What’s in a Name?

mom childI’m a Lucy Stoner.  Feminist, Lucy Stone, was the first U.S. woman to keep her own name after marriage, and other women who follow her example are referred to as Lucy Stoners. Current research indicates that only about 10% of married women in the United States are Lucy Stoners.

Many don’t realize the taking-your-husband’s-name tradition is primarily practiced only in English-speaking countries (with a few exceptions).  In many countries  –  China, Iran, Italy and Korea to name a few – women retain their birth name throughout their lives.   For English-speakers, our surname change tradition dates back to European Feudal times, when both husband and wife adopted the more powerful surname.  If the wife’s family owned more land, both husband and wife would use her surname after marriage.  However, starting in the Middle Ages, women were cut off from inheriting land – making the husband naturally more powerful.   Thus began the tradition of taking of the husband’s name.

Regardless of marital naming traditions, in almost all cultures, children take the father’s surname.  That’s the hardest part about being a Lucy Stoner –  having a different last name than my son.   When signing documents for my son’s school or his participation in sports, I always write ‘mother’ in parentheses, so they know who I am.  At the airport, when we show our tickets and identification, I feel like TSA agents are sizing me up as a kidnapper.  And when my son becomes President of the United States or is elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, people will think I’m crazy when I claim to be his mom.

High divorce rates have increased the number of single parent households.  And, who is it that raises these kids?  About 82% of single-parent families are run by moms.  On their own, many of these moms are raising their kids who are using dad’s last name.  And what message does it send to our kids when all children take their dad’s name?  That dad’s name is somehow more important?

I think it’s time we start changing this naming “tradition.”  I’m not suggesting all kids get the mom’s name – that wouldn’t be fair either.  And hyphenated names are just too long and clumsy.   But  I bet we could find some sort of compromise (children born on odd days get mom’s surname and even days get dad’s, or first borns get dad’s name, and second children get mom’s?).

Taking mom’s last name is not as unusual as you might think.  Four percent of women are already passing their surnames to their children, and listed below are a few celebrities who chose to use their mom’s last name.  As for my son, I think it’s too late for a surname change – but it’s not too late to make him understand why this tradition is a bit unfair.

    • Barry Manilow
    • Diane Keaton
    • Garry Kasparov
    • Katy Perry
    • Eddie Vedder
    • Eric Clapton
    • Lauren Bacall
    • Pablo Picasso

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