DeRossi to become DeGeneres – Feminism at work?

by d

Portia DeRossi hasfiled paperwork to take on spouse Ellen DeGeneres‘ surname. Feminists have objected to the practice of wives changing their names to those of their husbands, for good reason. It can be read as another way in which a woman sublimates her own identity for that of her husband.


But how does that change when the marriage consists of two people of the same gender? What occurs then? I’m sure a new norm will develop over time, but meanwhile, Portia DeRossi gets to make her own rules.

Lori Sokol has written a column at The Huffington Post about the issue:

According to a European study published earlier this year entitled, “What’s in a Name? 361.708 Euros: The Effects of Marital Name Change,” women who took their partner’s name appear to be different from women who kept their own name on a variety of demographics and beliefs. A woman who took her partner’s name or a hyphenated name, for example, was judged as more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent and less ambitious in comparison to a woman who kept her own name.

A woman with her own name, on the other hand, was judged as less caring, more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent and more competent, which was similar to how unmarried women and men (married or not) were judged in the study. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a job applicant who took her partner’s name, in comparison to one with her own name, was less likely to be hired for a job and her monthly salary was estimated €861,21 lower, or $1109.32 in U.S. dollars.

So, take a man’s name and you’ll be seen as an ideal, loving spouse. Keep your own, and your career won’t be harmed. Talk about a no-win situation.

As with so many famous people, Portia DeRossi is not actually her real name. Quothe Wiki:

Born Amanda Lee Rogers in Horsham, Victoria, Australia,[citation needed] the daughter of Margaret, a medical receptionist, and Barry Rogers,[3] de Rossi was raised in Grovedale, a suburb of Geelong.[4] As a child, she modelled for print and TV commercials. She adopted the name Portia de Rossi at the age of 15, stating in 2005 that she had intended to reinvent herself, using the given name of Portia, a character from William Shakespeare‘s The Merchant of Venice, and an Italian last name.[5]

The million dollar question: If Portia changes her name in her private life, will she still act under the stage name DeRossi? Plenty of people keep their pre-marriage names as pen names, stage names, or other work identities, to avoid confusion. Essentially, your name is your brand. With women having careers, and getting married later, they could have several decades of name-recognition that tradition tells them to throw away.

Is this a holdover from oppressive tradition that we should chuck, or is it empowering for a same-sex couple to exchange names? Would we be talking about if it were a couple of gay men instead of a couple of lesbians?

6 Comments to “DeRossi to become DeGeneres – Feminism at work?”

  1. Hm. I think that, if you want to, you should be able to exchange names regardless of whether it’s a same-sex or mixed-sex couple. I dislike, however, that it’s expected of mixed-sex couples for the woman to change her name. Is it even legal for a man, if he wanted to, to take his wife’s name instead? Or is it just simply not done?

    I also think discrimination against married women, regardless of what their last name is, needs to stop. But, I think we’re still a long way away from fixing that one.

    If I got married to a woman, I’d probably seriously consider changing my name. Likewise, probably, if I married a man. Then again, if my husband or wife wanted to take my name instead, I’d be fine with that, too. Likewise, keeping our names as they are would be fine. :p I really don’t consider it a huge deal. But, the problem is when it becomes expected of one sex to take the name of the other. What a silly thing to insist upon.

    As for whether or not DeRossi will change her name for public life as well, I figure she probably won’t. But, maybe she will surprise us and be one of the few that do. 🙂 Marilyn Monroe wanted to change her last name to Miller in her public life after she got married, but people decided for her that it wasn’t a good idea. They figured people (read: men) wouldn’t like Marilyn Miller as much as they liked Marilyn Monroe.

    • I’m pretty sure it’s legal for anyone (of legal adult age) to change their name to almost anything they want. WikiHow makes it sound pretty laborious, but not subject to challenge unless you’re doing it to avoid, say, debt.

      It really should be up to the people concerned, no one else’s business. Your name is yours. It was chosen for you by someone else, you deserve to have some control over it!

      And wow, that’s something I never knew about Marylin! Miller doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way. And I bet they were worried about the constant reminder to men that she wasn’t available to participate in all their fantasies.

      I’m thinking DeRossi just might change it publicly, to make a statement. She and Ellen have been very high-profile in all this gay marriage/Prop 8 stuff, it would carry a big impact.

      • This is quite true. :p And I do agree, part of it probably did have to do with the fact that it was perceived as better if Marilyn seemed available. They made her change her name from Norma Jean in the first place because it wasn’t sexy enough. She married Arthur Miller who wrote The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. I learned this in school in English class my junior year of high school when we were reading The Crucible. 🙂

  2. These are excellent questions I’m sure we’ll see answered as the days go by. See if you can get any reaction from others considering marriage, both gay & straight.

    I consider these important topics and I love the way you’ve discussed them here.

  3. Excellent article!
    What is empowering is best left to whatever makes each individual woman comfortable. Tradition is not out enemy— acting out traditions can be very powerful, and the right for us to do so is important. In our rush to empowerment, we should not “chuck tradition” and assume we are advancing. Traditions mean different things to different women, and none of us are responsible for representing an entire gender.

    We have the right to have different opinions and to practice different traditions without being judged for “holding back” an entire gender. A name can work as a brand, but brands change with time. Being a loving spouse has nothing to do with a name, and if any woman or man are unfortunate enough to be with someone who does, than it’s that person’s inflexible and self-centered attitude, not tradition, which must be blamed.

    The day that a woman is judged by her personal history and ideals, instead of as a generic, boxed-in part of a gender-herd, is a day we will truly be independent.

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