Betrothed women of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your husbands’ names.
I’m getting married in a few days, and – as I’m told happens with most weddings – lots of exhausting fights over minuscule details have broken out along the long, treacherous road to the altar. But the biggest blow-ups, in my case, were over names.
Specifically, women’s names. Or lack thereof.
Here’s how it began. My mother was in charge of paper products – invitations, envelopes and seating cards – mostly because she had much stronger preferences about these things than I did. I didn’t particularly care if the paper stock came from ancient Egyptian papyri burgled from an archaeological dig, or from recycled toilet paper or if we had dead-tree invitations at all. I’m I had but one unyielding, Bridezillian demand, championed by my feminist fiance as well: how women’s names were rendered. Specifically, that they be rendered at all.
I have always hated the tradition of calling married women, in formal correspondence, by their husband’s full names. You know what I mean: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith,” as opposed to some version of “Mr. Robert Smith and Mrs./Ms. Jane Smith.” I understand why women often choose to adopt their husbands’ surnames upon marriage – for family unity, or avoiding confusion at preschool pickup, or whatever – even if I have personally decided to hang on to my own name. But why must we confiscate married women’s first names as well? Even wedded women have their own identities; they are not mere appendages of their spouses.
So when it came to planning my own wedding, I decreed that any time we referred to a married couple, we would spell out the woman’s full first and last name. My mother initially resisted, saying she was reluctant to mess with tradition, but she finally agreed to respect my wishes.
This turned out to be much harder than either of us realized.
When my mother instructed a stationery vendor to begin our wedding invitation with “(Mother’s name) and (Father’s name) request the pleasure of your company ... ,” the stationer was aghast. In all her years of crafting wedding invitations, she squawked, not once had she veered into such utterly tacky territory.
My mother called me in a panic, convinced that my requested wording would subvert the proper order of the universe.
I told her to find another stationer who would accept whatever damn phrasing we chose. Ultimately, she did.
Then it came time to have the invitations addressed, and my mother decided to splurge and hire a calligrapher.
She sent the calligrapher an Excel spreadsheet with all our invitees’ names and told her to transcribe them exactly as we had them or else suffer the wrath of Bridezilla. The calligrapher agreed.
But guess what form of address was on the envelopes that my married friends received? “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Smith.” Even, in at least one case, where the wife had kept her maiden name.
At first I thought we’d just been unlucky in our choice of vendors. Perhaps the calligrapher had made an honest mistake. Then I started looking around online.
The Web, it seems, is also conspiring to uphold this awful, anti-feminist tradition.
Online addressing guidelines from obscure artisans and well-established stationery companies alike – including Crane & Co. and Hallmark – still generally recommend excising a married woman’s name. (The Emily Post Institute waffles somewhat in its recommendations.) Meanwhile, there are just as many wedding websites and message boards from brides-to-be agonizing over how to get around this dumb tradition without appearing declasse.
Of course, the Mr.-and-Mrs.-His-Name tradition is not isolated to wedding invitations. It appears on mailings from alumni organizations, church groups, charities and junk-mail marketers. I’ve even heard of women’s social clubs whose directories list their impressive, professionally accomplished members as “Mrs. Husband’s Name.”
But it’s during the wedding planning process – when a couple is figuring out exactly what it means to form a legal and spiritual union of two separate beings – that the pressure to perpetuate this archaic tradition, of wholly subsuming the wife’s identity into her husband’s, especially rankles.
So I urge all fellow brides-to-be out there: If you choose just one detail to fight over with your family, friends and vendors – and, oh, there are so many less meaningful, more expensive issues to choose from – let it be this one. Call your married female friends by their given names, and then, post-wedding, insist they do the same for you.
Catherine Rampell is a Washington Post columnist and blogger. She grew up in South Florida (the New York part) and graduated from Princeton University.
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