Friday, April 15, 2011

What's in a (Maiden) Name?

Let's hope she doesn't plan to hyphenate, either.

One of my Women's Studies professors said something that's stuck with me through the years.  She said throughout a woman's life, her last name defines her as belonging either to her father, or to her husband.

For feminist's, them's fightin' words.  Belonging to a man?  Nay!  Women are not pieces of property!

Maybe it's because of my professor's observation that I had such a hard time letting go of my maiden name when I got married.  After all, my husband got married, too.  Why didn't he have to change half of his identity in order for people to recognize that we were now family?  Why did his family name get all the glory?  It didn't seem fair; it felt like I was being asked to become a different person while he got off scot-free.

Or maybe I was put off by the simple fact that his last name is only six letter, three of them being "C", and people still can't figure out how to pronounce it.  For the record, it's Ciocca.  See-oh-kuh.

It felt wrong for people to call me "Mrs. Ciocca".  That's what I'd always called my mother-in-law, for the nine years my husband and I dated.  Yes, nine.  We started at seventeen, and married when we were twenty-six.

Suddenly, "belonging" to my father didn't seem like such a bad thing.  I'm his offspring; I do belong to him.  But now I was also someone's wife, and the old-fashioned part of me couldn't see not taking his name.  Not to mention my husband and his incredibly old-school Italian family would have been highly offended if I'd refused to formally identify myself as one of their own.  But did it make me their property?

To me, the answer is no.  That is, until someone addresses me as "Mrs Domenick Ciocca" (Until MY name is Domenick, I'm Mrs. GINA Ciocca.  Get it right.).  Yes, the underlying connotation of "belonging" to my husband is still there, but I understand that it's eons of tradition dictating his name be attached to our new family unit, and not some diabolical plot to beat me into identity-less submission.  Yes, said traditions sprang from very anti-feminist roots, but the uglier aspects of them have fallen away over the years.  At least now, we have a choice in the matter.

Some day, our family unit will grow.  I hope.  And when it does, I want to have the same last name as my children.  I don't want to get tied up in hyphenation, and wind up with grandchildren who have sixteen last names because their mothers were as reluctant as I was to relinquish the names they grew up with. 

I haven't forgotton who I was from birth to the age of twenty-six, though.  My maiden name still appears in the electronic signature of all my work e-mails.  I put it down as my middle name on my Facebook page.  And some day, if I'm published, I guarantee it will be the name you see on the cover of my book.

Because I am still me.  And because who can pronounce Ciocca, anyway?


  1. I don't want to ever change my name. Not because I love it, but because it's mine. My name goes beyond my father, and yes I do have my father's name, even though my parents never married. I also have my mother's surname, as my middle name. I have a friend who changed her name from her father's to her mother's, when she was an adult. For me, I've always been this name and I just don't want to let it go. It's me.

  2. I'm glad you figured out the name thing, Gina. You AREN'T anyone's possession.

    Your new name is rather easy to pronounce. At least I knew who it is pronounced. You have to see what people do to my name. I've often wanted to change it because of the poor massacre it gets.

    You might know how it's pronounced since your Italian, but even Italians mispronounce it.

    D-je-sue. Now is that hard? It means of Jesus in Italian. That's the only reason why I kept it.

  3. I still have my maiden name for my email (I've had the same accnt since i was 18) and I'm still attached to it even though I'm pretty used to being called Mrs. D. BUT I kind of found away to keep it because I use it as my pen name! Katie Mills is the name I grew up with!

  4. My wife struggled with this stuff. In fact, during her first marriage, she kept her maiden name. I think it was at least partly because her 1st husband put pressure on her to change her name, so she became defiant and wouldn't do it. I didn't care, though. I mean, that particular thing, her identifying with me by taking my last name, was not something a put an emphasis on. I told her it was her decision. heh She took my last name. Maybe it was in defiance of her first husband, because it made him mad. And, when he remarried, his new wife -also- refused to take his last name.

  5. I was happy to get rid of my maiden name, though I would have been happier if my married name could have been a little shorter than my maiden name. That would be nice!

  6. HA what a name up there! I only was glad to give it up b/c it ws so dang hard to pronounce! But I hear ya!

  7. Great post. I have given the you "Versatile Blogger" award. Come pick it up from my site.

  8. I am so with you on a lot of this. Hart (which is actually my maiden name) has always been the favorite among my names. (my good friend suggested when I married my husband should take MY name because then he would be Bob the new Hart (you may be too young for that reference). My decision was to hyphenate, but that was mostly because I'd eventually have children named Johnson. I don't object to hyphenating children, though. In fact a part of me wishes I'd kept my name and they'd hyphenated... but I LIKE my writing name. Hart Johnson, in most of my life, is my hyphenated last name--it's really me, but allows me to be a different me than the academic me of my day job.

  9. I'm in the minority. I happily took on my husband's last name. But there's a long and complicated reason for that, having to do with family ties I preferred to be severed. (I was raised by my stepfather from the age of 5 but due to custody reasons, he was not allowed to formally adopt me and I have therefore always been the kid with the WRONG last name, as far as I'm concerned. I am part of my stepfather's family and should have had HIS last name. What-ev-er.)

    HOWEVER, I do wholeheartedly agree with the feminist sentiment behind the non-name-cahnging movement. My own way to protest this whole idea of women as property is to identify myself as MS. Anaya. "Miss" indicates that a woman is unmarried. Mrs." indicates that she is married. I prefer not to define myself by my marital status and my connection to any man. I choose to call myself Ms. Anaya and leave the rest of the world to wonder.

    My husband thinks I'm nuts, by the way. He couldn't care less if I took on his name or if I call myself Mrs. Anaya. I wish I had that kind mellow of attitude.

  10. I had some issues when I got married too...I wanted to be a "Mr. and Mrs...." but I liked my maiden name. My married name was gonna have a hard to pronounce last name. But I guess I got over it...I wanted to have that family unit thing with all the same last name. We're the Haefner family.

    And at first I had a real hard time being called Mrs. Haefner...that was my mother in law. But after a while, it became more natural and became MY name...not hers. On the rare occasion I hear someone call her that, it sounds weird to me.

    And then I started writing seriously with the intent on being published. I didn't want my maiden name because that wasn't my name anymore and I wanted to see my name on my book cover. But now that I look back...I kinda wish I would have given it more consideration. My maiden name was so much cleaner, easy to pronounce.

    But I guess as long as people are typing it correctly when the search for me, who cares if they can pronounce it correctly!