Why I Kept My Last Name: A Christian Cultural Perspective

I have struggled to articulate clearly why I decided not to change my last name when my dear husband and I wed. I will redress that in this post.

Adam and I wed on 12-8-12.
(Photo: The Dewdrop Co.)
Questions and comments I received on the name-change topic during our engagement and after our wedding ranged from, “That’s interesting. Why?” to “I believe that is unbiblical,” to a simple, “Oh,” to an unreadable stare with no reply. Some folks were genuinely curious and open, simply wanting to know my reasons. Others kindly shared examples of friends they knew who made the same choice.

I usually stammered and struggled to explain myself, or I made attempts to graciously deflect. On my wedding day, I told my new grandparents-in-law, “I’ll be a Forrest in spirit.” Though it was the best I could offer on the spot, it sort of left me feeling like a jerk who’s trying to change the subject. I'm not a jerk (at least not on my good days), and I don't like to leave dear people hanging.

What follows is the crux of my decision, now that I have had 20 months of marriage to collect my thoughts. I ask that you read with care, “letting go of any judgment or competition,” as my yoga instructors like to say. :)

The facts

I didn’t want to surrender my heritage marker as a prerequisite for becoming one with my husband. I am a Watson. I know, deeply and fully in my brain, that the solemn vows of marriage call for unity. Yet I feel, deeply in my bones and passionately in my heart, that I am an equal to my love as well as called to be one with him. My heritage matters profoundly to me – despite the coincidence that my husband and I are both of (mostly) Anglo-Scottish descent. (Funny cosmic joke, right?)

I yearn for our marriage to be a powerful example of an equal partnership. We are trying forge this partnership daily. We are learning to approach decision-making as a team, with the help of our example, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. 

Now that I am an adult, I find more value in the Christian egalitarian perspective than in the Christian complementarian perspective I was surrounded by in childhood. I feel strongly that keeping my last name is a good way to claim this perspective and remind me to practice it.

Guiding principles

It is no coincidence that we chose the Bible chapter Philippians 2 to be read during our wedding ceremony by a dear, egalitarian friend. We look to Jesus, who we believe is the Son of God, as our model for this partnership of marriage. In that passage, the Apostle Paul says Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God”; instead, he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and sacrificing his life for others. 

Philippians 2:1-8. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)
The world might never have known what it missed had Jesus decided otherwise. But, in my understanding of Scripture, it became a place with the possibility of redemption once he chose humility and sacrifice. 

I hope and pray that I am reading that passage in the spirit in which it was written. The inspiration I draw from it drives me to set these guiding principles: 

It is not my right to determine financial goals, take expensive trips, buy expensive clothes, set my own schedule or pursue my own dreams, without first turning to my partner to include him, to ask his advice, to humbly hear his desires and to move forward with his support and blessing. 

It also is not his right to do any of those things without including me, asking my advice, hearing my desires and moving forward with my support and blessing. 

I pray that we will grow into that mindset more graciously each day.

The noise I face

I face pesky thoughts daily as we pursue this equal partnership called marriage. 

I notice that the heritage I claim through my last name came to me only through the male line, so I'm claiming a moniker that only reflects half of my genetic influences. This annoys me. The Fausetts, Moreys, Dukes and Wings on my mom's side are or were all strong, intelligent people, and so were the Nafzigers on my dad's side. But I only can have one last name. 

More inner irritation I face: I know I often expect Adam to function in traditionally male ways, taking on traditionally gender-specific tasks that I never learned to do. He's good at lots of things. But I find my sometimes unexplored expectations for him to be inconsistent with my current ideals, and that frustrates me.

Splitting up duties based on ability

Some of the traditionally male-specific tasks I alluded to above -- let’s say mowing the lawn, for instance -- I hope to learn how to perform well someday. 

(Photo: Stock art used at Quicken Loans)
Other tasks -- fixing a car -- I hope to never have to learn, and I don’t expect Adam to know, either.

But we started out our marriage crafting a balanced separation of household duties. This meant splitting tasks along ability- and preference-based lines, rather than gender-based lines. 

For example, at this point, I am not good at, nor do I enjoy, grocery shopping. So Adam, who views it as a quest, an adventure, nearly a campaign, does our grocery shopping. 

I, on the other hand, enjoy and am fairly adept at cooking. I harness my improvisation, curiosity and Googling skills in the kitchen to save time and to make the healthiest foods possible with what we have. So I do most of our cooking. 

More and more, though, Adam steps in on days when I work overtime, or on nights when a food plan pops into his head, and he wants to experiment on a recipe. (Keith Richards' recipe for bangers and mash, for instance.)

Here’s a newer discovery: I enjoy sorting laundry, but do not very much enjoy folding it. So I do the sorting, we jointly carry the baskets to our car and drive to the laundromat, where we read, write and people-watch while the washer and dryer do the work. Then, we fold our own items.

Looking ahead

Many situations as we age and move through life stages together will create the need for this kind of task-splitting. I want to approach it with common sense and an egalitarian mindset.

Our wedding rings are shown. Adam's band, a Celtic knot design
 on the exterior, is engraved on the interior with the words
"My grace is sufficient for you," from 2 Corinthians 12:9.
(Photo: The Dewdrop Co.
Adam will tell you much the same thing (although for the record, he says he is not comfortable calling himself an egalitarian or a complementarian. He sees some useful points in both perspectives.)

I am so thankful we have been given this chance to work out our vows side by side. I have great hopes for our future and much joy in our present.

Thank you for taking time to read and understand.

Note 1: This post was written with Adam's insights, blessing and understanding.

Note 2: Your comments and feedback are welcome, but please keep them kind and constructive.

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Anonymous said...

This is a very thoughtful and well written "article." Thanks for your honest admission about the work of "role" understanding and adjustments. Becoming one as Christ designed is more important than one's paradigm.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Thank you, that is very kind of you to say that. I agree.

Alan Blanchard said...

The thing that comes through crystal clear in your essay is your commitment to Christ, His Word, your husband and yourself. Excellent writing that also communicates simply, all obviously preceded by much thought, study and prayer. Well done.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Thank you, Alan. That is high praise, indeed. I don't take it lightly.