I am NOT Mrs. Husband

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.

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6 thoughts on “I am NOT Mrs. Husband

  1. I recently got into a debate with a male friend of mine about women changing their names when getting married. I eventually had to point out that Jack White from the band The White Stripes, took his wife’s last name when they got married. Regardless, if I get married I don’t want to change my last name because it’s unique and reflects my Filipino heritage, which is something I don’t want to lose. (Ironically my pen name is mom’s maiden name, which is Welsh/Irish.) Besides, I’m pretty sure when writing my name I’d just go by muscle memory and write my original last name down out of habit. I see no reason to unnecessarily botch my future signatures! 😉

    1. Yes, it is strange to start signing another name. I still feel weird even saying the other name! My uncle also took my aunt’s name when they married, which I thought pretty cool. And when a name does reflect a unique heritage, I can totally understand wanting to preserve it as much as possible. So what led you to take a pen name?

      1. Both my first and last names are difficult to pronounce. While I don’t mind correcting people in person, the thought that readers might refer to me “Alice Gambimbo” (true mispronunciation) was slightly terrifying! Either that or I feel like they’d forget the name entirely. So I wanted something that was short and natural…and easy to pronounce/remember.
        Aly is a nickname people called me at my first job, and again, Hughes is my mom’s last name. For all I know, if my mom had kept her last name, and gave me the nickname Aly instead of Leesee, I very well could have gone by Aly Hughes in real life!

  2. I didn’t even have a thought of changing my last name! I didn’t change it when I got married in the Municipal Office in Markham. When I got married, I was 27 year old, just moved to Canada from Greece living behind me all my family, friends, and business life. I didn’t want to lose my identity as well, plus if I would ever had kids I wouldn’t like them to have a long name with two last names, but on the other hand I wanted my kids as, also, the kids of their kids to know where Mom/Grandma Marina came from. Add up to all this mix that I had been a superactive feminist for the last ten years, the result was my very strong no when the employee at the municipal office asked me if I would change my last name or my husbands. Five year later and having a son, I never regreted it my decision to keep my own name!
    Now … about the envelopes … I receive plenty of them refering to me with my husband’s last name. I do not really do anything about it now as I am super busy to get established in Canada but I will do once I have some spare time in the future.

  3. I would say that’s a fair reason to be angry – though you might be amused because here (I can’t speak for Canada and other places) there is a trend in certain circles, not out of any genuine equality need or anything, to mail people as “Mrs and Mr XYZ” and putting the wifes name first. But the XYZ part is still the same as the old way which bugged you so much! 😀
    Makes me shake my head and face-palm a lot… actually a lot of things do that. Never mind.

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