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I Took My Wife's Last Name

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Josiah Neufeld for The Globe and Mail: It was my idea; Mona never suggested it.

I took my wife's last name
The official at the drivers' licence office squinted at me suspiciously, examined for a second time my birth certificate and marriage licence, and repeated, "You want to change your last name to your wife's?"

"That's correct."

"Usually it's the other way around."

"Usually it is."

He consulted the form on his screen and said slowly, as much to himself as to anyone, "Yes ... you can do that."

Of all the independences one sacrifices at the altar, a name might seem like a small one. Women have been leaving theirs there for centuries.

But I agonized over my decision to take my wife's last name when we married two years ago. I told my family what I was considering; my mother laughed doubtfully. "We'll have to have a family discussion about that," she said.

She's a strong woman who would never call herself a feminist. I think she finds the word angry, abrasive. She wanted my marriage to be as happy and life-giving as hers. She willingly took my father's surname, Thiessen, on their wedding day. But giving up mine, she feared, would herald an unbalanced union. And how would she explain it to people? It just wasn't done. She cried when I told her I'd made up my mind.

"I don't believe you did it," a relative said to me recently, "and I don't even want to know why." We left it at that.

People often ask me why I did it, with curious or wary glances. It's a good question with many answers.

I did it because I love Mona -- because I wanted her to know that I didn't expect her to become anyone other than herself. It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up. And a combination name like Neufeld-Thiessen would only solve the dilemma temporarily. Eventually a child of ours would bring this unwieldy last name to his or her own marriage -- most likely to another hyphenee.

Mona told me afterward my choice made her feel loved.

When the topic came up before our wedding, Mona said she would find it hard to relinquish her name. She also told me in her gentle, gracious way how she came to accept herself as a woman, first as a Canadian girl growing up in Sudan and later as an adult woman living in Canada, a country to which she belonged but had never called "home."

When Sudanese acquaintances congratulated her father on his three sons, he told them his daughter was as valuable to him as any of her younger brothers.

When Canadians told her God was male, she prayed to Our Mother in heaven.

These were novel notions for me before meeting Mona. I never suspected that as a man I had been given an extra portion of power in the global allotment.

I did it because any form of power comes with duties. I'm obliged to take responsibility for my power, to learn its effects -- even unintentional ones -- to see what it does to others when I'm not watching, to use it in the best way possible. Sometimes to relinquish it.

So far the name change hasn't cost me more than a few hours of paperwork, some explanations to public officials and a few strained conversations with brittle relatives who think I've joined a matrilineal cult. I still feel like myself. My identity remains intact. Marriage will demand larger sacrifices than this, I expect.

I wear my new name as proudly as I wear the tiny woman with braided hair I carved from a piece of antler and hung around my neck as a wedding ring. Mona wears a miniature man. Both come from the same bone. I can't remember which I carved first, but I think the woman is the more beautiful of the two. Mona might disagree.

Perhaps I'm not noble, just a contrarian. Either way, I need a good title for my maiden name: "former name" is boring; "ex-name" sounds like a cast-off lover; "birth name" implies I was adopted; "unmarried name" evokes a monastic twin who hasn't called since moving to Tibet.

I'd prefer to keep in touch with my inner Thiessen. We lived together for 26 years and parted on good terms. If he's still nursing wounds, I think I've given him a fair chance to speak up. Maybe he'll surface with a midlife identity crisis when I'm 40.

Thiessen is a name I'm glad to have worn. If, after years of putting up with the newfangled Neufeld in their midst, my long-suffering family chips "Thiessen" into my tombstone I promise not to raise a fuss.

For now, I'm content that Mona feels loved, because whether or not anyone else understands, my new name is a declaration of love. And it's a choice I made because I'd rather learn to give my power away than wield it, oblivious, until it's too late.

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122 comments so far | Post a comment now
Wiwtm August 7, 2009, 2:39 PM

Wow, I think I vomited in my mouth a little. A hetero male “bottom”. Probably not that rare, but still pathetic to come across.

Nobody August 7, 2009, 2:43 PM

I find it interesting that people are willing to give up their name at all. I’m also surprised this guy was able to do it so easily. I know many states require special approval from some authority for a man to change his name.

I wonder why this guy wasn’t as proud of his name as she was of hers.

Sad really.

Gemini6Ice August 7, 2009, 2:47 PM

Bravo, good man! Please ignore the sexists and chauvinists that are commenting here. They comment that you “have no balls,” yet they are the ones too much of wusses to provide their names as you have. They comment anonymously and pathetically.

There is an unfair gender bias in our culture in expecting a woman to relinquish or hyphenate HER name but not a man. Thank you for “getting it.”

(btw, I am male and single)

Dimmie August 7, 2009, 2:54 PM

Yeah, Gemini6Ice, you tell them about commenting without using your real name! You don’t have to tell us you’re single, we get that from the fact that you’re such a complete vagina, like the author…

anon August 7, 2009, 2:55 PM

this was probably the most disturbing thing I could have read all day. are you really that whipped? you probably think that she’s never had sex with anyone else too, and would never cheat on you. congrats for living in a fantasy world.

Pablo August 7, 2009, 2:59 PM

I hope your father is not alive, because I am sure this would have broke his heart.
However, if you did not have a good relationship with him, then this is OK.

Lastname = The amount of repect you have for Daddy (for men)

Anonymous August 7, 2009, 3:05 PM

You, sir, are the most beautiful girl I have ever met. That was the most romantic thing you could possibly have done, and congrats. Oops. I meant, ‘best wishes’.

I just hope Mona is as happy with a wife as she was with a husband.

Skylar Sandoval-Bastedo August 7, 2009, 3:06 PM

my mother and father were unmarried hippies and neither one of them changed their last names out of respect for each other. they gave me both names, my mother’s first - Sandoval - and my father’s last - Bastedo. my mother’s two older brothers both died of M.S. when they were only 20 and her father had no brothers - thus the Sandoval name would have ended with her. now, i carry on the Sandoval lineage as well as the Bastedo’s and share an equal identity with both parents who never lost their own. you dont have to lose your identity to prove your love or commitment to your spouse or children, regardless of gender. you made the story up to create a stir.

annon August 7, 2009, 3:10 PM

Your more of a woman then your wife. What’s next dresses maybe a purse?

What’s this world coming to?

lizzie August 7, 2009, 3:10 PM

I’m a woman… and i agree.. a sex change is in order…grow a pair really….

Stoneburner August 7, 2009, 3:14 PM

HAHAHA yeah, right, the Sandoval name would have died? Just like Martinez and Garcia are in danger too, right?

Anonymous August 7, 2009, 3:15 PM

I took my wife’s name as well, and I was the one to bring it up. I have brothers she only has a sister. This way both family names have a chance of continuing.

Mark August 7, 2009, 3:19 PM

What bother is it to you that he did this? He’s happy, wife is happy - who cares?

drew46n2 August 7, 2009, 3:20 PM

do guys snicker at you when you’re at the mall holding her purse while she tries on shoes?

Did you feel emasculated when you agreed to sit down when you pee?

It’s cool…you two can have a good cry over it tonight before for cosmopolitans.

Laughing August 7, 2009, 3:24 PM

Way to woman up, champ! lol!

really?I mean REALLY? August 7, 2009, 3:24 PM

Dude seriously????? I’m a MARRIED woman. Grow a pair of your own, she’s apparently keeping yours in her purse. This is the most puss*fied piece of sanctimonious, psuedo emotional drivel that’s ever taken up valuable bandwidth on the internet.

B August 7, 2009, 3:43 PM

What a slap in the face to your family, especially your father. The only time I’ve ever heard of a man doing this before is a friend’s husband who was abused and wanted to leave his past behind.

JRHJR August 7, 2009, 3:46 PM

This is just another example of the continued wussification of the male race. The fact that many of our fellow males do these kinds of things voluntarily makes it even worse. I am ashamed.

Anonymous August 7, 2009, 3:46 PM


JustCash August 7, 2009, 3:47 PM

Let me guess. Your wife has bigger balls.

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