Keeping Her Name and Her Identity

In April it was reported that just 8 percent of women keep their names after getting married, down from 23 percent in the ’90s.

My wife kept her last name when we got married. It wasn’t even something we considered. Maybe we thought about it for a split second, but the possibility seemed too weird to us. Plus, I didn’t know a “Rocio Alamo.” I met and fell in love with Rocio Palma. Her face. Her personality. Her name. Everything.

So when the time came to tie the knot (FYI, I never saw one), I wanted her to keep her name exactly the way it was. I didn’t think it was right that the woman that I love should change a single thing about herself just to be with me. After all, I wasn’t being asked to change anything about myself. I was still Hector Alamo, and no one hinted that I should be otherwise.

I guess that makes me a feminist. A woman once got offended by my claiming feminism, arguing that only women could be feminists. But how does that make any sense? I thought a feminist was merely someone who held the radical view that men and women are equals. And I hate to be that guy, but denying my feminism on the basis of my Y chromosome is sexism.

Anyway, my wife remains “Rocio Palma” to this day, and it doesn’t look like anything’s likely to change that.

Of course, us keeping our separate identities still makes for some awkward situations. A stranger on the phone might ask “Mrs. Alamo” if her husband is home. And the mailwoman will occasionally ask “Mr. Palma” to sign for his wife’s package. We don’t make a fuss over it. We don’t even correct them. Someone calling me “Mr. Palma” obviously means to say “Rocio’s husband,” which is what I am, among other things. So why should I get annoyed or offended?

The woman I married isn’t the type to take on her husband’s last name, much less want to. If I were to sit her down tonight and tell her that I thought she should take on my last name, she’s liable to laugh in my face. If I persisted, she’d start to think I’d suffered some sort of brain injury during the day.

Her unbending independence is what I love most about her. It forces me to live with a woman, not over her. The things she does for my sake are done willingly. What she gives me is given with her consent and love. I don’t want her to submit or to attach herself to me. I just want her to walk with me for a while.

Juliet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” But names are somewhat sacred. They’re who we are, or at least, who we know ourselves to be. Wives and slaves lose their names, and I’m sure that’s no coincidence. I didn’t marry a slave. I married Rocio Palma, as much a woman as I am a man. More importantly, she’s a human being, with her own past and her own future, her own fears and ambition. She doesn’t think what I think, nor do I want her to. I don’t own her, so I wouldn’t dare put my name on her, like a second-grader does with his box of markers.

I even have a problem with calling her my wife, because that label has been tainted by centuries of abuse. She’s my partner, and that’s what I refer to her as, sometimes, whenever I’m brave enough. I’m sure there are more than a handful of people walking around this town who think I’m gay because I talked to them about my partner, but I’d rather people think I’m gay than think I’m a typical man.

When I look around and see a lot of imbalance and mutual destruction in other relationships, it fills me with a sense of pride that Ro and I are smart and daring enough to treat each other as equals. I know it’s not right to judge others, but I’m pretty sure no healthy relationship is based on inequality and ownership. There’s none of that in my relationship with Ro, so no matter how far from perfection we likely are, at least we’ve put those issues behind us.

I don’t know how much Ro keeping her name has affected the dynamics of our relationship, but I’m sure it’s helped. I’m married, but a “Rocio Alamo” still doesn’t exist. I’ve always been with Rocio Palma, and the “Palma” acts as a constant reminder that I’m emotionally and mentally engaged with another human being. She’s not mine and I’m not hers, or as Anna Quindlen put it back in 1987, it’s only marriage, not adoption.

We’re in this together, as equals. We’re not just husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hector Alamo. We’re partners.


[Photo: Andrew Silva]

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