Five years ago when we moved to Idaho, one of the first things I did was connect with the local homeschooling crowd. A few weeks later I found myself gathering at a woman’s house, chatting with several homeschooling mothers while our kids (ranging from newborn to older teens) played and visited.
At one point, a 14-year-old neighbor girl turned to me and said, “Mrs. Lewis, are you planning on putting in a garden this year?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t even hear her. Because, quite literally, in 13 years of marriage, I couldn’t ever remember having been being addressed as “Mrs. Lewis.”
The group paused and fell silent as the girl waited for my reply. When I finally realized the question had been addressed to me, I laughed awkwardly. “Oh please, call me Patrice.”
The teen looked puzzled. “Oh no,” she said quietly. “I can’t do that.”
This was my shocking introduction into the neo-retro world in which we found ourselves, a world where kids addressed their elders by Mr., Miss, or Mrs. Such-n-Such. Period.
Realizing that when in Rome I’d better act like a Roman, I hastily instructed our children to always use this new and novel form of address. Whenever I talk to the kids about an adult, I always say, “Mrs. Smith said …” rather than “Jane said …”
It didn’t take me long to realize that this seemingly trivial incident was an indicator of something much deeper. I had never lived in a place where old-fashioned manners were the norm, not the exception.
And oh my goodness, how I’ve come to love being addressed as “Mrs. Lewis.”
Attending my daughters’ swim lesson one morning with a friend and her children, the woman called to her young son, “John, please bring Mrs. Lewis a chair.” Wow. Simply on the basis of being a wife and mother – the radical feminists’ idea of a living hell – I was accorded a huge measure of politeness and respect. How cool is that?
Which brings me to another point, the fact that I took my husband’s last name instead of keeping my maiden name.
When we got married in 1990, I was a career woman working for a huge corporation in a big city. All my professional colleagues assumed that, naturally, I would keep my maiden name. After all, that’s what modern women did. So most people I worked with (well, most women) were shocked to hear I was taking my husband’s surname.
“But why?” they gasped, as if my decision were a personal insult. “You’ll lose your identity! It’s an antiquated notion! Women aren’t chattel anymore!”
Naturally, I’d heard the argument that taking a husband’s last name was an old-fashioned custom dating back to when women were possessions. One woman said that rather than becoming a man’s “property,” the modern woman should be an autonomous individual who “deserves” her own name.
I’ve also read that stripping a woman of her maiden name is a “damning” thing that strips away her sense of importance, her humanity, even her “personhood.” And of course, there’s always the popular “second class citizen” argument.
Frankly, if you have such a crappy attitude toward men, then don’t get married. Just give away the milk for free. It might be simpler that way.
I do see the logic of keeping a maiden name under certain situations. If you’ve established yourself in a public career under one name, it’s hard to change over to another name (non-public careers are easy to change over). In rare cases, the husband’s last name clashes terribly with the wife’s first name. (I once knew a woman named Lulu. Her fiancé’s last name was Lew. No kidding.) Other than this, I can’t come up with any good reason for hanging onto a maiden name unless you’re planning to keep one foot out the door.
I have yet to meet a happily married woman who regrets taking her husband’s name. Put to rest the absurd feminist notion that a married woman loses her identity, her importance and her personhood by changing her name. (Question: Does it seem to you like I’ve lost my identity? Do I strike you as oppressed?) Like most men who love their wives, my husband is proud of my accomplishments and achievements. In return, the least I can do is carry his surname with honor.
Besides, what’s wrong with taking delight in my marital state? What’s shocking about proclaiming to the world that I love my husband so much, I wanted to join my name with his? I consider it a privilege to carry on the ancient tradition of taking my husband’s name.
It brings extra joy that I chose not to be yoked with a man who views me as “chattel.” It also simplifies my kids’ lives. They don’t have to go around with the complication of a hyphenated last name, or have anyone question their paternity.
Another consideration is that if I’d kept my maiden name, people might assume that my husband and I were merely living together instead of being legally wed.
When we were engaged, my husband was renting an apartment and I was renting a house (with a yard – I had a dog). We decided that after the wedding he would move in with me.
When we returned from our honeymoon, we happily set up house together. One day the mailman walked up while I was on the porch. “Smith and Lewis?” he asked, sorting letters.
“No, Lewis and Lewis,” I replied. “We just got married.” I wanted it clear that my husband loved and respected me enough to take vows before God. He wasn’t merely getting the milk for free.
Now I confess that I like having the prefix “Ms.” available. There are many times I need to address mail to a woman of unknown marital status, in which case it’s nice to know I won’t offend by using an incorrect prefix.