Britni de la Cretaz is a feminist, activist, queer femme, former pessimist, dopeless hope fiend, and super rad chick. She is a social worker by day and a spiritual gangster by night, as well as site leader and co-founder of Hollaback! Boston somewhere in between. Her goal every day is to make just one person’s day a little bit better. She believes in second chances, sleeping in, and lots of sequins. You can find her blogging at Fiending for Hope or tweeting her face off at @hopefiending.
I’ve always loved my name. It’s different and it fits me so perfectly. It always has. I’m so grateful that my parents spelled my name the way that they did. My name is not “Brittany” or “Britney” or “Britini.” It’s Britni: B-R-I-T-N-I. It’s phonetic. It’s not that hard, really, though no one can ever say it correctly, let alone spell it correctly. But that’s okay, because I’ll always correct them. When I receive something addressed to “Brittany,” I think, “This isn’t for me. That’s not my name.” And it isn’t. My mother says that she found it in a baby naming book and had never seen it spelled that way before, and so she chose it. It feels like a name I would have chosen for myself.
My last name is a completely different story. And this is where marriage, feminism, and names intersect for me. I always said that I would never get married. It was a fundamental belief that I held and it was important to me that I stick to it. I had tons of “good” reasons why I would never get married to support my argument against it.
- Monogamy isn’t realistic! There’s no way that I will want to be with one person for the rest of my life.
- I’m supposed to wear a white dress to symbolize what? How stupid do you think people are? And it’s important that I stay “pure.” why?
- FEMINIST BRITNI SMASH PATRIARCHY!
- There is no way my father is “giving me away.” I’m not a piece of property to be passed from one male to another, thankyouverymuch.
- The institution is archaic and outdated.
- I don’t want to get married until everyone is able to get married (marriage equality, yay!).
I think you get the idea. I still think there are plenty of valid arguments against marriage, and I don’t think that it’s for everyone nor should be. However, when I met my husband, I knew something was different. I loved him and I just knew that I wanted to be with him for a very, very long time, if not forever. Marriage was important to him, which made it important to me. He would have supported my decision to never get married if that’s what I wanted, but I always knew that it was something that he wanted to do if I was willing. Slowly, the way I felt about marriage changed, and it started to become something that I could see myself doing.
When he proposed to me, one of the first things that I said to him (after, “Of course I’ll marry you!”) was, “I’m not taking your name.” My decision to marry him was only reinforced by his response, which was something along the lines of, “I don’t care. I support whatever you want to do. I just want to spend my life with you.” One of my super-feminist reasons for not wanting to get married had always been this expectation that the woman must take her husband’s name, essentially representing the fact that she was to become his property upon marriage. Even though times have changed and we no longer think of it that way, the fact that this was where the tradition stemmed from was enough to make me turn my feminist nose in the air. No thank you.
However, as we settled in to being engaged and began planning a wedding and a life together, one of the discussions that we kept coming back to was what to do about our last names. My partner was very cool with me not taking his. He supported my ability to make a decision that I felt comfortable with. But he also liked the idea of us sharing a last name, because it symbolized us being a family and a unit and a team. I could get on board with that line of thinking. I liked it. He wasn’t married to his last name, either (pun intended?). He is estranged from his father, so there was no sentimental reason for him to keep it.
Once we had determined that the traditional way of doing things was off the table, it opened up several different options for us. He thought about taking my name, but we both thought that my maiden name was boring and we are not boring people. My first name is anything but boring, and it always bothered me that my last name never felt like it matched my personality in the way that my first name did. My maiden name is “Clark,” which is fine but it never felt like me. I decided that if we were going to change our names to something else, now was the time to pick something that felt utterly and completely me.
We considered making an anagram with the letters of both of our last names, but nothing interesting presented itself. From there, we looked to other family names that we liked and decided that we would make a choice between my mother’s maiden name and his mother’s maiden name. We ended up going with his mother’s maiden name, mostly because when I said my full name, it just sounded right to me.
Most people embraced our decision to change our names. Many people worried that we would hate having to spell our name all the time. But the truth of the matter is, I already had to spell my name. I had to specify whether or not Clark had an “e” on the end of it. I already spell my first name for people. It’s a minor inconvenience to have a name that feels uniquely me but that also feels uniquely us for my husband and me.
The other thing that I love about making a non-traditional decision about our last names upon marriage is that it allows me to open up this feminist discussion about agency and choice with the world at large. I work with teen girls who have often never considered anything other than what society has taught them. When I explain that my husband and I have decided that we will both change our name upon marriage, to symbolize our moving forward as equal partners who are forging a life together and becoming a family, I plant a seed. In being true to myself and my feminist values in this area of my life, it allows me to subtly spread my feminist ideas just by living my life the way I think it should be lived.
We’re lucky that in our state, Massachusetts, it’s easy for both of us to change our names. We are one of the states that allows same-sex marriage and therefore one of the fewer-than-there-should-be states that allows men to change their name upon marriage. A man in Florida has been accused of fraud and had his license suspended for taking his wife’s last name after marriage. Something as simple as this is a good example of why we need feminism. Feminism isn’t about man hating or boner killing or being angry. To me, feminism means that the personal is political and feminism is ultimately about choice. It’s about giving all people choices in their lives to do what they feel is right for them. This couple decided that the husband would take the wife’s last name to honor her heritage, and that was the choice that worked for them. Unfortunately for them, the state is trying to dictate what kinds of choices they can and can’t make for their family. This kind of thing happens everyday, all over the country, in both more and less obvious ways. Anyone who says that feminism isn’t necessary any longer should re-evaluate that position.
All that we, as feminists, want to do is give people choices in their lives. The choice for a man to take a woman’s last name. The choice for a woman to stay home with her children or to go back to work. The choice to have a child or to not have a child. The choice to terminate an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy. The choice to say “no” to sex when you don’t want it. The choice to live as a different gender than the one you were assigned by society. The choice to marry the person that you love, regardless of their sex. At its core, feminism is about choice. Not just for women, but for everyone.
And so these three things that seem unrelated on the surface– marriage, feminism, a name– actually have a lot to do with one another. My name is representative of so many things about me– my personality, my uniqueness, my commitment to my partner, and my feminist ideals. A rose by any other name just wouldn’t be me.
Let’s Talk About Names: Rebekah is the previous post in the series.