My mom is a Boomer and I'm a Millennial -- two quite different generations -- and yet we both made the decision to keep our maiden names. It isn't shocking that I would follow in my mother's footsteps. What is surprising is that as a Millennial woman, I'm more alone in making this choice than my Boomer mother was.
Recently, I started noticing that my Millennial newlywed girlfriends had opted to take their husbands' names. They weren't the types that are dying to give up their jobs and put on aprons. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) They had other reasons. "He has a better last name than me. It's shorter and easier to spell," they'd say. Or in the case of the women who were taking on longer more convoluted names from their husbands, they would say, "I just don't want any confusion'" and "I want us to be a team." In each case, the friend had a valid point, so I didn't think much of it at the time. But as more and more of my Gmail contacts started changing, I couldn't help noticing a trend.
Apparently, my focus group of friends was an accurate representation of Millennial women in general: more are choosing to take their husbands' names. According to a New York Magazine article:
For the last two decades, the already small portion of American women who keep their maiden names has been shrinking. The highest that figure got was 23 percent in the nineties. By the early aughts, it had dropped to 18 percent. In 2011, TheKnot.com surveyed 19,000 newlywed women and found that only 8 percent kept their last names.
My first thought was that this was yet another dismaying sign of the death of feminism. Our mothers fought to keep their names, and one diamond ring later we can't wait to hand them back over. But then I remembered that Millennials grew up in historically fragmented families. Not only were their parents divorced, but many lived far away from their core relatives. By taking their husbands' last names, Millennials are not trying to define themselves as anti-equality, they are trying to establish themselves as part of a team and community. They are hyper aware of the prevalence of divorce, and they are taking every precaution they can to battle against it. Hyphenated and different last names were the route their mothers took -- the same mothers who got divorced at massive rates. Instead they are looking to their grandmothers who gladly "teamed up" and stayed married so long they wore out the engravings on their wedding rings. I understand why Millennial women are making this choice. It's just not the right choice for me.
I'm not married yet -- that's just a few short months down the line -- but I've already made up my mind. And when I say made up my mind, I mean that until someone recently asked me if I was taking my husband's name, I had never truly considered the possibility of doing so. (I'm not a name-thief after all!) I'm not keeping my name because of "professional claims." I'm not that advanced in my career that I couldn't just ditch "Standish." I'm not changing my name because it is one of the few things that makes me feel the most "me." Everything else seems fleeting in this unstable and increasingly terrifying world. My job, my house, my clothing... Everything feels like it's just dressing and could be taken away in a snap. But as time alters my body into something unfamiliar and I live check to check, the one thing that I truly feel full ownership over is my name.
Though I'm pretty alone in making this decision, my Millennial friends are understanding. They aren't holding my decision against me or acting like they are "better" wives than I'll ever be. (Though knowing my housekeeping skills, I have no doubt that they are better in most traditional ways.) Interestingly, the person who was the biggest advocate of changing my surname was my mom. "You have so much more autonomy and independence than we did," she told me when I asked her opinion. "We had to fight to be seen as individuals, but now I think it's time for couples to fight to be together." She rightfully pointed out that my fiancé had already compromised so many times to be with me. He moved across the country twice, left jobs, friends, and family behind, and put my career over his. As she talked, I knew she had a point.
That night, I told my fiancé that I'd change my name if he truly wanted me to. He looked at me a bit like he had won a prize and just said, "You shouldn't. If you did, you wouldn't be you."
Follow Maude Standish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MaudeChild