Monday, January 16, 2006

The proper name for a woman (part 1)

Let me start by way of personal anecdote:

A few weeks ago I had to make some rather complicated plane reservations by phone. After working out the flight details, I carefully told the (~middle-aged female) operator that my name was Science Woman while my husband's name was Business Man. I gave her our frequently flier numbers, confirmed the flight times, and hung up.

The next morning, very early, we arrived at the airport and handed the agent at the ticket counter our IDs. The (20-something male) agent looked at our licenses and said, "Did you two just get married?"

I, very innocently and still groggy, replied, "No, we've been married 3 years. Why?"

To which the answer came, "The name on your ticket does not match your ID." (Our plane was scheduled to depart in 30 minutes.) Sure enough, rather than my boarding pass saying Science Woman, it read: Mrs. Business Man (i.e. Science Man)

After some consultation with another agent, and given that it was 4:30 am, and our tickets were booked through a different airline, they decided to let us board, but subjected us to extra security. Thankfully it was a very small airport, and the TSA folks decided to play along. We were wanded, patted down, our bags were inspected, and then we were sent merrily on our way.

After arriving in the Midwest, I called the airline. Where I was informed (by another middle-aged woman) that there was simply nothing they would do for me about the return flights, since part of the ticket had already been used. When I pressed them for advice, all the operator could recommend was to arrive at the airport early.

So on the day of our departure from Big Midwest Airport, we arrived 3 hours early. We printed boarding passes from one of the automachines and headed for TSA, hoping that since we'd been stonewalled by the airline that TSA would be able to help us.

Of course, that was wishful thinking. There was NO WAY TSA was going to let me through security without an ID matching my ticket, and I was order to go fix things with the airline.

Fortunately, we foundered upon the right queue at a ticket counter, and after explaining my situation politely, I had a new set of boarding passes with the correct name. Of course, they gave me no apology for totally subsuming my identity into that of my husbands or for the indignities of being patted down by TSA.

All because, I dare to have my own last name.

Next up: More general thoughts/philosophy on the proper name for a woman.


BotanicalGirl said...

I'm debating what to do with my name when my fiance and I get married.

It means a lot to him that I 'become' his family by taking his name. But I want to be Dr. BotanicalGirl. I could hyphenate, but both surnames are tricky to pronounce and spell. I could make my maiden name my middle name, as a fellow grad student has done. Or I could just keep my name, as my PI's wife has done.

Ack. Don't suppose I could be Dr.BG at work and Ms.Fiance at home.

Sorry to hear the airlines made such a mess of things!

Anne Zelenka said...

Grrr, that's so annoying.

When my husband and I moved to Virginia from California we went to get our new driver's licenses at the DMV. At the very end of the process, my husband was picking up his and said, "oh can I take my wife's too? It's that one" (pointing to one with a different last name). The DMV clerk said, "She has a different last name? You can do that?" That's when we knew we weren't in California anymore.

Now I'm using my husband's last name because I couldn't get the .com domain for my other last name. Also, I have three kids and I got sick of having to explain who I was when dealing with schools and doctors. I haven't changed my name legally though so we still have hassles at travel time, like when I use his frequent flier miles.

Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. Boy, I guess we're not in California anymore. I travel with my daughter, who has her husband's surname (I never changed mine...) This did not seem to be a problem with schools, doctors, etc., but I live in a relatively small community and have an unusual, easy to spell surname.

I've never had the trouble you describe, even when making reservations for a complicated group.

Of course, I book most of my tickets online, either directly with the airline or through Expedia (which I've had the best luck with).

The thing about the TSA is that it is so variable by airport. It can be maddening.

I'm in my mid-50s. BotanicalGirl, I know a lot of women my age who were/are Dr. MaidenName professionally and officially, but Mrs. Husband'sName socially.

I know some other couples (not academics) who became Mr. & Mrs. Totally New Name, too. That seemed to be a sort of hippy/granola outgrowth; haven't seen too much of it among the young.

Doctor Free-Ride, Ph.D. said...

I kept my name, my spouse kept his name ... and our kids have their own surname that's part mine and part his (but no hyphens or spaces or stars or anything). So far, air travel (all of us together) has not been any kind of issue, but the only times we've used travel agents to book us, we've done it via email where I've made it VERY CLEAR that we've got 3 surnames in play.

For real fun with the TSA, though, nothing beats traveling with a breast pump!

ScienceGeek said...

I'm in the same boat with a different last name than my husband's. So far I haven't come across anyone that assumes my last name is the same as his (except for older relatives). The other day my husband and I booked a trip through a travel agent.
She took his name down and then asked me if my last name was the same. I was kind of surprised by that. Maybe some people are coming to accept that a husband and wife don't need the same last name.

angiebean said...

I have heard about these problems with airlines, especially after 9/11. I even had a friend who legally had her husband's name but in grad school kept her maiden name. When she graduated, this caused chaos. That's why when I got married I decided to take my husband's last name. It is very difficult to spell, but I find people often remember me better at conferences because I have an unsual name.

After I got married, my undergraduate college (without my permission) starting sending things to Mr and Mrs John Doe. They completely eliminated my first name and identity! I wrote to them several times (alumni office, athletic office, etc) without any response or changes. Last year when they called looking for a donation, I told them I was angry about the name thing and wouldn't donate until they changed my name to Mrs. or Ms. or Dr. Jane Doe. Now I get mail sent to my maiden name. Needless to say, they still haven't gotten any of my money...

trillwing said...

I've had problems with this as well, at airports and elsewhere. I'm hyphenated and my husband is not (though I have a long-term crusade going to get him to hyphenate). It's infuriating. What gets me even more worked up is when I have bothered to spell out my last name ("Trill-Wing") and then I get called "Mrs. Wing." Grrrrrr! It's Ms. Trill-Wing, dammit! (And I can't wait to get all uppity in ignoramuses' faces with "Dr. Trill-Wing.")

And I've managed to dodge the TSA/breast pump bullet so far, but yes, that is one of my anxieties. I recall reading that early on after 9/11, a TSA screener made a woman drink her own stored breastmilk to prove that it wasn't an explosive substance. What the hey?

beche-la-mer said...

I hate the cop-out "I changed to my husband's name because a) it is easier (when booking airline tickets); b) he wants me to be part of his family; or c) so our kids will have the same name."

I have a different name to my partner and our son. We have travelled internationally and interstate and never have had any problems. We have had problems with various organisations: one medical insurer couldn't cope with the fact that our names were different, so we changed insurers.

But what really gets to me is that it's always women who are expected to do the changing. There's no sense that, if it's that important, the man could change his name to match his partner's. Although I do like the solution of giving children a combination name that is different to both parents' (I don't think hyphenations are the answer either).

We do laugh occasionally when someone calls me Mrs X (my partner is usually the first to correct them) as well as when my partner is called Mr Y.

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