Dear Katie Rosman,

If it were so important to your husband that you share a last name with him and the children, why didn’t he change his name to Rosman?  After all, it’s easy to spell and easy to pronounce in English.  I don’t understand why you permit him to make this your problem.

Oh, and his little “jokes” with perfect strangers and your own children about your surname, and the fact that you wrote about them in the Wall Street Journal?  Maybe you two should see a counselor.

Good luck with that,


61 thoughts on “Dear Katie Rosman,

  1. ‘And the argument that “it’s your father’s last name anyway, not really yours” makes just as much sense when aimed at a man, but nobody ever does that.’

    Totally agree. Men, no less than women, generally inherit a surname that once upon a time was seen as the property not of an individual (whether male or female), but of a broader (though no doubt patriarchal) family/kinship group. What rankles now about this naming business is that names are now seen as belonging to individuals (“his” name, “her” name, and so on), but it’s only women who are expected to unsettle their sense of individuality by going all pre-modern upon marriage.

    I certainly do not believe that “it’s your father’s name, anyway, and not your mother’s” means that women should therefore just capitulate to the default and change their surnames upon marriage. In fact, I’d prefer that women *didn’t* change their surnames to those of their husbands. But I’m no longer inclined to get all judgmental about women changing their names, given the obvious difficulties of escaping patrilineal nomenclature.

    In Scotland, as noted by Feminist Avatar above, historically a woman did not legally change her surname upon marriage (but that name was not really “hers” in the way that we now understand names to refer to unique individuals: it was that of her kinship group; but then, so too was that of husband’s not really “his” name either, but that of his kinship group also). From the mid- to late-eighteenth-century, though, as I understand it, Scottish women were increasingly, if informally [though still not legally], known by their spouses’ surnames, in the English mode, which may have been considered more “rational,” or perhaps “classier.”


  2. In Scotland, the move to women changing their names (which tends to be an elite phenomenon- the lower-classes take a lot longer to catch on to this trend) is because of changing ideals about marriage at the same time as move towards the social elite thinking of themselves as ‘British’. The first part of this is the decline in wider kin networks as the priority for marriage and the move to the prioritisation of the nuclear unit in marital negotiations, shaped by the changing economy, the rise of ideas about ‘independent manhood’ and the promotion of marrying for love, that all placed the emphasis on the newly created conjugal unit, and not the wider network. At the same time, the Scottish elite were having a bit of an identity crisis, trying to raise the status of Scotland within the British union, so adopting English fashions as a marker of ‘civilisation’ is fashionable in certain circles (but certainly not all- and I would argue the first reasons are more important).

    Also the non-Anglo-Irish in Ireland don’t change their names either until after the mid-nineteenth-century.


  3. I changed my name for my first marriage and did not for my second. The name change was MY idea for the first marriage. It was more trouble than it was worth. Part of this has to do with the nature of that marriage – I was the one who took responsibility for finances, etc., and so started bank and investment accounts. When we split, it was entirely my responsibility to write the letters documenting the name change back to my birth name (no way was I going to keep his name when we divorced) so that I could access the accounts. After living for so long in a miserable marriage, that really ground my gears. He didn’t have to do a thing for any of it! So my attitude became, “my name is MY name.” My second husband has no problem with my decision, but then again, unlike the writer’s husband, and my first husband, he’s not an asshole. He also suggested that our son carry my last name not his. He’s a generous guy.

    I have had people ask me why I didn’t change my name, and look sad when I explain. If a name change is supposed to represent the unity of marriage, the furthest I can go is hyphenating the two names, sorry.


  4. Couldn’t resist.

    “Alma tell us/all modern women are jealous
    You should have a statue in Bronze/ for bagging Gustav and Walter and Franz”


  5. Pingback: I said a link chicka link « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured

  6. I just got married, and it would have been simple for my husband to change his name. In Oregon, you get a screen pop up with all the possible permutations (that are legally allowed) for names of both husband and wife. It’s pretty nifty. I decided to change a small part of my name. But I did get him to say that it was completely my choice because he understands not wanting to change a name — he definitely didn’t want to change his name. So I put a lot of thought and consideration into what *I* wanted.


  7. Here via the Grumpies.

    Hmph. Yeah, I legally changed my name to my DH’s b/c I was delighted to have the opportunity to get rid of my father’s, except I kept that one (informally only) because I’d already published under it. It’s surprisingly maddening not to, e.g., be able to remember whether my health records are in my maiden name or my married name (depends … did I last see this doctor when I was covered through DH’s work’s insurance or mine, where I’m listed in my work, i.e., maiden name.). OTOH it greatly simplifies my life in that I maintain separate Facebook accounts for each identity and needn’t worry that my colleagues aren’t really interested in seeing yet another photo of my preschooler.

    (If I had it to do over, I might have left my name alone knowing that, as Miss Manners assures me, I can never (grammatically) be Mrs. Myfirstname Hubbylastname anyway but that I am Mrs. Hubbyfirstname Hubbylast name (i.e. never “Mrs. Jane Smith” but by definition Mrs. John Smith whether I take his name or not, since Mrs. means ‘wife of’). So Mrs. (and Mr.) Joe Ehrlich can chill out.)


  8. Mrs does not mean wife of. It means Mistress and historically denoted adult status, and not necessarily marital status. Many never married women were mistress (and thus Mrs) by right of their status in the community.


  9. I think the emphasis on last name is so wrong. The new rule should be to take the last “better” sounding last name, or whichever one is easier to spell. If the husband’s last name doesn’t work with your first name, don’t take it!


  10. Pingback: Surname follow-up: Flavia crunches the numbers and says “wev.” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  11. Pingback: Surname follow-up: Flavia crunches the numbers and says “wev.” | Historiann

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