Eighteen days ago, a supremely successful London barrister married the sexiest of Hollywood stars. Yesterday, she took his last name. That’s right; the beautiful and intelligent Amal Alamuddin is now Mrs. Clooney. But what does it meeeeaaannn..?
Does it mean she’s closing the chapter on her years (and seemingly identity) as an independent working woman? Does it mean she’s turning her back on her ethic identity? Does it mean anything at all?
The media machine has been hard at work drumming up an alleged “feminist debate” around the name change, which some self-proclaimed “cranky feminists” have argued ultimately involves a woman reneging on her autonomy as an individual.
Per last year’s Guardian article by Jill Filipovic, there are plenty of reasons why a woman would choose keep her name—”We want our family to share a name” or “His last name was better” or “My last name was just my dad’s anyway”— but none of them are very good:
Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world. The cultural assumption that women will change their names upon marriage – the assumption that we’ll even think about it, and be in a position where we make a “choice” of whether to keep our names or take our husbands’ – cannot be without consequence.
It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone’s wife or mother or daughter or sister.
OK, sure. I get that, but all that tsk tsking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I say leave it to Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin) to make the important decisions about her identity. After all, it is her own. And besides, one’s identity isn’t a static thing—it’s fluid and constantly up for reinvention. Are we to be stuck with the labels we had when we were born?
I had a friend in High School whose last name was different from both of her parents: it was Sanders. Inspired by the name written above Winnie the Pooh’s house, her parents chose to create a new family name for their offspring rather than pick one or the other of theirs (both parents kept their own last names). I thought that was delightful. Even if that’s the gender-neutral ideal, should it be mandatory practice for those wishing to avoid the shame of being a “bad feminist?”
Really, guys and gals, when it comes figuring out your place in the world, shouldn’t individual choice be celebrated above whatever prescribed social code is currently in vogue?
I think so. Here are a few choice quotes from Mrs. Clooney’s supporters:
- “Jesus, what woman would not take George Clooney’s name? I’ve been married several times. I’ve never taken a man’s name in my life, but I would never tell Amal what to do. I’m a radical, radical feminist, and it doesn’t bother me at all.” — Elle relationship columnist E. Jean Carroll.
- “I’m proudly taking my fiancé’s name. I don’t think it’s anti-feminist to take your man’s last name.” — Caroline Schumer, 27, from Carroll Gardens, rallying for a woman’s right to choose to be Mrs. Clooney.
- “I don’t believe in that feminist bullshit. Do what you want.” — Accountant Nicole George, 35, from the West Village, agrees.
- “Amal has her own thriving practice, she is successful in her own right — but come on, who among us is as successful as George Clooney? There’s cachet in that name.” — Actress Jenny Gill, 37, from the Upper East Side, also kept her maiden name when marrying New York 1 reporter Roger Clark.
- “The new Mrs. Clooney is a smart cookie. She’s no brainless dupe of the patriarchy. I think it’s a safe bet that her choices come from a place of thoughtful contemplation. There are compelling reasons to blend a family name and there are compelling ones to maintain nomenclature autonomy, and they aren’t necessarily about surrendering one’s identity. I wish that our culture was more encouraging and supportive, to both men and women, about how we approach these issues and how we can make the ones that feel right for each couple. But a married woman’s last name doesn’t represent a declaration of her devotion or lack of it, or her intelligence or lack of it. It’s a personal decision. And Amal Clooney is perfectly capable of making her own.” — Salon contributor Mary Elizabeth Williams