Twice in the past week or so I have received mail from my alma mater (as in my college) addressed to me in the following format: Mrs. My Husband’s Name, e.g. Mrs. John Doe. (I don’t like using my or my husband’s full name on this blog so I’ll just stick with the John/Jane Doe format for the purposes of this blog post.) Receiving mail in such a format from family members wouldn’t be too surprising. But I for one found it odd that my college addressed mail to me using my husband’s name. Being the analytical sort, this turn of events led me to think about what it means to be referred to as Mrs. John Doe & why this entire idea has always struck me as a bit odd.
To preface, it would behoove me to address the first issue: taking my husband’s last name. When I got married, I was at first quite determined not to change my last name. I wasn’t doing it out of “feminist protest” or anything as dramatic as all that. I just frankly didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the paperwork involved in changing my name especially since I had just received my nursing license a mere two months (probably less) before the wedding. In all honesty, I just didn’t feel like dealing with it. My husband being the wonderful supportive man that he is left the decision entirely up to me. He confessed that he would be flattered if I chose to take his last name & we both agreed that for the sake of simplicity, especially if we had children in the future, it would probably be wise to have the same last name. But he felt that this was a decision I should make on my own & he told me many times that he would not be offended if I waited a few months or years to take his name or even if I chose to never take it at all. My husband isn’t the type to say things just to please or appease me (I couldn’t abide a man who did) so I knew he absolutely meant it when he said he’d support me in any decision I made regarding the name change. That meant the world to me then & still does.
For months I pondered the idea, trying to decide if the hassle was worth it & if taking my husband’s last name was indeed some kind of surrender to the patriarchy. Eventually after about four or five months I decided to go ahead & adopt my husband’s last name, one reason being I really liked the flow of how my name sounded with my original middle name dropped & my maiden name substituted as my new middle name. I thought it sounded more professional & succinct. On a less superficial level, I decided that as my husband had so wisely pointed out, this decisions is an individual one for every couple. Essentially it means different things to different people. To me taking on his last name was not giving up an important part of my identity, so in the end I decided that FOR ME adopting his last name was NOT surrendering to the patriarchy. It was simply me admitting that I don’t want to give our future children a hyphenated name that will become even more ridiculous if they get married & try to combine it with their spouse’s name some day. Could you argue that my husband could just as simply have taken my last name? Sure. Is it sexist that I know he wouldn’t have considered that? Maybe. But at the end of the day I think we have MUCH more important issues to worry about, so that’s a post for another day, if ever.
What I am trying to say is I think it is each woman’s (or man’s) individual decision if she wants to change her name or not when getting married. No one should be judged based solely on their decision to adopt or not adopt their husband’s (or wife’s) last name. I fully understand that some women see changing their name as an affront to their identity & humanity & I respect that completely. I also realize that there are plenty of women who are/were so incredibly excited to take on their husband’s name that the idea of not doing so has either never crossed their minds or strikes them as totally ludicrous. I respect that mindset as well even though I admittedly do not understand it. The point is society should be open to & tolerant of both choices as well as the more radical choice that a husband take his wife’s name if he so chooses.
All of this brings me to the point of this entire post. Though it took me some time & thorough deliberation to actually change my name, I do not mind having my husband’s last name. In fact I rather enjoy it now. HOWEVER, long before I even met my husband, when I was just a child, I always found it odd that women could be referred to as Mrs. John Doe. Even as a child I understood the subtle implications of such references. Referring to a woman as Mrs. John Does implies that her only, or at least greatest, identity is in being John’s wife. Furthermore it implies that a wife is interchangeable because Mrs. John Doe could be anyone, literally ANY WOMAN ON THE PLANET. I take no issue with Mrs. Jane Doe because it is specific to me & thus addresses my own unique identity. But Mrs. John Doe annoys me greatly for the reasons I’ve just listed.
If you’re a family member or friend reading this & you’ve ever addressed mail to me as Mrs. John Doe or know that you may do so in the future, please don’t worry. I won’t write you off or be PERSONALLY offended in any way. Trust me. I am just interested in questioning the status quo & why as a society we still find it ok to address women in this fashion. (I find it particularly ironic that my COLLEGE has addressed mail to me in this manner. Anyone else find that a bit odd?) I’m sure some people reading this will think I’m wasting my breath going on about issues that don’t amount to a hill of beans. (Which is a countrified way of saying they don’t matter, if you’re unfamiliar with that phraseology. I have to show my roots every once in a while, right?) I know there are far more important “women’s issues” on the table today. But this is a subject that I’ve pondered for literally years. As previously stated, even as a child I found the Mrs. John Doe concept to be a bit disconcerting. Keep in mind I was a child who played with globes, maps, & encyclopedias for fun, but nonetheless it begs the question that if even a child can see that something is a bit off with this terminology, perhaps we ought to at least question it a little?
To the ladies out there who are reading this (married or not), how do you feel about this matter? Does being referred to as Mrs. John Doe bother you? (If you’re not married, does the idea of it bother you?) Why or why not? To the males reading this, what do you think about this subject? If you think I’m an incontrovertible bore for writing about such matters, that might be fair enough but I think this is something worth at least discussing. (Hint: sarcasm. I could never be boring, don’t you know?) And I’d love to hear my readers’ opinions on the matter.
I love this! Thanks for starting a conversation about it. I also think it is strange that a college addressed you that way… Why are women reduced to their marital counterparts? I think it needs to change, ASAP. When I was married (divorced now), I was not a feminist but I did not change my last name because I loved my own last name too much (my parents, the sound, etc). When I would get phone calls and I would be referred to as Mrs. (husband’s last name) I would get so irritated that they assumed I had taken his last name. I know it’s probably not that big of a deal, but that just wasn’t my identity!
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I understand. Like I said, I totally get why some women don’t want to change their names & I am so thankful my husband was so understanding about the subject. To me that showed that the really respected me as an individual & wasn’t so insecure that having a wife with a different last name would bother him. It’s the Mrs. John Doe stuff that really rubs me the wrong way! It always has, even as a kid, as I mentioned here.
Absolutely! Like I said, being reduced to just your male partner feels denigrating. It is so unfortunate. I am glad you are talking about it!
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For most of my life I never really thought about this decision, until of course I got engaged about a year ago. I don’t have a problem with taking my husband’s last name – like you said, it will be much less confusing for our future children, and I like that it’s another way to show unity. I plan to keep “Rice” as my middle name, simply because I am the only child in my family and our line of “Rices” will die out with me. I was actually told by a co-worker that because I am not dropping my maiden name completely, that I am not “fully committed” to my future husband. (Keep in mind where I work.) This initially made me mad, but at the same time, like you said, it is a decision for every couple and really every individual – it’s really no one’s business what reasoning lies behind the decision. I would feel strange, however, if I got mail from my alma mater addressed as “Mrs. John Doe,” since I had no connection with my future husband at the time I was a student there.
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Yes, exactly, even though I was dating Jared at the time we still weren’t married then & it just seems odd for a public university to revert to such a traditional thing as addressing a woman by her husband’s name. I honestly don’t see the point in Mr. & Mrs. either but I just hate formality so maybe that’s just me. I can’t believe your co-worker said that not dropping Rice completely shows a lack of commitment on your part. Oh wait. I CAN believe it, sadly. That is absurd to me, but again it is an individual choice. But she shouldn’t be using her opinion to say your choice is wrong.