I am a Lucy Stoner

Lucy Stone was one of the major women's rights activists in the U.S. during the mid-to-late 19th century. She was also married to Henry Blackwell. Nonetheless, she chose to continue being known as Lucy Stone, one of the first American women to do so in all parts of her life (rather than just as a stage name or a pen name). In the 1850's, this was absolutely not done, and many other women's rights advocates of the time felt that she was hurting the cause with this radical stance of keeping her own name, making them all look like a bunch of anti-marriage, anti-family radicals.

Lucy Stone could not vote in her home state using the name by which she was known both personally and professionally. Officials insisted she sign legal documents with the explanatory note "Lucy Stone, wife of Henry Blackwell," despite the fact that there was no law requiring her to use her husband's name. And most hotels would not rent a room to "Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell" until it was explained that they were in fact married and signed the register with a note to that effect.

Nonetheless, she persevered, and eventually others followed her example. In the early 20th century, a "Lucy Stoner" was the common name for those who believed a woman had the right to keep the name she was born with, even after marriage. The Lucy Stoners of the U.S. had to fight to get passports issued in their own names, to open bank accounts in their own names, and even to take out copyrights in the same names their works had been copyrighted in before marriage. They won some of these rights, but at the cost of being portrayed as fanatics over a tiny little thing like a name, and usually a name given to them by their fathers.

By the middle of the 20th century, the fever for keeping one's own name had died down, and daughters were embarrassed that their mothers had different last names than their fathers if they were still married. The idea picked up some more followers during the women's liberation movement and now is, if not entirely accepted, at least not looked upon as the crackpot idea it was when Lucy Stone did it 140 years ago.

But still, women are assumed to be taking their husband's name upon marriage, and often even keeping it after divorce, though why anyone would want to continue to bear the name of the man they didn't wish to stay married to baffles me, even more than wanting to take any man's name in the first place. My mom was born Nancy Lonon, and became Nancy Saunders in 1972 on marrying my dad. When my parents divorced, Mom went back to Nancy Lonon, despite the inconvenience of all the paperwork to fill out in every place her name was used. Upon notifying her gym of the change, she recieved a letter back which confirmed the change and added, "Congratulations on your marriage." The only reason a woman would ever change her name is because she got married, right? Not that she might want to change it to get rid of a husband's name or even just because she didn't like her old name. My mom, and even I at age twelve, thought that letter was tremendously chauvinistic.

My birth certificate says "Suzanne Marie Saunders," but Mom wrote in the baby book "Suzanne Marie Lonon Saunders," and once expressed regret to me that it wasn't officially registered that way. After the divorce, Mom wanted me to change my last name to Lonon when she did. I refused, partially for practical reasons (the middle school I was attending had already sent me one card stating that Suzanne Saunders was to be in homeroom 501 the following year and another one stating that Suzanne Marie Saunders was to be in 507. I was not about to double the confusion.) And partially for sentimental reasons: I still liked my dad, and didn't want to feel like I had divorced him when Mom did. I have no objection to children bearing their father's last name; it seems like a way for a dad to contribute to his children's identity. It does make things awkward to pick which parent's name the chidren should have or how best to give them both, and I don't think there's an easy solution to that one short of abandoning hereditary surnames altogether.

The laws of the U.S., England, and possibly other countries as well, historically affirm the right of a person to call themselves whatever they please so long as they are not using the name to commit fraud. Staying Ms. Myself instead of becoming Mrs. Him is a choice that every woman should at least be aware that she can make. It doesn't detract from your love for someone when you don't want to give up your own identity -- after all, isn't it your own identity that they fell in love with?

Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell had a long and happy marriage with two different names. He loved her for who she was and supported her in being a women's rights reformer instead of just the little woman of his house. And she probably loved him more because he let her be herself, down to her name. They were a great example for a time in which their choice was tremendously radical. And I am proud to honor her and use the old nickname for one who holds my belief. I am a Lucy Stoner.

(And I'm not alone; the Lucy Stone League has a web page at http://www.lucystoneleague.org.)


Some information in this essay came from Una Stannard's book Mrs. Man, a history of the practice of wives taking or not taking their husband's name.


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