Let's talk about names.
I have a fairly unusual last name. I've seen other people with my last name in the phone book, or perhaps on a billboard for a personal injury lawyer, but I've never met one outside my immediate family. The name is more common in eastern North Carolina, where my dad is from, but where I grew up, we were the only ones. I like having an unusual name, because I like being unusual.
Josh's last name is more usual. I used a website to compare the frequency of my current first and last name with the name I would have with his surname. It was more frequent by a factor of 3. Distributed across the whole world, it's still unlikely I'll ever meet another one, but I can't say the idea of being more common made me happy.
Names are significant, like Shakespeare said. I heard someone complain about how the government doesn't know you by name, but by a number. I pointed out that a social security number is actually unique, whereas there can be unlimited people with the same name. But our names are what others call us, how we introduce ourselves, and how we think of ourselves. It is not our actual identity, but more like a symbol. I tried on a variety of names and nicknames when I was little. I dreamed of being old enough to change my name, but really I was trying to change my identity, or rather, I was trying to create one. Now that I have a better idea of who I am and who I want to be, what I call it is less important to me.
Now I have to face the decision of what to do with my last name. Do I chuck it aside? Move it to the middle and discard my middle name, Lynn? I've never had strong feelings about Lynn. It's a bland, place-holder kind of middle name, like Lee or Ann. Or do I keep the old surname, figuring if it was good for the last 30 years, it'll be fine for another.
Nowadays, sometimes men take their wife's last name. I don't think Josh would be willing to do that, nor do I feel like I could ask him. Taking someone's name is a loaded concept for a man, cue the whip crack sound effect. Men have to deal with arbitrary societal standards, too.
Another option is to pick a brand new name for the both of us. I told Josh that I wanted to be Josh and Sandra Stratocaster. He considered it very seriously for a minute, then said no. Too bad. I could've been the first and only Sandra Stratocaster in the whole world.
The only thing that I feel strongly about in this decision is that I want our new family to have one last name. I want to be a unit. Then people passing by our house can go "Who lives there?" "The Stratocasters!" "Who is bringing the cookies for church next week?" "The Stratocasters, which means they'll be chocolate." "Do you know any weirdos?" "Dude, let me tell you about the Stratocasters."
I don't think there is one right answer for every couple. There are women who have built careers using their maiden name, and it makes sense for them to keep them. There are other women who are all too glad to shed the nominal assocation with rotten childhoods. The wonderful thing about womens' rights is that we can decide on an individual basis what is the best option for ourselves. There is still a stigma attached to not taking your husband's name, and that's lame. My inner contrarian wants to defy that by keeping my name. But there is also the idea that taking your husband's last name means you means you've subsumed your identity into his. Now it is the woman who is whipped. Josh could take my last name and be made to feel like less of a man. I could take his last name and be made to feel like less of a feminist.
Or we could be the Stratocasters. No one calls them whipped. People, males and females, would be lining up to marry our children in order to take that last name.
I realize the practice of taking a husband's name is historically about ownership of the woman. Guess what? Marriage itself at that point was sorta about that. The last name did not make the woman property, it was the society and the actual laws that did that. And I get that language can be subversive in the way it reinforces norms. But we're not talking about calling grown women "girls" or using the word "bitch" as interchangeable with "female." We are talking about my last name. Just mine.
Josh has no illusions about owning me. I am his and he is mine, which is about commitment, not ownership. As time goes on, the stigma of keeping your name will fade, more couples will pick brand new names, more husbands will take the wife's name. Eventually, people will stop trying to assign a greater significance to an individual practical decision, and we will all finally get to do whatever the heck we want.