To Keep or Not to Keep: Your Name After Marriage

My youngest daughter got married last weekend. She and her fiancé picked the date based on the fact that there was no Ohio State football game that day. It also happened to be the night of the switch to (or from, I can never remember which) Daylight Savings Time, which gave everyone an extra hour’s sleep the next morning, something I’m sure was badly needed by several attendees. (There was an open bar.)

This was the second wedding among my children and also the second one that didn’t have a wedding party, much to the dismay of my oldest daughter who is just dying to have dresses that match a color scheme. With three sisters, each of my daughters has a built-in wedding party, but instead the brides have opted for simplicity. Both have also opted to keep their names.

That’s a weird phrase: “keep your name,” as if you somehow lose it, or have it wrested from you, when you get married. But that’s exactly what does happen for most women as far as society is concerned. I don’t know the statistics on how many women keep their former last names when they get married, but so far in my family it’s 50%.

I took my husband’s name each time I married, but returned to my maiden name after each divorce. I also use my maiden name as my middle name when I am married, and I’ve hyphenated it on some legal documents. I don’t want there to be any doubts about who I am and where I came from.

And yet I go by my husband’s last name in most contexts. I like people knowing that my husband and I are married. Besides, Keim is a lot easier to write than Appleby. (Although it’s not necessarily easier to spell or pronounce.) And since there’s another Ellen Appleby in the writing world (she writes children’s books), I’ve chosen to write under the name Ellen Keim.

One of my daughters asked me the other day if I’ve ever minded changing my name. I told her only when I got married the first time. It felt strange to have another person’s name hung around my neck. But after changing my name the second time, it became old hat to me. It’s more a way of marking my passage through life: I can remember when things happened by what last name I had at the time!

I guess I see marriage—and changing your name—as an evolution. As you change from one state to another, you take on another identity, chameleon-like. Some women insist on keeping their maiden names as a way of hanging onto their identity. But the truth is, it’s usually your father’s identity that you’re hanging onto. (Unless you were given your mother’s or a hyphenated name at birth.) There’s really no way to get away from familial or marital ties unless you make up a completely new name for yourself.

If you could give yourself a new last name, what would it be and why?

New Clothes, Part 2

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I committed an environmental faux pas recently. On the 18th I wrote a post extolling the virtues of new clothes and four days later I wrote a post for Earth Day on how we’re ripping off Mother Earth by using up her resources.

Well, okay, one way we do that is by buying new clothes. At the very least I should have recommended buying green clothing. However, one reason I didn’t is because of my own confusion about what constitutes green clothing. Until I found this invaluable article on Treehugger about that very topic.

Turns out buying new is the worst thing you can do for our environment. The only reason to stop wearing old clothes is if they have to be dry-cleaned, which is definitely bad for the environment. What if the clothes are out of style? That’s a good question. There are a few ways to deal with that problem:

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Feminist Weddings

How can you tell if you’re at a feminist wedding?

No, that’s not a joke, although there’s probably a joke in there somewhere. (I’m lousy at telling jokes.) But seriously, what makes a wedding feminist? If the father doesn’t give away the bride? If the bride keeps her last name and is introduced that way?  If the bride’s vows leave out the obedience bit?

Those are all places to start, I suppose. And they are typical answers that Second Wave feminists would have given back in the day. Actually, they may even have gone a step further and advised women to skip the marriage part altogether. After all, isn’t marriage just a construct of a patriarchal system?

Traditionally, yes. But today’s feminists are rethinking marriage and coming up with some new ideas. Marriage can be a contract between equals. It doesn’t have to signify “ownership,” even ownership of each other. It may be purely a statement, a public declaration that this relationship is exclusive (unless it’s an open marriage; that’s a subject for another post). It can be a celebration of your love for one another. But most people also want marriage–and the wedding–to be a reflection of their values and beliefs.

So if one or both of you are feminists, then you are often seen as part of a counter-culture. You don’t exist in the mainstream of society. So it makes sense that your wedding will also be “off the beaten path.” But in what ways?

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Revolutionary Road and The Feminine Mystique

“… Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is to feminism as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is to environmentalism: works that defined a movement and changed the world so profoundly that the worlds described within them seem alien to my modern eyes.” So writes Elizabeth on (I love a good review!)

revolutionary roadWhich is precisely why I recommend “Revolutionary Road” to those of you who haven’t seen it. All you need to envision the woman that Friedan was writing about is contained in this film. Set in the 1950s, it’s the story of Frank and April Wheeler, typical suburban couple. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (reunited after all these years!), these two carom off each other in their efforts to break out of the stereotype that is their life: he’s got a meaningless job in the city, she’s a bored housewife (what we now call a stay-at-home mom, or SAHM). They both feel trapped, but don’t know how to set themselves free.

This is a cautionary tale. And a mirror. How many of us can recognize our parents in DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s portrayals? But the difference between most of our parents and the Wheelers is that our parents probably never tried so hard to break free of the expectations that constricted them.

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Now This is an Alternative Wedding!

With all the debate in feminist circles about what kind of wedding a feminist should have (if any), it’s too easy to forget the reason that people have weddings: they love each other, they’re happy and they want to share their joy with others. I was reminded of this when I ran across Jill and Kevin’s Wedding Dance on You Tube.

There have been over 32 million views of this video and there will probably be many more since Beliefnet chose Jill and Kevin and their dance as one of the Most Inspiring nominees of 2009. And to top it all off, Jill and Kevin have dedicated their website to collecting donations to fight domestic violence.

I applaud Jill and Kevin (their last names are never given) for sharing their joy with the world. May they be happy forever!


Imagine you have a society in which one half of its members control the other half. The controllers don’t want to be seen as tyrants, so they allow some of the controllees to break out of their position in life (although they never pay them as much as they do themselves).  But the vast majority of the controllees are used against their will for sex, for child-rearing, for housework, and for the unglamorous jobs, paid and unpaid, that keep their society going. The controllers are very clever, however: they convince the controllees that they love to serve, to submit, to be in the background. They do this largely through the use of religions in which the controllees’ roles are strictly circumscribed and presented as being God’s will.

Imagine, too, that not all the potential controllers are much better off than the controllees. But they are kept quiet by the illusion that they at least control others. They may not be the kings, but they rule their own households. They don’t realize that they have as much to gain as the ones they control if they would refuse to play the control game.

One remarkable characteristics of controllers and controllers is that either can be born into any family. Therefore the parents are in the unenviable position of having to teach their children to take on their prescribed roles. Further complicating things is the fact that there are different levels of controllers, but the common denominator is that every controller gets to control at least one controllee and has the consolation of knowing that he belongs to the controlling (ruling) class.

Controllees make the best of their lot by embracing their roles. They buy into the concept that they were made by their gods to do what they do. They accept the power that the controllers have over them and rationalize it by accepting that their controllers are better than they are.  Those who don’t accept their condition are forced to buck the system and fight the controllers, some of whom are in their own families. Some of them are beaten or even killed for their insubordination. Others are rejected by the controllers and made to feel inferior. The ones who are successful in throwing off the controllers’ hold on them are held up by the controllers as “proof” that there is no vast conspiracy to keep the controllees in their place, that it is just a figment of their imagination.

And then imagine if the controllees revolted. If they refused to fulfill the roles that have been forced on them. If they stood up and were able to effect change by the sheer force of their numbers. What would the controllers do? What would they be able to do?

Can you imagine that?