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:27 AM on June 11, 2016


Hey all!

These comments have all been fantastic. Even the ones that I didn't mark as Best Answer, or the ones that helped me realize, "Welp, there's something I'm definitely not doing..."

We're still not 100% settled on what we're doing (and I liked a lot of the advice that we can wait a bit longer to figure it out). But I have some a lot more concrete thoughts about it. Which is exactly what I was hoping to get here.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on June 11, 2016


> Another set of friends took each others' surnames as new middle names; the girl-child has taken the mom's surname, and the boy-child will take the dad's surname.

That's exactly what Mr Corpse and I have done, and I highly recommend it. (Note: we are both white and our kids look like us, so we don't have to deal with people thinking we're a nanny.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:39 PM on June 14, 2016


Marriage was never meant for people to blend.

Why don't you just keep your names as they are today? This is actually the case in most cultures outside of the West. Angela Merkel is married to Joachim Sauer. Look where that got her.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:11 PM on July 6, 2016


Oh hey so we pretty much figured out what we're doing!

Right now, the plan is for me to go the Hillary Rodham Clinton route, adding his surname to my own. I will most likely continue to use my original last name professionally. He will add my surname as a middle name. So on paper, we will be Sara and Fiance Mylast Hislast, and in other situations the names we use will probably vary. There will inevitably be situations wherein we are The Hislasts, which I don't love, but was always going to happen no matter what decision we made, because Patriarchy.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Down in a Hole   |   I moved to a new city and don't like it. Should I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.