Ha ha, here’s something horrible from the state of Florida, ha.
Salon a while back posted about a Florida man, Lazaro Sopena, who attempted to change his last name to his wife’s, in a neat-o reversal of gender norms. Cool! Sweet! Awesome! His wife, Hanh Dinh, is of Vietnamese heritage, and Sopena decided to honor her culture rather than keep his own last name, to which he has “no particular emotional ties,” he told Reuters.
But wait. After going through all the steps necessary to legally change his name, Dinh (né Sopena) went to the DMV to exchange his driver’s license for one reflecting his name change, only to, a year later, be told that he obtained the license through fraud.
Apparently, the state of Florida doesn’t think men should be able to change their last names with the same ease that women are able (and for centuries, were obliged to). Only 9 states make it as easy for men to change their names as it is for women: California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia and North Dakota.
In the other 41 states – yes, over 4/5ths of the United States– a man may go by his wife’s last name in common-law (meaning that legally, his last name remains the same, but that he assumes his spouse’s in social settings) or else file more paperwork and pay more fees than his wife would have to. Because the changing of legal documents to reflect a new name requires a reason for the name change (i.e., court order, marriage, divorce, etc.), men who wish to change their last name to reflect their spouse’s or partner’s must go through this costly and annoying (not to mention sexist!) process.
Despite the legal possibility of such a name change, the Florida DMV official who suspended Dinh’s license refused to believe that a man would take his wife’s last name. Dinh was told that he needed a court order to change his surname to that of his wife. He filed suit against the state of Florida, hoping to restore his license, if not bring awareness to this issue.
For gay men looking to partake in one of the unsung joys of “traditional” matrimony, the process of exchanging one partner’s last name for the other’s is even more harrowing: only four states recognize both gay marriage and a man’s right to change his name after marriage. (They are Massachusetts, California, Iowa and New York; to illustrate how backwards this situation is, it is worth noting that more states allow gay marriage than dole out name-changes equally across the sexes.)
While it isn’t illegal for men to change their last names to those of their partners, nor may it seem like the biggest issue, the legal hurdles over which they have to jump to do so are vestiges of ingrained societal sexism that will take generations to fully flush out.
Dinh’s license was eventually restored, and the suit he had filed against the state of Florida was dropped. An ABC News report said that Florida DMV employees were currently being trained to recognize that the name change “goes both ways.”
Although the dropping of the suit means that no legal precedent will exist to correct this gender inequity, hopefully the incident will prove a catalyst to rethink the way we deal with gender norms and naming.