This is a tall order when one spouse is in the military. We have made some logistical decisions. We will live apart when Sam's military relocations require him to move somewhere that would mean isolation and professional disaster for me. Sam will use his bonus pay to fund the more-than-full-time childcare we will require due do his long hours and frequent, unpredictable absences. When Sam can, he chooses not to attend the countless military social functions that threaten to swallow our few free weekends together, and he tries to take leave when I am able to take vacations.
But there are other, I would argue, equally important symbolic aspects of marriage, such as being given away by your father at the ceremony, and perhaps of greater and more lasting influence, taking your husband's name without considering why.
This post is not a dis on women who decide to take their husbands' last names. Probably the most anti-feminist thing in the world is to judge other women for their personal decisions. After all, no one asks men to "choose" whether or not to keep their maiden names. The fact that we leave it all up to women is itself problematic.
I believe that taking your husband's name is way more than just a sentimental tradition, a loving expression of unity, or a decision to honor him. Historically, it has established a woman's inferior status. As one of my favorite bloggers, Andrea Grimes, points out, we cannot forget that this is a tradition rooted in 19th century laws denying married women the right to own property and sign contracts. That the practice is still confined almost entirely to women taking men's names--more than 90% of women do--suggests there is still something deeply unequal about the practice rather than it being just a woman's choice.
I maintain that names are more than just names. They do things. They are the lenses through which we look at and organize the world. A name can mean a lot of things, but it is never meaningless to give up one of the few things that is yours, that you can completely control, and replace it with your spouse's because he's the guy.
In military families, a woman not having her husband's last name will lead to all sorts of confusion. Indeed, your institutional value lies in your ability to meld seamlessly into the military family unit--geographically in terms of where you live; culturally in terms of your attitudes towards the military "mission"; and socially in terms of who you associate with and what you talk about. I'd bet a lot of money that it's much harder for leaders in the military apparatus to grasp that heterosexual spouses have different surnames. The military recognizes spouses through what they can contribute through their conformity, through not rocking the boat, and naming is a central part of that.
The other issue is naming children. While you hear pretty heated debates over whether women "should" change their last names, almost no one seems to question that children should receive their fathers' last names. Yet this reeks even more of injustice. So, say that I keep my last name and all of our children get Sam's last name. Then I would be the one left out? How is that a satisfactory solution? I cannot imagine not sharing a last name with at least one of my children.
Hell, especially in the military where in the majority of cases, it is the wife who takes leave and spends months singlehandedly raising children in the husband's absence, your child should have a fair shot at getting your name. Then there are the logistical issues of being the parent who takes and picks up the child from school, travels with the child, and takes the child to the doctor. Are you supposed to carry a notarized letter to show that your child is indeed yours, and not just the offspring of your perpetually absent spouse?
These naming issues are particularly relevant to the military, given the burden of holding together and raising families that the military foists on spouses, and conversely, its lack of respect and recognition for spouses' individual contributions in and beyond the family.
One of the things I look forward to about keeping my own last name is the opportunity to politely correct people when they assume I am Mrs. Sam Submariner. I will say, for example, when someone calls me this, "Excuse me, if we're being formal, it's not Mrs. Submariner but Dr. Turbulent," but you can just call me Tammy." Bam! As Alice Walker once wrote, "Resistance is the secret of joy!" I live by that. It is a joy to be different and shake up the worlds of the overly-assuming just by being myself.