Name Changes and Feminism

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As you can see by my new byline, I have changed my last name from Phillips to Quraishi. In case anyone’s wondering, the name is Pakistani in origin, as is my new husband’s family. Which is why I now know far more than I ever thought I would about the ISI, drone attacks, and why fish is inherently halal but not chicken. It’s been an cross-cultural exchange, and one I’m happy to experience.

My good friend asked me why I decided to change my name, since it is a major pain in the butt, and since I am a kind of rampant feminist. It was a good question. Can changing your name to your husband’s be a feminist action? I like to think so. I’m still a feminist and I’m not changing my name because I believe my personal identity ended when I walked down the aisle: I’m changing it because if my husband’s going to be hassled by the TSA, I want to be next to him getting patted down too. And I’m doing it because we’re having a baby. In a world where divorce rates are high and people move far from their hometowns, I’d like for our child to at least be born into a family where we all share the same last name, where we are all Quraishis. Beyond that touchy-feely stuff, “Quraishi” is honestly just a much more interesting name than “Phillips” and potentially a more memorable byline.

Ironically, in changing my name to Quraishi, I’ll be undoing what my mother did for me. My own mother, originally from Japan, specifically gave me the generic, WASP-y name of “Jennifer Phillips” so I wouldn’t be racially discriminated against. On paper, I would look just as Anglo as the Emily Patterson or Stephanie Peters I might be competing against for jobs. Everyone would know how to pronounce my name.

Now, of course, I’ve totally screwed that up. Sorry Mom. I will likely always have to tell people how to pronounce my new last name (kuh-RAY-shee). And sure, there’s a chance someone will decide to hassle me someday because of the foreign-ness of my last name. As a woman, however, I think it’s a sign of the times that I didn’t feel pressured at all to change my last name upon marriage. In fact, people in San Francisco were surprised I was changing it. So while I may be making my life more difficult in some ways (“can you spell that for me again?”) and easier in others (e.g. home loans, hospital visits) it is entirely my choice to make. And for that, I am grateful.

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