Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Bijon

When Liss last posted about her decision to take Iain's name in real life (though he took hers on the internet, of course), there was a predictable commentroversy about whether a good feminist can take a man's name. Let me be clear that I don't want to rehash that here. Liss is an outstanding feminist. Liss took her husband's name. Ergo, yes, good feminists can do it. Simple answers to simple questions.

But at the time, I remarked that I would really love it if the laws made it easier for men to take their wives' names, since that's currently a major hassle in most states. Theoretically, there are loads of options for renaming yourselves as a married couple, but in practice, most women still take their husband's names, and if they don't, it's usually because neither partner makes a change. And one reason for that--among many--is that it's a relatively simple affair for a woman to change her name upon marriage, but a man who wants to change his has to jump through all the same considerable hoops as someone who wants to change his name for non-marriage reasons.

That's what California resident Michael Buday found out when he decided to take his wife, Diana Bijon's, last name.

"It was personal. I feel much closer to (Diana's) father than I do mine. She asked me to take her name and I thought it would be very simple. I never imagined the state would make it so difficult," Michael Bijon, 31, told reporters.

He discovered it would take a $US350 (A374) fee, court appearances, a public announcement and mounds of paperwork to make a change on his driving licence that is routine for women who marry.

After months of trying to get it done through established channels, the (now) Bijons finally contacted the ACLU of Southern California for help. The resulting lawsuit "led to a new California state law guaranteeing the rights of both married couples and registered domestic partners to choose whichever last name they prefer on their marriage and driving licences."

I can't even tell you how fucking happy this makes me. As Diana Bijon said,

"Women have fought for so long for equal rights and it feels like this is part of that fight," said Diana Bijon. "When we got married, the law basically said, 'Don't be silly, only a woman can change her name when she gets married."'

That's the thing. I have no problem whatsoever with women deciding to take their husband's names. But the way things stand right now, culturally and in most states, legally, a man taking his wife's name is not really a viable option--and men are very rarely asked to even consider that choice. Which is why I cringe a bit when I hear women say, "Well, I just liked the idea of us both having the same last name," or "I just want to have the same last name as my kids." Well, did you and your fiance consider both taking your name? Did you consider blending both your last names or making up a new one? No, in 99 percent of cases, of course not. Don't be silly, only a woman can change her name when she gets married. And that's what bothers me, right there, even if I don't think changing your name makes you a bad feminist: the thought of a couple choosing any name other than his is still weird. To the point where it doesn't even occur to most people.

I went out with one of my oldest friends right before she got married a few years ago, and in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely, she dropped this bomb:

Her: God, I don't want to change my name.
Me: So don't.
Her [looking at me like I'm high]: Yeah, right. He'd be so hurt. His family would kill me. My family would kill me.
Me: It's your name, honey. You don't have to change it.
Her [eyes welling up]: Yeah, I do, actually. And I'm going to. I just need to vent about it.

Today, she is indeed Mrs. Hislastname. But she didn't want to be, and her decision was not anything like a free choice--no, there wasn't any law dictating that she had to change her name, but pretty much everyone she loved except me was putting pressure on her to do so, to the point where she felt she literally had no other option. That doesn't happen to men. And that bothers me.

It's not like that for everyone, I know. Some women (including many around here) decide to change their names even when their husbands and families would fully support either choice. But there are still really only those two choices--take his name or don't (three if you count hyphenation separately, I guess). A woman who does want to have the same last name as her husband but doesn't want to give up her own name--or doesn't want to be the only one to give up her name--is likely SOL. It's hard enough finding a man to marry who truly believes in gender equality and walks the walk; finding one who walks the walk to the extent that he's willing to consider changing his own name is nigh impossible. (Note, I said nigh. Maude bless the Michael Bijons of the world.)

F'rinstance... Al and I have talked about what we'll do if we get married, and the short answer is, we'll both keep our names. (He has, in fact, forbidden me to take his name, because I have the same first name as his mother, who took his dad's last name, which means that if I took his, I'd have his mother's name. Which would mean he could never have sex with me again.) But when I asked, mostly out of curiosity, "Would you consider changing your name?" the answer was an immediate and unequivocal "Fuck no." That option was off the table in a nanosecond.

To be fair, he was just as unequivocal in his opinion that it would be ridiculous for me to change my name, even setting the mommy issues aside. So at least I'll never have to deal with the whole "He'd be so hurt" issue that seems to plague a whole lot of women besides my aforementioned friend. But still, I would totally consider becoming The Harversons or something--the idea of changing my name to reflect my membership in an all-new family doesn't bug me, in and of itself; only the automatic expectation that I would change and he wouldn't. Al, though, cringes at the thought of giving up his name at all, for any reason--he's never thought about it and never wants to think about it. Which is, you know, because he's a man. He's been told from day one that his name will always be his, whereas I spent more than twenty years thinking, "I hope I marry a man with a last name I like!" before it truly dawned on me that I could just remain a Harding, whether I married a man named Smith or one named Fartworthy. (Or, for that matter, that I never had to get married at all.)

That is what I have a problem with, not the personal decisions of individual women. And that's why I'm so delighted that Michael and Diana Bijon pushed to get the California laws changed to reflect the fact that there are other options besides a woman taking her husband's name or keeping her own. Because as long as it's incredibly difficult for men to change their names, it will remain incredibly easy to dismiss that option as silly and weird and just not done, limiting the choices for couples who do want to share a name to, effectively, one: following the old patriarchal tradition.

When it becomes perfectly normal for couples to consider taking either name, or keeping their own, or blending, or both hyphenating, or both taking a brand new name--when the question actually expands beyond, "Should she take his name or not, and if she doesn't, how will he feel?"--then I'll believe that women truly have a free choice when it comes to marital naming decisions. But as it is, for every Liss or Misty--who took their husbands' names freely, for personal reasons that weren't dictated by tradition or cultural pressure--there's at least one of my friend, who took her husband's name because it seemed slightly less painful than keeping her own. And I'm not okay with that.

So congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Bijon, and thank you both for taking up this fight. Thank you for being defiantly "silly" until your state's law was changed in favor of equality.

(Via Blue Milk.)

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