I Have A Name (By Bailey Steger)

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.

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14 thoughts on “I Have A Name (By Bailey Steger)

  1. This is something that I’ve recently thought about… so beautifully written and so so important. Women have an identity outside of being a wife and/or mother and the church especially forgets that too often. Thanks for writing this, Bailey!

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  2. Yes yes yes yes yes!!! I’m a 66-year-old grandmother, and find this post so validating I’m almost in tears reading it. That was exactly the way I felt, in both my marriages. After my first divorce, I was thrilled to have my own name back. I’d felt like an imposter playing a role with someone else’s name for all those years. Every time someone called me, “Mrs. His Name” or asked are you related to “So-and-so His Name” I wanted to scream. I’d just say, “I have no idea. That’s his family not mine.” My own family has an incredible history and has been traced back to 800AD, but no one would ever even know it, because my name was erased from my identity. Divorce is no picnic, but nevertheless I was so so so happy to be me again.

    Was never going to re-marry. Right. Well, the second time around I wasn’t going to take his name, but then I let myself be talked into it anyway. Instantly regretted it. My grief at the loss of my own identity, yet again, played no small part in the failure of that marriage. I’m single again now, never to remarry. And if by some minute chance I ever should, there is no possible way, none, not even the tiniest chance I would ever, ever give up my own name and identity again. Thank you so much for this post, for so well articulating the pain that is the invisibility and loss of identity for women following this antiquated, harmful tradition. Thank you.

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    1. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced so much pain over this. It seems like such a simple issue (a non-issue, to many people), but it’s so real. It sounds like singleness is a good fit for you!! Hang on to your name and your identity — you’re a beautiful soul. xo

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  3. This is something I’ve always thought about but never really put much thought into the impact int has on the woman. I love that you brought up the fact that scripture says they shall become one flesh. Their becoming one flesh is no reason for them to loose their individuality. Reading this was eye opening on so many levels.

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  4. Thanks for writing about this, Bailey! So many thoughts!
    It’s something I experienced at my wedding, too. This also kind of ties into just the overall loss that is marriage- like, marriage is a wonderful beautiful thing, but there are losses that go into it’s creation. I feel like because of Hollywood we always expect weddings to be this big explosion of happiness, and i was very surprised and unprepared for how sad i felt at my sister’s wedding, and then also at my own ( i was also very, very happy at both- but it’s more that the sadness took me totally by surprise). I wonder if there’s a way to make space for grieving what you let go while at the same time rejoicing in what you take up? (Haha, that would be a DOWNER of a bachelorette party, but maybe we need more of those).

    Except at my wedding cards (and my grandmother’s letters) no one calls me by my husband’s name, and I would through a fit if they did. Also don’t like the whole, “Where’s your other half?” (maybe it’s a South African thing, I dont’ know, but people say it all the time when I’m out by myself. Uh… I’m a whole!)

    Also, I have a friend who is Belgian, and her Mom married an American. In Belgium the wife doesn’t legally change her name at the wedding, she always keeps her name, and that was a big surprise to the American husband-to-be, but he was fine with it because “it was their culture”. I wonder if he would have been fine with it if she had been American? So I’m interested to know what this experience is like in other countries/cultures where weddings don’t automatically come with the assumption that you’re changing your name.

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    1. Because I bawled so hard at my sister’s wedding, I assumed my own wedding would be equally sad. It wasn’t — but the grief, fear, and every other overwhelming feeling came a week later. 😉

      I would love a more creative approach to last names. I took my husband’s last name for practical reasons: it’s the cultural thing to do; it makes our children’s lives easier. Ideally, I would prefer us to both take “Bergmann-Steger,” but then if my child did the same thing, s/he would be, “Bergmann-Steger-New Name” and on and on ad infinitum. As long as I’m called my first name, I can overlook the grief at losing my last name. 🙂

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  5. May I offer another opinion? Addressing an envelope (or perhaps being identified in a newspaper article or otherwise) as Mr. and Mrs. Husband + Last Name is a social convention, a traditional form of etiquette, not necessarily a form of abuse. It doesn’t “hurt” me to see it this way, in fact, I am quite proud and happy to take on my husband’s name in this way. When I first became engaged, I would giddily practice writing “Mrs. Thomas Bergmann” because I was in love and it declared that I was “his”. I do indeed have a first name, and no one personally approaches me and says “Hi, Mrs. Thomas Bergmann”. They address me as Lisa or Mrs. Bergmann, a new last name I happily took on when I married because of the significance of becoming one with my husband, seeing him as the head of our home, and anticipating children to whom we would give our last name. I also gave up my bank account to have a joint one and so many other things became joint also because, well…I gave up my independent single life to a married one. If it’s so hurtful for a woman to give up her maiden name, I guess she should just keep it, but then what to name the children? Or how to trace genealogical records in years to come. (Disclaimer: I’m Bailey’s mom. I love her!)

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    1. I think this etiquette can be hurtful, neutral, or joyful all depending on how you approach marriage. If you believe your husband is the head of the home, it makes sense that you would see “Mrs. Thomas Bergmann” as an accurate depiction of your identity and your marriage! If you’re an egalitarian who does not believe any one spouse should be the head of the home, being called your husband’s name is offensive, inaccurate, and hurtful. It’s shows a “becoming one” that requires the woman to lose her identity to her husband’s, which is not at all a joyful thing to me! We both have strong emotions over being called our husband’s name: To you, it was beautiful, exciting, and happy because of your view of marriage. To me, it was none of those things because of my view of marriage. I think both kinds of emotions, based on two different views of marriage, are perfectly appropriate, normal, and valid ways of thinking about the issue. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Mom! ❤

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  6. Here is my perspective on the marriage name issue: My name represents me. It is part of my identity and sense of self. When I got married I became part of a married couple, and I definitely changed – I was no longer a single woman and that changed me in a multitude of ways, some obvious, some much more subtle, but I did not cease to be me. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to change my name. In the end I kept my maiden name and it was after I made that decision that many little things, some of them occurring immediately, some of them not for years, convinced me I had made the right decision for me.

    First of all, and a big one – I actually agree with what your mom said towards the end of her post – if I find it (or would find it) hurtful and/or offensive to be called Mrs. Rodney Brown (and I would), because I want to retain my first name, then I should keep my last name as well. In addition to feeling like a more internally consistent decision to me, this has the added benefit that pretty much no one ever tried to call me Mrs. Rodney Brown because I wasn’t even Mrs. Brown.

    After I made my decision I became aware that in many places and among many people to say it is expected that a woman changes her name is not strong enough. When we got our marriage license the clerk offered forms so I could legally change my name for Social Security and so forth. I said I was not changing my name and she pressed the forms on me anyway, in a kind way, “For when [I] change my mind.” A few years later, I heard a young girl, 8 or 9, telling her friend that a woman is required to change her name when she gets married. I pointed out this was not actually the case. I was glad that I could provide a counter-example to the overwhelming majority of women who do change their names to let girls growing up know they have a choice. If a woman wants to change her name, great! She should do that. And I totally get wanting to have a surname that represents the whole immediate family. But it should not be automatically assumed that the woman will do that.

    But what about the children? Many people on both sides of the issue asked me about that. Here is my take: Traditions don’t start from nothing. There are reasons behind them. The tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name when she gets married comes from a cultural mindset where a wife is part of the man’s property. That is why I find the Mr. and Mrs. format offensive – it even more blatantly demonstrates that a wife ceased to be a person in her own right and became a part of her husband’s household. I do not want to support or continue that tradition even in a symbolic way that is quite far removed from its roots. To be clear, I don’t think women who do change their names are supporting patriarchy. The source of the tradition is part of why I didn’t change mine, but it is mostly significant only in explaining why I don’t feel the same way about my daughter having my husband’s last name. A child being given her father’s surname does mean she is part of his household, yes, but there is a slight difference. When a father gives a child his name, especially when it is announced in a public formal ceremony such as a christening, the man is acknowledging the child as his – saying to the world, this child is mine, I am her father, I will protect and care for her. This is (or was) necessary, because really, that child could be any man’s. The same is not true for women. Women give birth, so a child’s mother is both obvious and undeniable. I don’t need to give my child my last name to declare that she is mine. Her father doesn’t either really, of course, not anymore, but the tradition of doing so is one I don’t mind continuing in a symbolic fashion. So, my daughter’s last name is Brown – no hyphens or anything. 🙂

    Ms. Adele Villemez

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  7. My mom is extremely passive aggressive and she addressed my last birthday card to “Mrs. -husband’s name.” She couldn’t have been more dismissive and distant – and you perfectly articulated how I felt in that moment. Not even my own mother would acknowledge ME.
    I also made damn well sure that we were announced as -first- name + first name -Last Name during our wedding. This is another hangover from the time that women were not allowed a public persona that needs to go.

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