Poor Ariel Meadow Fetz… Of last names and other drama

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Photo of Ariel by Heather Corinna

Want to read a chapter of the Offbeat Bride book? Indiebride.com ran an excerpt from the book, all about the agony of figuring out that whole "last name" thing.:


Poor Ariel Meadow Fetz. She never stood a chance, really. First and foremost, she was shot down by my second-generation gender-egalitarianism and the fact that I had a career built on my given name. She also had to face up to my partner Andreas' staunch academic feminism. Ariel Meadow Fetz was aborted, and the pro-lifers didn't even get a chance to wave around bloody signs and protest.

Mrs. Fetz had a window of opportunity for a while, though. Growing up, I'd always been one of those girls who practiced writing her future married name. Ariel Meadow Beck, I wrote in bubbled cursive in seventh grade, which later gave way to Ariel Meadow Himmelstein, Ariel Meadow Harrison, Ariel Meadow Lemire, Ariel Meadow Dunbar. By the time I got around to Ariel Meadow Nordstrom at age seventeen, I was already starting to have second thoughts. I sort of liked my birth name.

And by the time I met Andreas at twenty-two, I had one fleeting adolescent reflex of learning his name and thinking "Ariel Meadow Fuck this shit. I'm Ariel Meadow Stallings. Regardless of who he might be." As Leah from Minneapolis said, "A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but me by another name?! I can't imagine it!"

Journalist Marjorie Ingall also kept her name, explaining that simply using her husband's last name wasn't an option: "We're feminists, but the fun kind. Not the type who sing dirge-y folk songs and talk about our personhood; the type who really do try to be fair to each other while maintaining a sense of humor and respect for difference."

Then again, six years later when we got engaged, I did play around with various ideas. Should we hyphenate? I knew lots of hyphenated kids growing up, and (I know this is cruel) I always felt pity for them and their mouthfuls of twelve-consonant names. Maybe, I thought, we could combine our names. What about Fetzlings? It sounded completely ridiculous, like a distant species relative of Tribbles.

Then there was my odd idea of swapping first names. One morning I got a funny phone call from a telemarketer. "Is this the Andreas household?" the woman asked, suggesting that they'd gotten Andreas' first and last names flipped. Then I thought, "How great would it be to take your spouse's first name as your last name? He would be Andreas Tillman Ariel, and I would be Ariel Meadow Andreas. It made a strange deranged sense. There was a bit of ownership there.

Even that quickly-discarded solution, however, wouldn't solve the ultimate offbeat bride's dilemma: What about the kids? Strangely, Andreas and I are without models in this arena: Despite the fact that both our mothers were and are feminists, we both have our fathers' last names. Our tentative solution was to involve genders, but not in the usual way. When we have a child, a girl will get my last name while a boy will get his. We'll probably use the other's last name as a second middle name. Granted, this is, as of yet, untested, but I've heard people who've made it work.

Sometimes it's purely an issue of aesthetics. My aunt elected to give both her kids her last name instead of her then-husband's. This was not a political issue, it was purely one of aesthetics. My aunt's husband's last name is Faget. It's French, pronounced "fah-zhay," but my poor uncle grew up teased with mispronunciations of his name and continued to get crank calls all through his adult life. Therefore, he insisted that his two sons, my cousins, both get my aunt's last name. No politics. Simple pragmatism.

The assumption about offbeat brides is that of course we'll keep our names, and we'll be proud of it! Like most assumptions, it's frequently wrong. Sometimes, brides told me, politics be damned, their husband's last name just sounds better. Jen Moon remembers, "The first time I got married, I took my husband's last name…because to tell the truth, he just had a cooler last name than the one I grew up with." Stacy Streuli had similar sentiments, saying, "Honestly, I don't really care. I was never a big fan of my last name, and I wasn't sad to see it go."

This laissez faire attitude is surprisingly common when it comes to last names. Amy Ross (who used to be Amy Lichtenbaum) told me that changing her name was no big deal because, "I have a dozen names-pet names, nicknames, Internet handles, and I am known by different names in different countries." Lisa Marie Grillos had a similar attitude, saying that she chose to take her husband's name in part because "my name never mattered much to me-I'm not even very attached to my first name and would be fine changing that as well. Call me what you will, I know who I am."

Other new brides see it not as a political issue but as a family name issue-Amy might not have cared so much about her last name, but she wanted to show "we were a family, and not just some cohabitating group of strangers." Brittany Wager put it in the sports paradigm, explaining that she wanted her family to have a "team name." Corrin Cramer Pierce (formerly just Corrin Cramer) agreed, saying, "I like the idea of us being a unit represented by one name, and I had no issues with it being his."

Some couples address the "team" name issue by compromising on a new common last (or even middle) name, which both spouses take. After long political discussions, Maria Grundmann and her husband planned to legally adopt a new shared middle name. "Except," she remembers, "we never actually did it. Inertia overcame us, and neither of us has changed our name one bit." She does, however, take solace in being able to explain to people who ask that "Neither of us changed our name." She told me the answer pleases her because "It implicitly questions the assumption that only women would change their name upon marriage."

The increasingly popular option of both spouses taking a new common name is a great idea-unless one or both partners have professional recognition associated with their given names. Susan Beal, a writer from Portland, Oregon, recounts that, "Some good friends of ours chose a whole new last name, which I think is such a great, meet-in-the-middle option…but I'm a writer and have published under my own name for years. In a practical (and professional) sense, it would be more or less starting over from scratch to suddenly reappear as Susan Anythingelse. My husband has made films and published under his last name, too, so it was completely impractical for us to both change to something else and both lose all name recognition in our fields." Like Maria and her husband, neither Susan nor her husband elected to change their names.

Among brides I spoke to, more than half opted to keep their own names, many for the same reasons I did, which is to say, the reasons you'd expect-but sometimes reasons you wouldn't. Leah Weaver laughed, "My husband wasn't interested in changing his name, and hell if I would if he wasn't! Leah Weaver isn't a character I've been playing for thirty-two years; it's me."

That said, women who keep their names need to be prepared for the family members who refuse to acknowledge it. You can get your panties in a bunch, or you can take Phyllis from Seattle's approach: "Many of our more old-fashioned family members assume I have my husband's last name. I only know that because of the cards that come in the mail for 'Mrs. Him.' I think it's cute! Even if it's a check, the bank doesn't seem to care-so why should I? At least they're thinking of me."

Then again, women who take their husbands' names must also acknowledge that they'll get grief for opting for the more traditional option. Amy Ross told me, "Definitely the hardest thing about changing my name was facing down the feminist police, who sometimes assume I'm a slave to men just because I don't really care what my last name is. But I know I'm still a radical feminist, and that's what matters in the end."

Brittany Wagner summarized the issue when she told me, "No matter what you do, you will get grief from someone who did the opposite. It is a choice that everyone faces when they get married, and everyone has a lifetime of experience that shapes that choice. A very good friend (who calls herself a feminist) told me upon finding out that I changed my name that it was 2002, and I was allowed to keep my last name if I wanted to-as if I wasn't aware that it was an option! Sometimes I feel a little defensive about changing my name, as I imagine the keepers feel as well. I have a very equitable relationship with my husband, and I'd hate to think that people assume otherwise just because I changed my name."

I'm happy that I chose to keep my birth name. That said, despite all my efforts, Ariel Meadow Fetz lives on. She's a phantom floating around our house, drifting from room to room. I can't see her, but I know she's here: That bitch gets ass-loads of junk mail.

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  1. Thanks for this excerpt. As far as brides go, I was about as offbeat as they come (I wore black knee-high boots, got married in an adorable courthouse with 10 family members in tow, and carried orange gerbera daisies), but I did choose to take my husband's last name. His last name is easier to spell, easier to pronounce, and just sounds much better than my own. I also didn't feel particularly attached to my last name because it was my mostly-absentee father's name. I did, however, want to keep it as a second middle name, but found when I went to the DMV to get a new driver's license that their computer system will only take three names! I like my middle name (Rose) too much to give it up, so my father's name had to go. I was surprised at the identity crisis changing my name caused. I still have trouble recognizing my new name or remembering to use it. When I went to the bank to change my name on my account, I accidentally signed my old last name instead of my new one. It's strange to think, though, that in 28 years I will have had my new name longer than my old, and it will probably just seem like who I am.

  2. I just read the essay. Nope, even feminists can't write abot feminism without insulting it or referring to outdated stereotypes. Sad.

    1 agrees
  3. Sorry you didn't enjoy the excerpt, Mimi. I'm open to talking with you more about the subject if you want to email me — but I hope we can avoid this comment thread becoming a debate about who can or can't write about feminism appropriately. There are plenty of other websites (I Blame The Patriarchy comes to mind) where one can debate who gives feminism a bad name — offbeatbride.com isn't intended to be one of them.

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  4. Bruce is taking my last name, which is "Blessing". He wasn't really attached to his last name and (I'm sorry honey) Jezebel "Williams" isn't that exciting.

    I was very flattered when he chose to take my name. Since I'm not very close with the Blessing side of my family his decision feels more like an honor to me than to my family ties. I get the feeling he's actually excited about being "The Blessings". He already decorated our new mailbox with our name. ­čÖé

    One word of warning, women don't pay to have thier name changed after marriage, men do. In WA it's going to cost him $100 in filing fees and he has to go before a judge. If I took his name it would cost me nothing. Talk about lack of equality!

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  5. The hardest thing for me in planning my wedding has been the name issue. When I mentioned to my parents I was thinking about changing to my husband's surname, they were disappointed, nay bitterly disappointment and hurt.
    Disappointment. The worst thing to do to a parent. How could I, THEIR daughter who they raised as a feminist, think about taking a man's name, lose my identity to a MAN. Interestingly, it is my Dad who is the most gutted. They keep wanting to open a 'dialogue on the issue' and try to understand my point of view. But it is a hard concept to grasp for them
    I have tried to explain that these days, woman have a CHOICE. We can choose to keep our own name, take his, hyphenate, merge the names, even make up a whole new team name. Apparently if I choose to take his name, its not really free choice, as the subconcious messages from society about woman needing to have their husband to form their identity that have got into my brain and formed my thoughts for me. So, while I think that I have free choice and have chosen to share his name because I really really like his name and like having the same name, in actuality I let the unconcious messages of society permeate my impressionable mind and am acting in a terribly unfeminine way.
    Phew.
    Isn't it strange, that for me, the HARDEST thing will be to share his name?

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