Recently, I celebrated my one-month wedding anniversary with the man who I very un-ironically call “the love of my life.” It was a beautiful day that made me very, very happy and was the perfect mix of traditional and unconventional — just like the rest of our relationship. We met shortly after I left my home of 12 years (New York City) to come back down to Florida, moved in together a month and a half after meeting, and got engaged in the most romantic way (without a diamond ring).
Our wedding planning came together easily, too. We knew that we wanted to keep things small (family only) and that we didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on the wedding. We also did traditional things like buy our wedding rings together, get me a white dress, and even go through a pre-marital course to make sure we were on the same page about everything. The one really un-traditional thing we did, however, was that I have NO intention of changing my last name. And it’s all because I am Latina.
Growing up, I didn’t really appreciate my name. I knew that it stood out and reminded everyone in my mostly-white hometown that I was different. Teasing jokes of being called “Speedy Gonzales” were just the beginning, I quickly learned as a kid. I was teased for being different, for being an immigrant, for being not-quite-like-everyone else. Even though I mostly look white (despite my Cuban heritage), people still instinctively knew that I was different. Often, I didn’t even have to tell them my name before they would jump to conclusions and call me names.
But as I grew up, and moved away from Florida, things changed. I met other Latinos and slowly but surely became proud of my name and my heritage. Although being a “Gonzalez” meant being different where I came from, being a “Gonzalez” in a big, diverse place made me one of the people. I proudly embraced my curves, my ability to speak Spanish, my love for arroz con pollo, and my Cuban culture. I learned about other Latinx cultures, too. I fell in love with Mexican food, met my Salvadoran best friend, and learned the similarities and differences between Cuban and Dominican food. All in all, I learned how beautiful and diverse our culture is. Which is why, when it came to my marriage, I knew that I could never change my last name.
When the conversation came up with my then husband-to-be, he was completely supportive of my decision. Not only is he a feminist that sees no reason why the patriarchy should determine what I do with my own name, but he is also vehemently proud of my Latin culture, too. He’s not Latino himself, but he understands how important my heritage is to me. He knows that, one day, we will teach our kids Spanish and I will prepare them the same meals that my mami and abuelita made me growing up.
Although my wedding day was a joyful one and I am immensely proud to be a part of my husband’s family, I am also still immensely proud to be a part of the family I was born into. Changing my last name feels like I would be giving up the identity that I worked so hard to be proud of… and what would be the point of that, anyway?
For women that change their names, they have a lot of good reasons: They wanted to feel like part of a team, like one family, and they thought it would be strange if their kids had a different last name. For women that don’t change their names, they have a lot of good reasons too: They’ve built up a great career under their given name, they like their last names, and they don’t see a reason to change their name if their husband doesn’t change theirs too. And then there’s the paperwork. Do you even know how much paperwork it takes to change your legal name, from social security to your passport to the postal office to various degrees and whatnot? No, thanks!
For me, though, the decision to NOT change my name after I got married came down to how much my name is a part of my Latina identity. It isn’t just about being a feminist (though that’s part of it) or hating paperwork (guilty), but it’s about me feeling like myself even after I am a married old lady. Yes, my name is a big part of my professional life as a writer but, more than that, I can’t imagine waking up one day and not being a Gonzalez.
Even though I logically know that having a different last name won’t make me any less Latina, I also know that changing my last name won’t make me any less married (or any less of a mom to my future kids, who will likely bear my husband’s last name). The truth is that what Shakespeare said is true. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I am a Latina whether or not my last name is Gonzalez. But, since we don’t live in the 1950s and I do have a choice, I am choosing to keep my last name and continue to embrace my identity with the name I was given at birth. After all, the ring on my finger can tell people I’m married. My last name, though? That can stay and tell people that I am proud to be a Latina.