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Sexism and the Marriage Proposal


Amanda Marcotte has some interesting commentary on the inherent sexism of the marriage proposal. Having been down this road a couple of times now, the entire marriage structure is sexist. I proposed both times and even the possibility of me not being the one who proposed was strictly impossible despite the fact that I wouldn’t be with anyone who didn’t self-identify as a feminist. I don’t know a single couple where the woman asked the man. Some parts of the institution have becomes less offensive in the last few decades. The “obey” term in the wedding ceremony has faded. It’s not so frequent where the man “asks” the father for his daughter, though I have friends who have done that.

A lot of structural sexism remains in the marriage ceremony. From the father giving the bride away (property!) to the woman taking the husband’s name (property!) the whole ceremony stinks of sexism and I hate it and even participating in it there wasn’t much I could do about it given the pervasiveness of gendered expectations. Although on a personal level, taking my name, well no I could not deal with that. Why shouldn’t men take their wife’s names? If I have kids, why shouldn’t they take my wife’s name? They will identify with her Irish ethnicity since I couldn’t care less about these questions. Might as well take her name too.

Much of this might seem harmless. I am already imagining the comments that Amanda and I are making mountains out of molehills, not to take this so seriously, tradition, biology, etc. But the fact remains that as a society, we have done a better job dealing with structural racism and arguably even structural homophobia (at least within our hearts and willingness to have serious discussions about it, although not for the bisexual and transgender communities) than structural sexism.

I’d also be curious for research to see how marriage proposals play out with same-sex couples.

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  • My husband made me ask him. He said it was the only way to be sure I really wanted to get married to him … ;^)

    • I like him already.

      • Bill Murray

        readying for proposal #3?

        • Decrease Mather

          What shameless begging! Perhaps Eric doesn’t want to marry you, Bill.

          • Bill Murray

            but it’s his duty to ask. plus I’m often quite funny

    • 5/5/5

      After being together for several years, I told my then girlfriend we could get married anytime she proposed. It took her roughly a decade to get around to asking me.

      After a ten year “engagement” There was no engagement ring or wedding ceremony and neither of us bother to wear our wedding bands much. My wife kept her name, first child has my surname and second has her’s. Paperwork/legal issues was/is sometimes a hassle but other than that it pretty easy to take the non conventional route.

      • Chester Allman

        My wife proposed to me on an escalator in a shopping center. It was a practical matter; a few years after our legal marriage we had a little ceremony and started using the terms “husband” and “wife,” though it felt odd to do so. She kept her last name and neither of us wears wedding bands. The kid has my last name, though – we considered other possibilities but rejected them because, as you note, of the paperwork issues.

    • cpinva

      my wife asked me, without prodding. clearly, she was on drugs at the time.

  • Karen

    The last name thing still makes me cringe. I didn’t change my name, because I have a common, easy to spell last name and my husband, well, doesn’t. When the kids were born, however, there was no discussion whatsoever of them having my last name, even though I like my family and Steve only liked his mother, and I’m an only child and he has one brother who could “carry on the family name.” So, my sons have surname that everyone misspells, that connects them with an extended family I don’t like very much, and which denies my family any continuation. BLECCCHHH.

    • Ah, carrying on the family name.

      Are we the French monarchy, where power can only be passed through the male?

      Evidently our society holds the same values.

      • Stan Gable

        Having a standardized last name convention makes navigating the world a little easier.

        • Horseshit. That’s always the excuse, and I always have the same reply: Then why did not one say that to my mother when she remarried and changed her name, making her name different that mine? My mother and I have had different last names since I was 12 and not once—not once—was anyone confused about our relationship.

          Not necessary. Certainly not so necessary as to override women’s concerns about retaining their identity and having their contributions to their families recognized.

          • Stan Gable

            But no one prevents you from taking any last name you want nor to my knowledge is anyone prohibited from giving their kid either last name or both last names for that matter.

            I do think that there’s value in knowing that a first name is what most people want to be called and a last name usually refers to one of the parents. If the traditions were reversed, then I’d make the same argument.

            I’ll grant that it’s pretty irrelevant for adults though.

            • Origami Isopod

              But no one prevents you from taking any last name you want nor to my knowledge is anyone prohibited from giving their kid either last name or both last names for that matter.

              Social pressure totes doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it certainly wouldn’t target women more than men!

            • Jameson Quinn

              My wife is Guatemalan. She’s 3rd generation atheist, and had a feminist radio show as a teenager. She’s proud her parents were clandestine revolutionaries, and could handle the information security of pseudonyms since she was 5 or 6. But when I wanted our daughter to have her last name before mine, she totally vetoed it. She knew that it would be a giant hassle to clear that with the Guatemalan authorities (where the police still ask for father’s full name when someone reports a crime), and after dealing with the giant hassle of pregnancy she wasn’t in the mood.

          • There’s a lot of male insecurity involved. No woman ever has wondered : Is this kid mine?

            So you give the kid his name to jumpstart the bonding.

            Yeah, it’s lame. You got a problem with that?

            • Actually, women have. It’s not unknown for families to end up with their not biological child from the hospital (or at least to worry about it).

          • Aaron B.

            Keep in mind that the argument from standardized convention doesn’t do much work as far as specifying what the convention ought to be. We could decide to hyphenate names, or even give children the mother’s name.

            • cpinva

              we could also, as was done up until not all that long ago, give people last names corresponding to where they were born:

              so, for example, erik loomis would become erik, of west sister fuck arkansas.

              “naming conventions” are simply social artifice, subject to change at a whim. there is no legal requirement dictating how one is to be named. further (at least in va), changing one’s name, upon marriage, requires an affirmative act, that of going around, to all interested parties (banks, etc.) and actually physically changing it, it is not automatic. i expect this is probably true of most states. it also isn’t mandated by law.

              i think it really comes down to whatever the particular couple wants to do, and i’m certainly good with that. after all, it doesn’t affect me personally.

              • S_noe

                This actually still holds, de facto, in my dad’s Danish family, where there are about a dozen cousins all named “Niels”, god knows why. So inside the family they go by the name of their hometown/current location: Niels Ebeltoft, Niels Seattle, and so on.

                I went to a reunion once and it was like some Nordic kaleidoscopic scene out of The Crying of Lot 49. But it does work!

          • DrDick

            I have been married three times and we did the name thing differently each time. First wife took my surname, the second hyphenated it, and the third kept her own name. I do not think I ever really formally proposed to any of them and the last one pretty much talked me into it.

          • JREinATL

            Horseshit to your horseshit. Stan doesn’t claim that the lack of a standardized last name convention makes the world impossible, just that having one makes it easier, which seems to me unremarkably obvious. Your example is totally off-point. Whether you think there’s value in a standardized convention is a different issue.

        • MAJeff

          A standardized form of property transfer from one man to another.

        • Alan Tomlinson


          I live in a country where this name surrender thing is much less common and one of the great advantages is that you can find people after they marry.

          Marriage is filled with archaic sexist shit!


          Alan Tomlinson

          • SEK

            Signing off “Cheers” really makes this comment sing.

            • MPAVictoria

              Ha! I have been wanting to say that for weeks!

            • cpinva

              it does indeed! kind of gives it an added emphasis. or affectation, take your pick.

      • McKingford

        I think the answer to child-naming is easy: daughters take the mother’s name, and sons take the father’s name. That’s my plan (should a plan ever become necessary!)

        • Bill Murray

          I think couples should pick a new last name when they marry.

          • Antonio Villaraigosa

            and I approved this message

          • SatanicPanic

            My thoughts exactly. If I didn’t already have tons of paperwork to do when I got married I would have done this. Would have been something really cool like Superman or Thunderbolt.

            • Stan Gable

              Probably a feature in the system. The world doesn’t need millions of Rod Thunderbolts walking around.

              • Origami Isopod

                Why not?

                • Eustace Sidewinder


              • Halloween Jack

                You are wrong, sir.

            • Jameson Quinn

              I have a friend who did this and it’s kinda annoying. I always think of him by his old name, and his new name frankly sounds silly to me (it’s not cool like “Racecar”, it’s something Latin). Please don’t tell him though.

          • I know couples who have done this. It always felt odd, mostly because I judge people based upon what I gather about their ethnicity from their last name….

            But seriously, it is a reasonable idea, if a bit shocking.

            • Anonymous

              as, at one time, was a glimpse of stocking

            • Laura C

              I have a friend where she and her husband picked a new last name, hyphenated themselves with it, and gave the kids just the new last name. So the parents each retain their own name while gaining a common name, and the kids only have one name. This really feels like a nice solution, though explaining it is always unwieldy.

              Incidentally, this is the only couple I know where the woman proposed to the man. IIRC, she got down on one knee and offered him a ring pop.

              Though the cases I know where the woman issued an ultimatum of “if you don’t propose to me by X date, we’re through,” I tend to feel she actually did the proposing.

            • Ahkiam

              My wife and I did this. We combined the first 3 letters from each of our last names to form a new name. For me, the cool benefit is the easy signaling that we’re feminist. There is occasionally some funniness/weirdness since our new name sounds vaguely Arab/Jewish/Armenian (that’s what I’ve been asked) when we’re both pretty vanilla generic white people. But I’m ok with that and our kids will come by the bane honestly..,

          • Emily

            My cousin and his wife did this and he had a much more difficult time getting credit card companies, etc to change his name than his wife did. But that was over 10 years ago.

          • marijane

            Yes! I know three couples, the Eons, the Ardents, and the Evermores, who did this. (The Evermores, ironically, are not together anymore.) I don’t know why it’s not a more popular idea, it’s such a great opportunity to pick a cool name!

            • John

              Those names are horrendous. It’s bad enough having to get used to (some) female friends suddenly having new last names. I’ll be damned if I’m going to live in a world where everyone does, and it’s bullshit like “Eon.”

              • marijane

                I’m sorry you feel that way. There’s a story behind the Eons. It was part of the husband’s DJ name. His original last name was Watson, his wife-to-be was in medical school, and at some point she said to him, “I’m sorry, I can’t be Dr. Watson when we marry.” (heh.) He was like, that’s cool, I’ve been thinking about changing it to Eon anyway.

                So now she is Dr. Eon. How can you not like that?

                When I told this story to the husband-half of the would-be Ardents, he thought it was awesome, (he was all, “PAGING DR. EON, DR. EON TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM, STAT”) and I am pretty sure it influenced him to convince his wife-to-be choose a name together when they married.

                • Halloween Jack

                  The late, lamented MMORPG City of Heroes had an archvillain named Dr. Aeon. Really one of the funniest characters in the game.

                • Just Dropping By

                  I guess that’s OK if you enjoy having a name that makes you sound like a Silver Age comic villain with some sort of time travel/manipulation fixation.

                • thu

                  That story still kinda comes down to her taking his name, even if it’s a stage name, though.

          • John

            That’s the worst.

          • GFW

            I know people who did. They sorta merged their previous names into something that sounds very natural (i.e. not hyphenated)

          • When I proposed, I insisted my bride-to-be not take my last name. She demurred, offering that we hyphenate. I even changed it on my Social Security card, so easy it was ridiculous. Our daughters have my former last name, although my older daughter has my mother-in-law’s maiden name as a middle name, because she is an only child, and my younger daughter has my wife’s former last name as a middle name because my late father-in-law as an only child who had two daughters. There is something to be said for carrying on names to new generations that has nothing to do with property. Oh, and spelling a hyphenated last name is a small price to pay to demonstrate that, after I got married, I wasn’t the same person as before.

        • Walt

          Pointless trivia: This is actually illegal in Switzerland. All kids of a married couple all have to have the same last name. (I learned this from a Swiss person who is terrified by the fact that there are no legally-required naming rules in the US.)

          • Jameson Quinn

            In Guatemala, the law is that the kid gets both last names, father’s first. No exceptions. If father is not around, the kid used to get just one last name (how’s that for labeling; I have a compadre who has this, and he’s fine with it now, but as a kid it sucked), now gets both of mom’s names (but only if she has two). Since it’s Guatemala, I think you could probably get around this law somehow, but it does exist.

            • chris y

              I think this is pretty much how it works in all Spanish speaking countries, certainly in Spain. The advantage for the kids is that though conventionally they are known by and pass on the father’s name, if your father has a really boring name like Ruiz and your mother has an awesome one like Picasso, you can use hers and nobody cares (exc. possibly in Guatemala).

      • DrDick

        You have no idea what it is like growing up with your good German-American grandmother talking to you about “when you grow up and HAVE A SON!” Fortunately for grandma, I did on the first try, because that was all she wrote. At the time, I was the last male descendant in the male line from my great grandfather (maybe my great great grandfather). I suppose that the line will continue for a while longer, since I have two teenage grand sons.

        • Cody

          My parents and grand-parents were pretty adamant I carry on my family name.

          My family name is a super-common profession… so it’s not exactly fun. However, everyone can spell it!

          Fun story though. My mother-in-law’s maiden name is my last name. Whenever my wife goes to the bank and is asked her mother’s maiden name now, it is the same as her new last name. She gets a lot of looks.

    • delurking

      I’ll tell you another trouble with this whole changing the woman’s name when she marries shit (speaking as a professor in a working class university in Arkansas) is that some of my women students have gone through 3 or 4 last names now.

      How am I supposed to keep up with that?

      One name, one student. Please.

      • cpinva

        wait, that can’t be right.

        (speaking as a professor in a working class university in Arkansas) is that some of my women students have gone through 3 or 4 last names now.

        you’re actually in nyc, aren’t you, and just pretending to be in the bible belt. i know this, because the good christians of arkansas would never get divorced once, let alone 3 or 4 times, it would be against god’s will! only sluts from nyc would do such a thing.

        they aren’t related to mr. loomis, are they?

        • Halloween Jack

          People in the Bible Belt don’t get divorced? Please. I’ve lived there.

          • raging red

            Your sarcasm detector is broken.

      • JupiterPluvius

        I had so many profs who used creepy ex-husbands’ names professionally because that’s what they were first published under, even though they had long divorced creepy dude and married another nice dude (or lady)!

        This was additional impetus, if I needed any, to keep my birth surname.

    • Emily

      My husband didn’t care if I kept or changed my name and was willing to add my name as a second middle name for himself (my parents gave me and my brother my mom’s name as a second middle name; there were times if was useful to have her name in there somewhere). But he would not entertain alternative last name options for the kids (though I think it was me who was against hyphenation). I told him that if he was unilaterally deciding their last name (his) then I was unilaterally deciding their first names. He agreed to that.

    • Joe

      What I continue to find a bit curious is retention of a name after a divorce. As to changing names, me personally, I’d change my last name without much compunction — people keep on misspelling mine.

      • Fraser

        My wife’s reason for changing hers to mine.

    • Anonymous

      In these days of a world-wide community, the more uncommon your last name the better. The Chinese should really go on a hyphenation binge for about 4 generations to get a useful number of family names.

      • thu

        God forbid! Chinese surnames sound terrible hyphenated, all those hard vowel sounds banging up against each other…try some out:


        No thanks. I like my simple monosyllabic clan name, keeping it.

    • Consumatopia

      My paternal grandfather had two sons and a bunch of daughters. My uncle had a bunch of daughters. My father had two sons and a couple of daughters. My brother has a daughter.

      I wouldn’t want a wife to take my name. But my family’s been on the losing side of the convention so often, I’d feel awfully stupid trying to explain to them that I decided to buck the convention right when it was in our favor. Sure, the convention is unfair, but it’s usually been unfair to us. And I’m not sure what a better system would be. Two names/hyphenated names are annoying (it would end up as a parody of Hispanic names–everyone would be named John Robert William Smith-Jones or permutations thereof) and only defer the problem one generation (unless you start accumulating an exponential number of names). Blended or invented names…ugh, no. And if it has to be patrilineal or matrilineal, Downpuppy’s reason above is probably a good reason to side with the former–given the chance, encouraging fathers to feel connected to their kid is a pragmatically useful even if, ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary.

  • MAJeff

    One of the things I hate about the whole same-sex marriage movement is the adoption of the cultural traditions of hetero-marriage. If I should ever marry, I will NEVER have a husband; I’ll have a spouse. And a big ceremony is actually a deal-breaker for me. It’ll be a get the license with minimal fuss then have a fun party thing. That’s not negotiable. (then again, I’m separated from my partner by almost 1000 miles and even though we’re approach 2 years, we’ve never lived closer than 400 miles. Marriage isn’t much of an option)

    • MAJeff

      Added: I can’t imagine a “proposal.” Instead, I would see it as an ongoing conversation.

      • The ongoing conversation would be a lot more useful for all relationships, same sex or opposite sex.

        • ploeg

          In practice, that’s pretty much what happens, or should happen. If you don’t know for lock certain what the answer will be before the official proposal, you have absolutely no business getting married.

          • delurking

            It’s certainly what happened with my fella and me. No big proposal. We’d just been talking about it for a few years, so finally I said I guess we oughta and he said okay.

            • That’s what happened with my parents in 1970. Dad said “I guess we should get married.” Mom, “ok, I’ll look into what we need to do.”

              She wore a red mini-dress, he was late. They got married at the Rockville Court House.

              Their wedding reception was in a methadone clinic in DC where he moonlighted. They were the only non-addicts there.

        • DrDick

          Acxtually did happen with all three of mine, and the first one was in 1972.

      • chris y

        This. In our case the conversation lasted fifteen years. Pension rights do concentrate the mind, though it’s pernicious that you have to be married to your partner for them to inherit your benefits, and I would never defend such an arrangement.

    • JL

      You know, I have to say, our proposal (which came from my spouse) was fun. We’re both LARPers and it was set up as a LARP-style riddle trail that ended with my finding a description of a “become engaged” mechanic. I had to do things like disarm a foam-dart-shooting toy turret that had been installed in one of the rooms for that purpose. I actually didn’t figure out that it was a proposal until I got to the end, but it was fun and made a good story.

      I would never, ever have expected that it was somehow his job to propose, or that if he wasn’t doing it when I wanted him to, that I should whine at him about how he should propose until he did. That’s some sexist crap right there.

      We had ongoing conversations – if you haven’t talked about this sort of thing before you make the decision (through a proposal or not), how is that even going to work? The proposal was just marking the switch between “This is something we’ve talked about and will probably do eventually” to “This is something we’ve committed to”.

      We did not have anyone “giving me away”, another tradition that I hate. Both his and my sets of parents accompanied us to the front. I did not change my name. Though if Erik were trying to guess my ethnicity from it (as he alluded to doing earlier in the thread) he would be hilariously wrong, as my grandparents picked it out when they were trying to avoid discrimination by passing as WASPs, and picked roughly the most blue-blooded WASPy surname possible.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      If I should ever marry, I will NEVER have a husband; I’ll have a spouse.

      I’ve always liked the idea of making “spouse” the common, everyday term too.

      As for the dude I playfully refer to in blog comments as The Hubby, we’ve been together for 17 years now and have no plans to get married, and I still refer to him as my “partner” because there really isn’t a better term…and I HATE “partner.” Sounds like we own a goddamn dry cleaning business or something.

      • STH

        Yeah, I’m not crazy about “partner,” but I use it (I’m a female human, he’s a male human). The problem is that the other alternative, “boyfriend,” sounds a little goofy to me at 48 years old.

        I figure we’ll eventually get married, for the legal benefits if nothing else, but we’re waiting a bit. He hasn’t been divorced that many years and the idea of marriage still has some negative connotations for him.

      • Sherm

        Sounds like we own a goddamn dry cleaning business or something.

        If I had a dollar for every time I had to ask my law partner whether the two new male clients he had just introduced me to were “partners” or “business partners”, after one of them introduced the other to me as his “partner”…

      • I tend to use spouse or partner and I really like/prefer partner, partly for solidarity’s sake, partly because it screams mutuality.

  • Boots Day

    These things cut both ways. I would have preferred not to spend several hundred dollars I didn’t have on a diamond ring that was still so small she never wears it anyway.

    • But how would the world see that she is your property without the ring?

      • JL

        This is why I insisted that both my spouse and I would give the other engagement rings when we were engaged. I liked having a ring that was specially designed for me – I own no other jewelry – but the symbolism of it only going in one direction was too icky for me.

    • rea

      I would have preferred not to spend several hundred dollars I didn’t have

      You miss the point. You’re supposed to engage in an act of conspicuous consumption confirming that you have the wealth/prestige entitling you to marry. You’re just not getting into the proper spirit of things . .

    • Scott Lemieux

      I would like to note that we need more commenters who use the name of Jarry Parc-era Expos here.

      • Le Gran Orange

        I always wondered about disappointed young Expos fans showing up for their free Montreal Expos footwear on boots day.

    • Cody

      Pretty sure my wife just wanted an excuse to splurge on a nice ring.

      Otherwise, she would’ve felt guilty making me drop all that money on just a ring.

      OTOH, it feels like smart phones have replaced diamond rings. You can really pass the time staring into them, the light refraction is wonderful. But now we pass the time staring into our phones.

  • You’d think for a practice to be worthy of the title “tradition”, it should be because it’s deep and meaningful. Which would, one would think, preclude whining that people are imbuing it with too much meaning.

    • Heron

      haha, yeah. Rather funny how people can say “it’s tradition and I can’t abandon it”, and “it doesn’t mean anything” in the same sentence and not realize the contradiction.

    • ploeg

      Or older than a century and a half, or (arguably) not driven by advertising campaigns by South African mining cartels.

      Before the 20th century, other types of betrothal gifts were common. Near the end of the 19th century, it was typical for the bride-to-be to receive a sewing thimble rather than an engagement ring. This practice was particularly common among religious groups that shunned jewelry (plain people). Engagement rings didn’t become standard in the West until the end of the 19th century, and diamond rings didn’t become common until the 1930s. Now, 80% of American women are offered a diamond ring to signify engagement.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer

        Thank you for bringing that up. I was just about to.

    • JL

      I do imbue it with meaning, and one of the reasons that I liked the idea of being married (as opposed to being unmarried partners) is that as part of the tradition I can be part of changing it and dragging it forward.

      Like marriages themselves (and all sorts of other things), proposals can range from obvious reflections of societal sexism to something more ambiguous or subversive.

  • sharculese

    I grew up in a liberal bubble where I think I was eight or so before I realized that sometimes women take their husbands name and it’s always felt deeply unnatural to me.

    On the other hand, going to school in the south, one time I was about to meet a girl’s parents and when I asked what her mom’s last name was I got a look like I was a space alien.

    • Considering the amount of divorce and remarriage in the South, I’m surprised that someone would be surprised.

      • Keaaukane

        But even after the divorce they remain brother and sister or cousins…

        • laura

          haha my parents are from the south and are (distant) cousins. They’re both liberal cosmopolitans and got the hell out as soon as possible, but I still find the notion hilarious.

        • Karen

          My parents might be distant cousins. The funny thing is that I’m the one who figured this bit out, by comparing names in two of the family Bibles. (Mom’s great-great-aunt had the same name as my father’s great-grandmother. They were both from the same county in Mississippi in the 1840s., so it’s not actually that farfetched.)

        • cpinva

          kentucky – 5 million people, 6 last names.

          • bad Jim

            Lots of countries have a shortage of last names, including China & Korea. Several of the top ten American surnames are Spanish, not because we have that many immigrants, but because they tend to have the same names: Martinez, Rodriguez, Lopez, Garcia (which is why the Spanish custom is to use both parents’ names).

            • ajay

              Lots of countries have a shortage of last names, including China & Korea.

              I bet this issue comes up a lot less in a country where 80% of the population is called Kim.

              “Naturally, my wife kept her last name (Kim) but our son uses my surname (Kim). Our elder daughter uses my wife’s name (Kim) and for our youngest we decided to call her something that sounds similar to both our surnames (Kim).”

              • The Dark Avenger

                In Korea(South), you can’t marry there if you have the same surname as your spouse, even if the same common ancestor live 5 centuries ago. Couples can get married in another country, and then have the marriage recognized there when they get back to Korea(South).

            • ajay

              The most recent time, I think, that there was a mass ensurnamification was in Turkey in 1934. Previously everyone had gone by Myname bin Fathersname, which meant that half the male population was Ahmet bin Mehmet and the other half was Mehmet bin Ahmet, and this wasn’t conducive to an efficient civil service (which is why the Ottomans didn’t have one).

              So it was decreed that everyone had to pick a surname. Ataturk is “father of Turks”; his successor, Mustafa Ismet, picked “Inonu” which was where he’d won a particularly important battle; the rest of the population went for all sorts of things, many of them ending “-oglu” which means “son of”.

              • The most recent time, I think, that there was a mass ensurnamification was in Turkey in 1934.

                Mongolia in 2000. Seems the Communists banned last names in 1921 in an effort to wipe out all class & family ties. (I mostly remember this because of the little factoid that so many chose to take “Borjigin” after Genghis Khan’s clan name, so it didn’t help as much with clearing up confusion as they’d hoped.)

                • The Spanish imposition of surnames on the population of the Philippines, which I first read about in Seeing Like a State, led to amusing outcomes as well:

                  In the town of Oas, Albay, for instance, many surnames there begin with the letter R such as Roa, Reburiano, Rabajante, and Relleve. On the island of Banton, Romblon, surnames that begin with the letter F are prevalent such as Fabic, Fabrero, Festin, Fadrilan, Fadriquela, Famatigan, Fabicon, Faigao, etc.

                  Also, in the town of Sta. Cruz, Zambales, many surnames begin with the letter M such as Morados, Mayo, Movilla, Mose, etc.

                  Surnames starting with Villa and Al are abundant in the town of Argao, Cebu. Some surnames are: Villaluz, Villaflor, Villamor, Villanueva, Villacruel, Villacruz, Albo, Alcain, Alcarez, Algones, Ableos, etc.

                  Of course it also led to tragic outcomes, since many Filipinos can’t trace their lineage beyond the beginning of this system.

      • DrDick

        Divorce is often even more sexist than the proposal. When I got divorced the first time in Oklahoma in the mid-70s, the judge made me get a letter from my mother before he would grant me custody, even though my ex had signed a waiver agreeing to it.

  • Well, the official rules are one thing, how they play out in the real world is another. The anthropologists classify our kinship system as Eskimo, but most of us don’t live like Inuit, trading wives and bringing up the children of our near relations. That said, I gather that the anthropologists figure that we’re in the midst of a transition to a new system in which a key but somewhat ambiguous category is kin, i.e. the group of relatives on both the male and female side with which I have a special relationship. Somebody is kin if they can ask you to contribute to their children’s college fund and it doesn’t seem odd.

    As far as naming conventions are concerned, I vote for the old Spanish system where the female children took their mother’s last name and the male children took their father’s last name. Keeps family names in circulation and doesn’t play favorites.

    • The Dark Avenger

      Unless you’re Pablo Picasso, who violated that convention in his own name.

      • Bill Murray

        but he was never called an asshole

    • DrDick

      Speaking as the house cultural anthropologist, that kind of system is pretty common among societies with Eskimo kinship terminology (how you classify your relatives). We have a bilateral descent system, meaning that you are equally related to both your mother’s and father’s family and part of both. In bilateral descent systems, the kindred is the most significant kinship based grouping and potentially includes all the people related to you by blood and marriage. In reality, you do not interact with all of your relatives equally and those you do interact with on a substantial level constitute your “effective kindred.” This is nothing new for American or English kinship systems.

    • John

      I don’t think that’s the spanish system. The Spanish system, as I understand it, is that everyone takes both names, and uses whichever one is more socially advantageous.

      • DrDick

        The standard form is that all of the children take what is effectively a hyphenated name consisting of the father’s surname followed by the mother’s.

        • Jameson Quinn

          Effectively hyphenated? Them’s fighting words. My daughter’s name has no hyphen!

          • DrDick

            Will you accept “hyphenated-equivalent”? I was only indicating that it works the way British hyphenated names do.

  • laura

    I’m a “mountain from molehill” type on this — most of my female colleagues keep their own names and I ever marry I’ll keep mine. (Also, I know some couples who split the last names of their kids between the spouses.) But some women think it’s romantic to change names and it’s sometimes practical to take your husband’s name.

    For most modern proposals (at least among my friends), both partners have talked it to death so the proposal itself is just a formality. Also it can be very convenient to sport an engagement ring as it says “don’t bother hitting on me” which makes for much more pleasant experiences (better conversations or none) at the airport bar. And a lot of men I know just hate wearing rings for reasons that have nothing to do with fear of commitment.

    How much you subscribe to traditional gender roles and conventions (not just who’s dominant but how monogamous you choose to be etc.) strikes me as something couple-specific and I don’t see why we want to judge women who prefer to maintain them. It’s convenient and for some people it can be romantic and sexy.

    The sexism involved with DATING on the other hand — who pays? who makes decisions about where to go? — is much worse and bothersome and one reason I basically never date. Like all delicate topics, sexism and gender roles are much harder when you’re dealing with people who are essentially strangers.

    • sharculese

      But some women think it’s romantic to change names

      The problem with this argument is that then you have to ask why some people think this is romantic and it turns out the only plausible answer is “antiquated sexist gibberish that people absolutely SHOULD be criticized for buying in to”

      • laura

        No; people are entitled to their own tastes without other people self-righteously shitting on them.

        • STH

          Well, sure, if people like it they should do it, but when people say it’s “romantic” I always ask them, “wouldn’t it be as romantic if the man took the wife’s name?” That tends to expose the roots of it.

          • laura

            Sure, but people can know the “roots” of it and still find it romantic.

            Plenty of confident women who expect full equality in their marriages may still prefer to take their husband’s name — I know some personally and you probably do too.

            It’s bad when people who buck the trends get shit on and considered weird, but that happens less and less (lots of women keep their names now.)

            I guess I hold to the old fashioned view that what modernism and liberalism gives us is the right to make up our own minds about what we do privately. When a woman changes her name it no more “degrades” marriage or other women than when two gay men or two lesbians get married… which is to say not at all.

            • Pretty much. If there’s something you don’t like about certain conventions, don’t follow them. For example, I’ve never given much thought as to who pays – I always offer to, as I would with friends, and never spent much time with women that didn’t do the same. It seems like there are plenty of options now. Find the people who want to have the same kind of relationship you do, and have it.

            • Ratifying sexist choices is bad for society.

        • That’s fine. But our tastes are also structured by our society. They don’t come from nowhere. And sometimes those structures are inherently sexist.

          • laura

            When public institutions are inherently sexist (e.g. the unfriendliness of the work force to women with children) they should be challenged, or when access to institutions is denied to some groups (like the denial of marriage rights to gays), then that needs to be challenged. I just think it’s crossing a line when we demand that people’s strictly private behavior conform to our (third party) ideals. Sure, nearly every thing we do is socially determined — including getting married at all! If that doesn’t bother the parties involved, I don’t see why it should bother us.

            To the extent women are “forced” to take their husband’s names, there is a problem. But the problem there goes way beyond the name change and reflects a power imbalance that norms about naming conventions wouldn’t help imo. Some relationships are just bad and some (even highly intelligent!) people make bad choices about their partners.

        • delurking

          If those tastes were racist or homophobic would you say this? Why do we give sexist shit a pass? It’s not cute to make women into property.

          • laura

            There’s no parallel here. Coupledom is an extremely private institution and people are entitled to make their own private decisions that reflect their own tastes and maximize their joint welfare. If the progressive movement has given us anything it’s the right to make our own private decisions without being interfered with by people who dislike them for moral or aesthetic reasons.

            • Stag Party Palin

              Late to the conversation, but Laura is making the most sense.

              Also, too, although I would like to take De Beers and put the whole company through the wood chipper, one could look at the engagement ring as a trophy, not a sign of bondage. That’s still sexist, but at least it moves the needle toward the woman’s side. POV dudes.

            • djw

              If the progressive movement has given us anything it’s the right to make our own private decisions without being interfered with by people who dislike them for moral or aesthetic reasons.

              Sure, but “pointing out sexism is sexist” =/= “interfere”.

            • Ed

              Coupledom is an extremely private institution and people are entitled to make their own private decisions that reflect their own tastes and maximize their joint welfare.

              Marriage is a public state as well as a private one, the legal and social sanctioning of a private union. Even “coupledom” sans marriage has a public dimension in a social structure built around pairs. The private choices people make in this area have a public and political dimension, reflecting the changing status of women and the state of play between the sexes.

          • brewmn

            Please explain how marriage as it’s currently practiced in America turns women into property.

      • JL

        I’m not convinced that the most effective way to fight societal, systemic sexism is to shit on individuals that way.

    • Wapiti

      On our first date, my to-be wife wanted to split the check; I suggested that we alternate. Which sort of suggested a second date. We still alternate who gets the check, 19 years later.

      • laura

        Now THAT’S romantic.

      • I’ve done that on dates. Sometimes it works, sometimes they just think I’m going to always pay.

        • dutch

          My general belief is that if you ask the person out, you should be prepared to pick up the check. After that whoever plans the next date should be prepared to pay. Ideally you end up going halvsies for the first few dates.

      • mark f

        “I’ll tell you what: why don’t you pay instead?”

        One time I was at a restaurant on a date and when the bill came discovered I had no cash on me (oops) and at the time, being young and all, was maxed out on my low-limit credit card. I excused myself, saying I was going to the rest room, and wandered the neighborhood for thirty minutes trying to find an ATM. Somehow we’re married now, even though I never found one.

    • McAllen

      I mostly agree that if an individual woman wants to take her husband’s name, that’s fine. The question we should be asking is “why is it overwhelmingly women who end up taking the man’s name? Why don’t men ever seem to find it romantic to take their wife’s name?”

      • laura

        Well, there was Jack White.

      • The Dark Avenger

        One of Marie Curie’s sons-in-law did so, on the grounds that the name not be lost due to mere social custom:

        Personal life

        Irène and Frédéric hyphenated their surnames to Joliot-Curie after they married in 1926. Eleven months later, their daughter Hélène was born, who would also become a noted physicist. Their son, Pierre, a biologist, was born in 1932

      • JL

        Yes, this.

    • Cody

      I certainly feel the pressure in buying things. I imagine it’s been ingrained in from my family that as the male, I am responsible to pay for everything.

      However, my wife loves her reward points. She refuses to let me pay for anything, and always uses her card. It’s coming from the same bank account, but I always feel everyone judging me when she buys me stuff…

    • edie

      Purely anecdotal confirmation on the “talking to death” bit–most proposals among friends (all in 20s) were just the eventual result of conversations among people who were already living together. At least half of my friends didn’t have a ‘proposal’–at some point they were talking about getting married and just agreed, OK, let’s be engaged now. Which I think is nice. It’s hopefully indicative of a move toward equal partnerships in marriage, whatever the gender of those involved.

    • mpowell

      I generally agree, though I will say asking a father’s permission to get married is disgusting in my opinion.

      • Yep. And anyway, how many couples are actually willing to accept an answer they don’t like? But I suspect in most cases it’s like some people have said about engagements: a “romantic” formality with an answer known in advance. Which all makes it a useless gesture that does nothing but affirm the underlying notion of daughters as property to traded.

      • Cody

        I don’t think it’s disgusting. If you’re 16 and getting married (you don’t at that age anymore – well not usually), one would hope your father has a more level-headed opinion on it.

        Assuming your parents have your best interest in mind (kinda screwed if they don’t anyways), why would your father not be a good person to get approval from to vet a young and immature person’s selection?

        • Are there situations where a parent might appropriately counsel against marriage? Sure. But that’s not what anyone’s talking about here.

        • Malaclypse

          Why just the father, in your example?

          • Cody

            They say father in their example!

            I don’t see why it can’t be either(should be both, right?), though I’m obviously aware that our society has been patriarchal and thus that is why you would ask someone’s father.

  • Hob

    What do you mean by “the” marriage ceremony? In the last, oh, 16 years I’ve known maybe about 16 couples who got married. I think about 6 of those were Quaker weddings, two Jewish, one Buddhist, one Jewish+Buddhist, one Hindu, one Baha’i, two miscellaneous Protestant, and three City Hall-only.. Names were changed in only three of those, and I think the father only gave anyone away in one, maybe two. I realize I’m probably not a Real American but this is my experience.

    Wonder Bread may still be popular, but you wouldn’t write about the inherent whiteness of bread.

    • Aaron B.

      “The Inherent Whiteness of Bread”
      Sounds like a new Jonathan Safran Foer novel

      • It ends with a flip book that starts with crumbs and keeps adding slices until it’s a full loaf

        • The Dark Avenger

          If those turn out to be spoilers, I promise you, you’ll soon be toast.

          • Aaron B.

            Stop it with the puns, it’s becoming stale.

            • I’d add something here, but I lack the crust.

              • Aaron B.

                I think I’m lost in this conversation; could you possibly leave a trail of breadcrumbs?

                • wjts

                  You, sir, are behaving like a heel.

              • Go ahead and comment. Even if you don’t rise to the occasion it’s more dough for the blog.

                • Aaron B.

                  I feel like my thoughts should be recorded for posterity; it’s the yeast I can do.

                • Try to provide a slice of life by taking the starch out of them.

                • Aaron B.

                  I knead you to stop now.

                • I can’t figure out why your wry attitude turned so sour, though the next time there’s a roll of puns if you take a hard tack I’ll tell you to bag it so this crap won’t repeat again.

                • bradP

                  I want to contribute, but I really shouldn’t be loafing at work.

                • Aaron B.

                  Both Sides Do It: you lose the pun run by writing “wry” instead of “rye.” Get oat of the thread now.

  • mch

    I dunno. First, women have never been “property” of men in marriage — it’s all much more complicated than that (just a historical point, but an important one). Second, while I have kept my own name through two marriages and can’t imagine having done anything else, my daughter took her spouse’s name, in part, I think, to reassure him, since her career trajectory is more secure than his and because they’ll be raising their (as-yet-to-be) children Jewish, even though she’s not converting (the latter a big concession on his part). Just to say, a lot of negotiations go on with each couple. What matters to me more than the name business: he is likely to continue to do most of the cooking, lots of the laundry, stuff like that. And to be a loyal, supportive husband and devoted father. I got over the name business quickly upon such considerations.

    • thebewilderness

      It is called coverture. You can look it up.

      • William Burns

        You should look it up, if you actually think it made wives property.

        • thebewilderness

          Of course. It simply made over all their property to their husband and made them disappear. Way better that chattle slavery, eh?

          • Closer to serfdom, actually.

            • mch

              Throwing around terms like “property” and “chattle slavery” isn’t helpful. (Both terms are more fraught that you may imagine.) Nobody here would defend the legal or de facto status of women historically. But nothing’s gained by eliding important distinctions, either.

              Maybe a blunt and obvious example would help:

              When my mother was born, women enjoyed the franchise almost nowhere in the U.S. My maternal grandmother had two children and was well into her 20’s before she was able (legally and de facto) to vote. Both grandfathers of that same grandmother owned (with their wives, de facto though not de iure) slaves, including slave women. To equate my grandmother’s situation with the slaves her grandparents (sorry — technically, grandfathers only) owned is not just ridiculous, it’s insulting to those slaves, and outrageous.

    • laura

      Exactly. One of the huge benefits of feminism is that women have taken on roles and power in society where are often the dominant partner in marriage (financially at least). Individuals should make the concessions and arrangements that reflect their specific needs and give them the most stability.

      That’s in part what makes discussions about racism (or the right of gays to marry at all) different from discussions about sexism within couples. Racism, anti-gay bigotry and sexism in the work force or in *access* to institutions are social/public issues that impose huge observable costs on the parties who face discrimination. What couples choose to do is private and every couple has more information about what they need than we do observing them.

      • mch

        hi, Laura. Have enjoyed and learned from your comments.

      • Actually, the sexism in traditional marriage norms probably ruins far more women’s lives, overall, than public discrimination does.

        Some “choices” are socially dictated, and some collaborate with oppressors.

        • David Nieporent

          Yep; all those women suffer from false consciousness. Don’t worry, Dilan, eventually you’ll get that New Soviet Man Woman that you’re looking for.

  • I just got married in April, and went through a lot of this. Almost everything was by mutual decision without a conscious discussion of feminism, but it certainly was a factor in almost every way we approached things.

    We had a series of conversations about getting married, and eventually it was decided mutually that we were going to do it. We didn’t get “engaged” until someone asked us at my brother-in-law’s wedding if we were going to get married. I said “oh, probably next April in Texas” and the next thing we knew, congratulations all around followed by phone calls to my parents to explain what the hell just happened. I have a sapphire ring, but it was picked out together six months after “engagement”. And since I’m the breadwinner in our family, it was more of a “I can contribute to this thing” than a statement of possession. Plus, he likes it when I get girly about something shiny. I like it when he gets all giddy about stuff I give him too. I bought his wedding ring later on.

    My three younger siblings rather than my father walked me down the aisle, even though he and I are extremely close. He had a procession (with his three younger siblings) because it irritated us that the bride gets this huge presentation to the groom, who just stands there. No one gave me away, no one obeys anyone else. He’s supposed to get me a towel and diet coke. I’m supposed to get him coffee and keep his feet warm. I wore a blue dress, and my “veil” was a comb with ribbons cascading down my hair. Our internet ordained friend married us without mentioning God once.

    I kept my name, he kept his. Putative kids will endure a hyphenated name until they’re old enough to make decisions about how they want to be presented to the world. Since I’m of Hispanic origin and he Scottish, it will be the BEST SOCCER NAME EVER.

    • Oh, and the one wedding that I officiated, she (a sociology professor with an emphasis on family and marriage) proposed to him. I think the token she gave was a pin.

    • Harry Hara O’Hara or Harinho

      I think we would all be better off adopting the Portuguese/Brazilian naming traditions. Much fairer than the take husband’s names with the additional bonus options of adding a new surname and the use of cool diminutives.

      Or maybe Indonesian style where you do not have a family name and you probably don’t go by your birth name anyhow.

      • HP

        My ex fancied herself a feminist when it suited her purposes, but she had so thoroughly internalized the socially constructed institution of marriage than when we decided to start living together, she insisted that we get married first, and that I had to do the proposing.

        I made sure that she knew my views about marriage, and let her know that I had already made a commitment to her, and that marriage wouldn’t change that. But if it meant throwing a big party for our friends and family, that would be cool, and then we could live together like normal people.

        I think she truly believed I was willfully bullshitting her at the time, but after 3-4 years of marriage, when I still hadn’t miraculously turned into a traditional “husband,” she decided on her own that now we absolutely had to get a divorce. Which struck me as just as unnecessary as getting married in the first place, but a helluva lot less fun, and not something I desired or looked forward to.

        • HP

          That’s weird. That was supposed to go at the end of the thread, and not as a reply to Harry. Admin, please hope me!

    • BonnyAnne

      Your wedding sounds rad! Of course, I say that because it sounds a lot like mine. I said “I love you” first, he proposed but only because I told him to, nobody gave me away, God never showed up in the ceremony, internet ordination, etc etc. My ring has a sapphire that I picked out, and his is thematically matching but also is a signet ring with a picture of our sailboat as the signet. We were going to walk ourselves down the aisle but my Dad sounded so sad about not escorting me that I let him, because he promised to wear a white linen leisure suit in return.

      I wore a blue dress, because I always wanted to. I also kept my name because I like my last name. The end. If we have kids the girls get my name, the boys get his — unless we switch it up.

      It’s egalitarian, it makes us happy. I don’t think it has to be that fraught.

    • mark f

      We got married in our already shared living room, while the the JP’s husband and dog waited in the car and my wife’s ex-mother-in-law took a few pictures. Then I called my parents.

  • Uncle Ebeneezer

    We bucked the traditions in almost every way.

    Wife: I found a neat ring that I like. I think you should get it for me.

    Me: Ok. Looks like we’re engaged.

    To be fair we had already had a we-should-get-married, yeah-I-agree conversation before which showed that it was a forgone conclusion for both of us. We drove up to Mammoth and got married in front of an old western jail, with a public officiant and her assistant as witness. No family or friends. Shorts and tee shirt for me and a favorite blue dress for her. The ring was a vintage ruby thing that was way cooler (and much less $) than any diamond engagement ring. Though what we saved in ring $ was probably blown on 4 days of delicious Mammoth Brewing Co., IPA’s! We had a party a couple months later in a friend’s yard with some kegs of local microbrew and a kick-ass taco lady, and celebrated with our families (who live far away) the next time we see them. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found a gal who actually meant it when she said “all that wedding crap is ridiculous.” She did decide to take my last name. I tried to talk her out of it, but she wanted to, so that was that.

    • JoyfulA

      In Pennsylvania, a couple can self-officiate their marriage, so we did.

    • jeer9

      We were married by our favorite car mechanic who’d been ordained by the Universal Life Church (you can now become certified online in just a few minutes!)

      • I officiated at my friend’s wedding a couple years ago, and I have a friend who’s done that for several of his friends.

        It was fun, but memorizing everything in Japanese wasn’t easy.

        • Uncle Ebeneezer

          We thought about having two of our most fabulously gay friends marry us. We love them dearly, and we knew they’d do something cool/funny/memorable, and it would be a nice little symbolic fuck-you to the Prop 8’ers. But when we decided we really wanted to do it up in the Sierras, it would have been too much to ask them to drive all the way up there.

    • Ours was the one friend that knew us both before we knew each other.

    • JL

      In Massachusetts anyone can get a day-long license to be a marriage officiant. We had his oldest sister officiate.

  • Owen

    I didn’t ask permission, but I got the ring for $5 from my future mother-in-law, a jeweler, because it was a sapphire and not a diamond. We bought our wedding rings for 50 bucks online form a little craft jeweler. My wife and I took each others’ names and hyphenated (which is actually harder for a guy in some states, irritatingly enough), and we didn’t deal with most of the other crap because our friend performed the service with an internet ordination. Actually, we were just going to have him do the service then take witnesses to the courthouse, but he wanted it to be legal when he did it. We took very little crap about any of that, even from my stunningly conservative extended family, because it was *nice* and no one had to spend the whole reception talking about the appalling thing the minister said during the homily, because unlike 80% of the church weddings I’ve been to, there was no such appalling thing.

    Oh, and both of us were walked down by both of our parents. My guess: in 30 years there will still be plenty of people who hang onto that other stuff, but lots of people will just do what they want. I look forward to my hyphenated child marrying another hyphenated child, in a process that I call “Name Voltron.”

    • Anonymous

      My mother hates the practice of hyphenation precisely because of Name Voltron. She kept her name but my siblings and I all got my dad’s. Her’s is one of our middle names. Contrary to the experience of other posters, we did have some trouble growing up with her using a different name – teachers didn’t like it when she signed notes to school because the last names didn’t match, for example.

      • rea

        How we’ve progressed!–I’ve never had any trouble signing notes to school even though my status is “grandpa’s boyfriend.”

        • The Dark Avenger

          That’s because she didn’t sign her notes “Epstein’s mother”, Anon.

  • sara

    Huh, I wonder if this is a generational thing or a regional thing, but at least among those I know (went to an uber liberal college, now living in the Bay Area, late twenties), among the couples my age, probably equal numbers have had a male proposal, female proposal, or no official ‘proposal’ but rather just a joint decision. And a fair number have ended up doing the “combine or come up with new last name that both spouses take after marriage” thing.

    • I wonder also if it’s an age thing. I was 38 and my husband was 41 when we got married. We have a ton of friends who are also in their mid thirties to late forties getting married crafting their engagements/weddings/marriages as a collaboration.

      • Blake

        The logistics of marriage should not matter to any non-royal couple after about age 27.

    • JupiterPluvius

      I’m 48, proposed to my husband, have only two women friends my age who changed their surnames, and my goddaughters have their mum’s last name instead of their dad’s (at his request—his polysyllabic Ukrainian name always gets mangled by English speakers).

  • My first marriage began with my ex saying, “I think we should get married before we start disliking each other again.” While it very clearly contained the seeds of its own destruction, the fact that it was her proposing to me was not one of them.

  • Charles

    I don’t know a single couple where the woman asked the man.

    Well, it’s true that my wife didn’t ask me, she just told me. (looks over shoulder).

    But seriously, we had the ongoing conversation, and eventually agreed to get hitched mostly to keep her parents happy. You can’t beat a twenty-dollar courthouse wedding.

    The idea of changing names was absurd to both of us. When we had kids, we agreed to do the hyphenated thing. It never occurred to me that I should own the boys and she would own the girls. Seems silly.

    Of course, so does the prospect of ever-expanding surnames if our hyphenated kids marry other hyphenated kids. But that’s their problem, not mine. :)

    • Joe

      You can’t beat a twenty-dollar courthouse wedding.

      I was at the proverbial city hall to get some paperwork and saw some weddings there. They looked pretty nice — some really dressed up and everything. Maybe that ruins the charm for some, though.

  • rea

    I suppose there are people out there still who marry without having lived together for a while first, but even apart from the sexism, all of these traditions are based on a young couple leaving their parents’ homes and setting up a household together, and of course nowdays that’s usually not what’s happening.

  • Tehanu

    I had the last of the hippie outdoor weddings (1974) but I also had a sapphire-&-diamond wedding ring I’m still wearing, a long white dress my sister-in-law made for $35, and changed my last name because I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. I love my family but I always hated our name, which I thought and still think was ugly and weird, and no, I’m not telling what it was. YMMV. The “traditions” made it a wedding instead of just a party — not that there’s anything wrong with parties — and as Hubby Dearest is still doing all the cooking I think the residual sexism in the traditions was pretty much unimportant.

    • Karen

      I have worked for the government 25 years, looking at thousands of last names. I think the couple should both go with the name that’s easiest to spell.

      As for hyphens, that works better with some than others. Had my parents hyphenated, I would be Karen Dickson – Cox.

  • Tucker

    My former wife kept her last name and our son has both with no hyphen even though folks love putting it in. A god arrangement I thought at the time.

  • Steve

    I am interested to think about what kind of feel “the proposal” would have as a cultural practice if the burden were to fall on women generally. I’m guessing for one thing that it would not have the kind of anxiety buildup it is supposed to have for men.

    • thebewilderness

      If you consider communication with a loved one a burden you should perhaps leave it alone.

      • Steve

        I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word “burden.”

        • Cody

          It seems more likely he just didn’t pay attention to context, right?

          I mean, his definition of burden is correct. There are just so many!

          • Anonymous

            Who’s he?

  • Well, I’ve known a number of women that were the first to ask for marriage or at least broach the subject. Of course, none of them did the “kneel with a ring in a fancy restaurant” deal, though I wonder how common that is. I also know at least one couple that just said, “hey, I guess we’re engaged now?” at some point.

    As for names, I think marriage is a good excuse to change ones name if they’ve been wanting to anyway. If not, it really doesn’t make sense to me, as it seems like it would end up being a hassle to update your name in multiple places.

    For children, I say just keep adding the names. Maybe at around 4 – 6 couples can try pruning them. I know people that use the Spanish form and have a short version of their name for everyday use and a longer one for official use. I’ve found this to be useful myself. Longer names can carry heritage and is specific to you; shorter names are useful for brevity and anonymity.

  • Murc

    I’d like to mention, as it related to the whole naming thing:

    Whatever arrangement you reach among yourselves over who keeps, does not keep, changes, etc. his or her names… for the love of all that’s holy, don’t saddle your kids with a hyphenated name, even if that’s what you’re doing between yourselves.

    For reals. Those things are awkward as fuck, they screw up record-keeping systems something fierce, and they introduce all kinds of weirdness if your hyphenated kid hooks up with ANOTHER hyphenated kid.

    Just don’t do it. Decide ahead of time on a single surname and roll with it.

    • Hyphenated names shouldn’t mess up a filing system at all. I’ve seen names starting with Mc (McDonald, etc.) cause much more of a problem. Non-hyphenated multiple last names could cause a problem if the person doing the filing doesn’t know what they’re doing, but even then it’s as simple as “Not under A? OK, check B.” On top of that, there are usually a number of other ways (DOB, SSN) to bring up someone’s file in any electronic system.

      • Philip

        A lot of programs only hold a fairly limited number of characters (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not) in their “name” fields, which hyphenated last names tend to overrun.

    • You mean you aren’t for exponential growth of name-length?

      • Murc

        Also, having the name ‘Fitzgerald-Simmons-Jones-Krueger’ or something of the like is equivalent to naming your kid ‘Isaac Cox’ or ‘Hugh Johnson.’ It’s just asking for trouble as soon as they hit grade school.

    • JL

      Eh, whatever, I don’t buy this.

      Smith marries Doe and their kid is Smith-Doe.

      Smith-Doe marries Jones-Roe and their kid is Smith-Jones (or Smith-Roe, or whatever).

      Problem solved.

      • Murc

        Then you’re right back to the decision of who is giving up what part of their name, are you not?

        I mean, if the whole point of naming their kid Smith-Doe was so that neither the Smith nor the Doe name would be lost, that’s completed obviated by the fact that if they get married, the Smith or the Doe will in fact go away. So why even bother in the first place?

  • My wife and I sort of agreed that we should get married, then went together to get the engagement ring from her grandmother. Then I proposed, because we both thought it was fun.

    She kept her last name, partly because she’s an academic. Our kid has hers, because mine is Johnson, which is lame.

    I was actually surprised to find out that the guy asking the girl, genuinely unsure of the response, was still a thing. Who makes that kind of decision unilaterally? Makes no sense.

    • Fraser

      Even though my now-wife and I had both agreed early on that if things worked out, we wanted to get married, I was still unsure she’d say yes when I actually asked (despite the fact we’d already agreed to move into together so it obviously had worked out).

  • LeeEsq

    My parents lived together for six years before getting married. They only got married because they wanted children but didn’t think it was right to raise any potential children as sociological experiments. They didn’t have wedding rings until my brother and I were in college.

    • mch

      Funny. You can’t be a child of mine (?!?), but both of them would tell the same story.

      • Cody

        It would be fun to discover that your child is active on the same blog as you.

    • dave

      My parents did the exact same thing.

  • LeeEsq

    I think the name thing is kind of making a mountain out of a molehill. In Chinese society, women always kept their original family name after marriage. This didn’t make Chinese society any less sexist than Western society. Women should be able to do what they want but even societies where women always kept their family name were very sexist.

  • Jeffrey Beaumont

    My wife told me we were getting married. I never asked her. She didnt really ask me. She said “we need to get married this year”… I said “tell me when”. Romantic, I know, but it was very natural. I did, a couple of days after the aforementioned conversation ask my father-in-law for permission, mostly because he was a very traditional guy. But I never proposed, relatively less sexism I think.

  • The study in question is the opinion of college kids right? Given that the average age of (first) marriage is 28ish, I’m not entirely sure how much that tells us about how people actually decide to get married.

    My wife as of September shocked me in saying she wanted to take my last name, and as you can see above it is not exactly a super awesome one unless you really enjoy saying h-a-m-N-e-r a lot. (Though there was a destroyer)

    She hasn’t filed the paperwork yet, so I suppose there is still time to convince her not to betray her feminist principles and bow to the patriarchy… but she has no attachment to her own name and together we have entirely too many syllables to elegantly hyphenate.

    What is ultimately important to me is that for most women getting married these days this is a choice. Yes, it is still sexist since few men would ever consider changing their name to their wive’s, but it is certainly much improved from where it was a mere generation ago.

  • sparks

    For years I called a wedding dress “gift wrap” and wasn’t particularly shy about my views of marriage, especially those done in church. As you can imagine, I didn’t get invited to too many weddings, which suited me since the couples mostly got divorced anyhow (all the ones I know of have) and I saved the price of a suit at least twice, and the price of a gift many more times than that.

  • Joey Maloney

    I proposed, but it was a formality. We’d been living together for years, had had numerous conversations and agreed that it was time to get married. I enjoyed the ritual of shopping for a ring and then gifting it to her in front of our close friends. Call me a hipster but there was a certain irony in the whole performance given how nontraditional we were as a couple.

    As for names, there was never any question she was going to take mine. She did change it, though, ditching her first husband’s surname and returning to her birth name.

    So that’s my data point.

  • FlipYrWhig

    I’m not sure why there can be feminist reclamation of p0rn, burlesque, and pin-up images, in the spirit of sex-positivity and turning the tables on sexism and objectification — but that marriage proposals and name-taking are intractable, irredeemably sexist conventions that cannot be subject to pro-feminist playful repetition-with-a-dose-of-subversion.

    • Walt

      What? The feminist reclamations of burlesque and pin-up are 100% bullshit.

      • FlipYrWhig

        I doubt Amanda Marcotte agrees with that.

      • Lee

        I dunno. There are women friendly porn companies and their product is different than those aimed at men. The pace is slower and you usually get a feeling of affection between the characters. The sex is less mechanical.

  • David

    When my wife knew she wanted to marry me, she flat out told me that when I was ready to propose, she’d say yes. I told her she could just propose to me, and she said no, she wanted me to propose.

    One of our few big fights was over the name thing. I was opposed to her taking my name. She explained to me that she had no connection anymore to her family, and zero connection to her father’s family. She’d rather have the name of my family. I was still uneasy about it, but I said ok in the end.

    However, our ceremony was simple and as egalitarian as possible. No “obey”, no “giving away” the bride, we came up to the reverend together.

    I will be mortified if any future daughter of ours wants me to “give her away,” or if a future son-in-law asks my permission.

    • David

      I will add that when I proposed I did NOT have a ring. If she was going to wear a ring, it was going to be one that she picked out and I was sure she liked.

  • bob horner as a big league home run hitter i have always given the same advice. Do not ever get married.

    do not ever get married

  • Dave

    So, Erik just discovered the patriarchy?

  • Non-Real American

    I hope the comment thread has no yet gone stale — this is one I’ve read fully and with eager attention as I’m right in the middle of all this. — & with another fun data-point.

    I’m currently collecting the paperwork for a French civil union (le PACS – very popular these days). It does occupy a separate legal space from marriage; originally created as a means for legal union between same-sex couples, it is perhaps more popular than marriage now for diff-sex couples too (at least amongst the set of middle-class urbanites I know).
    Anyway, what to do with the names in a legal-union-not-marriage? I will probably not change mine, due to the paperwork burden and hassle of being a legal-resident-non-citizen in France; two tax returns and an annual residence permit renewal is already plenty of paperwork. On the other hand, I like the last name of my, erm…. PACSee(?), and it has the added amusement of being the same last name as the companion of the French president, who has been the focus of a minor and amusing love-and-politics-triangle hubub this election year.
    On the other hand, in my first marriage I didn’t consider changing my name because my ex-wife’s birth-name was un-appetizing, and carried the water of a strained father-daughter relationship.

    So I guess I’m in the change-it-if-its-amusing camp?
    Other questions arising:
    — does it change the equation for folks (in general, not me specifically) if it’s a civil union and not a hallowed-and-sanctified-by-the-internets-machine marriage?
    — does it change the equation since le PACS can be broken unilaterally by little more than a notarized letter?

    Since to anyone who would entertain these questions for themselves, this is mostly a personal choice rather than hide-bound tradition, I believe the answers are mostly “no, it doesn’t change the equation”. Which leads me to a more interesting question:
    — What title do we get once we are PACSed? (that’s the semi-official term for it here). girl-/boyfriend is no longer correct; husband/wife/spouse — not correct either? Or do we expand the use of spouse? “Companion” is not specific — no PACS implied there.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      – What title do we get once we are PACSed? (that’s the semi-official term for it here). girl-/boyfriend is no longer correct; husband/wife/spouse — not correct either? Or do we expand the use of spouse? “Companion” is not specific — no PACS implied there.

      I asked this question of a “PACSed” gay couple I know in France — they said they usually referred to each other as “mon copain” (literally “my friend” but can also have the connotation of “my boyfriend”). I was surprised by this…they’ve made it official, surely they’re more than “boyfriends” at this point? But they said a better term really hasn’t emerged yet; “conjoint” sounded too officialese, “partenaire” too businesslike, and so on.

  • bradP

    I asked my wife to marry me one night after she bailed me out of the county jail. A month later, we got married in a courthouse. We got our wedding rings a few months later at Six Flags.

    I may have surprised her by asking when I did, but there was an open conversation about marriage for both romantic and practical reasons well before I proposed. I would expect that to be the case for most couples these days.

    Marrying my wife was an unearned privilege, and me asking her had much more to do with that than any tradition. I asked to give myself to her, if she would have me.

    And everyone takes the obligations of marriage where they want, but to me, the “honor and obey” is not bad if the pledge is made by both sides.

    • Non-Real American

      That, sir, is a remarkably poetic, even romantic moment for a proposal. Well played!

      • bradP

        They only thing I did well was springing the request on her when she was too tired to know better.

        Everything else was luck (and perhaps a little pity on my wife’s part), but I’ll take it.

    • David Nieporent

      I asked my wife to marry me one night after she bailed me out of the county jail. A month later, we got married in a courthouse.

      During the trial, or afterwards?

      And everyone takes the obligations of marriage where they want, but to me, the “honor and obey” is not bad if the pledge is made by both sides.

      The whole discussion about that is rather christianormative; that language is part of a christian ceremony, not all wedding ceremonies.

  • Non-Real American

    And since I just can’t stop writing (recent espresso):

    More interesting to me has been the discussion of naming children (our first one is on the way). With this wonderful progressive empowerment of the individual over the chains of tradition, I have too many factors to consider : practicality, tradition, amusement, radicalness, beauty (or the loss of), and maybe more I haven’t thought of.

    At the moment, I’m leaning towards the Spanish treatment — keep both, (maybe) without the hyphen, practicality-be-damned; then each child can use the family name they prefer in the short form.
    I have a number of Spanish colleagues I know as “Jon Doe”, but whose full names go on seemingly forever.

    But, their names also flow delightfully, rolling off the tongue in a poetry of identification. Our combination is more like the crash of an unruly broom closet when the door is opened.

    On the other hand, I could borrow the term “name voltron” (awesome! thank you! :) – which caused me to laugh out loud; and rivals the phrase “You must have many grandmothers to avoid clock ambiguity” as the most amusing phrase I’ve heard/read this week (both this morning too — a good morning by any measure).

    In other news, if I’m ever feeling like a witty-pun-fest, I now know to steer the conversation to bread. I see it offers a Wonder of opportunities to keep the contest from going stale.

  • DH

    “I wouldn’t be with anyone who didn’t self-identify as a feminist.”


  • Western Dave

    The boys have my last name, the girl, my wife’s. It’s only been a hassle a few times. My kids have a genetic condition, and when we went to the clinic we had to schedule back to back appointments (but really they are seeing both kids at once with a team of doctors moving from room to room while the kids stay put). It took about two appointments for them to put a note in the file that said “same family as…” or some such. Went ballistic at school when the directory came out in rough draft, they put everybody under my last name with the girl’s entry as “See Dad’s last name”. I went back to them with either boys and girl get separate full entries or everybody under the girl since she is eldest and started at school first. They gave us separate entries.

  • Njorl

    I’d also be curious for research to see how marriage proposals play out with same-sex couples.

    Show me the couple and I bet I can make a good guess at the sex of the one proposing.

  • Bloix

    After being together for 8 years, I said to my girlfriend, don’t you think it’s time to have a kid? And she said, a little bit exasperated, don’t you think we should get married first? And I said, Oh, okay. Do you want to get married? And she said, Yes, I want to get married. So we did.

    So maybe you can count that as the woman proposing, kind of.

  • JL

    even participating in it there wasn’t much I could do about it given the pervasiveness of gendered expectations

    I guess I really do live in that much of a bubble these days. I never felt particularly constrained in my ability to make the whole thing more egalitarian. Rings on both sides, both sets of parents accompanying the soon-to-be-spouses to the front, attendants mostly being people who were close to both of us, no name changes, egalitarian ceremony, that sort of thing.

  • Cuppa Cabana

    I proposed both times and even the possibility of me not being the one who proposed was strictly impossible despite the fact that I wouldn’t be with anyone who didn’t self-identify as a feminist.

    Sentences like this one can be found near the beginning and the end of “Flowers for Algernon.”

    • DH

      Thank you. I was hoping I wasn’t the only one bothered by that sentence.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I’m planning to propose on Christmas morning, and yeah, the idea of taking a knee to do it seems absurdly antiquated, especially since my future fiancee doesn’t even want to be introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. TribalistMeathead” at our wedding reception. Unfortunately, she inherited her father’s sentimentality (who I did ask if I could marry his daughter, though the ring was purchased and the plan in place, so I was really begging forgiveness, not permission), so I’ll have to err on the side of taking a knee.

  • etv13

    Threads about this topic usually annoy the hell out of me, but this one has been a treasure-trove of charming anecdotes.

    To add my bit: the explicit discussions my husband and I had about getting married centered on “when” rather than “whether,” I took his name because I liked it better than mine, and he does all the laundry and most of the cooking and housework. (He was a stay-at-home dad for thirteen years and just re-entered the paid workforce this month.)

  • JupiterPluvius

    I think you’re sooooo generalizing “of course women never propose to men” from…something? As I said above, I proposed to my husband, and I’m not the only woman in my friends’ circle to do so. 48, East Coast US, ex-academic, ex-publishing.

    • JupiterPluvius

      My father didn’t “give me away” either, and that’s a very Western Christian tradition in any case.

  • Ed

    Regardless of the alleged “romance” involved in following a practice that originated when women were chattel, I suspect that the primary conscious or unconscious reason women elect to take a husband’s name is that traditionally married women have always ranked a cut above single women in patriarchal culture, particularly as women advance in age. Married women could condescend to their unmarried sisters. Being “Mrs. Jones” lets everyone know you caught a husband. (Being “Mrs./Ms. Smith-Jones” lets everyone know you’re a feminist and also, just for their information, you caught a husband.) That won’t change until our culture has changed a good deal more than it has.

    The hyphenating business has always seemed foolish to me – it can only work for one generation as a practical matter – and giving the children “alternate” surnames seems unnecessarily complicated unless the husband has a real bugaboo about his children carrying his name. As long as it’s simpler for everyone in the family to shaer a surname, there’s no reason for the man not to take his wife’s name and have the children do the same – no good reason, that is.

    The larger problem has less to do with individual preferences or who proposes to whom than the privileged position of marriage as an institution, culturally and legally. In this respect the gay marriage battle is a notably unprogressive one, although as long as we do privilege marriage gay people are within their rights to insist on their rights.

    …the whole ceremony stinks of sexism and I hate it and even participating in it there wasn’t much I could do about it given the pervasiveness of gendered expectations.

    Curious. Did your future wife insist you participate in the ceremony in spite of your detestation? I should think it would have been a fairly simple matter to create for yourselves a more equitable ceremony. Couples do it all the time.

    • Paula

      I don’t know about subconscious motives, but regardless of who’s getting married and how, the lot of you have something of a financial advantage over us singletons. A lot of the pressure I feel to settle down has a lot to do with the fact that, as a single woman in a not-very-well-paid, non-growth industry (education/public/non-profit sector), money’s going to be tight all of my life. I am looking to pay off education debt, own property near where I grew up, and take care of aging parents (all in an expensive area), so it’s almost common sense that I have a partner regardless of whether I really want one.

      I could move to a cheaper area, but that isn’t really appealing as my parents and a lot of their family are here. The support system is nice, but very little of it is/will be financial.

  • ajb

    This is a great thread. I don’t think either of us really proposed. It just came about naturally and the trigger for actually doing it was immigration paperwork so that he could stay in the country. We went to Macy’s and bought a fashion ring for $10 so we could say we were engaged. He had them put it in a “real” box. Then we went to a terrible Chinese restaurant, where he got the box out at dessert, sat there and asked me to marry him–I guess that means he “asked”. I had to get several more fashion rings because they were so crappy, they made my finger green (and I liked wearing it, people thought the gaudy thing was real…). As wedding rings, we used old family rings my grandma gave me. We removed the engraving of the great grandparents’ and replaced them with ours.

    We had a blessing of our marriage in a church where, since we’d been married for two years, we walked in together and asked for this to be blessed. This worked for both of us because it was as close to what we meant by doing the religious thing as we could handle. Neither of us is religious (though both raised Christian) but having it “blessed” made our respective families happy and gave them an opportunity to meet (which they hadn’t because visa wedding happened on two days notice).

    I didn’t take his name because I’m me and he didn’t take mine because he’s him. We haven’t sorted things out on the potential kid front.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing views and stories everyone.

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