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What's in a Name' Everything--if it's Yours!

Published by Huffington Post on Wed, 08 Jul 2015

What's in a name' That concept has been buzzing in my head a lot lately, especially now that we're deep into wedding season. Last month I attended the nuptials of two friends, and in both cases the women guests seemed more than a little eager to know which name the new bride would be known by--hers or her husband's. At the second wedding, I was surprised to see how evenly divided the opinions were. "I don't see anything wrong with taking a husband's last name," commented the bride's aunt. "It's a sign of love that shows her commitment to the marriage." Another woman--the bride's friend from grammar school--was somewhat less accepting. "It's surreal to me," she said, grabbing a tiny egg roll off a passing waiter's tray and popping it into her mouth. "Yesterday at this time she was Ms. [Maiden Name]--the girl I know and love and have all those memories with--and now she's Mrs. Who' I mean, where did my friend go'" We live in a world of deeply ingrained customs, many of them dating back centuries. In most cases, these traditions were borne of nationality or even tribal ritual. But in some instances, they were the product of inequality or even oppression. During the bad old days, women could not hold property or vote (and about a million other things), so taking their spouse's last name was practically a matter of survival--otherwise, they wouldn't exist. "Women with us, at their marriage do change their surnames, and pass into their husbands' names, and justly," wrote 17th Century historian William Camden, "for they are no more twain, but one flesh." To which I say, What's the 17th Century word for WTF' I want to make it clear that I'm not criticizing the many modern women who willingly and happily take their husband's name at the altar. Nor am I denying the right of any woman to make her own choice. I stand behind the principles of Free to Be...You and Me. I'm just saying I find it surprising that it still carries such conflicting feelings. I can only speak for myself, but I think your name is about a lot more than what you write at the bottom of a check or the top of a marriage license. It's...YOU. I remember a few years ago, I got a call from my agent who told me that a cosmetics company wanted to name a new line of makeup after me (Marlo Thomas Mascara!) and they were offering a swell amount of money for that. "Marlo doesn't have to do anything," they assured my agent. "We just need her name!" I couldn't have hung up the phone fast enough. Besides the fact that I'd never attach my name to a product I knew nothing about (what if someone's eyeball fell out'!), I kept remembering something my father once told me: "All you have is your name. That's the one thing they can't take away from you, and the one thing you leave behind." And he was right, of course. To me, "Marlo Thomas" carries a lifetime of indelible memories, all of which still live inside the person I am today. That name is what I printed at the top of my school quizzes. It's what was written in beautiful calligraphy on my college diploma. It's what appeared in that long-ago mimeographed theatre program, the first time I landed a part in a play--a cherished moment for any actor. How do you disconnect from all that and still remain...you' I was recently at a Facebook event (Facebook--where your name is everything!), and this very topic came up. A young woman I met named Sara Beth Haring had an interesting spin: "I'm one of three girls in my family," she told me, "and my father's brother has just one daughter. So if I don't keep my name, our family name would die out." Lucky for me, back in 1980, my new husband--a card-carrying feminist--harbored no fantasies about me becoming Mrs. Marlo Donahue after we took our vows. And then he said, jokingly, that he had no plans of changing the name of his show to "Donahue-Thomas." Still, just before our wedding many people wondered what I would do. I remember my friend Letty Cottin Pogrebin's daughters, Robin and Abby, worriedly asking me, "When you marry Mr. Donahue, you'll still be Marlo Thomas, won't you'" And then after the wedding, our Argentinean housekeeper didn't know what to do. First she called me Mrs. Thomas, then Ms. Donahue, and finally settled on Mrs. Marlo--which actually caught on. Some of my friends still call me Mrs. Marlo today. Some women like Letty found a way of keeping their identity intact by using their birth names as part of their full names (and this was in the 50's!). And Angelina and Brad created Jolie-Pitt as the name for their clan. And then there is Amal Alamuddin, who is fabulous by any name. Though I'm sure many women would have given up their last name (and more) to wed George, as Amal did last year, that's understandable: Clooney is so much easier to say. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
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