Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Name is My Cultural Identity

When I read Jill Filipovic’s “Why should married women change their names? Let men change theirs,” I immediately felt that she was not talking to women like me. As much I embrace feminism and support dialogue that expands cultures, traditions, and races, once again some women were left out of the conversation. Had Jill Filipovic asked me what I think about a woman changing her last name upon marriage, she would have learned that as a fellow feminist, I have a completely different mindset on what a name means.Since I got engaged the question I get asked the most after “when is the wedding?” is “will you change your last name?” I know this is a question most women get when they announce an engagement, and it doesn’t bother me much. I do however feel that the conversation is very Anglo-centric. I am a Latina woman marrying an Arab man, and in both our cultures women do not change their names when they get married.

I was born in the the Dominican Republic, and like most countries in Latin America except for Argentina, women do not drop their last names when they get married. If they want to, they can add the proprietary “de” after their last name, but that is only used in informal settings or if the husband is very well known. Women never legally change their birth name, and it is considered offensive to her family for a woman to change her name.

Our last names represent our heritage and our lineage. We take pride in our family names and passing down our mother’s last name is as important as our father’s. Latin American marriages are about two families uniting and great emphasis is put in ensuring that those two families are equally represented. The fact that I no longer use my maternal last name upsets my maternal grandparents, but they see it as a consequence of living in the United States.

In the United States my sisters and I are known only by our father’s last name. Similarly, my mother dropped her birth name and now goes only by her husband’s name. When I questioned my mother on why she dropped her last name she simply said that she had no idea she could keep it. She, like many other families immigrating to the United States assumed that the only way of assimilating is by adopting American traditions. Until a conversation I had with my mother last week, she thought that it was legally required for women to change their last name to their husbands’.

Latinos live on the crossroads of two different cultures. In our adopted country we want to keep our traditions alive but the need to assimilate is oftentimes much greater.

To answer everyone’s question on whether or not I will change my last name when I get married, the simple answer is no. My name was already changed when I moved to the United States, and while I have no sentimental attachment it, it is the name I first learned how to write in kindergarten, the name I used through my adolescence when I won spelling bees and perfect attendance awards, and the name I used to introduce myself to my future husband.

I’ve grown to see my name as an extension of my identity.

Furthermore, I am in a multicultural relationship. Our cultures are so different when it comes to marriage and naming children that in order to make any sense of it we would have to make our own rules. In Latino culture we use both parents’ name; in Arab cultures the given name is followed by the father’s first name. Mixing cultures when we’re already living outside our home countries is a recipe for disaster if you try to please everyone. So, instead of worrying about what others think we’ll play by our own rules.

Not all women feel the same way about their last names. Some do not want to be associated with their families, others simply enjoy the idea of a new identity, and others feel pressured by their society. The truth is that changing names should be a personal decision, but oftentimes societal pressures can become burdensome. In a society where women feel pressured to “have it all” we need to understand that letting one thing go does not make us less of a feminist.


I originally wrote this post for Flyover Feminism.

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