Accepting unacceptance.

Christina here…

When Christopher and I got engaged, he asked if he could take my last name, Stephens. I agreed.

Christopher’s parents were not amused, to say the least. His mom believes it is wrong for him to change his name, and believes it reflects poorly on him that “no one in his entire family” wants him to change his name. They see his name change as “extreme” and are very hurt by it.

Several family members from Christopher’s side of the family chose not to attend our wedding because Christopher changed his name. We took great pains to avoid the whole name issue during our wedding so as to not ruffle any feathers while still making our wedding “ours”. Christopher’s grandmother took him aside for nearly half an hour during our reception to lecture him about how he shouldn’t “betray his family”, leaving me to wonder why my new husband vanished when he was supposed to be giving a speech.  Another of his family members stormed out of our reception when a guest (giving a speech) called us “Mr and Mrs. Stephens”.

That Christmas we were un-invited to his family’s annual Christmas party (we have since been invited back).

I assumed the name change issue had died down. I was wrong.  Apparently, Christopher’s family accidentally forgot to send us a Christmas card, and his dad sent us an email about it (which I am reprinting with permission from dad)

I assume by now you have received your card. If not, it will be arriving shortly. Please note that the tardiness of the card is mostly on me. Mom gave it to me to mail before she left for the Ozarks, a week trip with Julie to work on the Journey to Bethlehem script. I thought for sure I mailed it but when Mom came home she found it under a pile on the counter. Sorry about that. Also sorry about the name. Mom will never acknowledge your new name. Same with Nana and Aunt Susie. Don’t ask me why. You will forever be her little boy and her little boy is named Chris Cobb.

Christopher responded:

I definitely assumed that Mom and Suzie and Papa, at least, would never get over the name.  I’ve pretty much resigned myself to never hearing my real name from them.  Christina and I, and everyone else who sees or hears about the situation, is just laughing at them.  Of course, it’s still pretty massively disrespectful to deliberately and knowingly use someone’s incorrect name, so I’m really not sure how much longer I’ll be putting up with it.

Dad responded:

I’ve never said anything to you about your name change. I figured since it was your name, it was your choice. But please don’t confuse silence with concurrence.

I was very hurt by this choice. Not because of the “legacy” of the name. My own father couldn’t even wait around until I was born and never showed any interest in a relationship with me or your aunt. But because it IS my name. The name I passed on to you. I’ll be honest. I want the name to live on after me. When you were born, you fulfilled several dreams for me. Fatherhood and a son to pass the family name on were among them. Now it falls onto your brother to fulfill that.

Again, it is YOUR choice. But your choices will always have consequences. You are not the intelligent young man I think you are if you did not realize how this decision would be received by the more traditional members of your family.

I agree that they should use your legal name, not your real name. Because in my mind, your real name is Cobb. That’s what you had for 28 years. Legally it’s Stephens and that’s what you want, so that’s what we should use.

But if your family members don’t use the name you want them to, then it’s time for you to put on your big boy pants.

Accept it. If it’s going to change, it will change slowly. By feeling “massively disrespected” you are placing the same importance on a name as they are.

You are just choosing a different name to place the importance on. Remember, as hard as this may be see, this is not personal. This is simply a disagreement with a choice. People will not always agree with choices you make. That’s life. If you feel that Mom calling you Cobb is a reminder of her disapproval of your name change; her seeing your name as Stephens is a constant reminder for her that you made that choice. It doesn’t change the way we feel about you. You are and always will be loved as only a son can be. Don’t disrespect that just to make a point. I’ve accepted it and moved on. Do the same. Failure to use your chosen name doesn’t reflect well on their part. But stomping your foot and yelling “disrespect” doesn’t shine for you either. You can’t force us to see that you are right. Don’t hold our relationship hostage just to make your point. Only by maintaining that relationship, can we get past all this. And we will get past this.

So let me get this straight: Chris decides to change his last name. Then, his family goes to great lengths to convince him not to change his name, members of his family decline to attend his wedding, and he and his new wife are un-invited from the next official family holiday gathering. Yet Chris is the one disrespecting his family’s love? Chris is the one holding his relationship with his family hostage? He didn’t stomp his feet and yell “disrespect” – he wrote it in an email.

Dad-in-law, from my perspective, it’s the other way around. Chris accepts you. You do not accept him. Yet you want him to accept your unacceptance. You want him to accept his mom’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge his legal, real name.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s her prerogative.

You’re the one both begrudging him for “placing importance” on a name, while simultaneously stating that Christopher has all but crushed your dreams of having ”a son to pass the family name”. Your legacy as a man will be written in the DNA of your children and grandchildren, not in their names.

Christopher is not the one who needs to put his “big boy pants” on.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

P.S. Thanks, Dad-in-law, for letting me publish these emails! You deserve some serious credit for that.

Update: Christopher is in the comments section, answering your questions!

About christinastephens
  • IslandBrewer

    I assume you meant to say “big” in that last sentence – “big boy pants”. Although, “bog boy pants” might be something they wear in Missouri that I don’t know about.

    • Kodie

      I think they put on bog boy pants to harvest cranberries.

  • http://www.honestuniverse.com Mark Hanna

    Would they have put up this much of a fuss if the gender roles were reversed? After all, the bride’s surname traditionally changes at a wedding but I don’t think I’ve heard of family members refusing to attend because they’re changing their surname.

    I don’t see how the fact that it’s a tradition makes it any better or worse, so I expect any discrepancy could really only be put down to sexism. That’s a real shame…

    • http://umlud.blogspot.com Umlud

      Right? I mean, if that were the case, and everyone didn’t even recognize there to be a problem, then what does that mean about Christina? Is she just a sack of chopped liver? An organic baby-making machine that will hopefully pop out another boy to carry on daddy’s family’s name? And – ultimately – to what end will passing on a name serve?

      I wonder what Chris’ family would have done if they both chose a completely different name (say “Ishimoto”). Would the Cobb family have had as much difficulty in accepting Ishimoto as they (apparently) have in accepting Stephens? And why? Because no one in either family is likely an Ishimoto? What does that have to do with anything? After all, at some point, someone had to say, “I’m a [never-before-existing family name] now.” (Heck, at some point, there was the first person to be called “Cobb”.)

      Furthermore, in some cultures, the man choosing to take the wife’s family name isn’t that odd and earth-shattering at all. In Japan, men do occasionally take the wife’s family name, especially if there is a difference in social status (doubly so if the higher social status family doesn’t have any male heirs, so I’ll admit that it’s definitely related to genealogy and continuing a “family line”, but the main point is that it does happen in Japan). For people who say that it’s not “our” culture, then I have to ask, why do you want to be tied to your culture, and – by the way – do you really know what you culture really is and the history of said culture? (Most times, people don’t; it’s just the shitty argument that they use.)

      • SparkyB

        I wonder how his family would have felt if you both had kept your last names but still given your children the last name Stephens. Or what if you decide not to even have any children (I believe I recall you saying you weren’t interested in them, but sorry if I’m remember that incorrectly)? It seems like a pointless attachment to the idea of “carrying on the family name” if Chris keeping his name might not even do that.

        • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

          That exact thought occurred to Christina and me; presumably, my Dad at least would be just as hurt if I kept my name, but didn’t pass it on to any of our kids.

          But there’s a larger context of “a man who changes his name is betraying his family and clearly thinks that he’s the inferior servant of his wife” going on, too.

          • http://umlud.blogspot.com Umlud

            … then you guys really should change your names to “Ishimoto.” :)

            Or – if you don’t want to worry about changing the monogramming – then why not “Sato”?

            Heh.

    • iknklast

      On an even crazier note, my parents waited to respond to my wedding until they were sure I was taking my husband’s name. This was so crucial to them that I almost didn’t do it. I have my own reasons for doing it, primarily because I was tired of carrying around the last name of the man who molested me, but I could have lived with not changing it. I just didn’t want to feel coerced either way.

  • neatospiderplant

    “By feeling “massively disrespected” you are placing the same importance on a name as they are.”

    I’m sure he’s more upset at the fact that they seem to think they have some say in the matter than actually bothered by the name. Afterall, if Cobb was his name for 28 years and it never bothered him enough to apply for a legal name change, it doesn’t sound like he wanted to change it to discard Cobb as much as he wanted to take on Stephens.

    But really, if he makes a choice that is completely his choice to make and doesn’t affect them at all, and his family refuses to acknowledge that, what would Dad-in-law call that, if not disrespect?

    Why is it weddings always have to bring some drama?

    • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

      Honestly, I could deal with my family really hating my decision to change my name … if half of them hadn’t held my wedding day hostage in some way. My grandpa basically made me beg him to take part in a candle-lighting ceremony that we had written (ironically, the point of which was to honor our parents and grandparents). My grandma pulled me aside and ranted at me about not betraying my family for a half-hour, when I was supposed to give a speech. My Uncle refused to come at all, and kept my cousins from coming. My Aunt stormed out when someone happened to mention my new last name. Just completely petty, immature stuff.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      “Why is it weddings always have to bring some drama?”
      This is why my parents still don’t know what I did last summer.

  • Jasper

    … what the heck?

  • smrnda

    Apparently when a woman takes her husbands’ name it’s no massive disrespect to her family. Can’t people realize that we already have an existing, irrational asymmetry when it comes to names?

    What’s with the whole ‘pass on the family name’ anyway? I mean, names or not, your descendants are related to you. If it’s all about a male heir there’s already a brother to do that.

    The other thing is, once a parents gives you a name, the name is yours, not theirs, and you can do what you want. Parents can either accept the choices their children make, or they can find themselves out of the picture when it’s clear that they never loved their actual kids, just the idealized versions they built in their heads.

    • Jasper

      “I mean, names or not, your descendants are related to you. ”

      As it turns out, “taking the wife’s last name” is a euphemism for a complete DNA re-sequencing.

  • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    Plus, it saves on monogramming!

  • Kodie

    I also feel pretty strongly about my name being my name. I’m not likely to marry anyone, but when I was younger, I wanted to change it (mostly because it is hard to pronounce on sight), but the longer I have it, the more mine it is and would be weird for someone who isn’t a young maiden to be taken into a husband’s family line and not the other way around. It takes two. I would share it if he wanted to change it, but I can understand people liking their own name. I don’t understand why it’s expected for a woman to change her name but when a man does, it’s heresy. It is like they are disappointed in him not wearing the pants in his new marriage or something. Do they know it was his idea? It’s an unusual idea for a man to initiate, and perhaps they think he had to be convinced in a way that’s different from a woman just being taken for granted she will take a husband’s name and gets a lot of flak for refusing to do so.

    Anyway, the guy says, the Cobb before me only gave me this name, and I gave his name to you and I force you to keep it or you will be both be frozen out of the family. What is really broken here? Different cultures have different rules to guide them in names, changing names, surnames of children, etc. In the US and many parts of the world, a man receives a wife into his family symbolically. She is bought and paid for and renamed. That’s the tradition he’s clinging to.

    I think it’s disrespectful of the family not to use his name, but I don’t think that’s unusual in families to be passive-aggressive. It’s irritating but I’m not sure how seriously to deal with it in the scheme of things. I don’t have any in-laws, but I can imagine some of the ones I might have had being passive-aggressive toward me (since they already were and successfully drove wedges so they would not become related). I do come from a dysfunctional family of my own though. I don’t think I could get upset over this enough compared to other reasons I might not speak to someone. My uncle cheated my father out of money and they haven’t spoken to each other in almost 2 decades. My two aunts have not spoken for at least 3 decades and they are twins. I don’t know what that feud is over, but that is 7 cousins altogether (and at least 15 of their children) that I haven’t seen or betray my immediate family. I’m not as close to my siblings as I’d like to be but I hope that never happens. It almost happened with my sister because she’s just such a bitch and I had enough, but we’re cautiously cordial with a few close moments and I think we’re trying to know when to back off before it erupts.

    If the dad is trying to come to terms with disappointment in an expectation unfulfilled, and the rest of the family is sticking firm, I don’t know what to do but I hope this doesn’t have to come between you. My mom is stubborn about stupid stuff and she’s also my mom. I kind of just live with it because it’s not egregious. I think accepting unacceptance is the way to go here. I know that’s not what you want.

    • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

      I really think I could deal with them just really hating the decision itself. I’m definitely not considering breaking off contact with them or anything over it, all I’m really thinking of doing is calling a spade a spade when it comes up and trying to convince them that deliberately mis-naming me is petty and immature.

      As I said somewhere else, what really gets me is that big parts of my side of the family held my wedding hostage in various ways over the issue.

      • Kodie

        I certainly don’t want to imply that you should let them call you something other than your name without a response, but I also don’t think it’s, well it’s hard to say. I feel like a name is cosmetic and if someone loves me it doesn’t matter. But if they are doing it on purpose to be stubborn and aggressive, then they are being less loving. I definitely acknowledge that, and I think that’s I think what you should acknowledge.

        I actually don’t know why you changed your name, as I was about to speculate it was not because you don’t love your family. Some of the women posting and referred to in this thread say changing their last name was partly important because of their abusive family. If it is something like that that made you initiate the discussion – you didn’t merely offer to change your name, or seem to be cajoled into it or asked to consider it, and you know it’s unusual traditionally for a man to do that, but it’s in the post that you asked Christina if you could change your last name to hers. If there actually is something about your family that made you desire to cede your given name, you don’t have to tell us, but if that’s real, then your family’s feelings are related to this event.

        That we’re even talking about it like it’s important is weird because I don’t care about your reasons. Anyway, if you don’t have a problem with your family or the name (as I was and am inclined to assume), keep restating that it’s nothing against any of them, and correcting their mistake.

        On the whole, I desire to avoid escalating such bullshit to an actual break-off. If they banish you over this, it’s nonsense, but if you banish them over it, I can’t be for that. If necessary, acknowledge their disappointment with a “well, oh well”. I wonder why your name is so important to them, and it was definitely wrong for them to make a scene at your wedding, but I can relate. Outside of that, I don’t think it’s losing to have specific discussions with people over why they are so hurt and assure them that they shouldn’t be hurt. If you were a woman, they wouldn’t be hurt. If you were an actor, they wouldn’t be hurt (would they???). What exact value is so critical here? Deep down “it just is”, is not a valid answer. If they wanted you to become a doctor and you became a dog trainer instead, they’d come to terms with it, right? Or would they treat you like a piece of shit because you hadn’t met some arbitrary value of “potential”?

        • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

          I really just take everyone else’s stated feelings at face value. For example, my best friend in the whole world (besides Christina DAWWWWWWW) is also named Chris, and he calls me Cobb because that’s been his name for me for a decade. He still calls me Cobb, but I know that’s just because that’s what he’s used to (and he’s said that he’ll make the effort to stop if I want him to). Most of my family are deliberately choosing to use the wrong name, not as a nickname, but because they are outraged that I’ve betrayed tradition and my family, and they pretty much refuse to even try and listen to my reasons, or even reasons why it’s not their decision.

          I’m not really shy about my reasons either; in terms of being practical, Christina is a published scientific researcher under the Stephens name (and I’m a big honking feminist), so I literally would never even consider asking her to take my name at all.

          On a more sentimental note, we’ve probably all heard the argument for why women should take their husband’s last name; it’s showing the importance of the new family unit! It’s less confusing! It’s standing dutifully with your new spouse! Solves the question of your kid’s last names! It’s a powerful symbol of your union and new life together! See, I personally agree with all that, but always pointed out that these things can be achieved just as well with the husband changing his name. Sure seems like my responsibility to me! So no, I’m not at all trying to sever ties with my family over anything, and I also really hope that it doesn’t come to that. I DO plan, however, on calmly and bluntly calling them on it when they passive-aggressively use my wrong name.

          • Kodie

            I applaud your initiative, definitely. I don’t need your reasons, essentially, to permit you to do what you want because it’s not for me to say, ok that’s a good reason or that’s a bad reason. I happen to think it’s great, but that doesn’t matter either. See, I’m not even related to you – you do things your way and I can have an opinion about it mostly because you brought it to my attention and not because we’re voting on it, and mostly being a nosy-body dorking around on the internet all day today. Your reasons and actions belong entirely to you.

            I don’t think you need to present your reasons as an argument to convince anyone in your family to change their opinion or behavior, unless, like I said, it were due to actual badness in your family you wanted to establish an identity apart from them, which you said it’s not. Underlying issues should not be fought about symbolically was my point, and should not change your decision, but to air the “if you really want to know, it is something you did, which was…” would be fair. But you said it’s not that, so there’s no other reason to defend your decision as being heartfelt, fair, loving, practical, well-thought-out, or anything else. Their compulsion to care about what you do with your name is irrational and as it comes up, I would be inclined to keep turning it back to that if necessary, but I think mostly I would just get used to the idea they aren’t changing their mind. It doesn’t mean they win.

            Last time I was seriously with someone (engaged without a plan), I was at a stage where I wanted to keep my name but add his (no hyphen), and I asked him if he would add mine before his name so we would have each other’s names, and his response was “Do you think your dad would ok with that?” He did like the idea quite well with no other reservations than to assume it might offend my father. I don’t think he would have suggested it himself, because my father is bigger than he is. Well, mostly because guys don’t tend to think of it on their own and are stuck in the same expectations as your family is, not that they wouldn’t consider doing it. If he had done as you, asked me if he could take my name, honestly, I’d be “ugh! why? please don’t.” Lol. I don’t want to change it, I don’t have a problem with guys taking a wife’s name, but when that’s me, it just feels like more melding than I’m comfortable with. It’s practical, but I guess I don’t like the replacement of someone’s identity to the other. That’s how my name feels to me.

            Another thing to point out, if you hadn’t already – if you were a woman and Christina was a man, and you stayed Cobb, and/or Christina changed her name to Cobb, would they insist on calling you both Stephens and harass you at your wedding? I put it this way to still refer to your family with the situation reversed.

          • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

            “Another thing to point out, if you hadn’t already – if you were a woman and Christina was a man, and you stayed Cobb, and/or Christina changed her name to Cobb, would they insist on calling you both Stephens and harass you at your wedding? I put it this way to still refer to your family with the situation reversed.”

            Huh, y’know, if I had to wager a guess, I’d probably expect them to be pretty firmly against it, but not take it nearly as personally, considering it the place of Christina’s family to forcefully object.

  • Karen

    I thought a lot about changing my name when I got married, back in the days of castles and dragons when it was just something that Every Woman Did. If I had to do it over again, I’d change my name… but to Karen Luthersdatter. Y’all can just shrug it off as an American reclaiming her Norwegian roots,

    • iknklast

      Wanna hear something a bit weird? I changed my name in part to move up in the alphabet. Now, everyone is alphabetizing by first names, so I’m right back where I was at the bottom of the heap.

      • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com Ubi Dubium

        I did the same thing, as did my mom! She moved up in the alphabet from “T” to “R” and I’ve moved all the way up to “G”. My husband offered to take my name, but I said I preferred his. My old name was hard to spell, and even my close friends never pronounced it correctly. His name is short and easy, and nobody mispronounces it. Much better.

        • iknklast

          I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who’s alphabetically obsessed. I lived most of my life as an “R”, briefly as an “L” when my ex and I were married, and now I’ve made it all the way to “B”. But unfortunately, since my first name is an “R”, the current trend toward alphabetizing by first name (a bulky and unworkable system, IMHO, given that there are many more with any particular first name than last name), I’m back to “R”. :-(

          • Kodie

            I think I’m weird because I always wished my last name started with a Z. It’s not much higher alphabetically than that, but I don’t think I ever felt bad about it.

      • baal

        I’m at the end of the alphabet last name wise and while it’s not a huge discrimination, it does mean being processed last for a lot of things. One of my sisters even almost missed getting into the college of her choice (along with everyone in about S and later) due to one clerk who would sort by alpha first and send acceptance letters second. That person also never made it to the end of the alphabet every day.

        • Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

          Really? I’m a Wise too. I love it, it is an awesome name.

          I think it’s really cool that you took your wife’s name. I’ve never actually heard of anyone doing that before.

    • eric

      Yeah, the Icelandic/Norweigian traditional convention seems a lot less misogynistic. Its still a bit, since AFAIK the root name is generall taken from the father not the mother. However, by taking first names it seems a lot less patrilinial, since first names change with each generation. And – juniors and II’s, III’s etc. excepted – both girl and boy children get a name different from either parent, which is a lot less uneven than our system of ‘married women get new names.’

      • Kodie

        It can be kind of hard to trace your roots though without paperwork already in hand. I guess it might be difficult in the patrilineal way too if your don’t know if your great-great-grandfather is (fake names nothing like mine) the “William Robinson” who married “Katherine White” or the one who married “Katherine Jones” when the census shows they both have a son “David” one or neither of whom may be your grandfather. At least as my family goes, the Scandinavians were fairly recent immigrants and used the same small pool of popular names as everyone else in Norway, round and round and round, but the lineage on the non-Scandis who were already in America doesn’t go back much farther. As it so happens, my unusual last name is like Smith in one enclave of the US and I’m probably related to all of them, but that doesn’t help since a lot of them are named the same first name I’m looking for.

        • Kodie

          Due to an editing mistake, I skipped a generation but you know what I mean right? I have heard that editing mistakes skip a generation.

        • eric

          I know what you mean, but I think you also pointed out the flaw in your logic: with the current system it is easier to trace ancestry…of the patrilineal line only. That’s a relatively small % of your overall relatives, so the current system is not giving you much advantage in the ancestry-tracing department. And it introduces a bias in how you view/what you discover about your family, because it makes some ancestors much much easier to find than others.
          I’d also point out that, barring time machines, changing to the Icelandic/Norwegian convention now would not make it more difficult to trace ancestry, because records-keeping these days is so much more comprehensive.

          • Kodie

            You still have to know birthdays and places though. I know where on my father’s side the family says they came from but other reports say that my grandfather spent a while someplace else instead (lied or mistaken).

            On my mother’s side, my grandfather changed his first name and his birthdate, which is weird. I don’t know if to Americanize his name, get rid of an unfortunate feminine nickname, or to get rid of the overt religious denotation of his given name when he became an atheist (from Catholic), but I’m also given to understand, he changed his legal birthdate to his baptism date. I think there’s a fuzzy old tradition that marks a legal birthdate at the baptism instead of the actual date one came out into the air here, so I think there was some talk a long time ago how he ought to have done it the other way around but nobody has talked about in years. I didn’t find out he had changed his name until after he died and nobody’s supposed to know so I can’t ask. Apparently as kids, my mom and my uncle snooped, and now they’re in their later 60s, still can’t tell on them.

            I don’t have the full access on ancestry, and I don’t think I would get very far if I did. The only good lead I got led me to a relative I already know I have, my mother’s cousin, who is looking on the other side of her family.

  • Nate Frein

    I told my fiance that I would be happy to take her name if she wanted. She is, however, pretty set on taking mine, but that has more to do with her desire to leave behind her (quite abusive) family.

    I think your husband’s family is having to come to grips with the fact that he is a grown up man come into his own, and that your husband’s decisions will not always reflect the values of his parents and grandparents. The question I think you need to answer is whether it is worth it to you and your husband to keep up communications.

    Personally, I find it very easy to shut out family when they decide that their bigotry is more important than a relationship with me, but my family is notorious for going incommunicado for years at a time. I have no idea what your husband’s situation is in this regard, but if it were me I would simply not respond to any correspondence for “Christopher Cobb”, marking any mail as “addressee unknown” and returning it to the post office. His family has less time to live than he does. They can either come to grips with this or they can grow old without their son.

    Granted, this is simply how I would handle the situation. It’s not an endorsement. I certainly don’t know enough about you or your husband to know what the best way to handle this situation would be.

    • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

      Heh, you’re not too far off. My family is also very conservative, borderline fundamentalist Christian (I’m sure that you’re all simply shocked …), and we’ve not been close for many years, owing to my lack of religiosity.

      I’m definitely not planning on breaking off all communication or anything similarly drastic, but pretty much just calmly pointing out that they got my name wrong whenever they do so, and insisting on having the conversation if they push the matter further.

  • http://polyskeptic.com wes

    I would definitely hold the relationship hostage. Who needs people in their life who have such a profound lack of respect for their ability to make their own decisions?

    • eric

      Yep. If relative X wants to visit, X will use my chosen name. Sort of a ‘my household, my rules’ thing.

      This works particularly well if/when you ever have children, because wanting to be involved in the grandkids’ life can be a great motivator for older people to dispense with their bigotries. Or at least stifle them in your presence, which is a reasonable first step.

  • Steve

    He missed the great opportunity to change his name to Jayne Cobb :p

  • Drakk

    You are not the intelligent young man I think you are if you did not realize how this decision would be received by the more traditional members of your family.

    “Realize” is not synonymous or implicative of “give a fuck”.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

    So when a man changes his name, it’s seen as a rejection of his entire family, and when a woman doesn’t change her name, it’s seen as a rejection of her husband. Something that has long peeved me is the assumption that men own names and women borrow them, or are granted their use. That’s rubbish. It’s my name, and I like it, and I’m not going to change it. That said, I support people being able to change their names to whatever they think suits them best, regardless of sexist naming conventions.

  • Steve Andrew

    Wow… just wow. I honestly thought that I belonged to the last generation of people who’d have to take this kind of shit from their parents. Maybe all generations think that?

    In my case (I’m 40 and I got married 3 years ago), my wife just took my surname just… because… actually I’m not sure why. I think we thought, we get to pick and choose what traditions we go with. We had a secular, non-religious wedding, but decided to go with most of the other wedding traditions. I did ask her a few times if she minded if I took her name instead, but that line of thinking never went anywhere. A shame really, as I always preferred her name (Kingsley) to mine. Now she has to be saddled with the curse of people mistakenly sticking an “s” on the end of “Andrew” for the rest of her life…

    I know one guy who took his wife’s surname when they married and although most of his family and friends thought it odd, I don’t think there was any major falling-out. I know loads of people who’ve side-stepped the issue by going double-barrelled, sometimes with quite unwieldy results.

    Traditions are wierd. I’m descended from an off-shoot of an off-shoot of a Scottish clan and their names were always matrilineal (is that a word?) so the clan-name always went down the female line. I think so anyway – I may be mis-remembering that.

    Anyway, older generations will always be pissed off that younger generations don’t follow the traditions they did, failing to remember that they themselves probably discarded a few traditions that previous generations adhered to. It’s like Dan Savage once said: we pick and choose what pieces of bullshit in the Bible to follow and we always have.

    Parents have to realise that there are some things we just don’t owe them. Saying sons have a duty to keep the family name is as ridiculous as saying “you owe us grandchildren!” I’m sure my parents were disappointed when my wife and I said we were going to be childfree, but they had the good sense to realise it was none of their business.

    • Kodie

      as I always preferred her name (Kingsley) to mine. Now she has to be saddled with the curse of people mistakenly sticking an “s” on the end of “Andrew” for the rest of her life…

      It’s weird how you think from one side (my side) that a simpler name would be simpler but still gets confused by people whose name it is not. My name gets confused two ways – by people who have to spell it, and by people who only hear it. It’s only 5 letters but everyone wants to get them out of order, or thinks I said something they’ve heard of before. If I just conceded to change it to the most popular misheard version, it would then get confused for something else. I think there are very few names people just never mess up. I’m not even counting people who just pronounce it wrong, at least it’s spelled right in front of them.

      • Nate Frein

        Oh, I know exactly how you feel. I’m genuinely surprised when I hear my name called correctly by someone who doesn’t know me, and at least half the junk mail I get that isn’t addressed to “current resident” doesn’t get the spelling right.

  • Steven Bey

    People often spell my forename as Stephen and my surname as Bay (I’ve even been called Stephen Bag!) but, in these situations, I like to think of the immortal words of Shakespeare:

    What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet

  • http://humanisticjones.blogspot.com HumanisticJones

    My wife and I have still never fully resolved this to our satisfaction. We both want to take a different last name, but we haven’t thought of one that we like enough to go through the process of getting it changed (and couldn’t settle at the time where the marriage would have done that for free).

    That said, when she didn’t take my last name, we still had my family being a little weird about it… and the clerk at the courthouse too. She kept asking my wife if she was SURE she wanted to keep her name, and making sure I knew that she wasn’t changing it. I still get people calling her Mrs. Jones even though that isn’t her last name.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      Can you make a combination name? Like your last name and her last name kind of linked together?

  • http://www.facebook.com/margretheravn Meg Creelman

    Not that it makes much difference, but my brother, upon his marriage, took his wife’s stage name (her maternal grandmother’s last name) and changed his first name while he was at it. Fortunately, my parents accepted it all and nary a brow was raised.
    Another friend took his wife’s last name when they married, primarily for the sake of her daughter. This was several years back when it was quite difficult for a man to change his name to his wife’s. Fortunately, he knew exactly what to do.
    Hang in there. The world, she is slowly a-changing and with luck, our children won’t think twice about it.

  • kyshwn

    I’m getting married in March, and my fiancee is keeping her name. I hate my last name… and I considered taking hers. But my name is mine… it has been since I was born. Why would I change it? And why would I expect someone else to change theirs? So far, thankfully, we haven’t had anyone giving us any grief about it. Now, the fact that we spend our holidays separately(so we can each see our family… as hers live four hours away)… that they give us grief over. But I figure, if it works for us… it is no one else’s business.

  • ButchKitties

    I want to add my husband’s name to mine because his family has really welcomed me and made me feel like one of them. Conversely, I’m okay with hubby not taking my last name because my family has not done the same for him. But dropping my last name feels… wrong. It’s the name on my diplomas. I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of as a “Boyd” and I don’t want to lose that history, nor do I want to feed into a sexist naming system. Hyphenating is not for me. I joked about doing a portmanteau of our names, so “Boyd” and “Jones” would become “Bones” but that’s still losing my original name.

    I might take his last name as a middle name.

    Or, if my dad continues to be the abusive asshole he’s turned into in his later years, I might just change my last name after all. Even if it means moving from the Bs to the Js. (BJs. Heh.)

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com TerranRich

    Try having the last name “Brum” and dealing with people who STILL can’t spell OR pronounce it. LOL

    But yeah, if this practice was good enough for Jack White, then it’s good enough for any of us.

  • baal

    tldr: the status quo matters when you’re making an argument; usage and meaning of ‘disingenuous’
    The word, disingenuous, has been coming to my mind a lot recently. When someone uses the word they are accusing the speaker of not arguing with honesty or that the speaker knows more than they are saying and is relying on ignorance of the audience to make a point. As with other falsehoods, this makes the speaker look bad and otherwise good arguments can get tossed on the basis that the speaker appears to lack honesty.
    In looking at examples this week of when I’ve thought someone was being disingenuous but they were the kind of persons who wouldn’t normal use that as a tactic I think I stumbled across something. Context.
    You can make arguments from say a neutral background or as their own thing in a vacuum. You can make arguments that involve the context and start from the status quo. These two routes are rarely the same (unless the context is irrelevant.)
    As applied here, Christopher and most of the commentators are making the argument starting at “men & women have equality”(I agree with this view fwiw). What’s the right outcome is then “either one taking a name one way or the other should be equal”. The status quo, however, is not one of equality. It’s that the wife takes the husband’s name. Most folks in the U.S. assume the status quo is correct and rely on it when setting their expectations. The parents do that in this case. The disingenuousness comes in when you make the argument from equality because it sounds like you know about the status quo and refused to start your argument from there. Going to Christopher’s position from the status quo takes 1 extra step, “I know that it’s usual for wives to take their husbands name but for reasons I’m not comfortable discussing right now, I want to show my wife that I think equality is important so I’m taking her last name. I don’t want this to be seen as a slight to the Cobb family and you guys (my family) have other relatives with the name so it’s not like it’s going to die out*).
    *the tail here is kind of bs but it softens the assertion and gives them a place to hang their hat – you’ve addressed the status quo.
    Is it fair or are you under a duty to address the status quo? Certainly not! Does it solve the problem of apparent disingenuousness? Yes, I think it does.**

    **One of the big complaints we atheist make against the christians is about their disingenuousness. Xtian apologetics always starts from the proposition that they are making a new argument and if we just listen to this brand new one, voila!, we’ll be convinced the christ deserves our worship and god exists. This is total BS. The context is that we haven’t heard a new apologia in ages and the current set have been debunked endlessly. It’s to the point where JT or Matt Dillahunty or any one of many of us can go to a debate not knowing that apologists speech ahead of time and be able to refute fairly complicated arguments with aplomb. We hold this lack of recognition of the status quo against the xtians and accuse them of disingenuousness*** for it.

    While I think Christopher could have worded his comments more carefully, it’s ultimately his decision and the family can stop being petty with the lack of acceptance. (warning speculation land) I also wonder if they aren’t displacing displeasure about BDSM or poly or something else onto the name issue since the former may be beyond their ability to discuss and they have social back up to beat up Christopher on the name thing so they take out their anger / issues there. (end speculation land).
    Personally, I can’t imagine telling my wife, son or sisters what name they should take or not. It’s part of respecting family members and allowing them to control their own lives.

    ***I’m seriously disliking typing ‘disingenuousness’ and the spell checker hates it so it may not even be a word.

    • christinastephens

      (warning speculation land) I also wonder if they aren’t displacing displeasure about BDSM or poly or something else onto the name issue since the former may be beyond their ability to discuss and they have social back up to beat up Christopher on the name thing so they take out their anger / issues there. (end speculation land).

      This is a reasonable speculation, but actually I don’t think Christopher’s family knows about our interest in BDSM or poly. We figure that they don’t need to know about our sex lives just like we don’t need to know about theirs. =D

      But they might be displacing their disappointment at Christopher’s complete rejection of their religion (they are southern baptist) – not only has he rejected their religion, but also “rejected” their name, which makes them feel like he is turning his back on his family. But this is also speculation.

    • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

      Ah, there is some additional context here that you haven’t seen. My parents, my grandmother, and myself had a sit-down summit where I tried desperately to have that exact conversation about “the status quo.” They were completely incapable of moving past;

      “Wives take their husband’s names, not vice versa!”

      “Okay, I know that that’s the tradition, and a tradition that our family has followed since forever, but I’m asking you to question that tradition. WHY does a woman have to take her husband’s last name?”

      “Because that’s the way it’s done. Why would you take her last name when you’re a man? Chris, she’s not superior to you, she doesn’t own you like a slave.” (Yes, my mother literally said this.)

      “That’s what I’m trying to get at; you have these preconceptions that the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name is the necessary, good and right thing to do. I need you to not only question why you think that this tradition is necessary, but to also question your implicit ideas about women when a man taking his wife’s last name implies to you that he must be inferior and subservient to her. Honestly, don’t you realize what that says about women?”

      “What? No, Chris, it’s not the same at all, because women are SUPPOSED to take their husband’s last name. Men aren’t supposed to take their wive’s name!”

      Now imagine this looped for two hours. Oh no, I’m absolutely desperate to have this conversation about “the status quo.”

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        “Now imagine this looped for two hours.”
        Oh sweet deep-fried FSM, I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.

      • http://liberal-propaganda.blogspot.com/ Fern

        > Why would you take her last name when you’re a man? Chris, she’s not superior to you, she doesn’t own you like a slave.

        ROFL…they say that and then think you are the one who is being unreasonable. your patience in the response is admirable. but i find that people who expect women to be subservient to men have an amazing blind spot for the logic of what they are actually doing.

        i dont know how i’d respond to that if someone said it to me…probably id have to use sarcasm cause i couldn’t seriously argue with that kind of ignorance anymore…something like “im as much her slave as she is mine, so i’ll be taking her name because im proud of that fact. you can either be happy for me or you can leave me alone.”

        • Andrew Kohler

          I’d have gone with, “You mean to say that *I* own *her* like a slave?”

          A friend of mine just got heterosexually married and neither he nor his wife changed names. Her grandmother, who is usually progressive, said “Well, count me as disapproving!” People get worked up about the oddest things (and I can’t claim to be an exception myself).

  • Laurence

    I like the idea of combining the last names of two people into one awesome name.

    • iknklast

      My husband and I discussed that, but we couldn’t decide between Buckadolph or Randallew. So we dropped it. Sometimes I wish we hadn’t. It would be even harder for my students to grasp than my actual name, and the funny spellings would bring even more amusement (though it would be hard to beat the Dr. Bungalow one of my students dreamed up a couple years ago).

      Funny thing…many of my students are Czech, and they can’t handle MY last name!

    • ButchKitties

      I had suggested that at our wedding, we have his guests come dressed as robots and mine come dressed as dinosaurs. After the ceremony, we’d give everyone foam bats and command them to answer the question: In a battle between dinosaurs and robots, who would win?

      If the robots won, I’d take his last name. If the dinosaurs won, he’d take my last name. If there was a tie, we’d combine our last names into a new one.

      Sadly no one else was on board with this idea.

      • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

        Just as well, because the dinosaurs winning would have been a foregone conclusion.

  • RuQu

    I’ve read most of the comments, including in particular those from Christopher and Christina and the additional context provided in response to baal.

    1) I disapprove of two people named variants of “Chris” getting married. It’s just weird.
    2) If you had to have similar names, you should have changed to Jane and Jayne Cobb.

    In seriousness, it seems like you were well aware of the cultural context of your family. They are Southern Baptist and traditional. Why would their response shock you at all?

    My grandfather had 4 sons. Only one of them had children. While we are not a very tradition-heavy family, and the extended family is only superficially religious and all are accepting of those of us who are atheists, my family would have been upset if the eldest of only two grandsons gave up the last name.

    Likewise, my family is Catholic. Hers are atheists. We compromised with a former Catholic monk performing a pseudo-Catholic service outdoors that would resemble what my family considered a “proper wedding” while omitting any reference to a deity.

    If you want to run off and elope and live independent of your family, you can have any ceremony you want and change your name to “Kilgore Jesushatin’ Boogermeister” if that makes you happy. If you want to have a large event involving your family, then you have to consider the audience. To ignore traditions that are important to them, and then act surprised when old people are unhappy about it seems willfully ignorant.

    In the context of your family, you had to know there would be resistance. From the above comments, it sounds like you already tried to talk to them about it, and their only argument was “tradition.” However, your only argument was “I want to make a statement about equality by breaking tradition.”

    Perhaps the lesson here is that you shouldn’t use your family for making social statements, and if you do you shouldn’t be shocked when they don’t take kindly to it.

    • christinastephens

      We weren’t at all surprised or shocked.

      I also don’t think I agree that Christopher legally changing his last name to mine is using his family to make a statement. But, I’ll go poke him to come back here and explain in his own words why he decided to take my name and what kind of statements (if any) he was making.

      So…

      • RuQu

        Obviously I can only go on what details you two provide, and you are (obviously) free to act however you choose.

        He did describe his conversation with his family, and included this:

        “…I need you to not only question why you think that this tradition is necessary, but to also question your implicit ideas about women when a man taking his wife’s last name implies to you that he must be inferior and subservient to her. Honestly, don’t you realize what that says about women?”

        Change can come as evolution or revolution. One of those tends to be more violent than the other. Could you not have taken his families concerns into consideration and hyphenated if you wanted to establish equality? Of course, hyphenated names are annoying to write and add even more emotional issue in the second generation if you have to choose which to keep to avoid a 4-name-name. So you could hyphenate and then shorten to Stephens later because “it turns out hyphens are annoying.” This would give them time to ease into it.

        Or simply come up with a better reason for it. “Christina is well known by her name as an outspoken activist. As such, she couldn’t really change her name. We thought it was important to have the same name, though, for family solidarity, so I chose to change. It isn’t a rejection of you, its an endorsement of our new family while recognizing that her name is well established in public.”

        We only know the part of the story you’ve chosen to share, but it sounds like the decision was made with little consideration for his family and then posted to an audience likely to agree with you.

        • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

          You’re right, we have what they’ve chosen to share, like the comment Christopher made above where he describes a two-hour conversation he had with his family about the decision, which they still decided to reject.

          Or do you think we should just appease people’s beliefs regardless of the validity of their outrage?

          • RuQu

            His two hour conversation doesn’t reference any other point he made to them besides “your tradition is bad.”

            If a conversation consists of “you should respect tradition” and “your tradition is bad” for 50 hours, it is still just the same two statements.

            At no point, based on the material we have been provided, do we see an attempt at non-activist justification. I suggested one reasonable one above, regarding family name unity and Christina’s name already being publicly known. He does not mention asking for suggestions on ways they might consider compromising, ie “Would you feel better if we hyphenated or both added Cobb as a second middle name?”

            This mindset is that whatever a person chooses is okay and must be accepted, and that’s not necessarily true. There is nothing innately wrong with their choice of name, but I can certainly understand why their parents are upset.

          • Kodie

            I can also understand why Christopher’s family is upset, but that’s too bad. I think I covered it above – the only concession might hypothetically be, if there was an underlying issue with the family to why he changed his name away from it, it might be worth airing out. Other than that, he doesn’t need to justify it, whatsoever. It’s his name and assure them it’s nothing personally wounding that they did to him, but he is making a new family – it’s his family not theirs. At least he had been willing to consider their feelings as relatives. Saying, you guys are important to me enough, but he is not a child, he doesn’t need to partake in the childishness of the argument they have any longer as it’s futile. Parents of grown children think they can still talk “sense” into their children, like they are subordinates. He doesn’t need to offer compromise to them. Like I said, he is making his own family, and they are insulting the way they treat him. At least as it has been in my family, it’s my mom who is authoritarian in ways similar to Chris’s mom, stubborn in so many wrong ways. As an adult, consider Chris has determined for himself what he should do and that is good enough. It is being treated as a teen rebellion and Chris doesn’t have to fall into that pattern and take his place as his parents’ child. His family may continue to be silly, and maybe even insulting – that’s harassment and they are hoping that it works, or something.

            His reasons for doing so are interesting but not vital as to why they should accept his adult choice. His own reasons can be very good, very bad, spontaneous, ironic, or half-assed, but what they are not are subject to his family’s approval. He has not committed a crime, damage to life or property, embezzlement, a bad deed, littering, or taking candy from a baby. Nobody has altered his name against his will, nor has he been replaced by a droid. He’s the same person and he hasn’t died, gone fishin’, hit the pike, or joined the circus. They did their work and now they’re done, and if they want to use this time to stew, that’s their choice. Chris did as much to see things the way he sees them, he shared with them, but they remain unpersuaded. If that’s the way they want to be, the best we can all do is a somewhat hostile co-existence.

          • RuQu

            @Kodie

            “His own reasons can be very good, very bad, spontaneous, ironic, or half-assed, but what they are not are subject to his family’s approval. ”

            This is where we disagree. If your reasons are “very bad, half-assed, or spontaneous,” your family absolutely should speak up. So should your close friends. If they won’t, who will? This concept that “its my choice, no one else matters” is extremely selfish and silences the very people who you should listen to. The people who care about you should always speak up if they think you are doing something stupid or poorly thought out.

            This idea that they are “making a new family – it’s his family not theirs” is also probably relevant to why they are upset. It used to be that two families were joined. At it’s most patriarchal the woman at least joined his family. More recently it was about the joining of two families. Now, it’s about making a new family. That implies a cutting off of the old family, and the rest of your message supports that, as does a disregard for his family’s traditions.

            If you want to disown your family and make your own new family, by all means, toss aside any traditions you want. If not, your family’s traditions matter and to not understand how that hurts them seems deliberately obtuse. You aren’t an independent entity isolated from them, and if you think you are, that’s probably a big factor in why they are hurt by and opposed to this decision.

          • Kodie

            They’re not gods, they’re people. In some families, being straight is the family tradition. In some families, being white is the family tradition. How is this important? I happen to think rash decisions are valid – like elopement, for example. Weddings are a celebration of the breaking of the hymen, what were we talking about again? His family has no case.

          • http://umlud.blogspot.com Umlud

            @RuQu: where do you get Christopher saying, “your tradition is bad”? Projecting a little, aren’t we?

            It appears that your position is that the status quo is the right way to go, whereas Christopher seems to have been saying that the status quo is merely one way to go. Just because something is there to begin with does not automatically make it correct or desirable. If the Cobb family had a tradition of marrying only people who were a certain race, and Christopher chose to marry someone of a different race than traditionally done, this would be breaking that status quo. Would it be – by itself – a bad thing? No. Would it piss off his family? Maybe.

            If the Cobb family had a tradition of marrying only people who were the same religion as them, and Christopher chose to marry someone from a different religion, would would also be breaking the status quo. Would it be – by itself – a bad thing? No. Would it piss of his family? Perhaps; it has been a source of major strife and warfare in the past.

            Furthermore, your suggestion of trying to meet in the middle is also ludicrous in these two cases, since you cannot be (at least in our view of race) partly one race; you are fully one or not one. Similarly, you cannot be (at least in our view of religion) partly one religion and partly another. You suggest that maybe they take on a middle name or effectively auction off the names of their children. That’s also not meeting in the middle, but re-defining what is and isn’t respecting the family name. (IOW, a middle name isn’t a family name.)

      • RuQu

        Looking back up I see that Christopher had already responded to someone at 1:18pm saying he had explained exactly the sort of suggestion I made as reasonable reasons for his family, not just the “tradition sucks” reason he gave in response to baal.

        Even so, I still think family context matters. Some families are ready to accept larger breaks in tradition. Some aren’t. If you want to maintain a relationship with them, you need to tailor your message to the audience.

        All of that said, it’s just plain rude to keep using the wrong name on purpose. If they really don’t like it, have them cut ties entirely, but that passive-aggressive crap is unacceptable.

        • http://www.ziztur.com Christopher Stephens

          “Even so, I still think family context matters. Some families are ready to accept larger breaks in tradition. Some aren’t.”

          Should an atheist in a religious family similarly hide most of his rejection of religious dogma in deference to the family’s spiritual sensibilities? Maybe he or she could pretend to be a liberal Christian for a few years, eh? Needless to say, it sure seems to me like a fundamentally untenable position to insist that a son or daughter should carefully, incrementally continue to conform to the image of what their parents want.

          Incidentally, I actually did pretty much exactly what you say; the only argument that I made at first was that Christina is a published scientific researcher under her current name, so professionally, she really shouldn’t change it, and I want us to be a unified family with a strong symbol of our union and kids with the same last name as both of their parents, etc., so I’ll just change mine. They reacted with horror, exactly as you see above. The “symbol of equality” reason, not insignificant to me, was just my attempt to have the full, honest conversation after it became clear that they weren’t really going to listen to me.

  • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

    “this is not personal” – Oh, okay then. As if it would make a difference if they thought these things about somebody else instead of him. They’re dumb ideas regardless of who they’re directed at.

    • http://umlud.blogspot.com Umlud

      Yeah, I saw that to, and went, “Huh?” Sure, “this is not personal; it’s just directed specifically at you by specific people in our family, including your mother.” No. Not at all personal.

      Except in almost every way possible.

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    My perspective as a genderqueer person who has changed my first name:
    You did nothing wrong. You have been way more patient with your family than I have been, and not as patient as some other people I know, and that’s okay. Ultimately you know how to take care of your own life and your own relationships better than any of us in here.
    I think for me, if my family were accepting of who I am and simply forgot my name now and again, I wouldn’t have such difficulty with them. Sadly, it’s actually the reverse situation: more accepting of my name than my “life choices”.
    Which brings me to an interesting point: choice. Dad says in his email, “Again, it is YOUR choice. But your choices will always have consequences. ” Sometimes I am tempted to follow the “born this way” narrative of treating gender as some sort of brain condition that I suffer from, as seems to be the dominant socially-accepted narrative about transgender people. (As though all other thoughts/decisions were magic mental events, not rooted in biological brain states?) But the more I see stories like yours play out before me, the more I realize that it shouldn’t matter one bit whether I’m compelled to change my name or whether I do so out of a sheer act of will. Because no matter if I come to my new name based on deep biological necessity, for teh lulz, or because I tripped and fell and when I picked myself back up it was sticking to my forehead, I’m an independent agent and my name is mine alone.

  • http://double-woe-seven.blogspot.com/ Ben

    Reminds me that I should be grateful my conservative Christian parents have *always* chosen to prioritize my happiness above their own secondary desires that other parents use to impose on their children. I recognize that quality in myself as well, that I would always favor the desires of my kids (if I had any) over my own desires and would feel absolutely horrible if I were dictating my legacy to them trying to overwrite their path. It’s just a general courtesy that one would think should be extended to the agency of anyone. Sometimes they even extend it back to you, but that’s not a condition in my book. I don’t know where some people learned their version of respecting other people, because it looks like it really sucks.

    • Kodie

      That’s really good to see that can happen. I think a lot of us are in a continual subordinate relationship with our parents, even as adults – I know my mother is still afraid of and shapes herself to her mother’s opinion. It’s crazy how I try to tell her to do her own thing and if grandma doesn’t like it, oh well. It can be anything, like what dish towels she puts out or what sofa she buys. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a similar relationship toward my mother but I try to think of it in an ideal sense as you seem to have in reality and care less about her and more about me, no longer to establish a boundary, or as a form of rebellion, but just to be who I really am without apology.

      As she frames her experience, she also takes her “natural” place as an authority over her children, to some extent. Being we had such an authoritarian upbringing by her, it’s difficult but necessary to draw a boundary over what input of hers we do value. But also it seems she has taken some kind of authoritative “directive” from someone else not to meddle or offer her opinion ever. I really think it is difficult as an adult to make decisions when you are constantly used to someone making them for you (or else) and then suddenly letting you do anything, and then only because I think someone (a book or a doctor/therapist?) told them not to do that, and taking it dead literally.

      In my responses to Chris and then to RuQu, my feelings are actually similar to RuQu – if someone is in danger, or making the biggest mistake of their life, well you do risk alienation or being silly about something. But if you don’t have people who express concern over you, that’s very lonely and makes the rift bigger and you may have been able to use an unsolicited opinion once in a while.

      In the case of someone changing their name, I think the dialogue they had was necessary to evaluate what issues were at play and whether they were valid or extreme. I don’t think Chris’s family should step aside and let him do his thing if, for example, they saw signs that he’s coming unraveled and perhaps obsessed over Christina, in a fictional account I’m inventing right now, where she is not aware of Chris but he believes they are married, and “becomes” her by changing his name to hers. There are lots of examples of dangerous people after the fact that might have been diverted if someone didn’t just let them be. “All hands off” is not a blanket statement. It applies to this situation and many others, but not all situations. Also, I might say, I would like to know when my mother disagrees with me so our relationship doesn’t feel so forced and phony. I’d like to know when she’s concerned and why she’s concerned and evaluate for myself whether her concerns are applicable to the situation. I might imagine if I were obsessed with someone, believed we were married and changed my name to become them, I might not actually be amenable to reason and dismiss the argument as well, but for the greater good and the safety of the object of my obsession, my mother should absolutely intervene, by force. I’d do the same for her. But if we are both sane, criticism is part of a relationship, and not to be completely devastated because everyone doesn’t love every choice we make, but also having the ability and freedom (and to be modeled the freedom as you are or have to take it like I do) to use one’s autonomous and hopefully sound decision-making skills is the difference between adults and children.

      However, they love each other and got married. Changing his name doesn’t change Chris, although the power of changing one’s name may change Chris somewhat, as married people tend to anyway, feel closer to his spouse, and demonstrating to her in a powerful way that she matters to him. Does that make the family feel “replaced” in some way, lessened to him? I guess it might, but children don’t belong to their parents as property. He wasn’t going to live with them and be their sonny boy forever and was always on the way to autonomous adulthood.

      The fact that some people get disappointed that other people don’t act as they would have is too bad sometimes. Chris’s dad is disappointed because Chris is making different decisions than he was taught to make, and treated like a child for making them. The rest of the family is taking it too personally and too far, and holding onto the notion that Chris can be persuaded by “tradition” or “disappointment” or insults to his masculinity. I think I also know you can’t always talk someone out of their disappointments or change their opinion, no matter how much better your reasons are than their arguments, and just get on doing what you were doing. That’s power for them to see they cannot break him by wearing him down and belittling him too.

  • John Horstman

    When Christopher and I got engaged, he asked if he could take my last name, Stephens. I agreed.

    And you just made my day (matrilineal familial conventions make one hell of a lot more sense than patrilineal ones, since without genetic testing, a child’s mother is certain, while hir father isn’t, so centering familial definitions around women is more congruous with biological reality).

    The sexism, it runs deep in the culture.

    • iknklast

      “The sexism, it runs deep in the culture.”

      You can say that again.

  • Mom and Dad Cobb

    This is Dad. This thing has gotten blown way out of proportion. The only point I was really trying to make was that if members of Christopher’s family still refer to him as Cobb, he shouldn’t feel “massively disrespected” and it is an opportunity to be the bigger man and not fire back when it happens. It doesn’t reflect well on them when they do that but constantly hitting back will not resolve this. Can you not, out of respect for your family, move past this?

    And when I referred to “holding the relationship hostage”, I was directly referring to Chris’ comment that “I’m really not sure how much longer I’ll be putting up with it.”. I took that as a threat. A threat to cut ties with the family of we don’t do what you want.

    Someone has to bend. I had hoped it would be my son. I hope this can conclude this discussion. Your mother and I are not comfortable airing our private family discussions. I allowed you to use the contents of my e-mail because I knew it was important to you. If you feel the need to continue this discussion, can we do that in person and in private.

    • Azkyroth

      When your son’s wedding was walked out of over a triviality, you lost any right to complain about anyone “blowing anything out of proportion.”

      • Drakk

        I don’t think that’s a fair statement, Azkyroth. It wasn’t him that stormed out, it was one of Chris’ aunts.

    • http://liberal-propaganda.blogspot.com/ Fern

      ” The only point I was really trying to make was that if members of Christopher’s family still refer to him as Cobb, he shouldn’t feel “massively disrespected” and it is an opportunity to be the bigger man and not fire back when it happens. ”

      Really, now? If I as a woman got married and changed my name, but my parents refused to use my new name because they didn’t accept it, would you think that was an insult, too? Wouldn’t it make it seem like they didn’t accept my new marriage and my new identity as a married person?

      Traditions are habits created by people. Your son has chosen to practice a tradition that is slightly different than yours. That doesn’t mean it’s less valid. To not acknowledge his new married, family name IS a disrespect, its a disrespect of his own choice and hsi connection to his wife, as well. The passive aggressive behavior of Dad and Mom Cobb here is unfathomable…at least admit you’re being disrespectful by ignoring what your son wants.

  • BethE

    Wow, Christina. I am sorry to hear that your in-laws think so little of you.
    And amazing how often people say that someone should ‘be the bigger man’ and give them what they want/give in to their demands, isn’t it?

  • Little Magpie

    Just my two cents on this: (because, why not!) – and I know all the familiar traditionalist reasons for the woman taking the husband’s name, and the feminist reasons not to do so.

    (1) My one long-term serious (now ex-) boyfriend’s father took his wife’s name. I never met the man, but the BF explained to me that he did this because he was completely estranged from his family of origin. This would have been in.. 1972 or ’73? Oh – and they were Catholic. And until this post, it was the only instance of husband taking wife’s name that I’d heard of.

    (2) My brother-in-law, who is a transman (ie he was born and raised as a woman – and married my brother as a woman) has had a few name changes: At birth he was given his father’s last name. His parents divorced when he was young and his name was changed to be both parents’ names hyphenated. (Mom reverted to her maiden name – and the family court judge was not happy about this new-fangledness – in the late 70′s!) So for 20-plus years he had the hyphenated last name: and Dad’s last name is straight-forward Anglo enough, Mum’s is a bit Central-European. So when he married my brother (we have a straight forward, short Anglo last name), he decided to take my brother’s name. Not for any traditionalist reasons, his mom raised his VERY feminist… but because he was sick of always having to spell his last name for everyone! What I like about this is that it has nothing to do with ideology and it’s all about pragmatism.

    As for me, if I ever get married (I’m not even in a relationship so this not even remotely on the horizon). what I do about last name, unless the guy has strong feelings about it, I think will depend on what the guy’s name is, and whether I like how it sounds with my first name. :)

  • Little Magpie

    Oh and sorry to post twice (I feel like I’m hogging the dialogue); when my BIL started the transition, because of his choice of new (male) first name, I suggested to him that he should go by [firstname] [matronymic] – sort of Scandinavian style, but using the mom’s first name not dad’s – because, given the first names in question, it just had a really good sound to it. He appreciated my argument but didn’t go for it. :P
    (Point of interest: Iceland still uses true patronymics, ie instead of last name staying the same generation to generation, Olaf’s kids are Olafsson and/or Olafsdottir; and when, say, Jan Olafsson has kids, they’re (whatever) Jansson /Jansdottir.. etc. (And I may not be spelling correctly, I’m not good at keeping straight which of the Scandinavian languages have -son and which have -sen. Second point of interest: traditionally, a child only got a matronymic if the father was unknown / unacknowledged / not married to the mother … ie probably illegitimate, and so it was rather scandalous… then there was an American Air Force (I think) base there, Cold War period, and a lot of Icelandic young women took up with the American soldiers, not generally marrying them, some of them getting pregnant, and there was SO MUCH of that, and so a lot of kids with the mother’s name, that it became normalized, since it was happening so much people stopped being shocked by it. And then some people started doing it as a feminist statement.)

    (And I heard this from someone who isn’t an authority on Iceland by any means but I don’t think he’s making it up; but, yeah, not exactly coming from an authoritative source; feel free to fact-check me on this one.)

  • BCD2386

    Mom and dad:

    Stop being toxic parents and causing so much strife and stress over something as silly as a name. Stop telling Chris to be the bigger man, you should be proud he is standing up for something that is important to him. Stop telling him that it was “disrespectful” to change his name – address your family members who treated your son horrendously at his wedding and continue to disrespect him now. I had horrible, toxic in-laws who practically ruined our wedding day – and I can tell you – I will NEVER forget. Just think of how your son must feel? And he will NEVER forget that either.

    Do you want your son and his wife in your lives? Stop beating him up and pouting over your “lost legacy”


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