Kristin Craig Lai is a feminist life coach, activist, and work at home mom. She writes about feminism, mental health, and queer identity at kristincraiglai.com/blog.
I was three when my father died. I have spent my life collecting any memories or stories I could get out of anyone that knew him. It still hurts that so many people have a full imprint of him on their hearts, while I have a head full of stories.
As I grew up, I became very close to my Nana (his mother). She became like a second parent to me. I feel more closely connected to her and her spirit than I do to anyone else on either side of my extended family. She died 10 years ago.
So when I think about my last name, I think about my dad and my Nana. That name connects me, not only to them as individuals, but to those character traits that many of us Craig cousins hold dear. When I think about being a Craig, I think about not putting up with bullshit, of fierce and embracing love, of an irreverent and goofy sense of humour. I also think about a deeply held sense of fairness and a natural inclination to stand up for it. Giving up that name was never an option. I have always been and will always be a Craig.
Nevertheless, when my partner and I got engaged I had to put a lot of thought into what to do about my name. I knew I didn’t want a hyphenated name. I knew I wouldn’t give up Craig, but I also knew that I didn’t want to have a completely different last name from my partner and any kids we might have. As we talked about it, he said he’d be perfectly happy to take my name. I really appreciated that he volunteered to do that, but for me that wasn’t the point. I didn’t need him to have that connection to my dad and Nana; I also didn’t want him to give up his Chinese last name for my Scottish name.
More to the point, knowing that our kid(s) would be mixed, I didn’t want to do anything that would further remove them from their Chinese heritage. I knew they would likely not learn Cantonese, as my partner can barely speak it himself. His parents aren’t the type to pass along traditions or family stories; we see his aunts and uncles and cousins once a year. There was no way I was going to take away my kid’s Chinese surname.
So there I was, wanting to keep my name but share a name with my partner and kid(s) without having them take on my last name. In the end I simply added his name after mine. I have my dad’s name, I share a name with my partner and child, and they both still have that connection to their Chinese heritage. It’s kind of messy, and occasionally confuses people, but in the end I figured out what made sense for me.
Was taking my male partner’s name an inherently “unfeminist” choice? Would that the world were that simple. Names, relationships, culture and family relationships are complicated and messy. There are infinite factors that someone might consider. All that really matters is that we create a system and cultural environment that gives us room to make whatever choice makes the most sense for us.
So rather than setting up yet another artificial division within feminism, we need to think about what kinds of barriers are in place that make it difficult, even impossible, for some women to make their own choices. I was lucky. I had the privilege of family and friends who didn’t care what I did, and a partner who felt the same. Not everyone has that privilege; if we can’t recognize that then the conversation is over before it even gets started.
A quick note about images in this series: each essay will include an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.
Let’s Talk About Names: Mattie is the previous post in the series.
Let’s Talk About Names: Flavia is the next post in the series.
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