Feminist Last Naming Practices

Nontraditional Last Name Stories


Class reflections on the project:

Baiza Getabecha:

The patralineality of naming practices was not something that was new information to me, the disappearance of women’s names is something I have thought about before. Especially because of the difference between my own families Ethiopian way of getting names and its difference from the other practices here. My family has strong patrilineal elements to it and I have always been aware of this growing up in schools with ‘liberal’ communities. I have not really considered it as a problem in my family. I suppose I have assumed that if someone wants to keep their name then they would keep it and that the patralineality didn’t really create inequality as much as it was just the way things had been done and people just pay attention to its implications less now. I see it as similar to dowries and such like that that have a traditional place but don’t really speak to people’s ideas of women’s values as people. The historical presence in narrative is I guess not something I see as being as important as more immediate concerns about how people treat each other.

The variety of ways that people decide on names was also familiar to me. I suppose I was most impacted by the stories for why certain names were chosen. I hadn’t really had that discussion before with anyone. I had imagined their reasoning and in reading some of the reasons people gave I found myself reworking some preconceptions about the process. I didn’t have many to begin with just because I hadn’t really thought about naming practices very much so this wasn’t all that profound of an experience. The project was conducive to making me think about myself in a parenting role and how I would make decisions then.  I was interested by the relationships with tradition that I noticed especially in reviewing interviews for my essay. The movement away from tradition, or peoples understanding or valuing of tradition was an interesting element. As were the legal issues involved. For myself I feel like names are as important as you want to make them. Of course there is a hierarchical element invested in patrilineal practices but it is also very possible to have an ‘equal’ relationship despite of a name. Tradition can just be tradition the implied ownership or privilege can be a feminism issue or it can be irrelevant on an individual or familial level. I personally would support any move of divergence from tradition for feminist individualistic ideas but I would not say that one decision is better or dismiss the traditional way as sexist and useless. So my views have not really changed. What does the project mean to me? I guess it just brings attention to one issue amongst many. I’m not sure it’s one I want to focus on or pursue because I think that there are more fundamental issues out there.

Shayla Gordon:

This project has been particularly eye opening because I never really thought about my name very critically or what I would want to do if I got married or had children. I also never really thought considered my mother’s decision as far as my last name although I had talked to her about my first and middle names before.

Because I was apart of this project, I think that if I do get married or have children I would be willing to consider other options. Creating and combining last names seems like the best to me just because I know how meaningful it is when your name is very important to your parents. I would want my children and my family in general to have the same attachment to their last name as I do. Creating a last name or combining last names literally shows how important the name is to you because you had to sit down and really come up with something that is significant to both people.

So, in short I think that this project just made me realize how important my name really is to me. I wouldn’t consider changing my name just because I got married, but if I was changing it to something that was really meaningful to me and my husband I would be willing to.

Gracie Renneker:

My experience with this project has been amazing! Not only did I learn about the unique, contemporary-naming-practices used today, I was also able to meet new people and connect with friends. I was completely unaware that people I know so well had significant naming choices to make. More power to them because through this project I have learned that things can get messy!! I really commend people who make a decision and stand for what they believe in, and they are undoubtedly role models in my life.

My view on naming practices has been changed through the duration of this project. My last name, Rennecker, has the possibility of dying out with my generation. All of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family are girls. Before starting this project, my thoughts on this phenomenon were that of, “O that’s too bad.” I had no idea that there were other options and that these options were alive and thriving today! Overall, I am strongly reconsidering what to do with my last name when I get married. To speak to our definition of feminism with a little “f” in this project, in terms of people avoiding being erased, I don’t want to be erased but even further, I don’t want my dad or my grandfather to be erased either. I do not know how my cousins feel about this issue and I think it will be extremely interesting to ask what their plans are.

I really appreciate everyone who has taken part in this project, classmates, Dr. Sarah Hautzinger and the interviewees. This project has really opened my eyes not only to the diverse, naming-practices but also the importance of working as team to reach a goal in a short period of time.

Erik Laitos:

As one of the few men working on this project, studying feminist last-naming practices has proven a fascinating experience. Admittedly, I had never before seriously considered feminist naming. Though I have known people with hyphenated or combined names, or even women who had retained their maiden names, I had never considered anything to the extent this project examined. The individuals I interviewed for this project spanned the gamut of feminist last-naming practices. They all had fascinating perspectives on this theme, ranging from bonds to their heritage to deep personal life stories and regrets to a simple desire to not be erased. Even in a community as small as Colorado College, it is amazing to see the depth of feminist last-naming tendencies. As a result of this project, I have cultivated a new interest in last-naming practices to supplement my existing fascination with genealogy. I hope to continue my research on these trends, and perhaps explore my last name story as well.

Connor Cook:

While picking classes, I found “Women, Men, and ‘Others:’ Gender Cross-Culturally” in the anthropology section and thought it might be interesting.  Upon discovering that the class was, in fact, heavily focused on feminism (really, it was my fault for not realizing it would be—the fact that women came before men in the title should have tipped me off), I wanted to claw my eyes out.

Most of the males in the United States probably view feminists as a terrible horde of unshaven women seeking to turn all men into their slaves.  I know I did.  Sometimes I’d get nightmares.

But, you know what?  They’re not that bad.  Like in all groups, there are some radicals that get most of the attention.  And yet, the overwhelming majority of feminists are normal people with a reasonable complaint against society.  Heck, a lot of them are married.

So I guess what I’m saying is that you should give the movement a chance.  As I interviewed people, I expected them to curse me and then hang up the phone just because I was male.  And yet, miraculously, that never happened.  This project has helped me overcome my personal bias regarding feminism.  Hopefully, it’ll do the same for you.

Daphnee Chabal:

I was born with my father’s name, thinking it was my mother’s too, that it was ours. In fact, three other names were excluded in the process, two of which are an integral part of who I am as they are the names of the people who influenced me the most in my family. This project allowed me that this automatic selection is harmful as far as identity goes: Now that tradition is fading away and that choices are opportunities to re-affirm one’s identity, a last-name is the key. I read stories of people who held on to their names as a tree holds on to his roots, to find stability as they are building their identity. I read stories of people who included another last name to theirs to put up front another part of themselves, to feel more complete.

A name is now to me, crucial as it impacts people: Thanks to the opportunity we now have, one can reject the last-name of an abusive father. A single change, a single word, a new name, those don’t look like much. When we link a name to identity, we begin to see the importance of acknowledging people’s need to respect their identity through a name keeping or a name change. I was very fond of interviewing people and discover the infinite richness which lies behind each story. Emotions, reasoning, History, things I did not really suspect. I loved sharing those stories, giving a voice to those people: it became a duty, a very enjoyable duty. As my contribution would be meaningless without the hard work of all my other classmates,

I have to say, on a last note, that it was passion and care which allowed us to accomplish so much in so little time. Identity is a theme we all relate to and it was definitely interesting to see how much effort people are willing to put into preserving it. When my interviewee said: “My husband saw that I was not going to budge and that I meant it”, my perception of last-naming practices expanded: It became a fight between personal need and mechanic tradition.

Personally I became very interested in one aspect of the issue: When it comes to choice, which type of love do we bring forward: The love for parents or the love for a spouse? This is a struggle between respecting the name of those who raised you (when the family is loving and united) and acknowledging your spouse and becoming and creating with this person a new family- your own. If a last-name carries so much meaning with it, how can we ever find a practical solution which includes all that is dear to us- our family, our loved ones, ourselves and our experiences?

Amanda Cahn:

When we were first introduced to this project, I honestly did not understand what we were meant to be doing whatsoever, but things obviously cleared themselves up. Working with the entire class definitely led to me getting to know people more. I don’t think that the data team worked together as closely as the other teams did, just because we didn’t have to like they did. For instance, a lot of what we did was helping others in the class.

I had never really thought about last naming practices at all, until this project. My mother kept her last name when she and my father got married. Up until now, I always thought of it as maybe cultural (she’s from Indonesia), maybe for convenience, but— Michael Sinclaire, one of the interviewees, talked about how he thought that not having a common and uniting last name kind of foreshadowed divorce. My parents are divorced and I sometimes thought that maybe it really had shown her lack of commitment to my father.

Although I thought of identity in terms of my own name, I never thought about my mother’s identity becoming erased, probably because I never got to know her identity. My father only has a sister, who already got married and divorced, and kept her ex-husband’s last name. She and her ex-husband also gave all three of her children his last name. I am an only child, besides my step-brother who has a different last name, so I’m the only one that could pass on Cahn. It holds a lot of significance for me. I am strongly connected to my father and his parents, since they were the only family really present while I was growing up. It also shows that I am Jewish. Kohen means priest in Hebrew. The Cohanim tribe is one of three royal tribes and descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother. Since elementary school, Judaism has been a very large part of my life.

Until this project, I had always just assumed that I would take on my partner’s last name, unless they wanted to take on mine instead. After thinking about it this much, I do not think that I would be willing to change my name.

Jessica Higgins:

When I first heard about the project, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. I had never given much thought to last names before. Since my mom took my father’s name at marriage, and so did all of my friends’ parents, I just took for granted that patriarchal naming practices were the norm and that other options were simply anomalies. So when the project idea was first presented to me, I was a little puzzled. I didn’t imagine that the work would be very extensive.

Imagine my surprise when all of the contacts started rolling in. It was unexpected to get to thirty, let alone to over one hundred. I think that was when I started realizing that this was actually an important project, that people did care about this and that there were several naming practices out there that I was completely unaware of. I gained an entirely new perspective on something that I had always taken for granted. When I started this course I assumed that some day, should I get married, I would take my husband’s name, no questions asked; now I am not so sure. This project has left me feeling a little lost about my options, but I have always felt that it is better to be lost in a sea of ideas than to stick stubbornly to only one. Overall, this was a very positive experience; it changed me, and I have always been a proponent of change. So thank you, Sarah, for introducing this to me; thanks to my fellow classmates for all of the discussions and hard work; and a special thanks to my buddies in the text team – that seven hour stint in the lab was a ball. Love you all and I’ll miss this class next semester!

Lara Atkins:

I have always considered myself a feminist. However, prior to beginning this project I had never given much thought to Last Naming practices. My mother took my father’s name and I always assumed I would take my husband’s name. I never considered last names a way to make a feminist statement. Now, my feelings have changed. I’ve started questioning my own future with last names. I’ve also started asking my friends what they plan to do with their names when they get married. They think I’m crazy because it’s not something we’ve ever had to think about. I’ve started to wonder if I can still call myself a feminist if I submit to the patriarchal system of last naming. However I certainly hope it’ll be a while before I have to make that decision.

My interviewees were very interesting to speak with. I particularly enjoyed interviewing Carmen because she gave such a unique perspective, and I learned about the traditions of last names in Spain. I also enjoyed interviewing Issac, he was extremely witty and made me think critically about hyphenated last names.  In general, I think my interviewees were all excited to share their stories with me as I was to hear them.

I really enjoyed working with a team. We frequently discussed last naming practices and our own plans for marriage and children. I think we were all equally confused. Furthermore, it was great to have a support group when we were working. Many aspects of this project called for us to rely on one another and I think that allowed me to make a lot of close connections in class. I will leave this class with a new perspective about the last naming practices. I now understand the diversity of names that exist today.

Laura DiRusso:

For me, this project has opened my eyes to a traditional practice that is being more recently challenged in society. Before this project I had never thought very much in depth about last naming practices, although I always knew I wanted to keep my last name. I’ve never thought about changing it, but after this project I have changed the way I think about last name practices. I hadn’t realized how many options there were when it came to choosing your last name in marriage. My favorite part of this study was interviewing people and hearing their stories. I loved hearing why people hyphenated, kept or changed their last names. It made me reconsider my own naming decisions when I’m older.

I’m not sure if I believe in marriage but one interviewee made me really change my view on it. She said that combining her and her husband’s name, without a hyphen, would be a beautiful way to show their love, and have their family all be under the same last name. This made me rethink what I’d do if I ever have a partner and are interested in getting married. I think combining last names without a hyphen for a whole family is like showing one family is all together under the same last name.

Juwan Rohan:

This project means a lot to me, for the simple fact that I played a major role in it. I completed everything I was assigned, and my team and I created this wonderful website. It’s interesting to study this topic because I never really thought about what last naming practices actually meant, I thought people just did it depending on whether which name sounded better.

The experiences I’ve learned from our interviewees is pretty interesting, I found that there are plenty of reasons people decide in choosing last names, and many of them can be for political statements, the way the name sounds, or feminist ways can contribute to last naming practices.

I love teamwork, working with my group, which was the web team (who created this webpage): was a very good experience. Working with the class as a whole was pretty good, and I enjoy that but since the class is such a big class there were some challenging parts in communication but we pulled through as a class, and I am extremely proud of what we completed.

Kelson Brighton:

While I grew up in an environment in which many of my mom’s friends kept their maiden names after marrying, my parents uphold a very traditional view of marriage. They believe that a woman should take her husband’s name, but they love and accept their friends who have chosen alternative last names just the same.  I consider myself a feminist. Before this project, I would have told you that I would be keeping my maiden name if and when I get married.  After working on this project with our class, I have realized that the last name choice is not a two-sided coin. There are so many more options than I had ever realized, and through hearing what my interviewees had to say I now understand that the last name one chooses is not the be-all and end-all. What matters most is the reason for which a last name is chosen.  With the right intentions, the name itself is not of central importance to my identity.  I just hope that my parents will feel the same.

Sarah Lebovitz:

This project means a lot of different things to me as a woman and an individual. So many interviews with so many men and women really began to effect the way I think of last names and the practices that our culture engages in. What does it mean to change a last name? Some people think it means leaving their personal history behind, for both positive and negative reasons. Some people think it means falling into patronymics. The interviews were eye-opening, and give so many varied reasons for the way why people decide what they do. The interviews that I found most interesting to read were those of people who decided to create a new family name. The partners are then sort of equaling the playing field, both losing some sense of shared familial past but creating a new and unique shared familial present and future.

Working on a team was, at times, extremely overwhelming. It was hard to tell who was doing what, at points, and who things were supposed to go to. However, seeing the overall end project come together the way it has in the website is absolutely incredible. The teams worked so hard to get things done, to meet deadlines, and to create something tangible that many people can comment on.

I wouldn’t say that my own view on naming has changed. While I obviously will always have my identity linked to my last name, I feel that my last name doesn’t effect all the experiences I’ve had. Some part of me will always be connected to my last name, but when starting a new chapter in life, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe I’ll rethink it when I get older, maybe I’ll decide that my last name should continue my journey with me, or maybe I’ll just be content knowing my own past. Who can tell?


I consider myself to be fairly traditional and I always planned to take my husband’s name when I get married. It’s not that I’m not a feminist; it’s just that I was never concerned with the idea of being erased. This project didn’t change that but it did force me to consider my choice and why I wanted that option in comparison to the alternatives. That’s the most valuable thing about this project- it presents the alternatives, it evaluates the pros and cons and it approaches the topic of last naming practices from so many diverse angles. The goal wasn’t to change anyone’s mind; it was simply to be engaging and informative and to start a conversation.


This project proved very eye opening to me. I was never aware that such issues with last naming practices even existed. Although it changed my perspective, it did not change my opinions or what my choice will be at marriage. Last names seem to be something sort of taken for granted or put under the bus, but this class proved that the issues are really real. Heritage and loyalty seem to be reasons why most people keep their last names, and it makes sense to me now.


Working as a class on a project of this size and complexity was not easy all of the time, so I am very proud of us as a group for pulling everything together and working so cooperatively and respectfully with one another. I learned a lot from this project, including how to step up and make research decisions without constant direction of a professor, or someone in charge.

This class has opened my eyes to the alternative options for last-naming choices, and also to the factors that motivate people to use these nontraditional methods. I had never really given much thought to the concept of my last name being a vital part of my identity. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that my parent’s both have different last names, so my last name doesn’t really have any special unifying power for us. However, as I read over interviews from our class, I began to feel their responses resonating for me. I suddenly found myself questioning traditional patronymic processes—and recognizing that it truly did seem like a form of erasure for women to totally lose their last names in marriage. With these thoughts in mind, I will definitely spend more time considering my last name choices as I get older and potentially get married and have children. I had never even considered creating a new name for my future family. However, now that I realize it is something that I can do, it might be an interesting choice to make.


When I first had this project explained to me, I was extremely skeptical of the value of this research. I never thought last names had feminist importance until I began to talk to real people who had to make hard choices about their names. I never realized there were so many options when it came to naming and that people really associated their identity with their name. I even interviewed people in my own family and never had previously realized that they actively thought about their name.

As much as I learned from this project, it was difficult to work in such a large team. Delegating responsibility, even though we were in small teams, was really difficult. I had never worked towards a common goal with so many people and I didn’t realize it would make it so much harder. Ultimately, it was necessary because we needed a large number of people to interview and that would have been impossible with less people. Although it was, at times, an arduous process, in the end we got great results that really made me think about my own choices when it comes to naming and also reconsider the way people view last names in society.



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