Recently, I had to explain to my 7-year-old daughter why she was to address her new teacher as Ms. White (not her real name). We were sitting around the dinner table discussing Back to School Night, and my husband was praising "Mrs. White." I corrected him politely, "I think she should be called Ms. White." He looked at me puzzled. After all, I had no trouble in taking his name when we got married, right? And I don't object vehemently when people address me as Mrs. Vanegas. That's right, I don't. But I would prefer to be called Ms. He raised an eyebrow.
In our decade-long marriage I never mentioned to him that I thought Mrs. Vanegas was strictly reserved for his mother (she, by the way, prefers to be referred to as such). Oh, well. He knows quite well of my feminist views, so there should be no surprises there. He was still perplexed, because to him it seemed I had no problem wearing his beautiful Latin last name as if I were born with it. But my decision in abandoning my maiden name had little to do with abandoning the old honorific "Missus."
The alternatives before women are, as you know, few: you may keep your maiden name, take your husband's last name, hyphenate, use your maiden name as a middle name, and couples may even make up an entirely new last name from their two unmarried names. I have heard of couples who both decided to hyphenate their names, and salute them for this choice, although, in the end, it would yield ridiculously long last names. There is something endearing in taking our husbands' name, abandoning our fathers' last name and tribe, and joining the new tribe, a new life, as a new entity. It is quite an accomplishment to find a life-long partner, and we all love to celebrate weddings and anniversaries. Being called a member of his family was especially important for me, because I moved to this country to spend the rest of my life with him. So, there: I had plenty of justification in taking his last name (and I didn't have any to keep my maiden name, which I never particularly liked).
Still, I crave to be remembered as my own self, not as somebody's wife or mother. My mom, a professional woman, and second-generation feminist, never took my dad's name, and was quite annoyed when they called her the wrong name in my school. I wanted it to be easy for my children's teachera, yet I would, in exchange, expect them to address me as Ms., and not Mrs. If our name is a matter of our identity, that is where I definitely draw the line.
I am not alone: even in traditional societies, for example, in Italy, women are remembered and memorialized by their maiden names on their tombstones. Scottish women, when widowed, reverted to their maiden name, as this article tells us. And, according to The Emily Post Institute, Ms. is the default form of address for women, regardless of marital status, in the U.S. I rest my case.