What's In a Name: Audrey Cohen
Over the next few weeks we will be sharing stories gathered from women and men who have all come to their new families’ last names from very different perspectives. As we share these stories with you, we welcome your comments, your voice in the debate, and your own stories.
"You're changing your name? I'm surprised."
"Why are you surprised?"
"I don't know. You just seem like the kind of person who wouldn't."
I had this conversation with my friend Ben a few months before my wedding, after I mentioned that I was planning on taking my husband's last name. Presumably, what Ben meant when he said "the kind of person who wouldn't" was educated, career-oriented, politically progressive- someone for whom getting married was a pleasant parallel track to other goals instead of an ambition in and of itself. Apparently, it's difficult to believe that a woman with a career, who strongly believes in women's equality, would take her husband's name.
I had always planned on being open to any permutation of the name-changing scenario. When I was single, I joked that I had planned on drawing straws for whose name my future partner and I would take as a family. In reality, unsurprisingly, it wasn't that simple.
When I met my husband, an observant Conservative Jew who participates in the rituals associated with being a Kohain, his name was strongly tied to his identity as a human. His name, and the rites that came with it, were his way of connecting to 5000 years of Jewish history, him passing on his name to his children was his way of perpetuating Jewish traditions into the future. His last name, Cohen, impacted how he lived his life and how he viewed his place in the world, and it was vitally important to him that his children have his name.
When we got engaged, he stressed that it didn't matter to him that I take his name, but I did so willingly and joyfully. I am proud to have his name and to be associated with the Kohain traditions. I take sideways glances at him when he and the other Kohains are blessing the congregation, and am filled with awe at the beauty of the tradition and pride at my place in preserving it.
Would I have taken my husband's name if it wasn't Cohen, or another Jewish name, or if becoming more religiously observant wasn't such a big part of our journey together? I don't know what I would have done. I do know, though, that even before I was married, I've always bristled at the idea that all feminists keep their maiden names, or that you must not be a feminist if you change your name, or all the other logical extensions of this argument.
For me, feminism was more in what I did than what name I did it under—and I say that as someone who has earned advanced degrees, won awards, and published papers under my maiden name. Audrey Cohen donates just as much money to Planned Parenthood as Audrey Etlinger did. Audrey Cohen still works every day to make life better for elderly women, just like Audrey Etlinger did. Audrey Cohen gives honest, unflinching advice about birth control and sexuality to anyone who asks- and just as many people ask her as they did Audrey Etlinger.
The only difference is now I have Jeff Cohen, a feminist himself, standing next to me.
As we continue to develop our series on names, please let us know if you are interested in sharing your story.