By: Sophie Ladanyi
When the fiercely independent suffragette Lucy Stone married Henry Browne Blackwell in May 1855, she became the first woman in America to keep her maiden name. After her marriage, Lucy Stone continued working as an abolitionist and a crusader for women’s rights. When a daughter, Alice, was born in 1857, the couple decided to give her both of their names, another unprecedented move in 19th century America.
Now, it’s not so unusual for women to keep their maiden names after marriage, and plenty of Americans share both of their parents’ names. But women who keep their maiden or don’t automatically give their children their husband’s name still face challenges and still have important stories to tell. Molly Rabinowitz is one such woman.
Rabinowitz is an occupational therapist and yoga and pilates instructor who lives in Westport, Connecticut, She also works part-time in New York. She has two daughters and has been married for fifteen years, and has kept her maiden name. But unlike most mothers, she didn’t give her daughters their father’s last name – or her own.
Instead, Molly and her husband Rick chose to combine their last names (Rabinowitz and Michalek) to create an entirely new one, Rabinelek, for their daughters, Julia, age 12, and Zelda, age 8. I recently spent a sunny Friday afternoon with Rabinowitz, discussing the thoughts and experiences which led to her making those decisions.
Q: Before you got married, did you think you’d change your name, or did you think you’d keep yours?
A: I never really thought about changing my when I got married. I mean, I think that if there was a boy I liked, I doodled our initials and stuff, but I don’t think I ever really wanted to change my name.
Q: Did your mom [artist Kate O’Toole]’s decision to keep her own name influence your decision to do the same thing?
A: Hmmm…I never really thought about that! I don’t think so, I guess it was just something I thought about myself, because I’d always used my name, of course, [laughs] so I thought there was no point in changing it when Rick and I got married.
Q: When you and Rick were engaged, did you ever explicitly say you’d keep your own name or was it an unspoken thing? What did Rick say about it – was he upset or did he not care?)
A: I don’t really remember, but I don’t think I ever explicitly said anything to Rick or my parents or friends, and they didn’t really care. But when we decided to combine our names for Zelda and Julia, people tried to talk me out of it.
Q: Really? What did they say?
A: They’d say things like, “Are you sure, why would you do that, why not just hyphenate?”
Q: Well, why not just hyphenate?
A: (Laughs.) Well, we both have such long names that hyphenating would just make it longer, and then we have to figure out which name would go first…so I guess it was mostly just for practical reasons.
Q: What was the process of making a whole new last name for the girls like? Did you have to go to City Hall or anything?
A: Well, you’d think you would have to go to city hall or something like that, but actually, in New York [where Rabinowitz’s daughters were born] and probably in Connecticut, too, there’s no law that says you have to give your kids your name, your husband’s name, or hyphenate them. You really can name your kids whatever you want. So, our decision wasn’t a big deal in that way, I guess. You don’t even have to list who your children’s father is on their birth certificate, you can just put down “unknown,” but anyway we just put Ribinalek on their birth certificates and that was it.
Q: What did your loved ones say about that choice? Did any of them think it was weird or discourage you from doing it?
A: I think my parents understood, but a lot of other moms my age I knew thought it was weird for sure. They kept asking why. Rick wasn’t a big fan of the new name idea at first, either.
Q: Could you tell me more about that?
A: At first, when I brought it up, when I was pregnant with Julia, I think he was offended. I remember he said, “Well, what’s wrong with my name, why can’t she have it?” I guess he kind of thought I had something against him…Plus, he’s a very logical person, so I don’t think it made sense to him right away. And then I explained that I didn’t want to hyphenate but that I thought it would be good for our kids to somehow have both our names, and then I said, “Does it really even matter whose name our kids have? I mean, they could just have mine, like is it really so important?” And then when he thought about my reasoning some more, he warned up to the whole thing.
Q: And how long did it take for him to do that?
A: Later on that same day he was okay with it.
Q: Has that new name choice made anything more difficult, like traveling as a family or picking the girls up from school, and how so?
A: Not really, I mean, we haven’t traveled out of the country with them so I’ve never been separated from them or anything, but I guess if we did travel with them like that, we’d just have to bring copies their birth certificates. That’s something I’ve never really checked out, but I should, though!
Q: Do you regret not changing your name or making a new name for Zelda and Julia?
A: No, Absolutely not.