Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why I Took My Husband's Last Name (And No, It's Not Heroic)

Growing up I loved my last name, Sloan. I was given the name Quiana Rachelle Sloan at birth, and being the nerd that I am, growing up I geeked over the fact that my initials were alphabetical. I remember getting my LL Bean backpack in middle school and wearing my initials proudly throughout my school's hallways. I hadn't given much thought to marriage and what I'd do about my last name when I got married until I attended Wellesley College. I took an anthropology class, Marriage, Women and Family, and it really opened my eyes to issues I had never considered growing up in Ohio. Sure, I went to an all girls school but as an adult at an all women's college I really felt convicted about the importance of feminism. 

Speaking of feminism . . .

I cringe when people, especially women, staunchly proclaim they are not feminists. A feminist believes that men and women are equal. I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn't want to believe this. Men and women are different, yes, but we are equal. 

Now back to my love story:

When I met my husband Uka in college and he shared his full name I was especially curious about his last name, Agbai. I didn't know where it was from so I asked. It's Nigerian, Igbo, to be exact and when we started dating in 1999 and then married in 2009 it wasn't even a discussion to be had: I knew I would become Quiana Rachelle Agbai.

Here's why:

Sloan, my maiden name, is derived from Ireland. I am of African descent and perhaps some day I'll do one of those cotton swab tests to determine exactly where (I'm obsessed with Finding Your Roots). Like most African-Americans, my ancestors in this country were slaves and Sloan came from an Irish slaveholder. While I do have ancestors of European descent who were not slaveholders, the surname Sloan in my family is from slaveholders. 

My husband's family can pinpoint exactly where in Africa they are from: Nkporo and Ohafia, Nigeria. We took our daughter there when she was 16 months, and it made me very emotional to be there and stand on the soil, breathe the air and meet my family. Even now I cry easily at the thought that my grandparents never stepped foot on African soil. It is life changing to go to Africa, regardless of your heritage.

When I got married I knew I'd want to exchange my slave name for an African name especially for my children. I knew that I'd want them to know where they are from, to appreciate their Nigerian heritage. I also knew that if I kept my surname or did a hyphenated name that the surname Sloan is ultimately from a man. For me it was never an issue of being empowered by keeping "my name" because it's still a man's name. What's more important to me is where a name comes from vs. whether it belongs to a man or woman. 

Lately, while our society is quick to describe certain celebrities as "heroes," I think it's more important to be strong in your own convictions for living the life you believe in instead of trying to be "on trend."  I applaud Zoe Saldana's husband for taking his wife's name if that's what works best for their family; it definitely opens up a conversation for people to explore marriage traditions and why we do what we do. Also, I hope never to follow something blindly without examining the underlying foundation behind it (if you're interested in learning more about marriage history I highly recommend Marriage, a History).

Here's to six years (and counting!) as Quiana Rachelle Agbai.

If you're married did you discuss your surname decision with your spouse? If you're not married yet have you considered what to do about your surname?