When it comes to social traditions, I am generally a fan of upholding them wherever I can. By “wherever I can” I mean that whenever it doesn’t make considerably more sense not to. The idea being that I am an odd fellow in so many ways that I can’t help that in the ways that I can help I should try to meet society half-way. My wife, despite being the most traditional of the Himmelreich girls, has a little more of a non-traditional outlook.

As a case and point, when we married, she chose to keep her maiden name. I was very unenthusiastic about it at the time, to say the least. There was no point at which it posed a threat to our coming nuptuals, but it was still something of a sore point. The reason behind this was not so much that I needed her to become a Truman or that I wanted to treat her like property or anything like that. It mostly came down to a desire to conform. I find it far more likely than not that I would have changed my last name to hers if I lived in a society where that was common.

Of course, that’s easy for guys to say. I hear guys say that when I am actually very skeptical that they would. It’s easy to talk about what you would do when you know you don’t have to. Most would, I suspect, in the same way that most women change their names. But a lot wouldn’t. The question a lot of guys ask is “What’s the difference between having the name one man (her father) gave her and the name another man (her husband) gave her?” This suggests to me that they don’t understand the issue or at least only understand part of it. It’s not just that she’s taking a man’s name, but it’s that she’s taking a new name after 20-30 years with the previous one.

I don’t think that I appreciated that myself until I got married and my friends started getting married. The logistical problems with changing your name are not very severe but can still be a pain. However, the name change formalizes a change in identity that guys are not asked to undergo. In my wife’s career, there is a formal aspect to this in that all of her licensure is under her previous name. But for others, they’ve built a name for themselves in their careers and communities and amongst their friends and all of those people now have to be informed of who you are.

With all of this in mind, I can understand why a lot of women object to it.

The response to all of this from a lot of guys is, “Yeah, well, I guess I can sort of see how that’s inconvenient, but there’s no obvious solution. A woman keeping her name means that they have no common name between them. Hyphenation is a temporary solution at best. So, since there are no alternatives, we might as well go with the status quo. The problem is that by choosing not to conform, you’re making a statement against conformity. And you’re using our marriage to do it.”

Honestly, this was one of the two biggest humps for me to get over. When she told me that she intended to keep her name, I just had visions of getting caught in the middle. Correcting people that assumed that her last name was the same as mine. Lending my ear to her frustration at people that just assumed that our names were the same or forgot that they weren’t. I expected it to be a serious inconvenience. Incidentally, I expected this not because traditionalists were warning me to try to get me to go the traditional route, but rather by listening to more than a few complaints from women that kept their names about how people are not expecting or accepting their decision. This was just one front of the culture war I wanted no part of.

The second hump was there being no common family name. This was where some concessions were requested and others made, though unfortunately not the same concessions. Clancy volunteered to hyphenate her name because that was where she could meet me halfway. Unfortunately, for me, that’s sort of like my wanting a beard and she wanting me clean shaven* and us agreeing on a moustache as a compromise. Between hyphenation and two names, I am completely and utterly indifferent. Even if her last name incorporates mine, it’s still a different last name and makes a similar “statement” that I am not enthusiastic about making.** My proposed solution was that she go my Himmelreich professionally and Truman personally. From her perspective, though, even if she were being called Himmelreich, not having that last name was not something she was going to be happy about. So I decided to propose the alternative: her legal name and professional name remain Himmelreich (or incorporate it into hyphenation if she wants), but socially she be willing to go by Truman. In other words, no big deal about correction. Likewise, I would not object to being called Will Himmelreich as that would be an alternate name for me.

That was enough to get us by until I discovered that having two different last names actually isn’t that big of a deal. That may change when we have kids, but given the number of times I’m expressly asked if we have the last name, I am thinking not. While a house of two names is not the norm, it’s at least common enough. Particularly amongst doctors. And the whole question about answering machines turned out not to be an issue, either, because we don’t want her last name on our answering machine anyway. Nor do we want her name plastered visible from the sidewalk. We don’t want to invite needy patients calling our family line or visiting our family house. And I’m at the point where I wouldn’t care if our phone messages said Himmelreich-Truman anyway. The whole different-last-names thing has become sufficiently uncontroversial that I remain glad that I did not make it a bigger issue than I did or stand my ground or risk losing the wonderful woman who is among the best things ever to happen to me.

It has become slightly a bigger deal since moving to Arapaho. I have been referred to as a Himmelreich on a couple of occasions and our auto insurance company wasn’t able to handle the two-last-names thing. In the case of Callie, though, it’s a small enough town that it’ll get around. And though it’s not what people out here are expecting (in comparison to Cascadia), nobody has looked at me like I’m one of those kind of people.

I was hoping to eloquently work this last part in to the above prose, but it just didn’t quite fit. So bear with me. The notion that this is a problem without a solution and therefore there are no answers and so somebody loses their name so it might as well be the woman actually isn’t right. There really is a good solution to this: everybody gets a male and female last name. The name we mostly use and carry to the next generation is the name of our gender. The way that this would work is that if Clancy and I have a daughter, she would formally be Lain Lindsey Himmelreich-Truman, but go by the name Lain Himmelreich most of the time. If we had a son named William Edward Himmelreich-Truman, he would go by Eddie Truman. If my daughter married some guy named John Smith, she would lose the Truman, add the Smith, and her children would be Truman-Smith. If Ted married a girl named Jones, he would change his full name Jones-Truman. And this would continue from generation to generation.

The advantage of this situation is that it would allow for legacy names for women. I am the fourth William ______ Truman in my line. But women can’t do that as easily because their names are always subject to change and even if they don’t change their name the daughters will take their father’s name. Unlike common hyphenation, this is sustainable over generations. Each have their name but there is also a collective, family name. It may sound a bit confusing at first, but it’s something that I would expect people to get used to pretty quickly.

So is that something that Clancy and I are going to do? Well no, because it’s one of those things that only works when everybody else does it. I have no desire to be a domestic trailblazer. Further, since nobody else does it, it would invariably lead to assumptions that any daughters I have are stepchildren because while mothers having different last names as their children is not unheard of (due to not changing their name or divorce and remarriage), the same is not true of fathers. Mostly, though, it’s the trailblazer thing and a desire not to use my family to express my dissent from tradition. If I have a daughter that makes the decision to trailblaze by taking her mother’s name (when she turns 18), I won’t object.

* – Actually, she likes me having facial hair more than I do. She doesn’t like it when I shave. The point being, though, that a moustache is not a compromise because it’s more different from clean-shaven than it is from bearded and besideswhich nobody likes moustaches and they look particularly retarded on me.

** – Oh, and our actual last names do not, shall we say, roll off the tongue. Even less so than Himmelreich-Truman.

Category: Coffeehouse

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15 Responses to A House of Divided Name

  1. Kirk says:

    If a woman doesn’t like tradition, then why is she getting married in the first place? And even if marriage is somehow still justified without tradition, then why have things like an engagement ring? Why a wedding, and all that entails?

    It’s a bit hunt-and-peck.

  2. trumwill says:

    Fair question on the engagement ring, though there are some women that are uncomfortable with that, too (my sister-in-law wouldn’t let her ex-husband get her a ring, though she has one with her current husband – she mellowed out). For the less traditionally inclined, I think it’s a question of which traditions are worth fighting. I think after the collapse of her first marriage, Ellie determined that “going with the flow” on things like rings was probably a worthy attitude when it comes to smaller things that don’t make much of a difference.

    As for the wedding, a lot of people are doing the small wedding thing. Clancy and I chose a medium-sized wedding, though we basically made it a party (none of that fifteen toasts talking all about us, us, us thing) and who can object to a party? I might have preferred a church wedding out of tradition, but I don’t really have any complaints.

  3. Kirk says:

    For what it’s worth, one of the characters in Hot Tub Time Machine hyphenated his name to include his wife’s after he got married. (I don’t remember their names, but it was along the lines of “John Smith” becoming “John Smith-Wilkins.”)

    And I half-remember a news story where some guy took his wife’s last name, losing his own in the process. Either case would be a little too emasculating for me to handle.

  4. trumwill says:

    Mass hyphenation is popular in Britain (where everyone in the household takes the hyphenated name). My main problem with it is that it is unsustainable (three generations down the road, everyone’s got eight last name) and for some names it gets tedious. That’s why, if I were drafting the customs, I would make the hyphenation only used for formal and family references and have a primary and secondary last name the rest of the time (and only the primary name follows them into marriage) based on gender.

    Phi mentioned reading somewhere that some men used to take their wife’s last name if it meant preventing the name from dying out (ie he has brothers and she does not have brothers or cousins with the same last name). Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion took his wife’s name, though they never explain why. Some Nippophiles have said that it’s something that occurs when a man marries a woman of a higher class, though I’ve never been able to verify that.

  5. Maria says:

    I don’t use my husband’s last name, but I’m conventional enough to endorse having his name attached to the spawn without hyphens. I’m also not anal enough to freak out if someone calls me “Mrs. XX” or addresses a Christmas card inaccurately. Jeez how petty can some people get?

    It seems kind of reductive to say, well, if you don’t want to take your husband’s name, then you can’t have an engagement ring or a white wedding.

    I rather like my engagement ring and my rather expensive silk dupioni wedding dress boxed up in my closet for handing down to my daughter some day.

    There aren’t “wedding cops” out there policing what traditions get picked up, and what ones get put aside.

  6. Maria says:

    PS — In Germany the law is, couples must have the same name but it can either be the man’s or the woman’s. I have a female relative whose husband changed his name to hers.

  7. Maria says:

    Some Nippophiles have said that it’s something that occurs when a man marries a woman of a higher class, though I’ve never been able to verify that.

    If the name is truly great but is in danger of getting lost because there is only a female heir, British aristocrats combine names, or even allow the female’s name to predominate. British law also allows peerage titles to be passed on to female heirs if there is no male heir, but I believe you have to petition the monarch specifically for this to happen.

    The Churchill family i.e. the Dukes of Marlborough, are actually really named Spencer Churchill due to the marriage centuries ago of a male Spencer (same family as Lady Di’s) and a female Churchill heiress. Over the years they quietly de-emphasized the “Spencer” because Churchill was the more prestigious name.

  8. ? says:

    “British law also allows peerage titles to be passed on to female heirs if there is no male heir, but I believe you have to petition the monarch specifically for this to happen.”

    In England, peerages created by writ of summons to Parliament (i.e pretty much only very old peerages) can be inherited by heirs general, so that if a peer dies with only a daughter surviving, she would inherit ahead of more distant male relatives. However, if there is more than one heiress, the title goes into abeyance that can only be terminated in favor of one of them (or one of their descendants) by the monarch. All Scottish peerages seem to follow this pattern as well (not sure how they handle multiple heiresses though).

    More recent peerages created by letters patent can only be passed on according to the terms of those letters patent, which usually specify “heirs male of the body” or somesuch. The monarch can grant letters patent for peerages specifying special remainders to heiresses. In the case of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, an act of Parliament allowed his title to pass to heiresses under certain conditions.

    I’m not British but find the title business interesting.

  9. Nanani says:

    > it’s something that occurs when a man marries a woman of a higher class

    This is true, if rather rare and rarer today than it once was. The “higher social class” description refers very specifically to the samurai-peasant division of feudal Japan. Essentially, a samurai could give his family name (peasants did not have them at all) to his daughter’s husband, effectively lifting the son-in-law into the samurai class, which at the time had a lot of legal as well as social ramifications.

    There is a lot of material to be read about it, though I fear not much will be in English.

    These days, it is still legally permissible for either partner in a marriage to change their name, though it is far more common for the wife to do so. There might be pressure for the man to change his name if the daughter is from an especially old or notable family, especially one that has a family business to which the name is attached.
    Hyphenation is non-existant except in the case of marriage to a foreign national, and even then only the Japanese name will appear on legal documents.

    -from Japan

  10. Kirk says:

    Small world: I found this article about names in the Japan Times.


  11. Nanani says:

    RE: Kirk

    That article is odd in a lot of places. I don’t think that author (his website says he is “self-published”, a red flag for non-fiction) really knows what he is talking about.

  12. DaveinHackensack says:

    OT, but I wonder if I’m the only reader who would be interested in a sister blog to this, a Hit Coffee Digest. One that offered two or three paragraph summaries of the posts on the regular Hit Coffee blog. If you wanted to be cleverer, instead of Hit Coffee Digest, you could call it Hit Espresso. When you want a pithy shot of the wit and wisdom of Trumwill & friends, but don’t have the patience to down a full cup of Hit Coffee.

  13. trumwill says:

    Back on my pre-Trumwill old political blog, I used to have a sideblog that was a lot of fun. Much more digestible in the way that I think you’re envisioning, though never more than a paragraph. I have wanted to do something like that with Hit Coffee, but WordPress (v1.5) is not as conducive to it as was the old software I used.

    I’ve also toyed with using my Twitter account in that capacity, but it’s hard to fit anything of note into 140 characters and so it’s mostly been just various links. I’m kinda collecting bite-size thoughts and ideas in Randomania, though that ebbs and flows and gets posted along with everything else.

    If and when I upgrade to a more recent version of WordPress, I may give the sideblog a chance again. Or maybe I’ll do as most bloggers do and pitch my posts on Twitter in the meantime.

  14. DaveinHackensack says:

    I’m not sure which version of WordPress I’m using, but I’m not aware of any minimum post length requirements on it.

    Some folks use Tumblogs as side blogs, though I’m not too familiar with them.

    I mostly use Twitter to link to posts occasionally, or to respond to others’ tweets. Occasionally, I find a witty thought I can express in 140 characters. Not too often though. Twitter seems to be mostly noise though.

  15. trumwill says:

    It’s not a minimum post length requirement so much as the ability to have two blogs that can appear on the same page or on two separate pages. The old software made that easy. WordPress 1.5 makes it hard. However, League of Ordinary Gentlemen has them on the same page, so I have to assume that newer versions make it easier. I’m not sure if they do exactly what The Old Software let me do. It’ll be something to tinker with.

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