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. ...it'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?