Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Getting Married and Changing Names

--Hello all--

I will be out of the office for awhile because I'm getting married!!!!

When I return I will be Sarah Bartholomew-Fisher.
I had a very hard time deciding what to call myself after I get married. It seems like whatever I chose, I was going to have to explain to someone.

Lisa Belkin from the New York Times writes -
Hyphenating works, at least for a generation, but can be long and cumbersome. Using one name for work and another at home means never remembering who you are. Giving baby boys Dad’s last name and baby girls Mom’s last name? He taking her name? Creating something new from scratch? All possible and all with their own complications.

Growing up I always assumed that I would change my last name to match my husbands; however, when it came time to actually do it, I wasn’t sure I would be able to.

I wanted to have the same name as Lee, my future husband, because, it’s easier, and we are going to be a family and I wanted to signify that. I wanted both myself and Lee to change our last names to Bartholomew-Fisher but he wasn’t too excited about that idea (I spent my whole life thinking I was going to change my last name and then decided I wasn’t too keen on the idea, so I don’t blame him for not wanting to change his last name with only a few months notice).

But why had he never thought about changing his name? Male privilege. Number 21. on the Male Privilege Checklist: I will never be expected to change my name or questioned if I don’t change my name. (The Male Privilege Checklist can be found here

Although men do not get questioned for not changing their name, they may be ridiculed as not manly if they do changing their name.

Lucy Gillam has a great blog post about male privilege. It has a lot of good points, but the one that stands out to me is when she talks about the inequality of the name changing system. (Lucy's post can be found at

… true gender equality is actually perceived as inequality. A group that is made up of 50% women is perceived as being mostly women. A situation that is perfectly equal between men and women is perceived as being biased in favor of women.

And if you don't believe me, you've never been a married woman who kept her family name. I have had students hold that up as proof of my "sexism." My own brother told me that he could never marry a woman who kept her name because "everyone would know who ruled that relationship." Perfect equality - my husband keeps his name and I keep mine – is held as a statement of superiority on my part.

How could I change my name, buying into this system that assumes that women will change their names when they get married and not stand up against male privilege?

My next thought was to have us both take Bartholomew as a 2nd middle name (so we would both have 4 names). We both agreed to this name change and the decision was made...but then I freaked out about changing my name...again.

I talked to friends and family about what they thought and to get ideas, but really what it all comes down to was what I wanted to do. I have to live with this name for forever. I think my friend Suzanne said it best “To be honest I think true feminism is about doing what's best/feels right/ making your own choice. Changing my name never seemed fair/right to me. So, I didn’t change it (and oh well!) If you felt that you wanted to change your name because was a choice YOU made- I’d feel that was feminist too. In my class on sexism I try to break down these ideas that something is "feminist" or not. I call it "PRO HAPPY FEMINISM" so, my dearest Sarah- do what makes YOU happy. It's your choice, your decision- that’s the root (in my opinion) of what is feminist”.

So long story only kinda short, I am going to be Sarah Bartholomew-Fisher and Lee is going to take Bartholomew as a second middle name. It will be a super long name and I will need to learn how to make a capital F in script, but it’s the best fit for how I am feeling.

And of course I cannot write a post about getting married and male privilege without also noting that I am clearly taking advantage of straight privilege by getting married in the United States when not all couples in the US are afforded this right.

Have fun at poker while I am gone!!!!


  1. Wow-- what a great post! I completely understand your thought process & I loved all of the sources you cited. Enjoy your wedding :)

  2. Hi Sarah! Thank you for this awesome post, as you know it has been on my mind quite a lot as well (and Dan is just as reluctant). Maybe it's because I have already changed my name once in my life, but I don't feel as much that my name IS my identity, which many of the bloggers/journalists who write on this topic tend to get hung up on.

    However -and perhaps because while I was in college I started going by my second name instead of my first name- I feel very attached to my last name. It has been constant and, call me superficial, but I like having a B last name. I was always at the front of lines in school. I think that's a really American thing, but it was nice growing up to know that generally I would be in the front of the line/classroom/table (or in the back, if they did reverse alphabetical).

    I talked to my parents about my thoughts, because like you I have considered adding a second middle name, or hyphenating my last name, but having four names seemed weird to me, so I considered dropping my first name, Rachel, which I no longer use. My mom sounded sad, but didn't really explain herself, and said that I should do what felt right. My dad also said that I should do what felt right, but that they had not gotten to choose my last name, while they did choose both of my given names, and he hoped that I would take that into consideration.

    Like Lee, Dan does not feel comfortable hyphenating. I know he has put a lot of thought into it, and I cannot fault him for balking at it. We are leaning towards each taking my maiden name as a second middle name, though I will keep my first name and continue to be known by my second name. So confusing.

    Regarding straight privilege, at least you are getting married only a few days after the courts have declared Prop 8 unconstitutional... For many years I was torn about taking advantage of straight privilege by getting married, but a number of my friends pointed out that not getting married doesn't send any sort of valuable message. Rather, I will continue to advocate and discuss and raise awareness to the best of my ability.

    Thank you again for you thoughtful post... I hope you don't mind my ramblings in your comments!

  3. Like I told the commenter above me, I think you and Lee should take my last name and we'll take Bartholomew.