Zoe Saldana’s husband took her last name, and John Dwyer wonders why men changing their names is so uncommon.
I may not be an actress or an Italian artist, but I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m planning to take my fiancée’s name when we get married. To be exact, we’re going to take each other’s names and hyphenate them. After reading an InStyle article on empowered actress Zoe Saldana and completely emasculated husband / disgraced artist Marco Saldana (emphasis and sarcasm mine), NYMag asked, “Why Don’t More Men Take Their Wives’ Names?” Apparently a spotlight needs to be shined on the fact that some men are taking their wives’ names, even if those men do not live in the limelight – and perhaps more importantly, simply moving the expectation from women to men to change names isn’t a full step forward.
In spite of being rather dismissive of all the “plebs,” NYMag starts to ask an important question – but only half of it. To get to the other half, let’s meet NYMag halfway and start with an example from the American aristocracy, actors and their enfeebled, overly-inbred relatives, reality TV stars. With so many digital trees getting pulped and turned into Facebook feed fodder over the last couple weeks covering Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner, it was interesting to note how little was said on the name change (beyond noting that she didn’t use a “K”). Yet, that was the lede, the headline splashed across Vanity Fair’s cover announced Bruce’s new name. Names are such an integral part of our identities as men or women that in the actual interview, Caitlyn talked about Bruce like Bruce was another human being, wholly separate from her.
And I get it – I’ve never had to transition genders, but I have switched names, which was difficult enough. Throughout my early childhood and first years in a private, Lutheran elementary school, my name was Chris, short for Christian (I kid you not). I didn’t ask myself who decided I was a Christian, it was simply part of who I was – I went to church every Sunday and my head whipped towards anyone who shouted the name Chris.
After fifth grade, I decided to attend public school and with that switch came many changes, including being introduced as John to all my new classmates during roll call. I can still remember being so shocked the first day that I didn’t correct anyone. Yes, technically my first name was John, but that wasn’t who I was. I was Chris, it was self-evident and so said everyone in my life up until that very moment. By the time I got over the shock and worked up the courage to correct teachers – beings that I had considered godlike in their infallibility up to that point – it got weird. They were suspicious, wondering why I hadn’t said anything at first. Then some pointed out that Chris is not short for John, which was technically correct. Besides, they said, name tags had already been made, and I learned at this tender age that you can’t fight paperwork unless it’s with more paperwork – so some attendance sheets were updated and some weren’t.
I fought to be Chris off and on for the next three years, including filling out the necessary forms. Entering high school, I was tired of fighting it and tried to embrace being John. Unfortunately, some of my classmates remembered three years of my struggle and in wonderfully misplaced acts of kindness, let teachers know I was Chris, not John. By graduation, there was so little appellative consistency that one of my closest friends confessed she thought I had a twin for years, so she always just called us both Dwyer to avoid an embarrassing mistake.
As an adult, your name is even more important – it’s part of being a professional, the big letters on your business cards, your brand for Chrissake. Changing your name is a change in that identity, and when you get married, you’re both, man and wife, in the spotlight. Why are we still asking only one half of that brilliant couple to recognize their new identity? Let’s stop asking only one half of the question of ourselves and be willing to do exactly what we ask of our partners.