As I contemplate what my future with my girlfriend will look like, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never doodled my first name with her last name. Eek! Have I become what I’ve disdained all of these years? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is that I want to be joined with this woman in every way I possibly can be.
There are enough things lesbian couples are denied: federal legal protection of our relationships, automatic inheritance rights, and our partner’s social security benefits – just to name a few. So, I want to take advantage of every possible outward symbol that we can access to let the world know that my relationship is serious. Maybe my partner and I will never be able to file joint tax returns, but with a little hassle and paper work, we can share the same last name.
Of course, my brain hasn’t completely turned to mush because I’m in love. As soon as I finish fantasizing about creating my own perfect little family, unified by one last name, I start to agonize over the implications of changing my name. Would the feminists excommunicate me? Would I hurt my father’s feelings by shedding his name? (Actually, I think I took care of that when I came out in the first place.) Would I eventually regret my choice? After all, I’ve had this name for more than three decades, and I’ve built a moderately successful career under it – so I don’t know if it’s something I could actually give up. But, I figure if Portia DeGeneres’ career has survived since she took Ellen’s last name, then I will probably be alright.
There’s an added complication in my analysis: If I were marrying a man, there’s no way I’d take his name. He could be the most enlightened, supportive feminist man on the planet, but I simply would not be able to reconcile succumbing to a sexist tradition. So, am I a hypocrite? Or, do we lesbians have a “get out of jail free” card on this one because we’re taking another woman’s name?
To be sure, there’s plenty of middle ground when it comes to marriage and last names. As lesbians, we have even more flexibility than straight couples to bend and break the rules because we don’t have the centuries’ worth of societal pressure that compels many straight brides to change their names.
There’s always the option to hyphenate, which allows everyone to preserve her identity and family history. But, where does that leave our children? Presuming we pass our values on to them, they’ll feel compelled to merge their hyphenated names with the possibly hyphenated surnames of their future partners – leaving them with four last names. The political correctness has to stop somewhere!
Then there’s the option of adopting a completely new last name as a married couple. Lesbians love to merge the first names of famous fictional couples (think Calzona, Brittana and TiBette), so why not combine our last names into new family names? This alternative lets couples express their unity without anyone sacrificing her autonomy. It’s a win-win, right? As much as I love this idea, it feels a teensy bit hokey. I’m a little gun-shy about doing anything that might make my lesbian marriage seem anything less than legit. There are already enough people – and governments – that don’t take same-sex relationships seriously. So, I worry that if we start making up last names, we’ll add fuel to their ridiculous fire.
I don’t know the answer to this question, and frankly, I don’t think there is one right answer. As more and more lesbian couples tie the knot, I imagine we will come up with all kinds of creative solutions to this name game – and I look forward to figuring it out with all of you.
Do you think lesbian couples should change their last names to express their unity? Or do you think lesbians who take their wives’ names are buying into to a sexist tradition?