“Thanks for inviting me even though I’m obstinate”

That’s the comment I got from my brother’s girlfriend as they were leaving Andrew’s (my yougest) birthday party.  It was in response to my comment on my brother’s blog where I called women who refuse to talk their husband’s last name obstinate.

So now I feel obligated to explain/defend myself…

What may not have been clear in my comment was that I was not saying that all women should take the name of their spouse.  In fact, in numerous traditional societies it’s not even the convention for women to do so and I wouldn’t expect them to conform to our society’s conventions.

What I am saying is this: OUR society’s convention is for women to take their husband’s last name for very specific symbolic reasons.  It is a sign that the bride is no longer an immediate member of her parent’s family and now is part of a new family, a family made up of her, her husband and their future children.

Any woman who doesn’t agree with the above symbolism shouldn’t get married.

Is it true that the groom is doing the same thing in leaving his parent’s family?  Yes, it is.  And if we had a similar convention or if a couple wanted to create a convention that symbolized that, I’d fully expect the groom to support it.

But that’s not what is at issue here (the groom).  What is at issue is the disposition of the bride.  Is she really willing to make a sacrifice for her new husband?  I guess if perhaps (and I think this is fairly rare) the groom-to-be tells his fiancee that he doesn’t want her to take his name, then it wouldn’t be a case of obstinence.  Although I would still hope that she woud want to take the name anyway.

See, marriage takes a lot of compromise.  It takes BOTH spouses putting their marriage’s interests above their own.  A name is really a trivial thing in the big picture.  There will be times when both spouses will have to do far more.  If one of those two entering the marriage isn’t willing to do something as simple as change their name, then there is a problem.

And to be clear, I expect both spouses in a marriage to fully dedicate their lives to serving the other.  Marriage is a life of service to one another.  I expect men to give everything they have to their wives.  There have been numerous times when I have made it clear to friends of mine that I thought they weren’t honoring their wives by giving all of themselves.  I expect a great deal of husbands and expect them to make every sacrifice necessary to meet the needs of their wife and children.  I expect the same of wives, including the trivially small issue of being willing to give up their last name.

Just to make sure I finish off the post with a bang, I’ll go through all the bogus reasons people will hit me with for why it is OK for a woman to insist on keeping her own name:

  • It will impact my professional career: Get used to it.  In every marriage one or both will have to make significant career sacrifices.
  • My family’s last name will die: It’s just a name.  You’re going to have to sacrifice more than that.
  • I think not doing it is an important statement for women’s rights: I’m glad to hear that a political movement is more important than your marriage.  I predict a marriage where you demonize your husband as a male pig every time a situation arrises that requires you compromise with your husband.
  • Why doesn’t he take my name?: Sounds great if you lived in a society that used that as their convention.  But you don’t and it would be just as stupid for a man in that society to question that convention as it is for you to be obstinate.
  • You just think women should submit to their husbands: You’re right.  I also think that husbands need to put their wife’s desires above their own.

Any questions?

13 Responses to ““Thanks for inviting me even though I’m obstinate””

  1. Sarah Says:

    It is interesting that we both published a blog the same night on the same topic. (Mine was prompty shot down by your brother, who felt I was being too hard on you).

    But I feel I must respond to your comments, which I still believe have an air of sexism to them. I understand that you expect both people in the marriage to compromise and I agree, but I don’t think it should automatically be the woman who has to change her name simply because it is tradition. It is also tradition for the bride’s family to pay for the wedding. How fair is that? It comes from the old notion of paying a dowry for a woman (thus making a woman a piece of property that must be negotiated rather than a whole person).

    Taking the husband’s name is another old-fashioned tradition. Why does the woman have to take the man’s name? Why do the names HAVE to merged if neither person wants to give up their last name? This is a choice each woman should make and her choice should not be condemned by others. Your original comment is disparaging because it refers to women who keep their names as stubborn and alludes to the fact that doing so is also selfish. Please.

    I’m very attached my last name and won’t ever part with it. To me, it’s like giving up a piece of myself and I wouldn’t expect the person I marry to ask me to do so. Also, I’ve worked hard at establishing a professional identity and I don’t want to give that up either. (Have I gone through all this school just to wind up Dr. Someone Else? I think not). There are many things I will compromise on and other things that I won’t (and shouldn’t be expected to).

    If you believe, as you say you do, that husbands should also put their wives desires above their own, then shouldn’t a woman’s desire to maintain her last name supercede her husband’s desire to adhere to convention?

  2. Ken Crawford Says:

    Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. You have a unique gift of finding a supposed “parallel” to argue your point when in reality you’re parallel is bogus. A dowry is a morally objectionable tradition. That’s something entirely different.

    I heartily agree that doing something just because it is tradition without looking at the moral/ethical merits of doing so is foolish.

    But that’s not what I’m saying. See, it’s really a two-pronged point. It’s both tradition AND symbolically positive.

    Of course people should buck the system if a tradition is objectionable. Wendy and I have done so (example: we refused to do the garter toss or the “money dance” at our wedding). That said, there is nothing about changing one’s name that is morally objectionable. The symbolism of it is very positive and shows great reverence for marriage.

    If one choses not to do something symbolically positive that isn’t tradition (like say both partners giving up their names and coming up with a wholly new one), although it would be positive for them to do so, it’s not negative for them not to do so.

    But to refuse to do something that is BOTH tradition and symbolically positive, THAT is obstinate and anything obstinate going into a marriage should be a red-flag for the couple.

    I must admit that this is an issue I’m particularly sensitive to because it represents everything that went wrong with what should have been an entirely noble movement: the women’s movement. There is plenty that is good about the women’s movement. Unfortunately there was one unintended consequences: a general negativity towards men, marriage and children.

    You’re not being asked to give up part of yourself. You’re being asked to embrace your husband. Your also not being asked to say a husband’s wishes are greater than your own. This has nothing to do with him. It has to do with you. Irrelevant of his wishes, it should be something you should want.

    (Along those lines, I can give you a perfect reverse illustration: Imagine a groom to be tells his bride “You know what, I don’t want to wear a wedding ring. I don’t like the way rings look on my fingers.” Are you honestly going to tell a bride who very much wants her new husband to wear the ring that the groom’s wishes should “supercede the brides desire to adhere to convention”?)

    Every explination you gave in your comment for your personal desires for keeping your name is both selfish (sorry to be blunt but it is true: YOUR identity, YOUR career, YOUR family identity) and something that for other reasons you’d better be ready to abandon during your marriage.

    -Will you be willing to give up the professional reputation you’ve established for the sake of your marriage?
    -Will you be willing to effectively flush your doctorate down the toilet, even with all the hard work it required, for the sake of your marriage?
    -Would you be willing to turn your back on your biological family if they stood in the way of the health of your marriage?

    Both the groom and bride need to be able to answer yes to all of those questions to give a marriage a fighting chance. What the women’s movement failed to realize is that it should be fighting to ensure that men answered yes to those questions, not that women should answer no.

    It’s not sexist, it’s not condemning, it’s just holding marriage to a very high standard.

    (And finally Sarah, I want to make it clear that I don’t think you’re going to be a bad wife if you stick to your guns on this one. Everyone (yes, including me) are blinded to certain things. I don’t think you hold your perspective in bad faith. But I what I prayerfully hope is that you’ll spend the time to re-consider your perspective and realize that your passing up an opportunity to do the right thing that in and of itself will not harm your marriage, but finding the humility to change your name will better prepare you for the future, more difficult compromises.)

  3. Ken's Brother Says:

    I’m going to throw my two cents in on this one.

    Ken, I disagree that a woman is being obstinent by not taking her husbands name, I believe that for the sake of everything going smooth that there is no reason we shouldn’t hypneate the names. As you’ve said it’s a compromise, that I feel both parties can live with.

  4. Sarah Says:

    Ken Ken Ken-
    First of all, I want to say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way you define marriage or the conditions you attach to it. It’s working for you and that’s wonderful. But what works for you doesn’t work for some people. And what works for you DEFINATELY doesn’t work for me. While you’re praying for my humility, I will be praying for your open-mindedness and acceptance of different perspectives. Just because people have a different opinion than you doesn’t make their different opinion morally wrong.

    As far as the women’s movement being anti-children, marriage and men, nothing could be further from the truth. At the heart of feminism is the simply belief that men and women should be treated as equals in our society. And despite some radical ideas, this is what most feminists believe.

    I’m deeply devoted to my career, just as I will be deeply devoted to my husband and my family. I don’t see the two as being mutally exclusive. I will not give up my biological family, my career or my last name. To do so would ultimately make me unhappy and I wouldn’t marry anyone who asked me to do that. If you think this makes me selfish- fine. I think to do otherwise would be untrue to myself, my beliefs and even my partner. I’m entirely capable of making compromises and sacrifices (the fact that you think otherwise shows how much you don’t know me). I don’t think it’s necessary to give up everything you are just because you get married.

  5. Ken Crawford Says:

    One of the things that really disappoints me about debating with you Sarah is your insistence on taking my comments out of context. Did I ever say that you’d be unwilling to make compromises and sacrifices? No, I did not. In fact I went out of my way at the end of my post to make a clear statement indicating that I didn’t believe you were going to be a bad wife (and being unwilling to make compromises and sacrifices would make you a bad wife).

    Feel free to rip my arguments to shreds, but please make sure you don’t mis-characterize my statements. (Speaking of which, expect a whole new post about the women’s movement to correct your mis-characterizations about that.)

    On a more positive note, thanks for praying for my open-mindedness. I’ll admit that at times I can be close-minded.

    I think where you and I diverge opinions is the necessity of the absoluteness of our priorities. You’re right that being devoted to one’s career and devoted to one’s family don’t necessarily need to be in conflict. At the same time, it is a realistic possibility that the two will come in conflict at some point in every marriage. I realize that I give extreme situations which are beyond what most marriages will be asked to survive. In contrast, you seem to be unwilling to address the possibility that your career and your marriage could ever be in direct conflict.

    So while I say you must be WILLING to give up everything, you say it’s not NECESSARY. To some degree were arguing over terms, and that I’m willing to let slide. I think one can make our different perspectives in this regard compatible by saying “Most of what we must be willing to do in life will never be necessary”.

    But even with that difference rectified, your perspective still strikes me as having some serious issues. See, you say you won’t marry someone who asks you to “be untrue to yourself”. But things change. Your husband and your circumstances WILL change. To quote you:

    “I will not give up my biological family, my career or my last name. To do so would ultimately make me unhappy…”

    So, yes or no, once you are married, would you file for divorce if you’re unhappy because of career sacrifices?

  6. Sarah Says:

    If you did not say explicitly that I was unwilling to make compromises and sacrifices, you implied it very clearly (at least to me). As I’ve already stated, there are certain things that are non-negotiables to me, that I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice. You then said if I wasn’t willing sacrifice these things, then my marriage wouldn’t have “a fighting chance.” I simply disagree.

    The answer to your question is no: I am completely willing to make career sacrifices, but not willing to sacrifice my career. This is a huge difference. Of course I understand that relationships require compromise and flexibility, but I will not give up my career or my last name, nor would I ask the same of my husband. Of course there will be times when my career and my marriage will come in conflict, but does that mean I have to flush my degree down the toilet? Probably not.

  7. Ken Crawford Says:

    You’ll do a much better job debating if you stick to what was explicitely said. There is enough meat in this discussion to not have to delve into the implicit.

    I think what mislead you was that you were assuming I “knew” your answers to the various questions I was posing to you. I think you’re a person with a big heart and a lot of compassion and when it comes right down to it, you’ll make the sacrifices needed to have your marriage succeed. However, I’m trying to get you to admit that it’s what you’ll actually do. So far you’ve been obstinate. :)

    Back to the debate.

    Generally I’m the one making things overly black and white but in this case I think you’re creating an invisible line by differentiating between “make career sacrifices, but not willing to sacrifice my career”. At what point does a “career sacrifice” transition to “sacrificing my career”? I think if you asked 100 people that question you’d get 100 different answers. Some people would say that just being geographically locked to one location or having to keep a job that has financial stability is sacrificing their career (because they give up on advancement opportunities) while others would suggest that even though they haven’t worked in a decade that because some day they hope they may start working again that they haven’t yet sacrificed their career.

    As such I’m willing to let that semantic issue slide. You’ve conceeded the main point: No, people shouldn’t dump their marriage just because they’re unhappy about the sacrifices they’ve had to make.

    The only thing that continues to bother me about your perspective is an unrealistic expectation that a marriage will never end up in a situation that puts the couple in one of the extreme scenarios I keep proposing. By refusing to consider that scenario, you refuse to acknowlede the starkness in priorities that must be made if those situations were to arise. Yes, yes, they won’t occur in most marriages. But what I’m asking you to consider is what you would do IF a situation like that arose. So far you’ve been unwilling to consider it.

    Or said another way, anyone who enters a marriage with a “I refuse to sacrifice X for the sake of our marriage” is tempting fate, even if X is fairly extreme. God has a remarkably wonderful way of forcing us to confront that which we’re obstinate to.

    Bringing it full circle: Yeah, I’ll admit that giving up one’s maiden name can be difficult for some women. However, the way I see it, that is precisely why it is an important symbolic statement. Marriages will require difficult sacrifices and this is a good, yet simple, one to start with particularly if your future husband desires it.

    I’ll finish by asking few questions:

    Why are you so insistent about not changing your name? Are you really saying that a guy who in every other way is the right guy you’ll refuse to marry because he has this as a condition?

    Finally, you never addressed my wedding ring scenario. What would you tell that bride? How is that scenario any different?

  8. Sarah Says:

    I do admit I’m stubborn about certain things that are important to me- but I also think a little stubborness is healthy sometimes (and you have quite the healthy dose of stubborn-streak in you as well).

    As for your questions about marrying the perfect name sans the name-change condition: it’s highly improbable. If he were truly the perfect man for me, he wouldn’t insist that I change something I feel so strongly about. Why do I feel so strongly about it? The same reasons I just gave- it’s part of my identity and I disagree with the notion that the woman must be the one to change her name. I would compromise with a hyphenated name or agree to go by my husband’s name informally, but never lose my name completely.

    Your wedding question didn’t make much sense, quite honestly. Not wearing a wedding ring because you don’t like the way it looks is vastly different than changing your name because you’re refusing to sacrifice your identity. I would have to hear the guy’s reason for not wanting to wear it, and the reason would have to make more sense to me than not liking how it looked.

    You will not convince me to change my name, just as I will not convince you why it is alright for me or any woman not to change it. I do acknowledge that there may someday be extreme situations that I must face and will deal with those when they come. But I do not see the name-change as one of those scenarios and I do not think failing to do so makes me any less able of compromise or sacrifice. So we will have to agree to disagree on this issue.

  9. Ken Crawford Says:

    Man you have a penchant for avoiding answering questions.

    I didn’t ask you to evaluate whether it was “highly improbable” that you’d be put in a situation where you’d have to chose between a great guy who insisted on you taking his name and finding someone else. I asked you to put yourself in that situation and tell me what you’d do. So, what would you do?

    Similarly, it doesn’t much matter what the reason is for not wearing the ring (as long as it not something like physical health). Just as the last name is symbolic, the ring is symbolic. But to passify you, here’s a more parallel ring explination: He doesn’t like the whole “you complete me” implication. He thinks he has his own identity and by wearing a ring he’d be giving up on his own identity. People would judge him not as his own man but as part of a couple.

    So, what do you tell that bride who wants him to wear the ring?

    Regarding your final paragraph, I’m glad your FINALLY willing to admit that in extreme situations you’d be willing to make extreme sacrifices for your marriage. Or said more broadly, you’d be willing to make sacrifices commenserate to the severity of the situation. Was that so hard?

    Additionally, I agree that a bride not being willing to change her name does not explicitely mean that she won’t be willing to sacrifice later on. However, it’s definitely not a good sign. Because it is not a good sign, I think it is wise for the groom to press the issue. It’s a good way to test what kind of metal the relationship is made of. If the bride-to-be says “I’m out of here” then it’s good he found that out now. If the bride-to-be says “please don’t make me do this. I’m really stubborn and it would really hurt if you made me” then the groom-to-be needs to spend a great deal of time determining if this is just a quirk of his bride-to-be or indicative of future problems and whether to follow through on the issue. If the bride-to-be says “anything for you”, that’s a great sign.

    (and just to be clear, I hold men to a similar standard of needing to say “anything for you”.)

    Finally, I think this discussion has COMPLETELY validated the original comment on Brian’s blog that got me “into trouble”. You’ve admitted that you’re being obstinate. (and yes, you’re right, I have a strong obstinate streak as well.)

  10. Michael Says:

    This kind of makes me wish for some more insightful Cal football commentary, Ken. I have to give you props however for having the guts to tackle controversial issues.

    I’m a moderate liberal who disagrees with a lot of your politics (though our Catholicism binds us, yours true and strong, mine dusty and faltering), but I support you in this one. If I was to the point where I considered marrying the woman I was dating, if she was unwilling to take my name, then I would allow it with the compromise that I then wouldn’t get her an engagement ring. After all, isn’t that an archaic sign of possession? Certainly an enlightened woman with a professional career who is too good for my name is also too good to be objectified by wearing my ring. You’d be amazed how many women will talk about independence and all that comes with it, but will howl and scream if they don’t get the giant rock.

    In other news, I was at the ill-fated USC game this weekend. We came back from 17 points down just to lose on two missed three pointers. Big dissappointment. That will be my last taste of Cal basketball this year. I’m all gung ho for Tennessee in August!

  11. Ken Crawford Says:

    Michael, yeah I know what you mean about insightful Cal coverage. I’ve got to do something between Jan 1st and Sept 1st though. :)

    The engagement ring take is an interesting one. I had a friend of a friend who seemed like a very reasonable lady until she told her boyfriend that he couldn’t propose until he could afford a certain rock.

    The root of the matter is that it’s human nature to be in favor of the conventions that favor us and against those that don’t. So just as it’s natural for guys to complain about their lot in life and disgard women’s complaints, it’s natural for women to do the same. It takes a great deal of discipline and integrity not to fall into this trap and we all inevitably fail.

    What worries me is that society has reached a place where so many of us are willing to voice those complaints without reservation. It’s a sign that we as a society have lost any sense of sacrifice or “taking one for the team”. My fear is that this will create an increasingly hostile society where everyone is more concerned with their own interests, irrelevant of whether it is fair, and no concern for the society as a whole.

  12. Ryan Says:

    You said it best Ken. It’s just a name. Symbolic? Yes. But in the end, just a name. And marriage is NOT about names. It’s about the aforementioned sacrifice and compromise and love. And yes, I agree with Sarah, you sound sexist (not to mention obstinate).

    What I’d really like to see is a study showing the correlation between those couples who share the same last name and those who don’t with divorce rates. Because isn’t that what both sides of the political aisle really care about? Creating strong, healthy, nuclear families that love and support each other and their children?

  13. Ken Crawford Says:

    Hey Ryan, thanks for commenting.

    I don’t have the numbers in front of me but I do know two statistics:

    -Those who enter religious marriages are FAR more likely to remain married.
    -Those who enter religious marriages are more likely to share their last name.

    Based on that I’m willing to propose that the statistics for marriage success are higher for those who share their last name, but I admittedly don’t have a specific study to reference.

    You’re right that a marriage is not about names. Then how could it POSSIBLY be that it would make even the slightest difference?

    Wht? Because symbolism matters more than most are willing to suggest. While you’re willing to dismiss in your comment the very real reality that symbolism matters, I’m not willing to that. I think it is a dangerous trend in our society that we’re dismissing the value of the symbolic in all but the most superficial ways.

    The reality is that symbolic acts better than just about anything besides specific meaningful acts, reflect what the person stands for. And that’s why being willing to make the symbolic sacrifice of changing one’s name is important.