I thought I had exhausted the issue. But then I heard from a Big Law partner, who offers another twist: Not only did he not expect his wife to take his name, he volunteered to take hers. So the former Neil Friedman became Neil Popovic. Presto!
Popovic, a litigation partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton's San Francisco office, sent me a copy of an article he wrote for Ms. magazine in 1994 in which he recounts his name change. Here's how he explains his decision in Ms.:
The idea of her taking my family surname, Friedman, seemed absurd: Both of us have always had serious problem with that sexist tradition—it smells too much of the days when a wife was her husband's property.
He goes on to say that he and his wife wanted a common name "as a symbol of our union." Then the eureka moment:
Logically, came the idea of my taking Susan's surname, Popovic. Sure, it seemed a bit bold, but it fits all our requirements, and more important, it gave us the chance to turn a bit of sexism on its head, to do some "affirmative action" toward a more equal society.
After 26 years of marriage and two grown children (they also bear his wife's last name), Popovic still sounds like a feminist crusader. "When women keep their names, that's seen as a sign of feminism," he says. "But men are never accused of being unfeminist when their wives take their names." And even though he changed his name decades ago, he says that people often say, "I didn't know men can [take their wives' surname] legally."
He contends he hasn't suffered socially or professionally for committing a uxorious act. "No one has said it’s wrong or stupid—some people consider it exotic," says Popovic. The worst snide remark, he adds, is that "some people will say, 'You did it because you're from Berkeley.' "
Popovic says his name change has worked to his advantage: "It can be a way for me to establish credibility with my feminist credentials." He also says that he's influenced about a handful of male lawyers to follow his lead: "It's usually when a younger colleague is about to get married, and my example is cited."
But Popovic insists that he's no radical. His primary motive is to just get the conversation going. "It's useful to raise the issue because it gets people to think about the significance of changing your name," he says. "There's no reason that one way or another is the right way to go. But people should think about it rather than just follow a tradition."
I think Popovic is right on point. There is no reason that the husband's surname should be the automatic default in a marriage.
Surely, you can't disagree with that, right?
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