Nam­ing rights worth the bat­tle

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

Be­trothed women of the world, unite! You have noth­ing to lose but your hus­bands’ names.

I’m get­ting mar­ried in a few days, and — as I’m told hap­pens with most wed­dings — lots of ex­haust­ing fights over mi­nus­cule de­tails have bro­ken out along the long, treach­er­ous road to the al­tar. But the big­gest blow-ups, in my case, were over names.

Specif­i­cally, women’s names. Or lack thereof.

Here’s how it be­gan. My mother was in charge of pa­per prod­ucts — in­vi­ta­tions, en­velopes and seat­ing cards — mostly be­cause she had much stronger pref­er­ences about th­ese things than I did. I didn’t par­tic­u­larly care if the pa­per stock came from an­cient Egyp­tian papyri bur­gled from an archaeological dig, or from re­cy­cled toi­let pa­per or if we had dead-tree in­vi­ta­tions at all. I’m pretty cool with

I had but one un­yield­ing, Bridezil­lian de­mand, cham­pi­oned by my fem­i­nist fiance as well: how women’s names were ren­dered. Specif­i­cally, that they be ren­dered at all.

I have al­ways hated the tra­di­tion of call­ing mar­ried women, in for­mal cor­re­spon­dence, by their hus­band’s full names. You know what I mean: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith,” as op­posed to some ver­sion of “Mr. Robert Smith and Mrs./Ms. Jane Smith.” I un­der­stand why women of­ten choose to adopt their hus­bands’ sur­names upon mar­riage — for fam­ily unity, or avoid­ing con­fu­sion at preschool pickup, or what­ever — even if I have per­son­ally de­cided to hang on to my own name. But why must we con­fis­cate mar­ried women’s first names as well? Even wed­ded women have their own iden­ti­ties; they are not mere ap­pendages of their spouses.

So when it came to plan­ning my own wed­ding, I de­creed that any time we re­ferred to a mar­ried cou­ple, we would spell out the woman’s full first and last name. My mother ini­tially re­sisted, say­ing she was re­luc­tant to mess with tra­di­tion, but she fi­nally agreed to re­spect my wishes.

This turned out to be much harder than ei­ther of us re­al­ized.

When my mother in­structed a sta­tionery ven­dor to be­gin our wed­ding invitation with “‘Mother’s name’ and ‘Fa­ther’s name’ re­quest the plea­sure of your company ... ,” the sta­tioner was aghast. In all her years of craft­ing wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions, she squawked, not once had she veered into such ut­terly tacky ter­ri­tory. My mother

COM­MEN­TARY called me in a panic, con­vinced that my re­quested word­ing would sub­vert the proper or­der of the uni­verse.

I told her to find another sta­tioner who would ac­cept what­ever damn phras­ing we chose. Ul­ti­mately, she did.

Then it came time to have the in­vi­ta­tions ad­dressed, and my mother de­cided to splurge and hire a cal­lig­ra­pher. She sent the cal­lig­ra­pher an Ex­cel spread­sheet with all our in­vi­tees’ names and told her to tran­scribe them ex­actly as we had them or else suf­fer the wrath of Bridezilla. The cal­lig­ra­pher agreed.

But guess what form of ad­dress was on the en­velopes that my mar­ried friends re­ceived? “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith.” Even, in at least one case, where the wife had kept her maiden name.

At first I thought we’d just been un­lucky in our choice of ven­dors. Per­haps the cal­lig­ra­pher had made an hon­est mis­take. Then I started look­ing around on­line.

The Web, it seems, is also con­spir­ing to up­hold this aw­ful, anti-fem­i­nist tra­di­tion.

On­line ad­dress­ing guide­lines from ob­scure ar­ti­sans and well-es­tab­lished sta­tionery com­pa­nies alike — in­clud­ing Crane & Co. and Hall­mark — still gen­er­ally rec­om­mend ex­cis­ing a mar­ried woman’s name. (The Emily Post In­sti­tute waf­fles some­what in its rec­om­men­da­tions.) Mean­while, there are just as many wed­ding web­sites and mes­sage boards from brides-to-be ag­o­niz­ing over how to get around this dumb tra­di­tion with­out ap­pear­ing de­classe.

Of course, the Mr.-and-Mrs.-His­Name tra­di­tion is not iso­lated to wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions. It ap­pears on mail­ings from alumni or­ga­ni­za­tions, church groups, char­i­ties and junkmail mar­keters. I’ve even heard of women’s so­cial clubs whose di­rec­to­ries list their im­pres­sive, pro­fes­sion­ally ac­com­plished mem­bers as “Mrs. Hus­band’s Name.”

But it’s dur­ing the wed­ding plan­ning process — when a cou­ple is fig­ur­ing out ex­actly what it means to form a le­gal and spir­i­tual union of two sep­a­rate be­ings — that the pres­sure to per­pet­u­ate this ar­chaic tra­di­tion, of wholly sub­sum­ing the wife’s iden­tity into her hus­band’s, es­pe­cially ran­kles.

So I urge all fel­low brides-to-be out there: If you choose just one de­tail to fight over with your fam­ily, friends and ven­dors — and, oh, there are so many less mean­ing­ful, more ex­pen­sive is­sues to choose from — let it be this one. Call your mar­ried fe­male friends by their given names, and then, post-wed­ding, in­sist they do the same for you.

Cather­ine Ram­pell’s email ad­dress is cram­pell@wash­ Follow her on Twit­ter, @cram­pell.


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