The Emotional Labor of Changing Your Name

First things first: we need to talk about emotional labor.

Why!? Because emotional labor isn't talked about enough, quite frankly. So what is emotional labor? Well, it's the unpaid and sometimes thankless work of making sure the world keeps running. In HRC's book What Happened, she says:

"[Emotional labor] describes all the unpaid, often unseen work that people—overwhelmingly women—perform to keep their families and workplaces humming along. Organizing office birthday parties. Arranging the kids’ summer camp. Coordinating visits with in-laws. Helping the new employee feel welcome and included. The list is endless: all the little details without which life would devolve into chaos and misery. Not all women take on these tasks, and that’s fine, and some men do, and I salute them—but it’s largely women’s work. Finally, someone thought to name it."

So what's the emotional labor of changing your name?

Emotional labor is invisible to people who don't do it. As Hillary points out, it's work that is mostly done by women for the sake of their families. After getting married, many women change their last names to that of their husbands'. There are several reasons why women might do this, but the main reasons typically include wanting their family (including their future kids) to have the same last name, switching to a better last name than their maiden name, and of course, tradition. Some women are born with stellar last names and pick up their husbands' last names despite this—a very nice wedding gift if you ask me. 

I believe changing your last name directly falls into the emotional labor bucket because not only is it a HUGE fucking job, it is a job that's done primarily by women. In fact, I cannot think of a single man—that I know personally or not personally—who took his wife's last name. (I assume some exist, but I do not know of any.) It appears that the options for women are typically A) change your last name to match that of your husband's, B) don't change your name and hyphenate your offsprings' last names, or C) don't change your name and give your kids your husband's last name.

It appears that in changing their last names, women are doing a really, really nice thing for their husbands that their husbands would not do for them. You might be like, "Yeah, right! I totally would have changed my name for my wife!" Well, prove it or show me some examples! I mean, I just don't believe that most men would agree to settle it over a coin toss—"Heads we keep my last name, tails we take yours!"—and it's clearly not based on who has the better last name because women take their husbands' goofy last names with impossible spellings all the time.

I still watch Teen Mom (which I am not apologizing for) and a lot of the kids end up having the last name of their shit dads who aren't even in the picture. Like, why?! Is tradition that important in this context?

And changing your name is a BIG DEAL. It takes a ton of time, costs money, and is by no means easy. You know when you move to a new residence and you have to update your address everywhere? It's like that X 1000. 

emotional labor in relationships

I actually didn't realize that changing your name is initiated when you get married. I always thought that when someone got married, their name legally stayed the same until they changed it. Well since I didn't realize this, when Joe and I went to get our marriage license in Hawaii, I was alarmed when the lady turned to me and said, "So what do you want to do about your name?" First of all, I wasn't entirely sure yet if I would take Joe's last name or hyphenate my name. After all, I have an online personality and am somewhat Google-able. I suppose the lady was assuming I'd do what 95% of women do when they get married, but I didn't like that she only asked me if I was going to change my name. I didn't like the assumption.

The Grueling Process of Changing Your Last Name

Changing your last name is not a simple process. If you want to get most of it done at once, you'll want to take a whole day (or maybe two!) off work. Because of the time it takes to get everything done, the expense not only includes actual fees for updating your records but lost earnings as well.

Some companies and organizations make it relatively simple to change your name, while others make it really effing hard. I had to mail in proof to PayPal for them to change my name on my account. Even the apartment building we rent from required a copy of our marriage certificate to prove that I changed my name. Like, my roommate's name is Joe Holland. You don't believe me?

emotional labor examples

When you change your last name, the first thing on the list is heading to the social security office to get a new social security card. I don't really understand this because I'm the same human with the same social security number, but whatever. Next, you go to the DMV, where they actually went kinda easy on me. They didn't punch my old I.D. card or make me take a new license photo. (I contoured my face for the picture, though, which I guess ended up being unnecessary emotional labor.)

It's not like women changing their name after marriage is any new thing. You'd think society would make the process pretty streamlined. Whenever I tell someone I changed my name and need my records updated, they act like I'm the first human to ever do it and then request a number of different forms of proof. I mean, it was your idea, dudes of the world. The least you could do is believe women when we try to administer the change, amiright?!

Other Examples of Emotional Labor

Emotional labor comes in all shapes and sizes and may involve managing the birth control for you and your partner, acting as an "office mom", planning your family's social calendar, and sending thank-you cards.

Managing Birth Control

This includes researching different types of contraception, going to the doctor for a prescription, paying for the doctor appointment, picking up the prescription, paying for the prescription (but not in Oregon!), tracking our menstrual cycles, calendaring reminders for when to administer the contraception, putting a little pill (or other device) in our body on a regular basis, enduring the side effects, and researching how long it takes to get pregnant after getting off birth control.

Performing Office Housework

This may include making coffee, planning corporate events, coordinating birthday cards, gifts, or cakes, cleaning up after meetings, and emptying or loading the dishwasher. 

Planning the Social Calendar

I realize that all couples are different, but in my experience, women in relationships do the bulk of planning dinner parties, coordinating gifts, and RSVPing to events.

Planning, Hosting, & Attending Baby Showers 

Dude, it's your baby too. Why would women bear the burden of planning events to buy and receive diapers and baby clothes for your baby? Co-ed baby showers 4 LYFE!

Sending Thank-You Cards

After getting married, most couples will have a list of people to thank. It appears that women do most of the coordinating, writing, and sending of thank-you cards. Why? I'm really not sure, but I have personally never received a wedding thank-you card from a man. Have you?

Dealing with the Wrong Name on Company Email Addresses

I imagine the person who sets up company email addresses with the [first initial, last name] format isn't thinking about the possibility of female employees having to change their name and thus their email addresses in the future. Women who change their names are left with the choice of getting a new email address (which is a significant hassle, especially regarding work) or using the existing email address with their incorrect name.

emotional labor in the workplace

Final Thoughts on Emotional Labor

I kind of want to call emotional labor emo labor, but I also wouldn't want men to try and reclaim that and spin it as a thing we are whining about when in fact, we are just trying to make things equal. 

As a woman, people will always try to get you to work for free. This may be in the form of making coffee, offering advice, providing comfort, planning an event, allowing someone to "pick your brain", or even something as ballsy as actual free work in the form of unpaid overtime. Some say that women "are just better" at planning parties, caring for children, or cleaning. This is some bullshit if you ask me. These tasks are everyone's job, and anyone can be good (or at least sufficient) at them. 

As The Guardian's Rose Hackman states: "Many millennial women spend the majority of their waking hours working anyway. And though they’re technically getting paid for their time, they’re shouldering an invisible workload that is seldom reflected in their job description, and even more rarely in their paycheck." Emotional labor consists of things that people think magically get done, but they don't. Women are working the magic. 

Gemma Hartley hits the nail on the head in her Harper's BAZAAR piece titled Women Aren't Nags—We're Just Fed Up when she says, "Even having a conversation about the imbalance of emotional labor becomes emotional labor."

I definitely want to talk about emotional labor more, but the main point I'm trying to make here is that women have been changing their names for men (as a gift!) since the beginning of time and the process shouldn't cost us in any facet. If you think I'm being nit-picky and that I don't need to change my name on every single little thing, to that I say: it's my name! And it's important. 

Until we have last name equality and the FCC approves female nipples on primetime television—or bans male nipples, whichever—we will not have gender equality. 

Got any emotional labor stories or name-change nightmares? Comment below!