Feminist Last Naming Practices

Nontraditional Last Name Stories

Feminism and Last Naming Practices

Women keeping natal names at marriage, kids with hyphenated names, couples creating altogether new names, queer couples exploring alternatives and options… Beginning in the 1960s, Second-Wave feminism sparked a grand experiment with naming in contemporary North America. The general goal has been to intervene in women feeling erased as their names – and some would claim their identities – are “disappeared” through patrilineal (patronymic) naming practices.

This project asks: Where is this experiment going? How satisfying and sustainable, or frustrating and short-term, have varied options proved to be? If a woman keeps her father’s father’s father’s name, or parents hyphenate their children’s names, do these pave the way to the emergence or long-term, systematic alternatives?  Or, are they short-term solutions that may have value for the individuals, but will not alter traditional, patrilineal practices in the long run? This project explores the pros and cons of the alternatives we found.

We sought varied voices: women and men, straight and LGBTQ couples; adult children who have received altered names or later legally altered names on their own; last-name choices through divorce and remarriage; folks sticking with traditional, husband-or-father last names (but with a back story related to feminism); and so forth. While marriage and child-naming are central themes, we seek to represent the maximum diversity of practices, interpretations, critiques, and analyses possible.

We are 21 students and one faculty member at Colorado College. The course “Women, Men, and Others – Gender Diversity Cross-Culturally,” taught by Dr. Sarah Hautzinger, is crosslisted Anthropology with Feminist and Gender Studies, and also tagged as a Community-Based Learning course. Between Nov. 26 and December 19 (Block 4 at CC), we undertook this project on top of a full course-load of academic work – readings, papers, presentations. We merged 22 people’s interviews into one database, then analyzed and rendered this material as a webpage for the public, in the last 4 days of class. We interviewed 59 people, purposefully seeking stories from a maximum diversity of nontraditional practices. We read for themes, wrote individual essays on selection of those, and discussed as a group to create overview material (see links to Future, etc.) . As a community-based learning project, we seek reciprocity with the community (versus using folks as a laboratory or “the field).” We hope the conversation continues, and invite visitors to explore, enjoy, reflect and comment!

Prior Research

Methods

About the Researchers:

We are two groups of students from Colorado College who from 2012-2013 carried out over 66 interviews of individuals who embrace feminist naming practices.

2 thoughts on “Feminism and Last Naming Practices

  1. My wife kept her last name when we got married, and she passed it on to both of our children. I kept my last name too. I don’t think we ever thought of it as feminist, so it’s interesting to hear it categorized that way.

  2. Really cool! Can’t wait to read, and would love to participate in any further research. My wife and I both changed our last names to my father’s mother’s maiden name and took our natal names as middle names.

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