A Husband By Any Other Name…

I’m going to comment on a topic I’m probably not qualified to comment on: name change after marriage. I’m not married, nor have I ever been. Given that I’m still in college, hopefully this is not surprising. I have thought about this issue from time to time, though, and what I’ve come up with is this: “I’ll figure it out later.” Considering I’m working towards a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and not planning a wedding, I’ve got rather more important things to worry about at the moment.

However, I was putzing around the internet this morning, and when I saw this article, I got all fired up.

Here’s the tl;dr version: Lazaro Sopena wanted to change his last name to his wife’s so that her family name could be passed on. Every government agency okayed it when he got a new passport/social security card/etc, but over a year later, his DMV slapped him with fraud charges and suspended his license until he could get his name legally changed. But apparently that’s something only women can do in marriage, despite there being no law in his area that says anything about this, so he’s stuck.

So, there’s no law either way in Florida, and yet it “only works for women”? I call BS. Through my parents, I know a couple where he took her last name, though they are from Germany. Those crazy Germans and their notion that whichever name change works for a couple is acceptable… Really, though, I don’t get it. How can you say that it only works for women when there’s no law? Okay, if you look in the article, there are only nine states that explicitly “enable” a man to take the woman’s last name upon marriage. Why is this even an issue of fraud, though? The man in this story has a clear, believable reason, and every other freaking government agency allowed him to change his name with them without freaking out. I read a comment to the effect of the state wanting to squeeze all the money they can out of it. Given the times that we live in, this wouldn’t surprise me, but wouldn’t the state surely get more money if this guy could go work more and earn more and thus pay more in taxes? Just a thought.

Side note: After reading this article, I did do a little bit of digging on the marriage name change laws in my county, which is NOT in Florida. It was unclear at best on if the name change is a legal one or not without having to file for a court-ordered name change when it’s a wife taking her husband’s last name, but it did say that some agencies require it for anything but the “traditional name change (female taking the male’s last name)”. At least it was clear about having to check with other agencies about what they require in the non-traditional case. I just hope that these other agencies have clear and consistent rules. No wonder this is such a headache!

Also, about this:

“Apparently the state of Florida clings to the out-dated notion that treats women as an extension of a man,” said Lazaro’s lawyer, Spencer Kuvin, with Cohen & Kuvin in West Palm Beach. While it was unusual for a man to seek to be considered an extension on his wife, Dinh’s case raised important issues for gay marriage, he noted.

Why does one have to be considered an extension/property/whatever of the other, anyway? Perhaps the one person really doesn’t like their last name, and would like to change it so that they/their offspring won’t be teased. I know how that one goes—a couple of uncreative classmates in middle school tried to sexually pun my last name. It was so bland and stupid that I just sort of rolled my eyes and didn’t respond, other than telling them to shut up and get a life. As stupid as that was, I’m incredibly glad I didn’t have to deal with my mom’s maiden name. Now that everyone’s all grown up, it’s sort of a family in-joke, but we don’t overdo it, which was the main problem. It’s a last name where, if you’ve heard one joke, you’ve heard ‘em all.

Maybe it’s just convenient for the couple to have one last name, and hyphenation would have been too long, so they worked it out and they liked the husband’s name better. Maybe they did it because that’s all they’ve ever known and it’s not motivated by giving oneself to the other person. We are kind of living in a new age, after all—one where a marriage is often seen as the union of two families, rather than one family giving a child to the other. As mentioned in the article, especially with the growing acceptance of gay marriage, the question also arises: what if a man wants to take his male partner’s last name? What if a woman wants to take her female partner’s last name? This debacle encompasses so many issues that it’s impossible to go into depth on all of them in a single blog post.

Any way you slice it, though, the biggest WTF moment in all of this is that it took the DMV more than a year to act on this “fraud”. (Come on—this guy was not knowingly pretending to be someone he wasn’t. He thought he was officially Lazaro Dinh, working and paying taxes and loving his wife.) Who wasn’t checking the requirements, that this didn’t become an issue until then? Maybe this guy should have, but who can honestly say that they haven’t forgotten at least one important detail while planning a wedding? (Well, besides those of us who never have…) And anyway, even if he had, it’s the job of the DMV to double-check that this guy had everything in order before telling him that his name change was okay. I guess a lot of this has to do with laws (or a lack of laws) concerning name-changing in the case of marriage, as well as the expectations that accompany a marriage.

I hope this guy gets everything straightened out in the end, both in changing his name and getting his license back. Considering that one agency is refusing to let him make the change he needs to be okay with the other simply because he isn’t a woman taking a man’s last name, though, I’m not optimistic.

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