I believe that the hurt which Bailey experienced, along with many other women, is rooted in male headship. Complementarian theology puts the spotlight on men and lets the women fade into supporting roles. It’s time we put this hurtful and sexist theology behind us, and move towards individuality. Here is her story. – Charlie
I hate being called “Mrs. Erich Steger.” To make sure I didn’t hear those dreaded words on my wedding day, I read over my wedding officiant’s homily, addressed every envelope with “Mr. His Name + Mrs. Her Name + Their Last Name,” and made sure no signage or program listed me as anything close to that. Thankfully, I didn’t hear myself addressed with my husband’s name. But there was one thing I couldn’t control: the cards. Every single card we opened that weekend was addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Erich Steger.”
“Oh, look,” I told the real Erich Steger. “These cards aren’t for me. My name’s not on them. You go ahead and open them.”
I got upset once during the wedding weekend—and that was over the “Mrs. Erich Steger” thing. The upsetness ranged from feeling humiliated to frustrated to forgotten, but mostly forgotten—especially by his family.
As we opened card after card addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Erich Steger,” I felt more and more awful: Did they even care that Erich was marrying me, Bailey? Were they celebrating our particular marriage to each other, or just Erich’s marriage to a random girl? Did they even know my name?
It’s nothing personal. It’s just an etiquette rule. I understand that, and I have no hard feelings toward anybody who thoughtfully wrote a note and sent a check, even if it was addressed to “Mrs. Erich Steger.” But it’s not just that hello, it’s the twenty-first century and no woman introduces herself as her husband’s name anymore. It’s that—for me—marriage is an identity crisis in itself.
Not only did I lose my last name that day, I lost my first name as well. I felt swallowed up in the role of wife. I felt like I had no identity apart from my husband. I had always imagined the two becoming one flesh as two wholes merging into a new kind of whole—not 90% “Mr. Erich Steger” and 10% “Mrs.” Staring at “Mrs. Erich Steger,” I felt absorbed and lessened. Who even was “Mrs. Erich Steger”? Nobody I knew.
Names never meant anything significant to me before my wedding day. It didn’t matter to me, for instance, that “Bailey” meant “inner courtyard” or that I was named after a great-grandfather I never met. What mattered to me about names is that they signify persons. “Erich” signifies the man I love. “Steger” signifies our new life together. And “Bailey” signifies me—the girl who existed before marriage and who will exist after marriage. That name links me to my identity, past, present, and future, both in and out of relationship contexts.
That’s why it hurt to see “Mrs. Erich Steger” written a million times in pen. Bailey didn’t exist anymore. Bailey meant little to them. Bailey wasn’t even acknowledged, much less known. And that is not what marriage or names are about.
As a newlywed, I struggle to find my identity in this huge name change. But I’m pretty confident I’m not just Erich Steger’s wife. I have a name, and it’s not his. I’m Bailey.
Bailey Steger graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College with a B.A. in Christian studies and an M.R.S. in a quirky relationship with her chemist husband Erich. She’s particularly interested in patristics and wrote her thesis on the early church’s view of femininity and spirituality. She works as a kindergarten teacher at an inner city school and writes at Ezer (www.weareezer.com), an egalitarian lifestyle blog.