Gay Marriage: What’s in a Name?
By Abby Soto
When we got married, my mother had a gift made for my wife and me that I know she put a lot of heart into. I remember clear as day seeing it there on our gift table, wrapped simply with a bow and no paper. The wall hanging read in ornate and beautiful script: Soto-Yates.
Those who know me would tell you that I’ve been a feminist practically since birth. This is an identity I proudly own, for my mother passed it down to me and I plan to pass it down to my own children someday. One of my earliest feminist memories is of my mother hyphenating her last name. Though she didn’t file the paperwork in court, she did begin using “Price-Yates” as her name at all times. She even signed us kids up at her church with this new hyphenated last name. To my mom, and to me, a hyphenated last name was one of the best ways to publicly identify as a feminist. To include one’s maiden name was to declare that one was still her own woman, even though she was married.
So, to say it came as quite a shock to my mother that I decided not to hyphenate my last name when I got married would be an understatement. Though she never told me outright that she disagreed with my decision, her actions sent this message loud and clear. First, for example, was the wall hanging she made for our wedding gift. The minister, my father, had just declared us Mrs. Christie and Mrs. Abby Soto, but every guest who attended the reception afterward could see in big bold letters “Soto-Yates” on that wall hanging sitting atop all the other wedding gifts. Second was my father’s reaction when I sent my parents a picture of my official name change decree. “Though I get it” he explained, “You’ll always be a Yates to your daddy.” Did my mother have a hand in the development of his opinion? You bet your a** she did!
Honestly, I’m not even sure how many of my friends and other family really “get” why I made this decision. It’s not like I passed it by any of them. Well, I take that back. My wife’s best friend Nicole, upon hearing of the dilemma, pronounced that we shall from here on out be called “Soyatotes.” Sound that one out. Yes, that’s what I thought of too.
Because I realize that my reasoning for changing my name probably does confound many of my feminist and non-feminist friends and family, and because I refuse to be called Abby Soyatotes, and because today is my two-year wedding anniversary, I have decided it is time to publicly declare why I am so proud to call myself Abby Soto.
Many of you probably don’t know this, but changing one’s last name doesn’t come free to same-sex couples with the right of domestic partnership. This application is all business and it doesn’t have a place to take a new last name. What comes free for all opposite-sex couples that sign a marriage license, cost me $150 and a day off work to take care of the court appearance, the trip to the DMV and the trip to the Social Security office. Why go through all this trouble? Because, first of all, I really love my wife and I want to be a Soto. The Sotos are good people. Secondly, though, by changing my last name, my status as a married woman is forevermore publicly identifiable. I now officially have a maiden name and a married name. I am married. Yes, I am still my own woman. No, Christie didn’t twist my arm to make this decision. I chose this freely and clearly and saved up every penny to make it happen.
Those who haven’t had to fight for public recognition of their marriage probably don’t get it and may never. My mom and many others see it as black and white. Will they subscribe to the patriarchal history of marriage as ownership or will they remain their own woman free to keep her own last name? Black and white. Except…I occupy this gray area whether I like it or not. If I don’t change my last name, I am forevermore viewed as a single woman and for me, if I hyphenate my last name, I still publicly declare my loyalty to my independence. Here’s the rub: I don’t want, nor do I need, to remain loyal to my independence. I am married now. I chose marriage because I desired from the deepest depths of my heart to journey through the rest of my life together with Christie. We are a team now, she and I, and I plan for it to stay that way forever.
In all fairness, you may ask, why didn’t we both take my maiden last name? Well, that one’s easy. “S” comes before “Y” in the alphabet and I didn’t want to be picked last for kickball anymore.
Abby Soto is the wife of Christie Soto, the most beautiful woman in the world. On this day back in 2010 they were joined in holy matrimony in a beautiful church wedding inPortland,Oregon attended by all of their dearest family and friends.