How Many Months' Salary is an Engagement Ring Supposed to Cost Anyway?

The answer? As many or as few as makes you comfortable and happy without you know, bankrupting you. But the "tradition" of even measuring a ring's worth by salary was all the start of a De Beers advertising campaign and was designed to push up profits.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

This BBC article on the subject notes: "In the 1930s, at the start of the De Beers campaign, a single month's salary was the suggested ring spend. In the 1980s in the US, it became two months." I don't know when the "standard" bumped up to three months, but that's the number I've always heard thrown around in casual conversation the one or two times it's come up. 

This suggestion changes based on the culture, apparently, as well. 

"In the UK, writes Rebecca Ross Russell in Gender and Jewellery: A Feminist Analysis, the advertisements kept the single month's pay suggestion. But Japanese men were urged to spend three months' salary. 'The salary rules were a stroke of genius,' writes Russell, who believes De Beers managed to entwine western values with the Japanese sense of honour. 'A diamond engagement ring: worth three months' salary,' ran one of the adverts in the 1970s. Japan remains one of the leading markets for diamond jewellery."

These advertising campaigns do seem to work; On the eve of World War Two, only about 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds. That number jumped to 80% by the end of the 20th century.

The website Credit Donkey stated this year that Americans spend an average of about $5,500 (U.S) per engagement ring, with people in the UK spending about $2,000, and Australians about $5,000. I really do have to question who they're surveying though; I don't exactly go about asking people how much their rings cost (and in fact, would rather not know for the most part), but that seems on the high end to me, and as can be seen on the annual Knot wedding statistics report, there is a bit of a self selecting bias toward people willing to spend more money on these things.

As Credit Donkey points out, this "standard" doesn't particularly make sense these days, as most people get married in their late 20s when they haven't yet reached their full earning potential, and most also graduate with student debt. Thus, spending thousands of dollars on a ring may actually not be feasible for your average person wanting to get married. 

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

I don't own this. I'm using this for commentary alone. Please don't sue me.

As for myself - my Victorian-era engagement ring actually came from a vintage jewelry store in the Chicago suburbs where John and I used to live (I moved to DC for work, not certain when we'll be living together again, alas.). I actually picked it out myself back in September (yeah that lovely proposal at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in November on our four year anniversary trip to Las Vegas wasn't actually that much of a surprise, lol). It's a gorgeous gold double trefoil gem set ring and I've never seen anything else like it; I love it in every way. But I can tell you that it definitively did not cost three months of John's salary (he approved of me writing about this beforehand and apparently I'm not allowed to go into any more detail on that, hah). I think I'd be really uncomfortable to wear something that valuable on my hand day after day, really; I'm a bit too klutzy to feel safe doing that. Fortunately, my ring itself is so unusual that no one has ever given me or John any crap over it. Yay!

This is my ring. It is my favorite thing. Seriously, I'm obsessed.

This is my ring. It is my favorite thing. Seriously, I'm obsessed.

Book Review: A World of Ways to Say "I Do"

What is this book about? 

This book is a small, slim collection of vows from various religions and cultures, common and less common quotations for wedding ceremonies, and encouraging advice about how to write your own vows.

The book definitely does encourage borrowing from other cultures, which I think is wonderful to an extent, but you do need to be respectful and thoughtful while doing so or you could really easily slip into exploitative cultural appropriation.. Offbeat Bride has written some wonderful articles about how to carefully navigate these issues; this one's my favorite:

Why do couples borrow cultural elements for their wedding, and how can you do so respectfully?

"Obviously this doesn't give people the right to mindlessly usurp these treasures from the cultures of others. I believe, however, that if people who feel a particular bond or attachment to traditions that resonate with them, then they should be able to carefully and thoughtfully find ways to honor those pieces of a culture, and possibly create new cultures/traditions where there weren't any before..... Essentially, I think it comes down to "Don't be a jerk about it." I believe that the exploration of other cultures does not have to mean the exploitation of other cultures. If done carefully, with consideration, tact, and a heart of the intended meaning and purpose, using cultural traditions of others can be a nod of respect."

Who would love this book?

Like literally any person planning a wedding. It's so sweet and useful. I've actually marked several passages myself and am really thinking about using some of the things in here in our ceremony.

This book also does have several wonderful sections of quote for use by couples who have been married before and couples from different generations or religious backgrounds, so I think it could be particularly useful for couples falling into those categories.

My Favorite Parts

I really love several parts of the Celtic Vows and handfasting ceremony:

  • You cannot possess me for I belong to myself. But while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give. 
  • "Partner 1, will you cause her pain?" "I may." "Is that your intent?" "No." /Partner 2 repeats/ "Will you both share each other's pain and seek to ease it?" "Yes." 

I also found the collection of vows from various branches of Christianity fascinating (although I want more information about their sources for these vows). They're so similar but just slightly different to reflect the different tenets of that faith. As someone who grew up in the Lutheran church, the end of that church's vows are just so....Lutheran. "I will try with you to better understand ourselves, the world, and God; through the best and the worst of what is to come as long as we live." 

I also love that the Methodist vow opens "I ask you to be my husband as my friend and my love" rather than the usual "I take thee/you to be my husband."

There's also a strangely moving sentence that says, "We live in an age of uncertainty. Love and marriage are statements of faith in the face of this uncertainty."

Does it talk about marital surname changes at all? 

Nope! It's just a lovely little book talking about vows.

Here, read some poetry from the book instead:

"Oh my beautiful one.
Are you not my health and my life?
You are health to the heart that finds you."
- Fragment from an ancient Egyptian love poem.

"My boat is floating on the sky. 
And I am also as my beloved is a dream mirrored on my heart."
- Tu Fu, Eighth-Century China Love poem fragment

Amazon Link:

Changing Your Last Name Based on the Situation

One marital surname choice that's becoming more popular is situational name use, changing which last name you use depending on what context you're within. For example, one woman could go by Jessica Jones (her birth name) at work and while pursuing her own individual hobbies, but then could go by Jessica Simpson (taking her husband's last name) in social situations where they both end up together, like at church or if they're at a PTA meeting or something. One website listed out a few options for when a woman might prefer to use her birth name as opposed to her married name: professional contexts, when you're not quite ready for the name change in social situations (such as when you're meeting old friends), when you're still undergoing the name change paperwork and haven't been fully processed yet, etc.

There doesn't seem to be a ton of information out there on this option, but I did find one study from 2005, conducted by the brilliant Laurie Scheuble (and like, her husband David Johnson, who's an accomplished research in his own right, I just really love Laurie Scheuble!). 

I don't have access to this full study, but I did find a few links with the abstract and one with an excerpt. This is from 2005, so it's hard to know how accurate it is at this time. 

The abstract states, "Overall, 12% of married women reported situational last name use. Women from all last name choices (e.g., changed to husband’s, kept birth surname) reported situational surname use, but the most common occurrence of this practice was among hyphenators. Situational users were most likely to use their husband’s last name in family situations and their birth surname in professional situations. Factors that increase situational last name use included full-time employment, higher levels of educational attainment, and an older age at marriage. Situational last name use by married women can be seen as a manifestation of ambiguity over identity with family and non-family roles."

The study notes: 

"Women may view their birth surname as an indicator of the part of their lives that is separate from their identity as a member of the family into which they married. This would be particularly true of women who change their last name at marriage. Women who change their last name to that of their husband may find situations wherein they feel comfortable using their birth surnames, such as at a high school reunion or around people from their hometown. The same may be true of women who do not change their name at marriage. They may be inclined to use their spouse's last name in situations where family identity has more salience, such as at their children's school or around their husband's family.

No researchers have systematically and empirically investigated the situational surname use of married women, although a number of researchers have focused on the issue of women's surname choices at the time of marriage ... Some of the same social forces that lead to the identity issues and conflicts that have been documented in these studies of marital name choice should also apply to actual surnames women may use in different social contexts. 

Although no empirical data are available to document the extent of such situational use, anecdotal evidence suggests that this practice may be quite common. For example, etiquette books from the 1970s held that, although it was acceptable for women to use their birth names professionally, it was not appropriate for them to use their birth names in family situations "

Married womens' situational use of last names: an empirical study. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research | July 1, 2005 | Scheuble, Laurie K.; Johnson, David R.


This option is actually looking like the best one for me right now. I don't want to legally change my name, but I'd be up for going by Rachael Dickson-Lorenzen at social events and like, on Facebook (if they'll let me!). I could see myself really enjoying this option while maintaining my own name professionally.

Who Traditionally Pays for the Wedding: Why and How Much?

Offbeat Bride wrote about this in an article talking about the tradition of dowries:

"[T]he responsibility of a bride's parents to pay for a wedding. I've never been especially fond of this tradition, because I think in some circumstances all it does is foster an attitude of entitlement in those brides who would condemn their parents for choosing not to finance their extravagant tastes. That, or parents end up killing themselves (figuratively!) trying to earn the money for their child's wedding out of a sense of obligation, whether it's practical or not.

In the end, why?…

Because hundreds of years ago, women were considered chattel and the bride's family used to have to pay off the groom's family in the form of a dowry to take their daughters off their hands. After dowries went out of style, there was still the trousseau (the bride's dress and accouterments for the wedding, in addition to stuff like cake, etc.), usually hand prepared by the bride's family. Now that we have wedding vendors to make cakes and dresses for us, the trousseau has also gone out of style for the most part, and instead the bride's family just ponies up the cash....

We no longer live in the times where marriage was essentially a way to ensure that women were taken care of. Love wasn't always a factor (and still isn't, in some cultures). Teenage brides weren't uncommon, because people just didn't live as long. Girls who were practically still children themselves got married and started having children right away, because culture and religion dictated it be so. The dowry and trousseau were a necessity of those times, because they ensured that a groom would have the things he needed to support his new wife and their children to come. This is no longer the case, for the most part, as most couples who get married had acquired quite a lot of crap of their own-they don't need the "starter kits" that couples used to need."

Photo used under a Creative Commons License. Taken by Flickr user 401(K) 2012. Available at

Photo used under a Creative Commons License. Taken by Flickr user 401(K) 2012. Available at

How often does this tradition actually continue? The 2015 survey from the Knot said this: 

"Tradition lives on, with parents paying for a large portion of wedding costs, but today’s couples are happy to contribute. On average, the bride’s parents contribute 44% of the overall wedding budget, the bride and groom contribute 43%, and the groom’s parents contribute 12% (others account for the remaining 1%).  In 2015, 12% of couples paid for the wedding entirely by themselves, and 9% of couples don’t contribute any finances to the wedding budget.

In nearly half of all weddings, the bride pays for professional hair and makeup. Forty-four percent of brides, along with her parents, contribute to the costs for professional hair-styling, and 41% contribute to professional make-up for their bridesmaids. The average cost of professional bridal party hair and makeup services are $70 and $68 per person, respectively."

Photo used under a Creative Commons License. Taken by Flickr user Tax Credits. Available at

Photo used under a Creative Commons License. Taken by Flickr user Tax Credits. Available at

However, these statistics do only represent the type of couples and weddings that are using the Knot, which is one reason I take many of the claims of this survey with a gigantic grain of salt, such as the statement that the average wedding cost in the US is $32,641 and that the average cost of a wedding in Chicago is $61,265. That seems....unlikely to be representative of all people actually getting married. I would also like to point that every single place listed on their "Top 10 Most Affordable Places to Get Married" has a higher average budget than my wedding (I also fully intend to stay under budget because I am ultra competitive and cheap; I've already told my sister that I will beat her budget. :D She supported this completely. Fortunately, we're actually already on track to meet this goal).

I had a bit of trouble finding non-traditional wedding market statistics. I did see one statistic from a Splendid Insights market research report in an older Offbeat Empire post stating that 43% of nontraditional couples pay for their own weddings (about 20% of the wedding market identified as "offbeat" in this particular research round). Also, according to this research 48% of these nontraditional couples had wedding budgets of $10,000 or less. Offbeat Bride's own 2011 reader survey found that over 60% of their readership had budgets of $10,000 or less -  4.8% of their readership had budgets under $1,000, 13.5% had $1,000-$3,000 budgets, 18.1% had $3,000-$5,000 budgets, and 28.3% had $5,000-$10,000 budgets.

Royal Wedding Memorabilia

I found this book in the library of the assisted living facility where my theater troupe rehearses! I enjoyed looking through it very much; everything was just so delightfully 80s. 


This "How Stuff Works" article - "10 Wacky Pieces of Royal Wedding Memorabilia" - also quite entertainingly features several pieces of memorabilia made in honor of various royal weddings, including cups, thimbles, frisbees, and rubiks cubes! I will confess to owning a few small plates of royal memorabilia myself - for Charles and Diana's wedding and I believe King George V and Queen Mary's coronation - which I have used as soap dishes.

Bonus Material: 15 Most Gorgeous Royal Wedding Gowns of All Time, InStyle, By Mehera Bonner, July 1, 2016. These are AMAZING, I think my favorite is number 3 (Queen Rania of Jordan) and number 12 (Princess Victoria of Sweden- I adore her cameo crown!).

Book Review: The Meaning of Wife - A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century

What is this book about? 

This book takes a particular look at the many ways of being a wife. I was a little worried that it would be a bit of a repeat of One Perfect Day when I read the chapter "The Heart of Whiteness" on the wedding industry (which was hilarious on its own, I just didn't want to read the same book over again), but it quickly distinguished itself with its incredibly well researched and pop culture reference stuffed chapters on the revival of "traditional" housewife roles in the 90s, married sex, domestic violence, revengeful wives, and the simultaneous glamorization and yet stigmatization of single women ("unwifes"). 

Who would love this book?

I think most women getting married would enjoy this book, as it takes a broad look at a wide range of cultural phenomena related to American marriage of the past 40 or so years instead. It has a lot of 90s pop culture references (It was published in 2005, so that makes sense, you know!). One chapter in particular references Sex and the City about a bazillion times, so I feel it would really appeal to a lot of people of my generation and older.

My Favorite Parts

There's a running theme involving the seeming "fairy tale" marriage of Princess Diana to Prince Charles that starts in the intro and keeps circling back throughout the book wherever relevant. I wasn't sure where the author was going with it at first, but it became a really illustrative example of the fairy tale bubble bursting for a lot of her points.

The chapter chronicling the very very different beliefs between generations about the role sex should play in a marriage is pretty intriguing. The immediate back to back juxtaposition of chapters on domestic violence/the pop culture obsession with the "abused wife" trope  and the laudatory manner in which society greets women who "screw their husbands over but good," either economically or physically (a few pages are dedicated to Lorena Bobbit's story) is really thought provoking and simultaneously disturbing. 

Does it talk about marital surname changes at all? 

Yes! I can finally say yes! Not a ton - it's definitely around the edges - but they are mentioned! Lucy Stone's marriage to Henry Blackwell and her decision to keep her name is mentioned; the National Organization for Women's campaign to use "Ms." as the standard salutation for women, 

Amazon Link:

Changing Your Name Can Get Expensive and Time-Consuming

Refinery 29 published an article on this subject, looking specifically at the requirements for a woman changing her name in New York. 

"Capalad is hoping to use her maiden name as a middle name — a trend that's been steadily on the rise in the last decade. However, New York state recognizes a name change by marriage only if she tacks on her married name as a hyphenated double-barrel, or if she drops her maiden name altogether. Since Capalad is hoping to essentially change her middle name and last name, she is required to appear in civil court and petition in front of a judge. The court fees vary by location — with some courts upstate charging up to $300 for an appearance — so Capalad opted for the relatively cheaper Kings Civil Court in Brooklyn. This will still cost her $65 to go in front of the judge, not to mention the weeks spent to schedule a court date."

Table Decoration by SunFla, available on Etsy at 

Table Decoration by SunFla, available on Etsy at

It also takes a good look at some of the costs you might not initially think about:

"I feel like the real money loss is having to take time off work to do all of this," Capalad said. There are so many variables that affect how much time you need to get your name change request approved, so taking half-days or full days off work seems necessary. Since Capalad is self-employed, she has no annual leave to use for such trips. She estimates that she lost a total of 1.5 to two days of income between the civil court petition and the DMV visit.

What about those Name Change services popping up everywhere? 

"With services like Hitchswitch and MissNowMrs claiming to help with changing your name starting at $29, it's tempting to go with the seemingly most hassle-free option. However, these sites don't file the forms for you; rather, they send you a completed version of everything — which you could just download from the state agencies anyway — and supply the envelopes for you to mail. If you hate filling out paperwork, this is a great tool to use, but we suggest considering your situation and making the judgment call to deliver your application by post or in person."

It looks like these websites generally provide filled out paperwork for Social Security, IRS, Passports, Postal Services, Driver's License, and Voter Registration and customized notification letters for non-governmental agencies at the lowest cost option. 

Banner by BannerCellar, available on Etsy at

Banner by BannerCellar, available on Etsy at

As I've already written about before, this is generally significantly easier and cheaper for women than it is for men, but it still can really add up! However, everyone has different experiences, and several of my friends on Facebook said that it wasn't an issue for them at all. 

"I only remember that in Kansas, one of the state offices had to snail-mail me something and the post office wouldn't deliver it because my name wasn't registered at that address so I had to deal with the post office on that. Otherwise I don't think it was that big of a pain, but also I was so stupid in love at the time that I would have walked to the ends of the earth for him." - Beth Lawton (former boss extraordinaire!)

"M[y name change] was super easy, too. I didn't do a traditional change (added another middle), so I read up on that beforehand and the recommendation was to do social security first. Reason being I read about people who did their license first and the license people argued and/or didn't format it as requested. When you do SS first, they can't argue. So I did that and it was a breeze. Bank and everything else was even easier. Facebook let me change my name, but I had to submit proof to add my maiden name, because they flagged it as inappropriate." - Elizabeth Miller



Non Sequitur Saturday: Making Yogurt!

I mentioned that I make my own yogurt last week and people seemed really keen on learning how to do so themselves! I took pictures while I was doing it this last week so I could put together a quick tutorial. I did this as an experiment to start, but it does end up being a bit cheaper than storebought, creates less waste, and I genuinely think it tastes better as well.


1. Pour milk into a pot. This can be any type; I've heard it even works with non dairy milks, although I haven't tried it myself.

2. Heat the milk up until it gets over 180 degrees farenheit.

3. Take the milk off the heat. If you got absorbed in a book like me and didn't stir the milk whole you were heating it up, use a spoon to scrape out all the burnt milk bits. You're going to want to cool your milk down to the magic temperature of 115, but you need to start steps 4-6 when the thermometer hits around 125 so you have time before it cools down completely.

4. Put some "starter" yogurt into a bowl. This can also be any type of yogurt. I use both nonfat milk and yogurt and have never had a problem. You could theoretically do this with just a tablespoon or two of starter, but I tend to glob a fair amount in just to be safe.

5. Ladle some of the warm milk into your starter bowl and mix until you have a nice milky yogurty mixture.

6. Pour the entire milky mix into the main pot and stir it in. You should be right around 115 or slightly above at this point. Time to move fast!

7. Cover the milk pot.

8. Fill your microwave or (fully cool) oven with a towel.

9. Place the pot in the towel and cover it completely to keep it at the magic temperature throughout the night.

That's it! In the morning I'll have yogurt. You can go ahead and eat it right then, but I generally strain out the liquid whey so I can have a thicker Greek yogurt, so it's more of a two day process for me.

10.  To strain the yogurt, I pour it into a sieve over a bowl with coffee filters layered into it. If you have the large commercial size coffee filters, those would work too, but the small ones are so cheap and easy to find that I just use those instead. I've read that the yogurt is so acidic that you could leave it out on the counter to strain without it going bad, but I play on the safe side and keep it in the refrigerator.

11. I usually put this all together before work and separate it out later when I get home. I store the whey in a cleaned out plastic milk carton and I keep the yogurt in a mason jar to avoid any contamination. You can supposedly do a lot of things with the whey, such as make ricotta, but most of my experiments haven't really worked out. It's something I'm still working on.

144 Years of U.S. Marriage and Divorce Statistics in One Chart

This is very interesting and you should go check it out. The dive in both marriages and divorces during the Great Depression (presumably because both of those things cost money, which people were somewhat lacking), the huge spike in marriage and almost concurrent spike in divorces around the end of WWII, and the steadily declining rates of both marriage and divorce in more recent years all stand out.

Used under a Creative Commons License. By DrJohnBullas on Flickr. Available online here:

Used under a Creative Commons License. By DrJohnBullas on Flickr. Available online here:

In fact, the author even points out, "Looking to more recent history, there has been a steady decline in marriage rates (and consequently, divorce rates) since the 1980s, with no sign of slowing down. In fact, when taking population into account, marriage rates in the U.S. are now at the lowest they’ve ever been in recorded U.S. history — even lower than during The Great Depression!"

Basically just go read it.

Podcast: Stuff You Missed in History Class - History of the White Wedding

Stuff You Missed in History Class, "A Brief History of the 'White Wedding,'" April 25, 2016. Hosts: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey.  

Queen Victoria's Wedding Portrait

Queen Victoria's Wedding Portrait

Again from the cultural and historical side of things - this is an episode from one of my very favorite podcasts. The hosts of Stuff You Missed in History Class are super organized and hilarious (just the way I like my podcasts to be), with just the right touch of witty back and forth mixed in. 

This podcast addresses numerous "white wedding" traditions. Here are just a few tidbits from it! 

  • White wedding dresses were a fashion started by Queen Victoria, who loved her husband Albert in the most passionate and adorable way ever (seriously, I ship them). After his death, she built him a magnificent memorial and wore black the rest of her life.
  • Wedding rings date back to Ancient Greece and Rome and may have derived from the tradition of breaking a coin apart at the wedding and giving a half to the bride and a half to the groom. 
  • Cakes have been part of weddings for a very long time, but only recently did those actually come to resemble what we actually consider cake today. For a long time, "cake" referred to almost any type of bread good. 
    • Queen Victoria's cake was 10 FEET in diameter and weighed 300 pounds. 
    • Tiered wedding cakes really started in 1851 and piped decorations on cakes weren't really a thing until the 1890s.

 Bonus Material: "How the Women Behind Stuff You Missed in History Class Became Unlikely Celebrities," By Josh Green, Atlanta Magazine (August 2016) - I love this profile of podcast hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey and their work and I exceptionally enjoy the accompanying photographs of them in fancy dresses and feathery headpieces.


And of course, this blog post wouldn't be complete without this: 

Book Review: Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids

So this book pretty much has nothing to do with marriage (I believe it's mentioned a few times?) but it does address something society often thinks goes hand in hand with it: Parenthood. Neither John nor I are currently interested in having children; a stance that fortunately, few people have commented negatively on at this point. However, I'm sure that the closer we get to getting married, the more likely we are to get such comments, so I feel the need to prepare myself by reading up on this whole subject more. Plus I really just wanted to read this book. 


What is this book about? 

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like! It includes short stories from 13 female writers and 3 male writers (some straight, some gay, some non-attached) on their decision not to have children. They're all professional writers so these are all excellently written.

As the introduction says, musing over a version of Leo Tolstoy's famous "happy families" line ("People who want children are all alike. People who don't want children don't want them in their own way."), "..I've come to suspect that the majority of people who have kids are driven by any of just a handful of reasons, most of them connected to old-fashioned biological imperative. Those of us who choose not to become parents are a bit like Unitarieans or nonnative Californians; we tend to arrive at our destination via our own meandering, sometimes agonizing paths." 

Some of them are more torn about their decision than others. A few made their decision as children, while some came very close to having children before deciding it wasn't for them. There are a few which talk about having had abortions. A lot of these stories are tough to read. The introduction also notes, "Some of these essays will no doubt enrage certain readers. Some enraged me in places, which I took as all the more reason they should be included. But all of them, without exception, left me feeling a little bit in love with their authors."

Who would love this book?

Anyone who does not want children, is considering not having children (It feels so weird phrasing it that way, since people have to pretty much take some action to actually have them!), or is open to learning more about the phenomenon.

My Favorite Parts

"You'd be such a good mother, if only you weren't you" by M.G. Lord is so beautiful and sad that it's still haunting me after finishing it over a week ago. It talks quite memorably about the author's experiences with depression so deep that it took away her ability to see color. 

"Babes in the Woods" by Courtney Hodell also left me feeling like I'd been punched in the chest with emotion. I identify with her feelings of being left behind after her beloved older brother had a child so deeply. You aren't supposed to have emotions like that. I read this story and nearly cried afterward; it all felt so familiar.

As she says, "Now my brother was thinking and feeling things I never would. In college he'd taught me how to speak, but this was something I could never say aloud: Don't leave me behind. The only recourse was to love this little scrap of a human, and in the first really adult way I would love anyone. Without expectations of returned affection. Without wounded vanity. With foreknowledge of impending boredom, of exasperation, of anger that I could not allow myself to nurse. In the understanding that I would sometimes be ridiculous in her eyes. Knowing I did not have the rights of parenthood, I could make no demands of her beyond those any grown-up would make of a child: Hold my hand; we're crossing the street."

Does it talk about marital surname changes at all? 

Nope. Not related to the topic of this blog at all. Oh well. Every writer reserves the right to go examine other subjects occasionally.

Amazon Link:

Excerpt: "Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints and Voices"

"Although a seemingly innocuous personal choice, the issue of marriage names sparked considerable debate in America. Many conservatives and religious leaders argued that a woman who does not take her husband's name is not committed to her role as a wife and that a man who does not insist that his wife take his surname is weak. ... Women who chose to retain their maiden name, however, argued that adopting their husband's name would be tantamount to enslaving themselves and foregoing individual rights." 

Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints and Voices - "Marriage Names," By Roger Chapman, James Ciment

Unidentified woman in wedding gown, by an unidentified photographer. Public Domain. Repository: Anacostia Community Museum - Available online at

Unidentified woman in wedding gown, by an unidentified photographer. Public Domain. Repository: Anacostia Community Museum - Available online at

I...have so many issues with all of the above sentiments (which are expressed in lots of studies that I'm trying to get my hands on so I can read them in their original form and write about them for this blog). Because I'm spending so much time on this project, you may think I have strong judgmental views of women who take their husband's names. I don't. I don't care. You do you. I think the argument that a woman loses her identity by taking her husband's name is silly and literally the entire point of the name of this blog is an argument against that. However, I have equal problems with the opposite argument presented here - that women who don't take their husband's name are not committed to their relationships or their "role as wife."* I'm sorry, what? Pretty sure my relationship with my husband will not be less than another person's if I choose not to take his last name. I just want to be able to make my own decision without people judging me. (Yes, I'm aware that will never happen, but a girl can dream). 

The thing is, the vast majority of arguments on either side of this issue get super personal and offensive very quickly. Can't we all just be friends and talk about these issues reasonably with an eye to historical and cultural context without fighting? ("No," the Internet whispers.)

Also - I really want to find a copy of this book to read at some point, it looks pretty fascinating. It is for sale on Amazon but I haven't found a way to justify buying it yet (I've accumulated so many books in the course of this project already - it's a problem). 

*What does that actually mean anyway? Please explain. What does it mean to be "a wife?" Merriam Webster defines it as - "a female partner in a marriage." It's apparently derives from the Middle English/Old English "wif" and the Old High German "wib." I get a little more disturbed when the synonyms include "helpmate" and "helpmeet," which literally means "one who is a companion and helper, especially a wife," but is used in the sentences often to refer to people in more of an assistant type role.

Another George Bernard Shaw Quote

“When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

"In this 1935 photograph, botanist Wilmatte Porter Cockerell (1871-1957) is shown with biologist Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell (1866-1948), whom she married in 1900. In 1901, he named the ultramarine blue chromodorid Mexichromis porterae in her honor. Before and after their marriage in 1900, they frequently went on collecting expeditions together and assembled a large private library of natural history films, which they showed to schoolchildren and public audiences to promote the cause of environmental conservation." Unidentified Photographer. Public Domain. Available online here:

"In this 1935 photograph, botanist Wilmatte Porter Cockerell (1871-1957) is shown with biologist Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell (1866-1948), whom she married in 1900. In 1901, he named the ultramarine blue chromodorid Mexichromis porterae in her honor. Before and after their marriage in 1900, they frequently went on collecting expeditions together and assembled a large private library of natural history films, which they showed to schoolchildren and public audiences to promote the cause of environmental conservation." Unidentified Photographer. Public Domain. Available online here:

Stephanie Coontz's A History of Marriage used this quote as an intro to Chapter 1: The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love and pointed out: 

"Shaw's comment was amusing when he wrote it at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it still makes us smile today, because it pokes fun at the unrealistic expectations that spring from a deeply held cultural ideal--that marriage should be based on intense, profound love and a couple should maintain their ardor until death do them part. But for thousands of years the joke would have fallen flat.

For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. ...

People have always fallen in love and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply. But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married. When someone did advocate such a strange belief, it was no laughing matter. Instead, it was considered a serious threat to social order." 

Womenless Weddings Used to be a Thing

When 'Womanless Weddings' Were Trendy, By Linton Weeks, June 16, 2015 - 

So it definitely used to be a trend in the 1800s and early 1900s to hold fake comedic male-only weddings as fundraisers for charity (they hung around a bit in the latter half of the 1900s but they're pretty rare now). You can read more at the link below about them - it's a pretty straightforward article - but this part toward the end of the article really stuck out for me.

"So, when all the 'I do's' are said and done, what were womanless weddings all about? In his book, Friend suggests that the womanless wedding was a "ritual of inversion" created not to undermine, but to reaffirm community values.

Photo from 1918, in the Public Domain.

Photo from 1918, in the Public Domain.

'In mocking the very ritual they found most central to communal stability,' he writes, 'organizers and participants in womanless weddings raised questions about the society in which they lived. In the play, they called attention to real social change and its effects on marriage.'

But, Thompson adds, 'even as it reversed and violated the ideal, the womanless wedding replicated and buttressed reality.'"

You can find a lot of videos of these on YouTube, including one below. 

It's definitely...something. The NPR article ends with Stephanie Coontz (writer of "Marriage: A History") opining that they're out of fashion now because they're not very compatible with a society that now accepts same-sex marriage. The counter argument to that may be the existence and wide acceptance of drag queens in LGBTQIA culture. I guess the distinction is that 1. I don't know the statistics but I imagine the vast majority of drag queens or kings are at least accepting of LGBTQIA people, if they don't identify as part of that community, and 2. People participating in "womenless weddings" may not have been. Perhaps it could still be a thing in the right context, time and place, but I can definitely understand why it's gone out of style now.

Review: One Perfect Day - The Selling of the American Wedding, by Rebecca Mead

What is this book about?

This book takes an in-depth look at the wedding industry, traveling from Disneyworld and wedding chapels in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to wedding planner and videographer conventions to wedding dress factories in China. It really looks at the goods and services offered to brides, the "traditions" behind them, and asks how the American wedding industry came to this point.

As a former journalist, I naturally loved Mead's approach to this book. Parts of it are quite poetically written; the prose is gorgeous. It is easy to read; I read through it considerably faster than the previous academic books I've read for this project. 

Who would love this book?

People who like knowing the story behind the curtain and don't mind learning about the dark sides of things as well. Like people who enjoy VH1's Behind the Music.

My Favorite Parts

This is a wonderful book but it's not exactly a happy one; it often points out the extreme cynicism at the heart of most wedding professionals. There were several parts that made me go "ooooooooo" in the sense of a voyeur finding out something secret and scandalous. For example, one interview subject stated about bridal registries: "'It is very simple...Eighty-five percent of brides who register with your brand will remain loyal to your brand for the next fifty years.' The bride...'is a marketers' target. She is a slam dunk." (side note: I wonder how true this still is today, with the advent of online shopping changing the entire way your average person consumes goods). 

Mead herself also has a hilarious style, such as this sentence about her visit to the Chicago bridal dress market: "After a few hours I was overcome by a condition known among retailers as "white blindness," a reeling, dumbfounded state in which it becomes impossible to distinguish between an Empire-waisted gown with alencon lace appliques and a bias-cut spaghetting-strap shift with crystal detail, and in the exhausted grip of which I wanted only to lie down and be quietly smothered by the fluffy weight of it all, like Scott of the Antarctic." 

She also made this witty observation after an encounter with a New Age wedding officiant who had examined her aura. "Hours later, at home, I realized with a start that she had neglected to zip up my aura again, and I had been walking around with it open all that time." 

The book ends on a lovely and progressive note that made me wistful and happy: "What would the American wedding look like if all Americans approached their weddings with the same consciousness as that demanded of gay couples? What if getting married was not simply something the average American-having found a suitable spouse-could do when he or she pleased and in the manner he or she desired, but was a right that had been argued over and fought for? What if every wedding was a cherished victory won?"

Does it talk about marital surname changes at all? 

No - It's really more about the wedding industry than the marriage or couples involved themselves.

Amazon Link:

Podcast: What would a feminist do? Keep your last name or take your spouse's?

By swirlingthoughts on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at

By swirlingthoughts on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons License. Available at

"What would a feminist do? Keep your last name or take your spouse's?" 21 minutes, Host: Jessica Valenti, guest sociologist Laurie Scheuble, May 26, 2016

A friend recommended this podcast via Facebook and I found it incredibly interesting and helpful.

UPDATED POST with review 


Valenti starts out the podcast with a monologue wondering about people's hesitance in admitting that the tradition of a woman taking her husband's name upon marriage is a sexist tradition. As she says, "I think we all negotiate living in a sexist world in different ways," and she doesn't judge anyone for taking such actions, but claiming it's not a sexist tradition is disingenuous. She also points out that though women who change their names often discuss how much they dislike their last name, you never hear the same thing said by men with terrible last names, and it's entirely possible to change your last name before marriage. (I question this a bit actually - you can change your name before marriage but it's made very difficult by most states. It costs a considerable amount of money, there's usually a publication requirement, and you have to appear in court. It's all about preventing people from changing their names just to commit fraud and avoid debts). 

In the main podcast, where Valenti speaks to Scheuble, the sociologist opines, "[T]here's no norm that operates as strongly as women changing their last name when they get married.'s so structured. We have convinced men and women that 1. If a woman loves a man she'll change her name and 2. The guy is obviously convinced that this is what people do, why are you even questioning this?" She doesn't foresee any shift in this phenomenon any time soon. She's also seen a great deal of defensiveness and rationalization among women who change their name. 

Valenti and Scheuble discuss numerous other topics, including people's intense hatred for hyphenation (Why do people hate hyphenation so much anyway? I need to know.) There's also a touching segment that includes viewpoints from a variety of women, including one woman who said she wanted to take her husband's name so she'd have the same name as her children after she saw her aunt struggle with picking up her kids at the airport due to having a different then them.*

Scheuble wraps things up by pointing to a few interesting facts. She's currently conducting a study that does seem to indicate that men identify and attach more to children with their last names, with the effect appearing particularly strong in sons. There haven't really been any studies on surname trends among married homosexual couples yet, pretty much because gay marriage is so new in America still, but statistics that are out there do seem to indicate that people in same sex marriages are less likely to change their surnames. Scheuble surmises that this could be the result of the fact that these couples are generally older than your average heterosexual married couple and have simply had more life experience with their birth name.

 My Thoughts:

I find the entire podcast to be mostly nonjudgmental of women's decisions, but there definitely is a bit of a bias toward women who keep their birth name. Both the host and the expert kept their names and do tend to come at the issue from that standpoint. I do love that Valenti straight-up notes that this is a sexist tradition. It's hard to deny that, but people do it all the time. It may have a different meaning in your life and in your relationship, but there's no denying that its roots are problematic.

Similarly, wearing a wedding dress has sexist roots, as does wearing a wedding ring and any number of traditions in both weddings and day to day life. I am wearing a white dress on my wedding day. I also quite proudly wear my engagement ring and I really enjoy engaging in several feminine traditions that originated and are continued partly because of sexism, including wearing makeup and pretty clothes and keeping a lovely house. However, there are several traditions I reject as too sexist for me to handle - such as having my dad walk me down the aisle or the entire garter thing. Again - "We all negotiate living in a sexist world in different ways." (Can you tell I really like this quote?) I'd rather have my eyes open to all these things, think them through, and then make my choice about which traditions to embrace and engage with in my own life than to just pretend there aren't any problematic histories involved with them. Others may prefer to take a different approach, and that's fine too. We don't all need to overthink things as much as I do (I fully admit that I'm a little eccentric in wanting to know everything about everything. It's also just plain exhausting sometimes. You are welcome to live a less examined life and probably sleep better at night than I do, neurotic as I am.). Either way, I'm not going to judge you. 


*I've really wondered about this. I never had trouble growing up with a mom with a different last name then me, but people can be much more paranoid about security now than they were in the 90s when I was a young'un. Is this a real problem now? 

"Conjugal Rights" and the Right to Refuse to Have Sex

As yet another reminder of "Dear God am I happy I was born when I was and not a few hundred years ago," married women in England only gained the right to refuse to have sex with their husbands fairly recently. These excerpts outline how that situation evolved.

Detail from The Courtship by John Collet (1766)

Detail from The Courtship by John Collet (1766)

"A husband's right to sexual intercourse was assured by law in several ways. Firstly, by the law and custom of marriage. Sir Matthew Hale commented in 1736 that it was impossible for a husband to be tried for rape, because by marrying the wife had 'given herself up' sexually to her husband and could never retract that consent.

Secondly, an ancient right under canon law allowed either party to claim restoration of 'conjugal rights' (i.e. cohabitation). Under the 1857 Divorce Act, refusal to cohabit after being ordered to do so by a judge was contempt of court and could entail a prison sentence. Once a woman was cohabiting with her husband he could rape her with impunity. As Oswald Dawson put it in 1895, a wife was 'at the mercy of the carnal appetite of the man ... at all times and without regard to the state of her health, or any other considerations', he continued, 'This slavery of compulsory cohabitation is surely chattel-like'. He concluded, 'until a woman who is a wife can say, at least at certain times....'I wish to sleep alone'... she can never consider herself free'.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1884 reformed the law so that a refusal to restore conjugal rights no longer led to imprisonment but was deemed to be desertion, which was then grounds for divorce. From then, wives are found applying to court for 'the restitution of conjugal rights', not because they wanted their husbands to move back in, but as the first step towards getting a divorce." Excerpt from  History of Women: Marriage, by Helena Wojtczak (an excellent website that you should go read!) 

The Court of Chancery in the early 19th century (1808) -

The Court of Chancery in the early 19th century (1808) -

"The 1884 Act thus gave effect to the policy that it was oppressive and unnecessary to imprison those who preferred to live apart from their spouses. But the extent to which the courts were prepared to recognise the existence of legally enforceable ‘rights’ in the family context remained unclear. Only a few years later, a sensational case illustrated the difficulty:

In R v. Jackson a husband applied for and obtained a decree for restitution of conjugal rights against his newly married wife, and set about enforcing it. Assisted by two young men (one a solicitor’s articled clerk) he seized her as she was leaving church in the Lancashire town of Clitheroe and forced her into a carriage, claiming to have used no more force than was absolutely necessary to separate her from the sister he believed to be responsible for what had happened. Mrs Jackson was kept in the husband’s house in Blackburn in charge of her sister and a nurse and she was visited by a doctor. The husband claimed that he showed her every kindness and consideration and that she had the free run of the house,  ‘doing just as she pleased, save leaving the house’; and that he ‘had offered several times to take her for a drive, but she had declined to go’. The wife’s relatives instituted habeas corpus proceedings; and the Court of Appeals rejected the husband’s argument that a husband had the right to enforce the ‘general dominion’ he had over his wife by imprisoning her if she refused him the conjugal rights to which a court had declared him entitled. Lord Esher MR regarded the 1884 Act as the ‘strongest possible evidence to shew that the legislature had no idea that a power would remain in the husband to imprison the wife for himself, not least because to accept this view would result in his being allowed to act as party judge and executioner.

The Jackson decision was at the time unpopular in some quarters, and it was certainly widely misunderstood. But it is a landmark in family law: the decision recognises that the ‘rights’ which exist between husband and wife are of a different order than (say) the rights of the parties to a commercial contract. But the question of ‘how different’ remained difficult." 

Legal Consequences of marriage: Conjugal Rights and Remedies (an excerpt from Stephen Cretney, Family Law in the Twentieth Century: A History, Oxford University Press (2003))


Fun fact: Under English law, women only gained the right to divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery alone in 1923. Men previously were the only ones to have that right.

The action of restitution of conjugal rights was only abolished in 1970, though at that point it was rarely used. The equivalent legal actions in Scotland and Ireland were abolished in 1984 and 1988, respectively. 

The Right of Married American Women to be More than "And Wife" on a Passport

Let's never forget how far women actually have come. Less than 100 years ago, women didn't even have the right to see their first name with their husband's last name on a passport, much less their birth name. It's a little depressing that such advances are so recent.

Us modern women are incredibly lucky to live when we do- we have more freedom and more rights than almost any women have throughout history. That doesn't mean we should stop addressing sexism wherever we see it, but it is something to think about. 



"U.S. passports predate the Declaration of Independence, but the documents were issued on an ad hoc basis until the late 1800s, when the process began to standardize. By then, a single woman was issued a passport in her own name, but a married woman was only listed as an anonymous add-on to her husband’s document: 'Mr. John Doe and wife.'

'Restrictions on travel rarely took the form of government policy or officials actively preventing women traveling abroad. Rather, restrictions came in the form of accepted social ideas,' says Craig Robertson, author of Passport in America: History of a Document. 'Put simply, it was not acceptable for a married woman to travel outside of the country without her husband; he, of course, could travel without her. More generally, a married woman’s public identity was tied to her husband, and passports reflected that in being issued to the husband, with his wife being a literal notation.'..

[Doris E.] Fleischman’s passport was the first legal document issued by a federal agency to a woman under the name she preferred and the first U.S. passport issued to a married woman that didn’t designate her as the “wife of” her husband. However, though other women could request passports with similar wording as Fleischman’s, the State Department continued to issue passports referring to most women as 'the wife of Mr. John Doe' until the late 1930s."

The 1920s Women Who Fought for the Right to Travel Under Their Own Names - By Sandra Knisely, March 27, 2017

Picture credit: Doris E. Fleischman's passport application (National Archives and Records Administration - public domain)

"Getting Married": George Bernard Shaw on Marriage


The truth which people seem to overlook in this matter is that the marriage ceremony is quite useless as a magic spell for changing in an instant the nature of the relations of two human beings to one another. If a man marries a woman after three weeks acquaintance, and the day after meets a woman he has known for twenty years, he finds, sometimes to his own irrational surprise and his wife's equally irrational indignation, that his wife is a stranger to him, and the other woman an old friend.

Also, there is no hocus pocus that can possibly be devized with rings and veils and vows and benedictions that can fix either a man's or woman's affection for twenty minutes, much less twenty years. Even the most affectionate couples must have moments during which they are far more conscious of one another's faults than of one another's attractions. There are couples who dislike one another furiously for several hours at a time; there are couples who dislike one another permanently; and there are couples who never dislike one another; but these last are people who are incapable of disliking anybody. If they do not quarrel, it is not because they are married, but because they are not quarrelsome. The people who are quarrelsome quarrel with their husbands and wives just as easily as with their servants and relatives and acquaintances: marriage makes no difference.

Those who talk and write and legislate as if all this could be prevented by making solemn vows that it shall not happen, are either insincere, insane, or hopelessly stupid. There is some sense in a contract to perform or abstain from actions that are reasonably within voluntary control; but such contracts are only needed to provide against the possibility of either party being no longer desirous of the specified performance or abstention. A person proposing or accepting a contract not only to do something but to like doing it would be certified as mad. Yet popular superstition credits the wedding rite with the power of fixing our fancies or affections for life even under the most unnatural conditions."

The entire play and its amazing preface is available for free online here: