By Barbara Falconer Newhall
January 8, 1989, The Oakland Tribune
Jon and I had been married nearly 12 years. It was time to pop the question again.
I called him at work.
Sometimes, the best way to get Jon’s attention is to phone.
“What do you think?’ I said, going straight to the point. “Are you ready to add Falconer to your name yet?”
“No,” he laughed.
“Why not? We have Peter Falconer Newhall, Christina Falconer Newhall and Barbara Falconer Newhall. What this family needs is a Jon Falconer Newhall.”
When Jon and I married, I wanted to share a name with him and our future children. It would give our family an identity, and it would make things less confusing for friends, family and insurance companies.
Sure enough, years later, I sat listening as Christina’s kinderarten teacher explained to incoming parents that each family had its own box for messages.
“To minimize confusion,” she said, “the boxes are alphabetized under the mother’s name.”
Thus, Nicholas Strychacz and his father Thomas now look for their messages in the cubby labeled Kathryn Reiss. Eric Hasler and his dad Robert, look for theirs under Linda Hoffman. The Newhalls simply look for theirs in the box labeled Newhall.
The question, back in 1977 and now in 1989, was not whether Jon would change his name to mine. He would not. He will not.
Jon washes lettuce and barbecues chicken. He sees to it that there is always an avocado ripening on the stove and something interesting to take to the potluck. But changing his name to mine would put Jon’s feminist convictions into overload. If we are to be a one-name family, the name has to be Newhall.
During my most insistently feminist days, circa 1969, Bay Area feminists like Una Stannard and her husband (I forget his name) warned against the practice of changing names.
Una’s position and that of other feminists has remained steadfast. In her new book, “Naming Ourselves, Naming Our Children,” Sharon Lebell writes that taking a man’s name represents for women “a major identity rupture.”
Women pliant enough to suffer their names to be changed upon marriage risk becoming “so potentially protean that it’s hard to pinpoint the part of you that abides, the part of you that defines you,” writes Lebell.
But, at age 35, with more than a decade of single adulthood behind me, I did not worry about being too compliant. I perceived myself as tough. I could earn a living, fix a faucet and pick up a diner tab with the best of them.
“Cooperate,” urged my 97-year-old grandmother upon learning
that I had passed my 30th birthday still single.
My grandmother was Mrs. David Falconer until she died. Decades after his death, my grandfather’s name was still listed in the Scottville, Mich., phone book — by the woman who bore his name.
She may have been old-fashioned about her name, but my grandmother had a mind of her own. No one ever confused her with my grandfather. And she was right on about cooperation. Giving in once in a while — collaborating — would do me good.
And so began a series of compromises that has left me wondering, 12 years later, whether I have sold out.
Am I leading the life I once dreaded? Am I wallowing in domesticity?
Shouldn’t I be out there on the barricades, dressed for success, carrying a Vuitton briefcase? Shouldn’t I be on a board of directors somewhere, wielding power like mad?’
Why don’t I have a full-time nanny and a self-cleaning oven? Why am I making do with three denim skirts and a canvas KQED tote bag left over from the year we donated big?
It’s true. I worry about all the wrong things. Why my daughter doesn’t like dolls. Whether my son is any good at first base. Whether I’m putting on too much weight. Whether my husband thinks I’m putting on too much weight.
But I am still a feminist. I am not one of those New Traditionalists touted by the media. I’m on the barricades right here in my house on the hill — just as much as if I were being groomed for CEO or pressing for pay equity.
I’m someone who chose to have children and work part-time for a few years, someone who chose the life-long company of a certain man, even it it meant football every Sunday afternoon in December.
I am Barbara Falconer, with the Newhall tacked on, and I’m satisfied with that.
As for Jon’s name, I think I’ll phone him again at the turn of the century.
Used by permission of The Oakland Tribune
2009 Update: I just hollered upstairs at Jon to ask — once again — did he want to take Falconer as his middle name? “No thanks,” he said. “I’ve never had a middle name, everyone else does, and I like being different . . . It’s nothing personal, believe me. ”
I believe him.
My solution worked for one generation, but how about Peter and Christina? Whose name will they keep — Mom’s or Dad’s? — bfn