What’s in a name?

The Ethicist column in the December 6th issue of New York Times Magazine featured a female contributor with some serious qualms about her fiancee’s father’s criminal past—enough to consider breaking off the marriage completely. Her list of grievances with marrying the fellow included: “…I would have to take the name of…someone I find morally reprehensible.”

This admission took me aback. It pointed to two things: the power a name has on your identity, and the lingering expectation that a woman must give up her own identity and assume another upon entering a heterosexual marriage.

Her reasons for not wanting the name may be shaky (the Ethicist pointed out that we are not responsible for the actions of others), and surly many people do not give a second thought to changing their names, or in fact like the practice. But here we have a woman who ties a name to an identity she unequivocally doesn’t want. (After all, how many Joe & Jane Hitlers do you know?) It’s unfortunate that this woman, like so many others, still believe they’ve got no choice other than to give up their identities and take another.

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