Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

She Mrs. The Point
I just posted another Advice Goddess column. A lady takes her husband's name upon marrying, then goes wiggo when her friends and relatives refer to her in the address on cards and letters as Mrs. John Doe:

Although I’m a staunch feminist, I took my husband’s last name. We regularly get mail to “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.” Because of my long-standing hatred of this method of address (eliminating the woman’s first name), we deliberately return-addressed our wedding invitations and subsequent holiday cards with “Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Doe,” hoping people would understand our preference. Yet, even friends and family who knew me prior to marriage are writing “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.” Surely my own loved ones would consider me someone who still has a first name! My husband understands my plight, but postulates that if I’m so bothered, I ought to inform the offenders. I do feel strongly about this (and all matters pertaining to a woman’s right to her own identity), but I’m an extreme introvert who’d rather die than hurt people’s feelings. Should I care less about what others think and tell them they’re hurting me by perpetuating something I find reprehensible?

--Blinding Rage

My response? (I'm such a bitch!)

Dear Mrs. John Doe,
Enough about your blinding rage, let’s talk about mine. Last weekend, my boyfriend and I were staying at a hotel. I called down to the front desk with a request. The front desk guy said, “Certainly, Mrs. Sutter!” Well, I’m not “Mrs. Sutter,” and I have no intention of ever getting married. So…what was the proper response, lecturing him in the myriad ways people have committed relationships these days -- or simply thanking him for giving us late checkout?

Of course, I understood that the guy was taking his best guess in an attempt to be polite -- not suggesting that a woman sharing a hotel room with a man is either his wife or a hooker. Likewise, it’s doubtful your friends and relatives are trying to communicate that you’ve lost all personhood in their eyes. Tradition says, and etiquette experts advise, that the correct way to address correspondence to a married woman who took her husband’s name is the way that peeves you most. Just a little something to consider before you come on like the Kim Jong Il of Christmas card feminism.

Yes, you did mail out your personal Magna Carta on how you were to be addressed -- communicated as a hint, probably in tiny script, on the upper left corner of envelopes. Sorry, but what kind of person has the time to pore over every piece of mail they get just in case there’s a hidden message in the return address? Probably one whose choice of daily activities is largely limited to chiseling through reinforced concrete with a sharpened toothbrush or sitting on their cot waiting for parole.

The real problem starts with you, the “staunch feminist” who took her husband’s last name. A wee bit of disconnect, huh? Luckily, there’s no need to admit you didn’t quite think this name-taking business through when you can blame friends and family for your “plight.” Couldn’t you just be happy you got Christmas cards? You could also follow the lead of an increasing number of women who feel powerful enough that they can be traditional, or even girly, without feeling like some subjugated patriarchal tool. Then again, if you can’t help but see this as the Western version of female circumcision, quit gnashing and send out a polite announcement that you’ll be using your maiden name. Yes, a woman has a right to her own identity, but when she willingly takes a man’s name then wigs out when people actually use it -- well, it’s kind of like going to a Klan rally and getting all poopy when nobody will join hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Posted by aalkon at February 28, 2007 6:03 AM

Comments

Your whiney but oddly timid correspondent richly deserves your frosty tone, Amy.


But...this is, I think, wrong: "Tradition says, and etiquette experts advise, that the correct way to address correspondence to a married woman who took her husband’s name is the way that peeves you most."

Etiquette - if you care about it at all - exists simply so you avoid accidentally fucking people off. And - again if you care about it at all - correct etiquette occasionally evolves with the times.

Even the most blinkered old git these days is aware that SOME modern birds have funny notions about how they're addressed after marriage.

In my own experience, some blinkered old gits rather enjoy yanking the modern bird's chain by using out-of-date - and therefore incorrect - etiquette.

Ms Whiney did the right thing by politely handing out the correct cues about her preferred name on her holiday cards. Therefore she is right to be peeved when the cues are ignored. Though she could have been funnier about it.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 28, 2007 8:16 AM

The reality is, most people are not doing a feminist analysis of an envelope or how to refer to somebody. They defer to tradition. As I've had to remind a few people lately, I give advice for the real world, not the idealized one.

Ms Whiney did the right thing by politely handing out the correct cues about her preferred name on her holiday cards. Therefore she is right to be peeved when the cues are ignored.

Now perhaps I get a wee bit more mail than most people, but I have Christmas cards I have yet to open, and I have to send out New Year's cards sometime in April. (I'm serious. Just been busy.) The notion that I would study somebody's return address for cues...!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 8:19 AM

"The notion that I would study somebody's return address for cues...!"

I do specifically when good friends marry - because I've made daft errors of assumption in the past. Doesn't take more than a minute.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 28, 2007 8:29 AM

You may do this, but many people don't. And you can't control what other people do.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 8:31 AM

Her tone reminds me of so many other 'feminists' I have met in my life. Especially the few I have dated, even in the most casual sense.

There is no real core value of any kind here beyond selfishness. "I want this and everybody else better do it or I am going to have a fit or a case of the vaipors."

A different topic where this becomes apparent quite quickly is my attitude toward marriage, that is similar to yours. A woman I dated briefly, about 2 or 3 years ago, described herself as a feminist. This feminist had THREE ex-husbands, five children (four of them still under her roof, the fifth was a lawyer). Her 'analysis' of my never wishing to tell the government that I was in a monogomous committed relationship again was because I was trying to avoid spousal support!

No attempt to try to get her to make sense of that nonsense worked. Noting that I am divorced and do not pay spousal support (nor get it) did not matter. Pointing out that if two people are truly independant earners should imply some sort of equality that should be unmolested by government did not matter either.

She began invoking conditions, like expecting me to move in with her and share her mortgage and expenses. I doubt I would have been added to the documentation and I was just fine by myself in my one bedroom apartment, decorated in grade school boy style. She "countered" that with proclaiming that she would not spend the night at my place nor me at hers. Apparently driving her home at 0400 was fine, but not the whole night.

I was planning to move a little closer to DC because my commute was so annoying and she "countered" with that being too much of a pain and she would not see me there, to which I said was fine with me, even though it was a lot closer to our offices.

My last straw was when she was having an irrational fit about my not wanting a 'committed relationship' and I asked her if she was ready to be exclusive already and she said yes. The next day was her birthday and we had plans, so she avoided my calls (as I somehow knew she would, just not quite that soon) and later e-mailed me that it scared her and some other nonsense.

I ignored any contact from her after that.

Had much milder versions of that from several other women, all younger than the one above, who's whole notion of 'feminism' does really deserve the Nazi tag. They were nothing at all about independence, they were just about bossing others. They do really give the truly independant women a bad name, by hijacking a perfectly good word.

Posted by: Guy Montag at February 28, 2007 8:57 AM

I don't understand why people insist on living together -- especially people who have no intention of having kids together. It's so uncivilized. Plus, having somebody around all the time is likely to kill your sex life. My boyfriend comes over, then leaves. When he's not here, I miss him. This sets up a much nicer dynamic than...well...not missing him would. Doesn't this make a lot of sense? if you think about it, that is?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 9:38 AM

I'm very much a "pick your battles" type. We always are sent free return adress labels from various charities we contribute to. They invariably say Mr & Mrs (hisfirstname)(hislastname). I have no problem using them and don't think the folks who sent them to us are a bunch of regressive fogeys. It's just convention, and sometimes conventions exist for the sake of making things easier for everyone.

Posted by: deja pseu at February 28, 2007 9:39 AM

This is the kind of tedious BS, that drives men to the history channel. What cruel insanity it must be to care so deeply about something that matters so little. One would think that she would be proud to be Mrs. Whatever.

I had a feminazi English TA in college who insisted that the cumbersome, and incorrect useage of "he/she" be used when using the third person. Could you imagine if a man behaved this way? Oh wait, there is Tom Leykis, lol.

Posted by: Casca at February 28, 2007 9:52 AM

I remember the "big controversies" about women wearing pants in the workplace and the whole Ms. thing when they were happening.

Stuff like this seems so silly and petty now compared to the silly pettyness of the past.

Posted by: Guy Montag at February 28, 2007 10:01 AM

Hey, the wearing pants thing wasn't petty to those of us who had to wear dresses on very cold days! I remember it was Jr. High when they finally allowed girls to wear "slacks" (no jeans) and hearty hallelujah was heard throughout the halls.

Posted by: deja pseu at February 28, 2007 10:21 AM

Here we're talking about a woman's voluntary following of tradition on one plane, and then her violent reaction against an accepted part of that tradition on another.

So many problems would be resolved with just a modicum of thought before action.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 10:28 AM

"Here we're talking about a woman's voluntary following of tradition on one plane, and then her violent reaction against an accepted part of that tradition on another."

Kinda how society adapts and progresses - often for the best!

Posted by: jody tresidder at February 28, 2007 10:57 AM

I don't understand why people insist on living together -- $565,000 median home price.

Posted by: smurfy at February 28, 2007 11:21 AM

I'd rather rent and have a relationship that doesn't degenerate into apathy or hate.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 11:27 AM

Kinda how society adapts and progresses - often for the best!

Um, if you don't want to be referred to with your husband's name, either don't marry or keep your maiden name. I would never give up my name (or marry, for that matter), but some women don't feel strongly about it. The important thing is deciding whether you care or not and then acting accordingly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 11:32 AM

Guy Montag, it's nice to see your posts over here - I enjoy them at reason.com, too.

And Amy, I agree with you about the cohabitation thing! I think the best thing to do when you feel like you can't get enough of someone is to KEEP not getting enough of them. Otherwise, you've had enough of them. I'd rather keep on always wanting more. Well, plus I just like having my own place and not sharing it with anyone but my little dog.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 28, 2007 11:56 AM

My wife and I both kept our names on marriage. Result is that I answer to both surnames, depending on who made first contact. Doesn't bother me. So long as you are not being fraudulent, there's no law being broken by having multiple names (at least in the UK). Our children have my surname as middle name, my wife's surname as surname. Doesn't bother them. We were warned that people would think them illegitimate. But nobody gives a damn. Everybody is too busy with their own lives to care what we're doing with ours.


The only people who were bothered were my family - when we produced a son. He was the first male grandchild, and horrors, he didn't have the family name. What annoyed me about this reaction was the implication that the girls had no value.


While deciding what to do about names, my wife & I considered adopting a totally new family name, so for a while we called ourselves the Zucchinis. Still kind of wish we had done that.


The Icelandic system is neat - my name is Norman, so my son would be -blank- Normansson. My daughter's surname would be -blank-sdaughter (or -blank-sdottir, I think they spell it). This is neat, and it ties in nicely with how you actually get to know other adults through your children. The only way it could be improved would be to name the parents after the children: so I would be Norman -blank-sdad. And since I have 2 children, I'd have 2 surnames!


So, to the OP - lighten up. Names are important, but not that important. Call yourself what you want, but don't expect anyone else to pay much attention.

Posted by: Norman at February 28, 2007 12:02 PM

In my case, my wife kept her last name when we married. Add to that her daughter that, even though my wife never married the fater, has her father's last name... Confusion abounds. It made things a little easier when we added EVERYONE'S first and last names to our answering machine. At any rate, we still get occasionally addressed as ANY of three last names, depending on which of us the addresser knows first. We just shrug and move on. My wife doesn't like being addressed as "Mrs. [my last name]", especially by her family members, that know she kept her name...but it's usually just a brief episode of sound and fury, which she quickly gets over and moves on with life. No gut-wrenching frustration or long-enduring irritation.

I've noticed a pattern...the last few entries I've commented on here have one thing in common. They're all people that seem way over sensitive, easily offended, and probably need a massive dose of perspective. Hmm.

Posted by: Jamie at February 28, 2007 12:20 PM

the last few entries I've commented on here have one thing in common.

Heyyyy, whaddya mean?!

Not to worry, there are plenty of plainspeaking hardened cynics to slap the crybabies around. Do join us.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 12:37 PM

Heh. I'm not saying that those type of entries are THAT common here... But apparently I feel more inclined to comment when I hear a thin-skinned whiny little baby weeping openly or becoming murderously irate over something so pathetically minor that their life must be perfect compared to most of us poor slobs for it to be so darned inconvenient -- than with other blog entries. Guess that's MY little "pet peeve." Though I only roll my eyes, sigh, chuckle, and occasionally post a comment...not freak out and pop a blood vessel over it.

Maybe "The Princess and the Pea" isn't a fairy tale, after-all. Either that, or some people spend far more time complaning, whining, and finding offense in every little thing, than actually being productive?

Posted by: Jamie at February 28, 2007 1:03 PM

Personally, I find blogging is more than sufficient in avoiding productivity!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 1:32 PM

"Kinda how society adapts and progresses - often for the best!"

Amy's reply: "Um, if you don't want to be referred to with your husband's name, either don't marry or keep your maiden name. I would never give up my name (or marry, for that matter), but some women don't feel strongly about it. The important thing is deciding whether you care or not and then acting accordingly."

Balderdash.
There are no etiquette gods who stipulate it's an either/or regarding these evolving traditions.

I tend to respect the names married women prefer to use themselves. It's not hard.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 28, 2007 2:32 PM

Chuh, all you self-congratulatory pseudo-rebels are a pain. Life is confusing enough. Why muddy the water more? Small wonder the rest of the culture finds your poly-naming odd.

Posted by: Casca at February 28, 2007 3:02 PM

There are no etiquette gods who stipulate it's an either/or regarding these evolving traditions.

No, it's the common sense goddess, me. People will refer to a married person with her husband's name.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 3:13 PM

Casca:
"Chuh, all you self-congratulatory pseudo-rebels are a pain. Life is confusing enough. Why muddy the water more? Small wonder the rest of the culture finds your poly-naming odd."



Kinda exaggerated, don'cha think? How is that muddying anything? There isn't any reason why anyone has to "follow tradition" just because "everyone else" does. It's not self-congratulatory or some kind of "feminist" issue either, at least not in our case. She just wanted to keep her last name. No bra-burning or picketing involved. I didn't mind one way or the other, so she did what she wanted. We still would have ad "confused/muddy waters" with our stepdaughter, since she took her father's name, and we didn't see any reason to change it...so I'd still get the occasional Mr. [kids last name] from time to time. No big. My point is it's not even worth getting bent out of shape over, at least not to the degree the advice-seeker had been. Tradition is sometimes given far too much weight sometimes. There are far too many examples of people clinging to utter stupidity just because it's what their parents did, or what everyone else they hang out with did.

Do what you want, provided it doesn't infringe on anyone's rights.
If you have a problem, change it, or accept it...it isn't worth getting bent out of shape if you can't change it.
Yadda...yadda...yadda...

Posted by: Jamie at February 28, 2007 3:30 PM

Nevermind. My wife thinks that "self-congratulatory pseudo-rebels" is rather flattering. (She said..."I'm a sorta rebel? Whoo-hoo!") So thank you for the compliment.

Posted by: Jamie at February 28, 2007 3:45 PM

"People will refer to a married person with her husband's name."

Just like bank managers used to insist on a husband's name for a wife's loan...simple, traditional common sense, doncha know.

I think it's worth sticking up for the name you'd like to call your own.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 28, 2007 4:12 PM

> I tend to respect the names
> married women prefer to use
> themselves. It's not hard.

No it isn't, until your ex takes your name into out into the world for her own infantile and possibly nefarious purposes, as mine did. If you want a name --or a credit rating-- that you can call your own, you should go out and earn it.

The beauty of the paternal naming scheme (whatever it's really called) is that it's so transparently arbitrary.

Girls whine too much.

Posted by: Crid at February 28, 2007 5:00 PM

I think it's important that you stand up for your beliefs, too, but I see no reason to tell my boyfriend's 86-year-old Catholic, church-going mother that I'm an atheist, and find church-going silly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2007 5:01 PM

People will refer to a married person with her husband's name.


- only if they meet her husband first. If they meet her first, and she introduces herself with her own name, they will assume that it came from her husband. So he ends up as Mr Her. But so what.

Posted by: Norman at February 28, 2007 11:38 PM

"...until your ex takes your name into out into the world for her own infantile and possibly nefarious purposes"

And a recent boob job, paid for by a future ex-husband.

Posted by: doombuggy at March 1, 2007 12:10 AM

Boob jobs? Nefarious name kidnaps by ex-wives?

Etiquette can't do very much about hostility!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at March 1, 2007 3:48 AM

Have you met Deja? You two could hang out.

Posted by: Crid at March 1, 2007 5:52 AM

Nefarious name kidnaps by ex-wives?

This happens pretty often, I think -- according to my mail and stuff I hear. You get a divorce and the woman starts taking out loans in the guy's name. He only figures it out if he gets a notice or checks his credit.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 1, 2007 7:18 AM

"You get a divorce and the woman starts taking out loans in the guy's name."

According to the Diane Johnson novel "Le Divorce" [made into a cute movie: the estimable Johnson was a Kubrick screenwriter before her novels took off] the French order these things differently.

The divorcing French husband can - according to the novel - force the woman to shed his family name.

The kids, if memory serves, nevertheless retain Papa's surname, of course.

Thought Amy might like this, due to her idiosyncratic and selective approval of France!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at March 1, 2007 8:22 AM

"I think it's important that you stand up for your beliefs, too, but I see no reason to tell my boyfriend's 86-year-old Catholic, church-going mother that I'm an atheist, and find church-going silly."

Silly? What better place to find a smouldering volcano of self-denial, waiting to be uncapped, than the First Baptist Bank? Have you seen some of the outfits "ladies" wear to church nowadays?

And so far as names go, here's a gem from Alan Dean Foster, who reminds us in "The Emoman" that a name is a "pseudo-corporeal psychic verbal inculcation".

What you do is more important than what you call yourself, although your name might be a brand if you are successful enough. Prince. Cher. Lucy.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 1, 2007 7:03 PM

Leave a comment