Since getting engaged, I have been bombarded with well-meaning friends and family members congratulating the “soon-to-be Mrs. Miller” on her engagement. While my external response is generally, “Haha, thanks,” my internal response is, “Mrs. Miller? Who is she? Do I know her? Please pass on my congratulations.” Because that isn't me, and never will be.
I first explained what a Lucy Stoner is to someone a couple of weeks ago. His response: “What an unfortunate name for that.” I tried not to be annoyed. The more unfortunate name is any name which does not belong to the individual being called it.
Lucy Stone was an OG of women's rights in America. A prominent feminist and anti-slavery advocate during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, she is credited with converting Susan B. Anthony herself to the cause of women's suffrage.
At Stone's wedding to Henry Blackwell, the minister read a statement saying,
“[the] laws of marriage refuse…to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal power which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.”
Many modern women take their husband's last name because they want to maintain tradition, they want their names to reflect that they are a family unit, or they want to share a name with their children. But this neglects the history of taking on the husband's last name, which is that he is master of the house and thus master of you. It is built on white, Western, patriarchal, and outdated notions of family, and it ignores the “invisible” options that they could both hyphenate, select a new last name for both partners, or that women could choose to give their children their own last name. (I chose not to list here that they could both take on her last name in homage to a quote by Lucy Stone, and the motto of the Lucy Stone League: “A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers.”)
We can only make ones which are better for ourselves and ensure that, when the time comes for our daughters to make a decision for themselves, they are equipped to make the choice which is most right for them.
Since the rise of Lucy Stonerism in the 1800s to the creation of the Lucy Stone League in the 1920s to as late as probably yesterday, Lucy Stoners have been publicly criticized as “inconsistent” for choosing to keep another man's name, their father's, rather than taking the name of their husband. But we are not responsible for, nor can we change, the decisions of our mothers. We can only make ones which are better for ourselves and ensure that, when the time comes for our daughters to make a decision for themselves, they are equipped to make the choice which is most right for them.
Not only are women insulted and their commitment to the marriage questioned when they keep their last names, but their husbands are seen as more feminine or “whipped,” demonstrating once again that our culture is steeped in toxic masculinity. We won't even get into the heteronormativity of it; that's a whole book in and of itself.
There is nothing romantic about the history of taking on someone else's last name; it is all patriarchy, almost all of the time. I respect the right that women have (at least in the United States) to select their husband's name as their own, and I would not ridicule my loved ones for doing what was right for them when they got married. It's a little late for that. As for me and my house, though, we will recognize that historical context is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to perpetuate a tradition, and this is one we will be shirking.
Editor's note: I'll be keeping my last name after I get married soon and consulted this post and others in our archive a lot about it. Give it a look!