Ever since Lily and I made a commitment to each other to get married, I have grown more and more skeptical of answers to questions that have ultimately come down to, “Because it’s tradition…”
Why don’t men wear engagement rings? “Why would we? That’s for women.”
Why is it the fathers who walk daughters down the aisle? “That’s what happens at a wedding.”
Why is it assumed that a woman will take her husband’s last name?“Because it’s tradition.”
Because what else could we possibly do instead but follow tradition?
Our names are important to each of us. They were probably some of the first words that we spoke as a child, or that we learned to write in cursive during elementary school. Within each of them they hold stories of the past, a collective family’s triumphs and struggles. To many, our names provide us with strength, belonging, and purpose.
Why then, if names carry so much weight to us all, do we simply assume that upon marriage, a woman take her husband’s surname? You guessed it, because of tradition. This tradition originates from a time when women were not allowed autonomy, a job, or independence. This idea surfaced in England around the time of the Norman Conquest, as the French brought with them the idea of coverture — meaning that “her legal existence as an individual was suspended under ‘marital unity,’ the husband and wife were now considered a single entity: the husband.” The wife would have no choice but to take her husband’s name and become Mrs. [insert his name]. As you can see, not all traditions are good ones.
I am not saying that every couple that decides to take the man’s last name in a heterosexual marriage has intentions of erasing the woman’s identity. All I hope is that we each begin to have these conversations within our own relationships and that we begin to question our own traditions and assumptions.
Yes, names are important to us all. However, what is more important to me is that the start of our marriage reinforces the fact that we are both equals in this partnership.
When Lily and I began to explore this topic for ourselves, we found it helpful to listen to each other’s hopes and fears surrounding this idea. It quickly became clear that Lily had a strong connection to her last name Banning, a family lineage deeply rooted in Southern California history. To her, it was a connection to the West and her home state. The name Banning allows her to feel like she’s ankle deep in the Pacific Ocean while the sun’s warmth envelops her. With us living in D.C. at the moment, that is undeniably a powerful connection.
When I reflected on what was important to me, the concept of having one unifying last name that held us together was the most important piece. Personally I liked the idea of our children one day having the same name as their parents. I liked that one word could connect and encircle us all. However, I didn’t need that name to be Sarafolean. Let me say that I am proud of my Romanian history. I look forward to the day where I can explore the Romanian countryside and visit the land of my ancestors, but I know that connection to place will always stay with me. Once Lily and I both communicated what was important to the two of us, the path was clear. I would become a Banning.
Yes, names are important to us all. However, what is more important to me is that the start of our marriage reinforces the fact that we are both equals in this partnership. However anyone comes to this decision, or any other decision that actively involves the partnership, my hope is that the process and conclusion empowers both individuals.