Does Sharing a Name Really Mean Anything?

Edwin Lyngar says no two marriages are the same, so why do so many people try to practice the same traditions?

Originally appeared at Role/Reboot

When I married my current wife, Joy, more than six years ago, I asked her to take my last name. I imposed despite the fact that she was already an attorney with an established reputation. But, we were in love, and it meant something to me, so she just did it without complaint. Thinking about it over the years, I now wish I could take back the request. I wish I knew then that most of the traditions of marriage are a kind of oppression, especially for women. I love being married, but the process of getting married and so much of the expected roles of wives and husbands is just social control masquerading as tradition.

Before I married Joy, I used to believe that sharing a name meant something. It was a sign of devotion that showed we were on the same team. We were the Reno Lyngars, like the Miami Heat (or something). When I met Joy, I was a divorced man raising two children alone, and I craved the stability of traditional marriage.

Very shortly after we married, I went into the wedding business myself. Joy’s friend, a judge from a neighboring state, needed to become a certified minister to perform our wedding ceremony, and the unnecessary religious hoops bothered me. So I got certified as a secular wedding official in Nevada where I live. Although I expected to only do a few weddings, I ended up performing about a dozen over the past few years, and I had no idea officiating weddings would be so instructive about marriage in general.

I performed several ceremonies for couples who had been together for decades. They were forced to marry late in life only for legal reasons, like insurance and inheritance. These couples were oak trees of dedication. Marriage itself was an imposition on couples who clearly knew what the hell they were doing. They should not have been forced to swap last names or get a state-issued marriage certificate to fulfill some bureaucratic need.

I also did a few traditional-looking weddings. I got to see some overpowering mothers-in-law, and people wearing expensive tuxedos and dresses, and some stress between families. The couples I married were happy and in love, even though it sounds cliché. Yet they subjected themselves to lavish, but painful, rites, often for the sake of others. Some weddings were wonderful, but many were crates filled with hidden baggage.

Even as I witnessed the messy parts, I never stopped feeling that people should have the right to get married if they wanted. Gay marriage is illegal in my state, although we have civil unions. A gay couple asked if I would do a commitment ceremony. I agreed at once, but they called it off before the big date. Perhaps state disapproval didn’t help their relationship. On a side note, this past election offers real hope; three states approved of gay marriage by popular vote.

Despite the difficulty of marriage and the wedding process, I’m still a believer. Marriage is a great thing for many people, and most of all for me and my family, but we need to eliminate the excesses that cause people so much fear and doubt. Marriage isn’t a “sacred institution,” nor is it better than cohabitating. It doesn’t come from god nor does it automatically make dysfunctional relationships work. There are about 330 million people in this country, which means there are at least 165 million ways to be a married couple. I love being married, but I don’t want anyone to ever try to do it like we did it. Nor do I want to impose my beliefs about marriage on anyone else. Lastly, why the hell does everyone have to wear such goofy costumes?

Joy and I got married in Hawaiian print clothes at a park. My son was the best man. The greatest thing about being married more than once is you get to pick how to do it the second time around. We abandoned a lot of the marriage bullshit, although I wasn’t quite as enlightened as I am today. I just wish with desperate sincerity that I would have asked Joy to keep her own name.

 

Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.

 

Image courtesy of Flickr/Bunches and Bits {Karina}

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Comments

  1. My husband offered to take my name when we got married…I thought that was so sweet of him…eventually we decided to keep our own last names, the same ones on our grad school diplomas….I felt that it was important to keep what each individual earned under one’s own name….I think those diplomas and separate names were important to me in keeping our own identities and to prevent me from becoming a totally dependent housewife and just yes-sing my hubby all the time….

    I have seen quite a few of my GFs obliterate themselves under the guise of marriage….some of them are divorced now….but, yes, taking the man’s name is quite the loaded decision for a woman….

  2. I have a pretty weird, unusual last name which I hated as a kid because I was teased constantly about it. My mother always consoled me by telling me that when I grew up, I would get married and I could change it. When I imagined my future husband, I would think about what cool last name he might have.

    Ironically, I’m in my 40’s now and never married, and I’m stuck with the same cruddy last name I was born with, sigh! I thought of changing it from time to time, but don’t want to hurt my Dad’s feelings. My boyfriend has a totally normal, common surname which I would love to take, but at this point, if we ever get married, it would seem a bit silly to change my name to his. I may be almost 50 by the time we get around to marriage, if ever. A 50 year old women changing her name like a blushing young bride? Hard to imagine, Also complicated professionally, since everyone knows me by my weird last name (which is memorable, at least).

  3. “There are about 330 million people in this country, which means there are at least 165 million ways to be a married couple.”

    Really love this.

  4. Why not have waited for her to bring it up? It’s her choice after all. Glad that you realised that you imposed on her but as she had to make the choice, you really should have waited for her to think about her options and it would be for her to discuss with you, not the other way around

  5. My theory is “better last name wins” regardless of gender, if a Bird marries a Belcher, they both become Bird. If a Gross marries a Erickson, they both become Erickson. Soon, we could eliminate the truly horrid last names.

    That said, I hyphenated with my husband’s last name, because I want to share a last name with my children, and with him, and his last name means a lot to him. I wish he’d been willing to hyphenate my name with his, but he wasn’t, and that’s alright with me. I wanted to keep my own last name because my name is alliterative and I’ve always liked that.

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