I’m Taking His Name, But Not Because You Told Me To

Does changing your last name automatically make you a bad feminist? I don’t think so.

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I recently read an article in the Hairpin about a hetero couple who gave their child the wife’s last name, and it’s making me feel like a bad feminist, similar to my feelings about not being a scientist (Will I ever learn to stop feeling guilty for being myself?! My guess is no.) I’m taking my future husband’s last name, going from Shepard to Shields. And of course I shouldn’t feel guilty. And of course I still do. So let’s talk about it.

It’s well-established that feminism is about choice, not about bra-burning. You can wear makeup and dresses and work in the home and be Mrs. Lastname and the great thing about feminism is that those are your choices now, not your duty. In the US, at least. And you can do all those things and still be a feminist, because a feminist is not defined by their choices, but by their belief that men and women deserve equality.

And yet. It still feels like taking my soon-to-be husband’s last name is not the feminist choice. If I were The Right Kind Of Feminist, I’d be kicking down doors as Ms. Emily Shepard ‘til the day I die, and I would dub my children Meryl Shepard and Susan B. Anthony Shepard and the three of us would ride our horses into the sunset, shooting our pistols into the air and cackling with power.

Hang on, sorry, have to write something down…totally unrelated. One second.

Okay. So, sure. I’m taking Joe’s name. But it isn’t for lack of thought. In fact, I’m taking his last name for lots of reasons. Let me break it down.

1. Since I can remember, I’ve been told I would take my husband’s name one day. So I’ve always considered my name to be impermanent. Is this a good reason to then take your husband’s name? No, I don’t think so. If anything, it’s an argument for telling girls early on that they will have choices in their future. But it still establishes, for me, that I have never had the attachment to my last name that others do.

2. My last name isn’t tied to a culture or history that I am involved with or know much about. My ancestors came to America a long time ago; I have ancestral ties to the Salem witch trials to prove it. Joe, on the other hand, is very close to his last name’s history. He is third generation Irish and has visited family in Ireland. The Shields family cares very much about the Irish heritage their last name represents.

3. My last name is often spelled wrong, sometimes by people very close to me. More often, it’s done by people who are transferring my name from one place to another and at some point in the transfer just start adding Ps and Hs wherever they please. I’m never offended by this—exasperated, yes, but not offended. But eventually it just gets old. I would love a name that people can spell on the first try.

4. I don’t feel strongly about the alternatives. While there are lots of other options for people who want the same name as their partner (turning last names into middle names, making up a name, hyphenating), none of these solutions calls out to me. And our last names combined are Shelds or Shiepard. Or maybe Shelpards. Or Shipyard? Not great, although autocorrect could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

5. Joe’s last name is very similar to mine. Making the change doesn’t feel like an identity crisis. My initials don’t even change. But if Joe’s last name were something really different, with a really different heritage than mine? Emily Kowalszowskistein might be a harder transition—nothing against the Kowalszowskisteins, of course.

6. Emily Shields is a pretty badass name. Emily Shields can fight crime. She can TCB, if you know what I’m saying.

7. Changing my name is my choice. I don’t feel pressured into it. This is something I am doing on my own volition. Nothing makes me more obstinate than doing something that isn’t my idea. Just ask my mom about trying to buy me my first bra.

8. I’m keeping the Ms. and you can’t stop me. Because if no one has to know Joe’s marital status by his name, I believe you shouldn’t have to know mine. So my name will still have a bit of feminism mixed into it, even with his last name.

9. Our names may not be equal, but our marriage will be. And that’s the important thing. I proposed to him. He and I are equal partners in planning our wedding (in fact he might be doing more work than me but shhh, because I don’t think he’s figured it out yet.) And if one of us ever decides to stay home with the kids, it would be him. Our big life choices aren’t made without thought. And that’s the point of feminism, after all: the freedom to do what’s best for you.

In the end, this is our choice and no one else’s. I’m not suggesting that anyone needs to take anyone’s names. If anything, I’m saying we should only take someone’s name after consideration and only if it feels right. I want people to make their own choices, and I would love if less people took their husband’s names—I just want to be part of the minority of people who do. I want people to make their own life with their own names of their own choosing. For me, that last name of my choosing will be Shields. Emily Shields. Crime fighter. Avenger. Eyepatch wearer. Sword-wielder. Shields.

For more thinking about changing your name, head over to A Practical Wedding. They talk about changing your last name as a feminist choice, about the general decision to change or not, changing your name in the age of Google, men changing their last names, and mostly related but also just good to read: “Being Black, Feminist, Thoroughly Girly, and Conflicted”.

Wedding Drama: Location, Location, Location

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We’re barely into planning our wedding, and already Joe and I have come upon our first bout with wedding drama. I say first, because I have ears and eyes and am a living human being and so I understand that wedding planning comes rife with drama. And lo and behold, here is some of it:

No one will be able to come to this wedding.

Sure, we haven’t even set a date or found a venue or sent out invitations, but we’re fairly convinced that no one will show up. Joe and I will plan for a big amazing wedding and everyone will decline the invite, or they’ll show up and hate us for making them do it and everything will be terrible and let’selopeohmygodIcan’tbreathe.

So, yeah. Drama. Mostly exaggerated drama, but drama nonetheless.

The reason for the worry is this: we live in San Francisco, but nearly everyone we know lives in the Midwest, where we grew up and lived until we moved to California two years ago for work and adventure. So a San Francisco wedding is essentially a destination wedding for our family and friends, and spending hundreds of dollars for a weekend trip is not easy. Besides the cost, many of our friends have small children. And the ones with a little more money and time to spare? They already spend all that money and time on flights for their friends’ weddings (Hi, my name is Emily, nice to meet you) and our wedding may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

So the million-dollar question has been: do we have the wedding in San Francisco? Or do we have it in Chicago? Or to put the question another way: do we make this wedding easier on us, or on everyone else?

A wedding in Chicago means our family and friends can drive from their homes in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan without taking a day off work. They can bring their kids or leave them with a babysitter. Those who can’t afford a pricey plane ticket can still come. We’d see more family, more friends, and we could have a This Is Your Life wedding surrounded by nearly everyone who’d ever mattered to us in our lives.

A wedding in San Francisco means control over our wedding decisions. It means a beautiful setting. It means more predictable weather. It means sane planning with vendors we can meet in person. It means no extra flights to Chicago to plan the wedding. It means a more manageable guest list, but that guest list will likely have some very notable people missing from it.

The reason this issue is causing us drama is because Joe and I are both people-pleasers. Our living nightmare is finding out that someone is disappointed or upset with us. It’s the reason I don’t play sports, and the reason he overanalyzes every party he hosts. We always want everyone to be pleased with us. But at what point do we stop trying to please everyone and do what feels right for us?

While working through our options, we dug deeper into our desire to have the wedding in San Francisco, and here’s what we realized: besides the beautiful setting and easier planning, San Francisco is our home. It’s our life, and we want to share it with the people we care about.

We want to give people a reason to come out here and find out what California is really like (hint: the whole state is not a sunny beach filled with celebrities like I used to think), and to experience what our lives are really like. We want to show them why we’re happy, and what that means for us. We want them to smell the eucalyptus trees in Golden Gate park, and see how the Golden Gate bridge looks while you’re crossing it. We want to show them how hilly it can be (and let them notice how it’s actually not that hilly sometimes). We want them to experience a sing-along at the Castro theater and the candied bacon at Mission Beach Café. We want them to commiserate with us when we talk about driving down 101 and marvel at how easy it is to get to Napa. We want to give them tours of the amazing companies that have embraced us. If it takes a village to raise a child, we want to show that village that their hard work has paid off, and to thank them for bringing us to this point in our lives. We want the people who mean the most to us to be able to picture our lives when they think of us, and know they leave us in good hands.

So we made a decision: we’re getting married in San Francisco. We hope our village can join us, but for the ones who can’t? We’ll find a way to visit them and celebrate another time. We owe them at least as much.

How To Propose To Your Boyfriend

A few weeks ago, in his favorite place in the world, I proposed to my boyfriend and he said yes.

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For a long time, I wanted to be the one who was proposed to. The proposee. I wanted to have that big, surprise romantic moment and the butterflies in the stomach. Have I been taken in by the media? Absolutely. But I still wanted it. The way I see it, the proposal might be the last time you get those romantic butterflies. Sure, once you’re married there can be a million other great romantic moments. But there are no more nervous will-they-won’t-they moments after the proposal, and I didn’t want to lose my last one.

But with all my waiting for that moment, I started to feel like I had lost control of my life. I’m a planner, and if there was a wedding in my future, it was hard for me to plan the other big events I wanted: buying a house, flying to Europe, bringing my sister’s family out to visit us. I hated feeling like there was this giant life-changing event in my future, and I had no control over when it would happen. It’s my life! I should get a say in how it goes!

Then one day it hit me: I could still have a romantic moment. I could have the butterflies, it’s just that I’d be the one to put them there.

So in the middle of October, we flew from San Francisco to Joe’s home state of Michigan to experience fall (something we don’t really get in SF) and to see Joe’s family and friends. Our first full day there, we went to Franklin Cider Mill to eat fresh, warm cider donuts, drink cider, and feed the ducks while sitting next to a brook. This is where I asked him to be my husband.

I told a lot of people about my plan. Mostly because I was excited and because it seemed like too big of a deal to keep it a secret, but also because I didn’t want to spend my first few days of engagement calling everyone to explain myself. And trust me, it takes a lot of explanations. Not because it’s an intricate plan, but because people have questions. So if you are thinking of proposing to your boyfriend, here are a few questions I can pretty much guarantee you will field beforehand.

1. Have you guys talked about marriage?

I still haven’t figured out why people ask me this one, but they do without fail. My guess is that the subcontext is, “If you’d talked about wanting to be married, shouldn’t he have proposed by now? Maybe he hasn’t asked because he doesn’t know you want to.” Or maybe it’s, “If you’re being forced to ask, it must be because he doesn’t want to be married—maybe you should talk about it.” Or maybe there’s a much more innocent reason everyone asks me this question…I just haven’t figured out what it is.

Yes, of course we’ve talked about marriage—we’ve been dating for four and a half years. Our conversations changed from “if” to “when” a long time ago. In fact, we had a multi-day discussion about the merits of adopting this year, so yes, we have also discussed marriage.

2. Did you get a ring?

I did get a ring. I wanted the proposal to feel official, not like a suggestion. I wanted there to be a big moment of reveal. Some people laughed when I said I got a ring, I assume because they could only picture a women’s engagement ring. But I got him a simple, silver men’s ring.

Fun fact: there is no such thing as a “men’s engagement ring,” at least not on the internet. Only men’s wedding rings. (2015 edit! This is no longer true! Check out Buzzfeed’s “21 Badass Engagement Rings for Men” for starters. And a quick Google search for “mangagement ring” actually turns up some interesting things. I find this extremely awesome.) That’s okay, I’m pretty sure they look exactly the same. So I found a jewelry maker that I love, Turtle Love Co., and a ring I liked. I didn’t know his ring size, and Google is no help on figuring this one out. For one thing, I only found ideas for finding women’s ring sizes (“Ask her friends—maybe she’s already told them.” I can see it now: “Hey, Johnny, what’s Joe’s ring size?”). I emailed Turtle Love and asked about ring sizes. Since Joe is a light sleeper (no sneaking strings around his finger while he sleeps) and he doesn’t wear other rings for comparison, I was at a loss. Turtle Love answered my question right away, saying to choose a ring that could be resized, and try ordering a ring in an average size, which for men is size 9 or 10. Joe is a big enough guy, so I opted for a 10, figuring it would be better to be too big than too small.

I decided to make wearing the ring optional. I wasn’t giving him a choice in being proposed to, but I wanted him to have the choice to wear the ring throughout the engagement. The wedding ring is another story, but the engagement ring is really more about the symbol of my commitment and my seriousness in the proposal. Turns out, Joe loves the ring and the symbolism of wearing it, and as soon as it comes back from being resized, he plans to wear it.

I also got a special ring box, which I found on Etsy by searching for ring boxes with added words like “rustic” and “wood”. If you try to wade through all the ring boxes, you will find a lot of kitch and frills, as well as a lot of boxes that I would have loved for myself but which were just too girly for Joe. But the rustic and wooden boxes showed me lots of great unisex styles.

3. Did you get down on one knee?

No, I stayed sitting. For some reason, getting down on one knee felt wrong. I’m not sure if it’s the role reversal that I’m not comfortable with, or the fact that getting on one knee feels a little too close to begging for my comfort, but I knew I didn’t want to do it. Besides, the place we were sitting was rocky and next to a brook, and I’m clumsy. You can imagine that outcome.

I think people get so caught up in the way a proposal and wedding are “supposed” to go that they forget almost all of it is optional. You don’t have to get down on one knee in order for the proposal to be official. Technically, you don’t even need a proposal at all.

4. What if he proposes before you do?

I decided in January to propose in October. That left a long time for Joe to make a move, and in that time I got this question from people a lot. At first I was glad I was giving him so much time, and my answer to this question was “Then great! And if he doesn’t? Screw it, I’m proposing to him.” Once it got closer to my October deadline and I got more and more excited about what I was going to do, my answer changed to, “I hope he doesn’t, I have a whole thing planned!”

5. What if he proposes at the same time?

As the day got closer, people stopped asking if Joe would propose before me, and considered that he might propose at the same time. Especially once I described the romantic setting where it would take place.

I have to be honest with you: I wouldn’t have minded if he’d proposed, too. Sure, I was proud of my feminist choice to propose. But if he proposed, too, there’d be no question that I’m strong-arming him into something he’s not ready for. I imagined the scenarios where Joe would propose at the same time: that he’d propose and my response would be to pull out my own ring, or vice versa.

It didn’t happen that way. But after some happy tears and a pretty serious public make-out session, Joe did tell me that he had been looking at rings and thinking about what he would say when he proposed, so I still got to hear that speech. When I tell people this, I can see the relief on their faces. It gives a little of the traditional proposal back, and it ensures them that I haven’t forced Joe into something.

I’m not upset that this comforts people, because it comforts me, too. Stepping outside something that is so gendered is hard, and it’s scary. And having this safe place to lurk back to feels comforting. Analyze that how you will, but I’ve decided to be okay with it.

6. Do/Did you have a speech all planned out?

 Yep. And you don’t get to hear it. I told lots of people about the proposal (and now I’ve laid it all out here), but the little things I said? Well, some things get to stay private between Joe and me.

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For more info and ideas about women proposing to men, I highly recommend A Practical Wedding. Start with this one, and go forth!