After two years together, The Man and I are in the early negotiations of happily ever after. You know, that contemplative what-if stage that places the relationship in front of a firing squad of questions about the possibility of spending the next 40, 50, 60 years together without accumulating a flipbook of mugshots or refusing to be buried next to each other.
Our biggest argument, up until recently, had been about where to live once we stroll the aisle. It’s the classic Philly vs. D.C. Showdown of the cities (and if it wasn’t classic before, it certainly is now). But a new argument reared its ugly head during a recent chat about my hopes of finishing (which means I’d actually have to start) my PhD. In the heat of my daydreaming, I took my would-be married name for a test drive.
“Dr. Janelle Harris-Williams.” I swooned like a giddy extra in the “Beauty School Dropout” scene of Grease. Boyfriend jutted his bottom jaw, something he does when he’s about to serve up a verbal smackdown.
“Harris-Williams!” he scoffed. “I think you mean Dr. Janelle Williams.”
Uhhh no. Pretty sure I meant the first one.
Seems he takes offense to the idea of me attaching his last name to the one I already have. The move, according to him, says I’m wishy washy about my commitment and is a flashing neon indicator that I’m not ready to leave my family and be a wife. I flagged him for being crazy. But when I introduced the subject for discussion on Facebook—hypothetically so as not to blow him out of the water—turns out plenty of folks from both genders side with his opinion. I didn’t tell him that, though.
There is no level-headed reason why a woman should have to abandon her family’s last name in order to prove her fidelity and allegiance to her man. None whatsoever. The concept is as archaic and patriarchal as, oh I don’t know, forgoing your dreams to be an apron-sporting housewife a la June Cleaver or pretending to be an airhead to appease your guy’s fragile ego.
According to The Knot, only 6 percent of newlywed women opted to hyphenate their names—the same number reported on the stats from the year before. So it’s not necessarily a fire-hot trend. I’m in a bit of a minority. Sooo what? I’ve worked hellishly to build up some steam in my career, so I have professional grounds to hold on to my original surname. Hey, if Eva Parker or Jada Smith had a new flick coming out, the crickets would be chirping and we’d gloss over them like they were as generic and nondescript as Jane Jones, right?
But add the “Longoria” and the “Pinkett,” respectively, the bells and whistles of familiarity go off and the general public might contemplate going to see the movie. Might. Just like they might be more interested in reading something Janelle Harris-Williams wrote as opposed to Janelle Williams. Not that I have legions of fans, but I don’t want to throw anybody off when they start thinking about congregating.
As women wait longer to get married—or take longer to find someone worth marrying—we’re already well-established in our work lives by the time our dream beau comes along. So it should be understandable that many of us don’t want the hassle of converting our longstanding professional identities. Email addresses, monogrammed attaches and all.
But that’s not even the most important thing. It’s the whole gender hierarchy of being the one forced to forfeit my name—the name I grew up with, the name I share with my mom, grandmother and daughter, the name I’ve had for 30-shut-yo-mouth years—to take on a completely different identity. On paper anyway. It’s my tribute to my grandfather and his people, particularly because my child and I are the last Harrises. We’re a family made largely of girls and the few male cousins I do have all have different surnames. So the Harris line dies off with us and I intend to hang on to the name as long as I possibly can.
Besides, what exactly what does a man have to give up in order to marry a woman? Fewer evenings at the nudie bar and neater housecleaning habits? Yet we’re expected to disassociate ourselves by name from the very families who shaped us into the women these guys fall in love with and want to marry. If I had been born male, I would’ve had no choice but to carry on the Harris name. But because I have an innie, not an outie, I’m forced to show my Post-Marital Pride by sloughing part of my me-ness. Not I said the brown cow. Can’t my hyphen rep for both my past and my future—and have a nice ring to it in the process?