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May 17, 2007

I Now Pronounce You SISSY and WIFE

It's wedding season again, and that means half of every aisle-trodding couple will be struggling with the decision of whether to take on their spouse's last name or keep their own. But according to a new trend, it might not be the half you think.

The California Assembly passed a bill last week that, if adopted by the Senate and signed by the governor, will allow newly married men to change their last names as easily as women do. A bride needs only to fill out some forms and notify her credit card companies if she wants to take her husband's name. But a growing number of grooms — from Mike Davis-turned-Salinger in Seattle to Christopher Sclafani-turned-Rhee in Washington, D.C. — are opting to take their wives' last names instead, either to honor the women's heritage, preserve a family name that's at risk of dying out, upgrade to an easier-to-spell moniker, or simply do their small part to roll back centuries of gender inequity.

Current law requires these guys to spend hundreds of dollars, get permission from a judge, and wait several months to legally adopt a married name. Forward-thinking Los Angeles dude Michael Buday recently called No fair!  on the process, prompting the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit and cosponsor the Name Equality Act on his behalf. Seven states — Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Dakota  already allow a husband to take a wife's name, and I can see why.

The married-name conundrum is a tricky one. Who wants to switch identities mid-career? Who wants to exchange one pronunciation nightmare for another? I didn't. But neither did my husband.

John and I had already been hitched two years when we decided, in 1996, that we wanted the same last name. We were about to buy our first home and figured the paperwork would be easier if our signatures matched. We planned to have kids and liked the idea of a common family identity. We relished the romance of being forever linked by letters, each of us a reflection on the other. And I could tell you it was those considerations that compelled us to do what we did — convenience, romance, and a nod toward our mutual future.

But in truth, it was the wine. Too much of the house red at a nearby trattoria convinced us the best way to honor our union was to combine our two distinct last names into one new one. Thus did my English Rowell and his bastardized French Gaushell morph — after reams of paperwork, published legal notices, courthouse visits, and scads of cash — into the acultural, unhistorical, but hard-to-mispronounce hybrid, Roshell.

We weren't trying to change the world. We were just trying to embody equity, regardless of the inconveniences it might bring. (And bring it did. His parents were furious, as you might imagine.)

Our solution to the married-name issue is not unheard of. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was Mr. Villar before marrying Corina Raigosa in 1987. But most forward-thinking couples still choose to keep separate last names, or hyphenate them. And the Lucy Stone League, an equality-promoting group named after a feisty female who refused to take her husband's name when she married in 1855, claims the vast majority of brides still drop their maiden names outright.

Will California's new law change that? Conservatives, of course, hope not. Most of the Assembly's Republicans voted against the bill, presumably because it would let domestic partners change their names, too — allowing gay couples to parade around with matching surnames just like us God-sanctioned married folks.

The right-wing Campaign for Children and Families group released a statement opposing the bill and saying, I kid you not, that the state shouldn't be encouraging its hubbies to be sissy men who abdicate their masculine leadership role because they're confused.

Hey. That's Mr. Sissy Man to you, buddy.

Starshine Roshell is a Santa Barbara writer and mother of two. E-mail her here


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