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Married 19 Years, Still Not Changing My Name
A Feral Feminist's Tale
Recently, my husband tweeted a true story about our beginnings as a couple. He was a congressman in 2003, and before I agreed to go out with him, I checked his voting record on two issues: reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights. Both had to be 100 percent, or no date.
(Wouldn’t it be nice if we all came with voting records? It would make dating pre-checks so much easier.)
My favorite response to Sherrod’s tweet, from a man who doesn’t reveal his last name on Twitter: “Always interesting to see which wife takes her husbands name.. no surprise to see @ConnieSchultz did not.”
Was that an insult? A compliment? Perhaps it was a sigh of resignation after having lost both an apostrophe and one-third of an ellipsis in a single day. That would ruin my evening.
I shared a screen-capture of his tweet on Facebook, in solidarity with all the women on the receiving end of critiques and disapproval because they dare to keep their family names after marriage. I have been moderating discussions on my public Facebook page since 2007, and I knew the community we’ve built there would rise to this occasion.
More than 1200 people, most of them women, responded to the man with no last name. It was an entertaining thread, with a community favorite coming from my friend Melissa Hebert Meola:
“Sweet waltzing lord, there are only so many f--ks to give in a day, and what some member of the 101st Chairborne Incel Keyboardist Division thinks of my keeping my name does not merit a single one of them.”
Pretty hard to top that.
I’m adding Sweet Waltzing Lord to my playlist of songs yet to be written for my all-girl country music band yet to be formed. I do, however, have the band name. It showed up years ago in a tweet from a different guy who thought he was insulting me when he called me a feral feminist.
Feral Feminist: Tell me that’s not the coolest band name ever.
Every time I mention my future band another wave of women reaches out to audition. I love you all for this, and maybe we’ll get to those tryouts someday, but I’m just going to say it: You can’t all play the tambourine. Does nobody play a hot accordion anymore?
I may be getting off track here. We were talking about women’s last names.
A few months ago, I had an appointment at the local branch of a government office. The smile on the face of the woman seated behind the counter faded as I spelled my last name. She nodded to where Sherrod was sitting in the reception area. “If I was married to that man,” she said, “I’d change my name to his so that everyone knew I was his wife.”
This would work only if she were to adopt the name Ofsherrod, as Brown is one of the most common surnames in America. I may have said this out loud. She may have made me wait longer than was necessary for my appointment. Jokes hitched to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale don’t always land well, I’ve learned.
I have nothing against women who decide to marry and take their husband’s surnames. How nice to have a choice. In 2004, I was a 46-year-old newspaper columnist when I married Sherrod. He was 51. He had no opinion about my last name except to say he would not become Sherrod Schultz. I pouted, briefly. For the first few years of our marriage, a Wikipedia entry described me as “currently” married to Sherrod Brown, as if I were keeping my options open. One of us found that hilarious.
In 2006, during Sherrod’s first Senate race, it soon became clear that my last name was an issue for some people. It was alarmingly common for older men to grab my hand and say, “You need to change your name.”
For a few weeks, I smiled and said, “But I’ve always been called Connie.” It worked, for a while. Soon enough, though, word got out that the Senate candidate’s wife was a smart aleck about her name. Nothing kills a punchline like forewarning.
“Nice try,” one man said to me after I delivered my retort. “You’re too intelligent not to know what I mean.”
Isn’t it interesting how some men can manage to insult a woman by acknowledging her intelligence? Interesting isn’t really the word I mean, but I’m a senator’s wife and there are institutional expectations when it comes to what we should and should not say. Since I have failed to meet virtually all of these, I thought I’d toss out a bone.
In 2016, less than a month before the presidential election that changed everything, Sherrod was in an accident after a driver sped through a stop sign and plowed into my husband’s side of the car. Our Jeep was totaled but Sherrod was intact, and for that we thank the union auto workers in Toledo, Ohio.
An ambulance delivered Sherrod to the nearest hospital and I raced to join him. I ran into the emergency room and up to the clerk and identified myself as Sherrod’s wife.
She asked to see my license. “You don’t have the same last name,” she said, handing it back to me. “I have no reason to believe you’re related.”
Fortunately, for her, a nurse saw this unfold and immediately pulled me down the hall to his room, where I was greeted by a husband who was delighted to see his wife by any name. Two hours later, we walked arm-and-arm down the hallway toward the exit. I smiled at that clerk as we passed her, but she just shook her head at me, the imposter.
I swear she whispered, “Mrs. Brown.”
I have no witnesses.
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