I met the woman who became my first wife In 1976. We moved fairly rapidly towards marriage. Initially, she presumed that she would change her last name to “Marx”, my last name. I suggested that she keep her “maiden name” (sic). After some discussion she decided to do it.
Thereafter when we traveled, our airline and hotel reservations reflected the last name of whichever of us made the arrangements. Commonly I was amused to be titled “Mr.” with her first and last name.
Name wise what we did in Chicago, in the late 1970’s, was relatively rare. Many presumed that there were necessary legal complexities or requirements, however we never encountered any such issues.
By the mid-1980’s, when we began trying to get pregnant, feminism had become a significant issue in my life. I then brought up the issue of last names related to us having a child. I wanted us each to change our last name to a common new last name so that for example, my name might become: “George Marx Smith”. Her name would similarly have her current last name as her new middle name and our future child would be a “Smith”.
My wife was resistant to this change, as well as in combining our last names into a new last name. Neither one of us wanted to have hyphenated last names, which is increasingly common now.
In the end, we decided that our future child would have a first name, a middle name, then my last name and finally her last name (normally my last name ends up omitted). This seemed best both because she was the last member carrying her family name, and to be at least minimally less patriarchal.
Now, 30 years later, my daughter-in-law and grand-daughter both have my ex-wife’s last name. I’m totally comfortable with this.
Almost 37 years ago, eight of us white men co-founded Men Stopping Rape, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin. We became probably the most significant men’s anti-rape group in North America in the mid- to late 1980’s.
Looking back, our message to men seems to have not really been heard. In some ways, things are better. In other ways they are either the same or significantly worse. Rape, domestic violence and the abuse of children have never really become “men’s issues” or if you prefer “human issues”. They remain as “women’s issues”, just as racism remains a “Black issue” (or “People of Color issue”).
I wonder what it will take for us to look at gender and race as real, serious, important, primary issues in our lives. Though I’m sure that my (then) wife and I were not 100% unique, I don’t know of any other heterosexual parents who would name or have named their male child with the mother’s last name.
Naming a child is a small part of my patriarchal existence. I intend to continue to explore and develop my core being related to my gender and racial identity. Saying I am: “he” (as opposed to “they” or other pronouns) is currently a popular way of helping think about and define one’s gender identity.
Really becoming clear what it means for me that I am a: white, male, Jewish, primarily heterosexual, upper-middle class, able bodied, aging person is part of a life-long process for me. I hope that many, many, many others will and are doing similar work in their lives. Many of us have the privilege to explore, absent major pressures to be how others visualize us. Trying to give back to others, and be relevant in their world(s), no longer exploiting much in their lives, takes conscious, consistent effort. It is a lifelong process. Thank you for listening!
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