What's In a Name?

July 19th, 2010
As a feminist, I am for choice. If Jes-sica Grose '04 wants to change her surname upon marriage because it is a "sweet" thing to do, great ("A Sweet Decision," Alumni POV, May/June)!

But her essay fails to delve into the complexities of naming practices. Just as a previous article in the same BAM mentions a speaker's lecture on slavery and its long-term societal aftereffects, so too does women's prior lack of independent status linger in the relinquishing of "maiden" names.

Nowhere in her piece does Grose mention her husband's offering to exchange his name for hers. Nor does she explore the mess she'll find herself in with different professional and personal names in this post-9/11 world.

I could go on and on about the inequality that women fought in order to keep their birth names, and the frustration I feel when a woman decides to go back to an old practice to accommodate, to be sweet.

Susan J. Behrens '84 AM, '86 PhD
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Don't do it, Jessica! I read with dismay Jessica Grose's conclusion that changing her name when she marries would be a "sweet" thing to do. Sweet is whichever spouse wakes first and brings the other coffee in bed. Changing your identity is not.

There are both subtle and overt forms of sexism. An example of the overt is that women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar men make; subtle sexism is when a couple becomes Mr. & Mrs. Him. Compare the difference between a couple being introduced as John Doe and his wife, Jane, to John Doe and his wife, Jane Johnson. The former implies that the woman is an extension of her husband, while the latter implies she is a woman in her own right.

Keep your name, Jessica! Take a stance toward putting to bed this archaic practice. Let's have the next generation of little girls grow up imagining themselves married someday with the names that their parents so carefully chose for them still intact. Now that would be sweet!

Wendy Lapides '77
Barrington, R.I.


I found Jessica Grose's POV oddly disturbing. It feels at first like a review of how far women have come by allowing her final, post-feminist decision to look like a real exercise of choice. But for this kind of post-feminism to have any traction as a form of genuine equality, the author should have considered the possibility of a husband taking a wife's name. Without this, the article looks less like a statement about how lucky we are to have all that behind us, and more like a ritual of dispossession: we didn't want that liberty anyway.

Julia Flanders '91 AM, '05 PhD
Smithfield, R.I.


That Jessica Grose even has the choice to take her husband's last name or keep her own is due to the efforts of the women who came before us. One important lesson these women taught us has been forgotten in this post-feminist age: the personal is political. The small choices we make every day actually do matter.

I do not think it's "narcissistic" of Ms. Grose to wonder if her decision "affects the whole of womankind." It does. Every choice we make presents us with an opportunity. We can do our part to help create the kind of world we want for our daughters, the way our mothers did for us, or we can convince ourselves that feminism is irrelevant and the decisions we make in our personal lives affect only us and hope for the best.

Amanda Biers-Melcher '89
Burbank, Calif.


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Related Issue
July/August 2010