It could be the plot of a Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date, fall in love, get engaged … but, alas, the nuptials are not to be. Boy and girl go their separate ways, each getting married, having children, getting divorced.
They remain the “one that got away” to each other. And then, older and wiser, they fall in love again.The second-chance romance leading up to last week’s nuptials between the multihyphenate star and the actor and director Ben Affleck was a pandemic gift that kept on giving, for romantics and celebrity gossip addicts alike. Every chapter of the Bennifer 2.0 love story gave us something new to chew on.
The most recent nugget: J. Lo’s decision, first announced in her subscription-only “On the JLo” newsletter, to change her last name. “Love is a great thing, maybe the best of things — and worth waiting for,” she wrote, signing off, “With love, Mrs. Jennifer Lynn Affleck.”True love wins! Except, also, oof!
Ms. Affleck may be surrendering to the power of love with this, her fourth marriage. But given the cringe-y history behind the practice, a woman taking her husband’s last name feels to me like a submission — a gesture that doesn’t say “I belong with him” so much as “I belong to him.”
And at this fraught moment for feminism in America, a woman like the former Jennifer Lopez deciding to change her name feels especially dispiriting.Sure, taking your husband’s name might be a way of saying “this is for keeps.” But it is also a gesture inextricably rooted in peak patriarchy:
specifically, in 11th-century laws of coverture, which held that a married woman was, for legal purposes, merged with her husband, with no standing or identity of her own. That notion hung on for centuries, and still endures in various forms around the world.In the United States as late as the 1970s, some state laws required married women to use their husbands’ names to vote, or get passports or credit cards.
That’s when the trend of women keeping their surnames began to catch on — at least among a subset of older, more educated, big-city brides who’d established professional identities before saying “I do.”
I am emphatically part of that subset. When I married for the first time in 2001, I’d been working as a journalist for 10 years and had published my first novel. I had a professional identity, and I’d survived for 31 years with my awful, frequently mispronounced, playground-joke of a surname.