Mrs. DeGeneres and Facebook

It’s been heartening to me that as gay marriage has gained ground, gay newlyweds have refrained from adopting some of the more anachronistic traditions of marriage, such as one spouse taking the other’s name. As gay marriage has slowly spread across the U.S. I’ve been cheering both on civil rights grounds, and, selfishly, because I hope to grow the ranks of the name-keepers.

Then last week, actress Portia de Rossi officially took her wife Ellen DeGeneres’ last name. I haven’t read why. Hopefully she – who intends to keep de Rossi professionally – will become an anomaly among gay couples. According to the story above, she intends to keep de Rossi professionally, apparently. So, um, again, what’s the point?

I’ve been wondering that every day now for the last month or so, since I finally joined Facebook. I’m way late to that party. I hesitated for a long time over the fact that on Facebook, you’re forced to become a gatekeeper. It feels like a throwback to junior high, deciding what friends to invite, to accept, to ignore.

After taking the plunge and skimming the potential friends churned up for me, though, I realized almost every married woman I see on there goes by three names: first, birth/maiden, and married. So we have Jane Doe Smith and Suzy Jones Johnson and Sally White Black and on and on and on. To me, it’s a perfect argument for how sensible it is for married women keep their birth last names. If you want people to find you, on a social network or anywhere, you need to be findable. The best way to insure that’s possible is a consistent name.

A more relevant example, given the high unemployment of the day, would be the professionally-oriented LinkedIn. Say a former colleague is now in a position to hire, and remembers what a great job you did. But she knew you under a different name. It may not be opportunity lost, but a name change places a hurdle that didn’t have to be there.

Whether she’s de Rossi or DeGeneres, I concede Portia probably won’t have much of a problem. But other women just might.

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