Caroyln Hax: The (married) name game

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 26, 2012

Dear Carolyn:

When a woman chooses to take her husband’s name is it obnoxious if I ask, “Why is this the right decision for you?” and then really listen to the answer?

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Not one of my friends has changed her name yet, so I haven’t had to put this in practice, but I’m genuinely curious why people still make this choice. If I thought the majority of wives-to-be had put great thought into the decision (like a recent writer to your online chat clearly has), then it would not bother me. I just hate the assumption that a woman will do this, whereas a man would not. And it is an assumption: The friends who have not changed their names get a shocking amount of grief for it.

Name Changes

So why would you look for polite ways, then, to give women “a shocking amount of” grief for taking a husband’s name — finding them guilty of sexist assumptions until they prove themselves innocent?


(The Washington Post)

From here, you appear to be violating the same boundary as those who shame women for keeping their names, by acting as jury on whether a woman has “put great thought” into her name. Neither the quantity of thought nor validity of the philosophy applied is any of your business — and treating it as such implies that you expect women to represent their demographic the way you think they should, vs. the way each of them actually wants to. And that includes rejecting the very idea that being female makes them spokeswomen for anyone besides themselves.

Now, if you simply struggle to see this choice from any perspective but your own and those of your friends, and you want to understand, and have no agenda to push, then by all means, make like a scientist and start gathering data. But if the agenda is there, then obnoxious it is, and these women will read it right off your sleeve.

Dear Carolyn:

My eldest son graduated magna cum laude from a prestigious university and went Army ROTC his junior year. He went into the infantry and got his Ranger tab and a Bronze Star when he was in Afghanistan, among other distinctions. He feels it is the best decision he ever made, as he’s become a competent leader.

I’m frequently asked, “How could you let him go into the military?” I’m floored by this on several levels. What’s the best way to respond?

Anonymous

With your dukes a little lower and your chest a little less puffed.

Every bit of your pride in your son is deserved; that’s not the problem. The problem is, you apparently still feel you have something to prove.

I say that because responding to these people is easy: “Seriously? I’m so proud of him I could plotz.” (Or, “I’m flattered you think I have such power over him,” or, “I know, right? Why couldn’t he stay safe in my basement playing video games!”)

And when people bypass simple solutions to write to someone like me, that tends to mean there’s an ulterior motive on board. If you have one, then please take a hard look to see what it means.

While I’m here, thank you both for your sacrifices.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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