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Being free to choose my husband’s last name is at the heart of being a feminist

This First Person article is written by Melanie Berglund, a Saskatchewan-based songwriter. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.

I’m a feminist. When I got married, I began using my husband Blake’s last name.

When the subject first came up, it was a hard no. In retrospect, it was such a hard no that I regret not delivering it with more tact.

But change my name? What would that accomplish?

We had no children and no plans to conceive. My career is connected to my given name. I thought I was setting myself apart by not changing it.

Wanting to belong

Prior to our wedding, I found myself texting more often with my soon to be sister-in-law, Brittany. She’s a natural at planning events, decorating and gift giving. She also asks a lot of questions.

“What kind of cakes are you thinking of?” she’d text.

“Oh, I’m not sure. I hate icing,” I’d complain.

“A naked cake would be lovely,” she’d respond.

I Googled “naked cake” and voila: the perfect solution.

I also told Brittany that we planned on having meat, cheese, pickles and whatnot laid out for guests in the hunting cabin where we were hosting the reception. I described it as the dream version of our pre-show rider — the list of requests before the artist performs on the day of the show. She called it a charcuterie board. A more elegant term by far.

A charcuterie board filled with meats, cheeses, fruits and other finger foods is laid out on a long wood table at a wedding reception.
The Berglunds had a charcuterie board at their wedding reception. (Submitted by Melanie Berglund)

While these conversations were happening over text, I found myself connecting with her during our in-person visits too.

“How was the drive?” she’d ask.

“The roads were good, but ugh, Blake does this thing where he pulses his foot against the accelerator. It makes me wanna puke.”

“Jarid does that too!”

One time I was telling Jarid and Brittany a story and Blake had his foot under the corner of a stool. He was absentmindedly bouncing it while I spoke. I grabbed his knee and said, “Could you stop? It’s so distracting.”

“That’s just like Jarid!”

She and I would suffer a verbal protest that simultaneously acknowledged and called our experience into question, but we knew the truth. No one could understand what it was like to be married to a Berglund boy other than us.

That was how I realized that I wanted to belong. I wanted to embrace that desire for myself, and for them — an offering of sorts.

It was an option, not a requirement of a bygone time. It felt like refreshing who I was in the world.

What our names say about us

I know that having a stage name gave me freedom in my decision. But even though names are how we identify, they’re not our identity.

Signing my name as Melanie Hankewich or Belle Plaine or Melanie Berglund doesn’t affect the work I’ve done in my life.

The line of women I was born into were more affected by their environment than a name change. My mother was no less herself when LaVonne Johnson became LaVonne Hankewich and later LaVonne Sunderland. She was intact as a generous caregiver, mother, wife and nurse under each. I would argue that dimension is added to her life when her autonomy is appropriately appraised.

What is far more interesting to me as a writer, feminist and performer is being someone who sees their own worth; who upholds values with integrity and honesty; who facilitates growth and change both in the world around me and also in myself. No name could ever represent this.

A smiling couple stands outside on a cold winter day wrapped in fur jackets.
Melanie married fellow musician and long-time sweetheart Blake Berglund. (Submitted by Melanie Berglund/ChrisGrahamPhoto)

At their best, names are bestowed with a hopeful eye on the future or a connection to a beloved.

At their worst, they echo traditions of oppression with their shadows of ownership. Accepting the facts of why names were historically changed is vital — both to understand women’s lives when we were without rights, and to recognize the ongoing damage of those who were enslaved, displaced, or lost their names to colonizers’ ink.

In the end, my choice to use my husband’s name is my own. I married at 38 — a point in my life where I felt uniquely independent. I acknowledge the complexity of our union and embrace simplicity by unifying us under one name upon our marriage.

When it comes right down to it, isn’t the essence of feminism being free to choose who we want to be and how we want to accomplish it?

Interested in writing for us? We accept pitches for Opinion and First Person pieces from Saskatchewan residents who want to share their thoughts on the news of the day, issues affecting their community or who have a compelling personal story to share. No need to be a professional writer!

Read more about what we’re looking for here, then email sask-opinion-grp@cbc.ca with your idea.

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