A big envelope arrived in the mail last week from our accountant. It was addressed to “Mr and Mrs J. Martinko.” Now, I do have a tendency to react quickly and intensely to various situations (that’s an area perhaps in need of some personal development), but the envelope touched a particularly sore point for me. Few things make me irate as quickly as being labeled as the female version of my husband, who is, obviously, Mr. J. Martinko. The confrontational adrenaline began surging through my veins.
What offends me most of all is the old-fashioned assumption that a woman’s own identity is erased after marrying, or at least becomes subordinate to her new identity as someone’s wife. The fact that I am married to J. Martinko suddenly becomes more important than listing me as an independent partner in this marriage.
A healthy, modern marriage is one in which both members – male and female, female and female, male and male, whatever you want – are equal players. No single person is more important, and no one should have more clout than another, though, sadly, this is far more rare than most people would imagine. It’s taken decades of revolution for women to gain that equality in relationships, so why would anyone in their right mind return to the archaically patriarchal way of addressing a woman as Mrs. Husband? Imagine how bizarre it would be for my husband to be referred to as Mr. Katherine upon marriage!
I’ve been sensitive to the subject of names for a while. As you’ve probably noticed, I did take my husband’s last name when we got married. That was an agonizing decision, and one that took well over eight months before I got around to changing any documents. At times, it still bothers me on principle. My reason for doing so, however, had less to do with family unity than for interest’s sake. My maiden name, Johnson, is lovely but terribly common. I was tired of having to give additional identifying features to differentiate me from all the other Katherine Johnsons in the world, and liked the idea of having a more unusual last name. I did consider picking a random name, or even inventing one, but it seemed unnecessary, considering that I quite liked my husband’s.
When our first son was born, we weren’t yet married, so I insisted he take my last name. After all, it strikes me as thoroughly strange that children of unmarried parents always take the father’s last name, even though they might not even live together. I went to school with kids whose siblings and mothers all had different last names. Since I’d carried him through pregnancy and given birth, it only made sense for him to be more of a Johnson than a Martinko. Our agreement was that, if we ever got married, we’d add Martinko to his name. The new birth certificate just arrived in the mail a few weeks ago – two and a half years later.
So, back to that infuriating envelope. Once I calmed down a bit, I picked up the phone and called the accountant’s office. A chirpy female receptionist answered and I introduced myself. Then, maintaining as much politeness as possible, I explained my concerns about the mailing label. “Oh, I’m so sorry. They tend to put the man’s name first, I know.” “No, it’s not that. I’m not even on the label, other than being Mrs. J. Martinko.” She began apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry; I’ll certainly make a note of it.” She thanked me for the feedback.
Feedback, indeed. A stance for female equality is more like it.