Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I Do, I Don't - Taking a new husband's name

A forty-something friend of mine is going to remarry soon and she asked my opinion on changing her last name. Her soon-to-be husband wants her to take his name. As she was married once before she has been there, done that, and undone that and isn’t sure she wants to go through the hassle again. On the other hand, she isn’t sure she wants to hassle over it with her man as they begin a new life together. My response was “don’t change.” But, that’s just me. My two daughters recently married and they both took on their husband’s names. I don’t think women of today should lose their surnames to a tradition that is, in my opinion, outdated and unnecessary.

I married for the first time in 1980. I hyphenated my last name just like Farrah Fawcett-Majors did. I liked the independence the new trend allowed. Then I got divorced and had to undo it all in the courts, on legal documents, my mailing labels. When I remarried my husband asked that I take his name. We compromised and I left out the hyphenation (which I’ve since reinstated). Truthfully, I wish I had just kept Gioia and left it at that. It is a big, huge pain to carry two last names as well as an attitude like mine that gets peeved when people automatically assume saying Acres is adequate.

I have several reasons for harboring this opinion. First, I was born a Gioia. I am not a Reynolds (first husband) or an Acres. When a woman takes her husband’s name I believe she loses her identity. I know my mother-in-law doesn’t mean disrespect to me when she addresses mail to “Mrs. John Acres”; she’s from a different generation but it irks me to no end to be lost in that title. Of course I love my husband and am mighty proud to be his wife; but I am still me, not a reflection of his “ownership.”

Another reason I insist on using Gioia is much more symbolic. My dad, Joseph Gioia, died before I was old enough to know him. He committed a heinous act when he took the life of his wife, my mother, in a moment of alcohol infused rage, otherwise known as a crime of passion. In his remorse and perhaps fear of incarceration and probable execution, he took his own life. For years his name and that of his family was sullied by the story.

One of the few photos I have of my dad, Joseph Gioia

It wasn’t until I began to investigate what might have inspired a man who, by all accounts, adored his wife and family to do what he did, that I discovered the “pat” answers were anything but. There was more to the story than what the Batavia Daily News headline, Father of Four Accused of Murder and Murder Suspect Takes Own Life reveals. Through my research I have discovered that my father was not the monster he was made out to be; there were many mitigating circumstances that led to that tragic moment in time.

My feelings for and about my father are complicated: I want to love him but I never knew him and how can I ever forgive him for what he did? Holding on to the one thing he gave me (his name) that can’t be taken away is one way I feel I can honor him.

It also is my ticket to getting to know him and my history. In the town where I was born and where the “incident” took place, there are many people who remember. I count on my last name to open doors in order for me to gather all the information I can about my parents. I wrote a few articles published in the (Batavia) Daily News that spurred several readers to come forward and share their memories of both my parents and the aftermath of their deaths. I treasure those offerings as they provided me with more evidence that Pat Oberlander and Joe Gioia really did exist.

For me, holding on to one’s birth name goes far beyond the feminist reasons to maintain identity. So perhaps I’m not the ideal person to ask, “Should I take my husband’s name?” The decision to do so is personal and can only be made by the individual for reasons that make sense to them.


Megan Dale Lee said...

This is an incredible piece--thanks for sharing! I couldn't agree more!

June Saville said...

A thought provoking and generous post. Thank you.

I too faced re-naming myself. I have had TWO divorces. I took the name of my first husband as that was what we did in those days, and it was convenient with my children.

I also changed to the name of my second husband - I realise now unwisely.

During this second divorce I was signing the papers for a very bitter settlement of a long and harrowing court case when I told my solicitor of my overwhelming desire to get rid of my then husband's name. She offered to set up a deed poll as a birthday gift.

I was numb when I knew I had to make yet another choice. Much thought later I took again the name I had when I was born. And it will certainly remain that way. It's who I am.

The Machinist's Wife said...

Hi Lisa

I'm all for taking the husband's surname. When you are married, you become one. I don't believe it takes away my individuality - nothing could do that. I'm still the same person and always will be. Being concerned about a (possible) name change further down the line seems to me to be sort of 'setting the seeds' of doubt as to whether you will or will not remain married. It's an honour to me to take my husband's name. I am thrilled!
I'm also convinced that retaining a maiden name (when married) is instrumental in all the confusion we have today. But that's just me...
I love your thought provoking blogs. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

See! It's such a complicated matter: take his name, don't take his name. "To each his own" I have been learning! Thank you for your contributions.

My Moon said...

Just wanted to say hi and thanks for stopping by my blog today! I look forward to reading more of your posts and getting to know you too!

Sarah said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I really like this entry. Thanks for sharing your family's story. I am with you on the name thing. I kept my birth name (I don't call it a maiden name cause I certainly wasn't a maiden when I met my husband!).

ajgallion said...

I see nothing wrong or offensive about a woman keeping her family's surname and not taking on that of her husband's. This is what I did and although I am no longer married, I don't regret my decision and believe that any secure and whole man can respect a woman's choice in this matter.

Alan Burnett said...

Just the kind of post I like - one that makes me think. Whilst I agree that women should keep their original names the question is what should the children be called. I always think that the Scandinavian system where the children become John's Son Or Mary's Daughter leads to a loss of what is a rich fabric of surnames.

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

I agree with you, Alan, it's a quandary. In Mexico children practically take on their entire ancestry in their names. As I wrote in my post I have my father's name so for me, I guess, having the paternal surname suits.

Marilyn Longinotti Geary said...

Interesting post. We're have come a long way from the days when women were called by their husband's name: Mrs. Robert Smith, etc.
When I first married, I wanted to keep my maiden name, Longinotti, so I had a hyphenated last name:
Longinotti-Geary. I was reluctant to let go of my Longinotti name. It speaks of my Italian-American heritage and my identify.

But the hyphenated name was long and cumbersome. It took way to long to say it and spell it out. Finally I compromised and changed my middle initial to L for Longinotti. Now I am Marilyn L. Geary and when I chose, I can put the replace the L with Longinotti.

Valerie said...

Hi Lisa. First of all let me thank you for visiting my blog.

As for names, I'm of the generation that took the man's name and kept it. Even after a divorce I kept it. Why? For the sake of my son, I guess.

I often wonder how we will be able to trace our roots in the family tree if names vary so much. How will single parent families cope if they want to trace back.

My secretary is divorced; her husband 'demanded' his name back and she reverted to her maiden name.
That's my take on names but like you say, each to their own.

I was enthralled by the story of your parents. No wonder you want to keep your name, and rightly so.

Sorry this is so long, your blog must have inspired me.

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

I have enjoyed the reading and contemplating the responses received for this post so much! Valerie, comments can never be too long, the more words the better. Thanks to all who weighed in on this topic. Now I must think of more response-worthy ones to post. The pressure! :-)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Hi, Lisa! Thanks for visiting my blog!!! I am on a blogging break right now, but hope to return in the next several weeks...And since I LOVE making new friends, I am thrilled to meet you!!! Yes, there is so much history in a name...I, too, love my birth name...and still write under it...even though at times I assume my husband's name for writing too...guess I'm a bit conflicted ;-) Or I like the idea of pen names ...LOL. Looking forward to getting to know you...I'll make a proper visit when I return to blogging...again, thank you so much for introducing yourself!!~Janine XO

Joanna Jenkins said...

What an honest and heart-breaking story-- You wrote about it beautifully.

As for changing names-- I did, but after my father passed away, I was sorry I had. I miss my family name.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Wendy said...

I'm sorry to hear the circumstances of your family. (We've had a similar incident in my family about a year and a half ago. Very horrible and unfortunate.)

Regarding names... I took my husband's name because I figured we'd be having children and I wanted all our names to match. I tried very hard to get him to take my last name because it's a cooler name but HE WOULDN'T! He even admits I have a better name! I'm sure he's afraid people would think he was weird if he changed his name to mine when we married. (They probably would.)

Lisa Gioia-Acres said...

I know of one or two men who have taken their wives names upon marriage. Good for them! Although I still think keeping one's original name is the best way to go.

Linda Hamilton said...

A great topic, with a changing social norm (is there one anymore?). I know women who have hyphenated their names, taken the husband's name, and created a new name. In one instance, I know a man who took his wife's name (his surname was Butts and he was glad for the opportunity!). I know a family in which the father, mother, and the two children all have a different last name. It really depends on one's own culture and priorities.

Marrying at 36-years old, I decided to take my husband's name. It's a good, strong name. I liked how it sounded; I liked writing it. My born-surname was adopted by my father's family while he was in college. Pushinski was dropped for Parker to avoid prejudice. So, I had no ancestral ties to my surname. Though I had a cheerful childhood full of opportunity, my sense of identity in my youth was wrapped in a web of self-consciousness, doubt and confusion, with forces pulling me in many different directions. Values and rules in my family were only implied, so my greatest sense of awareness and self and identity didn't happen until about the time I met my husband. I was glad for the opportunity to redefine myself.

Ultimately too, I wanted a family name that my children, husband and I shared...for my kids. And I was lucky that it became an easy decision.

I didn't know for sure what I would do, however, until the morning after we became engaged, when walking into a restaurant to make a reservation for that evening, the hostess asked, "Under what name?"

My then-fiance and I looked at each other, and at that moment, I knew.

"Hamilton," I replied.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

I am also a working personal historian who did not take her husband's name. To me it is silly to think a man's last name is more important than mine and archaic to expect women to take their husband's last name. Certainly my husband would not concider taking my last name. Our son shares both our last names, not hyphonated. He is equally my child as my husband's and his name claims us both.

In my work it is very important to trace both patrilinial and matrilinial lines and the more surnames I have access to the better.

On a personal note, I am horrified by the idea of being identified as "Mrs. So and So". I absolutly do not want my public, private or professional identity to be that of someone's wife. My husband would be unhappy at having his identity being usurped by being addressed as simply "martha's husband". Yes, I do think it is the same thing.

Just my opinion, but when my son grows up and gets married (or not) I hope his wife keeps her name, too.