Same Sex Marriage and The Name Game
This has been such a learning process for me. I honestly had no clue about any of this or even knew that there was “etiquette” around it until I became engaged and made a dangerous assumption. I am either old fashioned, naive or a bit of both but just assumed that, after marriage, my wife and I would both become “Mrs’. Boy, was I corrected on that one pretty quick. For those of you who remain on naive island, “Why would this be an issue?”, you ask. Well, there’s some history there.
Historically, the “Mrs” title announces to the world the man that you are matrimonially linked to. ie – “I am the wife of _____”. If you’re an etiquette person (I’m apparently not), when you marry someone your title becomes Mrs His First Name His Last Name. By traditional rules, it wouldn’t be correct to use “Mrs” Your First Name Your Last Name. Not surprisingly, feminism got ahold of this one and the movement against using “Mrs”-anything ensued. The problem lies in the fact that many women, both gay and straight, still enjoy being referred to as “Mrs”. My fiancee is pretty set on sticking with Ms., which is fine. I am actually still on the fence about this after learning more.
Name Changes or Not
There are so many ways to go about this and the great part is, that you and your spouse can determine what is best for you and your situation – etiquette be damned. However, here are your options:
No Name Change – This is what many same sex couples chose to do and what we will be doing. However, there are things to consider here. We are both in our forties and won’t be having children together. If a couple does plan on raising a family together, sharing a surname brings a lot to the family identity for the children and all involved.
Hyphenated Names – I think this is fairly self-explanatory but, essentially, you are merging as one, and so are your last names. Pick an order (what sounds best is the way to go) and hyphenate those names.
One partner takes the other’s last name – Some gay couples may choose between their family names. Again, this is a great option when children are involved. Maybe one of you has a name that you’ve never quite liked. Consider that some people may try to assign gender roles to you based on who assumes the other’s name – just something to be aware of.
Select a Brand New Name – I really never knew that you could do this. Seems odd and very cool at the same time. Gay couples are often unconventional and quite creative so this may be the time to whip out those tools and perhaps combine your former last names into something unique or come up with something altogether new. However, keep in mind that you’ll have to “sell” this whole idea to friends and loved ones so be prepared for a little potential backlash.
Other Titles to Embrace or Avoid
This one also surprised me but many couples jump through all of the hoops for a legal same sex marriage and then have an aversion to the terms “wife” and “husband”. The term “wife” for many women has ideological undertones to it. The fear that one will “dwindle into a wife” was memorably articulated by the character Millamant in William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World. Gay men, too, have mixed feelings about “husband.” Some see it as too mainstream—belonging to a world that long tried to exclude them. Others enjoy using it.
So, it all boils down to tradition and how you feel about applying these to your new life with your spouse. You can embrace the traditional titles and surnames and apply whatever meaning to them you wish or avoid them as you chart your own course. Either way, it’s your journey, your union and there is no wrong answer on how to handle name changes and surnames with same sex marriage.