Marriage: Sharing Whose Name, Exactly?

Marriage, or, really, the act of getting married, makes a lot of formerly nice, sane women go crazy. This is axiomatic, and great TV, whether or not it’s true. I didn’t have the money, the time, or the innate design sense to care very much about napkins or flower arrangements. But I did give serious thought to something else: changing my name.

It was an issue mostly because I was pregnant. I’d never planned to take my husband’s name, but I did worry about not sharing a name with my daughter. We talked about various solutions– hyphenated names, middle names, two last names – but for a number of reasons decided to go old-fashioned and give our daughter her father’s last name. But I decided that being feminist meant I had to keep the name I was born with.

I sympathize with women who take their husband’s last names. It’s certainly the easiest, most obvious option, and inertia is a powerful force. (Socially, that is: the hassle of legally changing your name seems pretty overwhelming.) I still have trouble getting people to call me “Ms. Lastname” instead of “Mrs. Lastname,” and plenty of people address letters to my husband’s name as if it’s our family name.

What’s more, many women seem to experience taking a new name as some sort of life victory. I don’t blame anyone for absorbing pervasive messages about the importance of marriage in a woman’s life. I realize, for example, that getting married is not itself a precisely feminist act. And yet, here I am, married and making my husband’s lunch.

Most appealing, though, is the idea that a shared name symbolizes your bond as a family, a bulwark for embattled domesticity. But that’s obviously an insupportable argument. Women who change their name three times for successive marriages? Blended families that are tighter and more loving than any number of abusive, single-family names?

I thought about this again recently because of an Avett Brothers lyric that keeps popping up on Pinterest and Facebook in relation to marriage: “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing than the love that let us share our name.” It’s a lovely lyric, and this is exactly the appealing rhetoric that makes name changing seem like the only appropriate response to marriage: when women change their name, they’re enacting their love for their new husband. The problem, aside from the uncomfortable suspicion that the man enacts his love by buying an expensive ring to make up for the woman’s name change, is that applying this sentiment to marriage is a profound misreading of the song.

The Avett Brothers are talking about a sibling relationship. The name they’re sharing is theirs from birth, and, since they’re both men, will be theirs until death – as well as, if they have male children, beyond. Setting aside primogeniture, siblings are equals in an egalitarian relationship. The kind of marriage in which the woman’s name disappears, however, is hierarchical. You can argue all you want that each spouse in a marriage is equally important in different ways, or that your own specific marriage is egalitarian, or that you respect the tradition, or that it’s just easier to share one name, but the fact is that the man’s name remains. We are in the presence of a gendered hierarchy.

I understand why women change their names. I really do. I chose not to change mine, and in the spirit that allowed me to choose that option I’m certainly not going to tell someone else what to do. But I am going to point out what’s going on, although I realize in this forum that I’m likely preaching to the choir. What I’m objecting to here is not name changing per se, but a misreading of the lyrics that shows a willful blindness to patriarchal structures that have not gone away. If you want to prove your love by sharing a name, may I suggest choosing a new name? Or even sharing the woman’s name?

Oh, but that’s just not the way it’s done.

By Firstmute

Firstmute has a seventeen-month old, a nearly finished dissertation, and a pile of unfolded laundry. In between dealing with those three things, she likes to read, craft, watch movies, and get outraged.

55 replies on “Marriage: Sharing Whose Name, Exactly?”

Whenever this topic comes up, it just seems to confuse my mind. I’m not even engaged, but my boyfriend and I have talked about this. He really wants me to take his name, because of “family”, so like, to show that we are one family. Me, I never wanted to take anyone’s name. I like my last name. It goes very well with my first and middle names, and I don’t have a crazy family history or anything like that. It is a name that was changed when my family came to America, so it only goes back to my great-grandparents, but oh well. It’s still a good name. Anyways, my boyfriend wants me to take his, I don’t want to take his, and so far we’ve compromised by saying I should change mine in personal life, but use my own last name in academic. I’ve already published papers under this name, and I would like for them all to be under the same name. Hyphenating or conjoining our names just sounds really weird. Both names are 5 letters long, and 3 of the letters are the same in different order, and the beginning letters sound similar. So, no hyphenating. I don’t like the idea of picking a new name together, because I like my name. My boyfriend likes his. And that’s the problem!

So, hearing how others have solved this is always nice to read. Thanks! :)

I can’t really feel any attachment to my last name. Partly because my dad wasn’t the best father ever, and also because I know the name was just given to my relatives when they moved to America. I guess the original Czech name didn’t translate into english well. Maybe if it was a name that went back farther than my great-grandparents I would feel there was some kind of history attached to it.

When I was growing up one of my best friends had her father’s last name, but her brother had their mother’s last name. I always thought that was a cool solution to this situation and it’s what I’d like to do if/when I start having kids. Just alternate the last names. Then again, I’m quite attached to my name. Apart from it being perfectly unique (if you Google it, the first five pages are all me), my dad’s side of the family is really concerned with family and ancestry. We can trace our heritage back several generations to a single town and the importance of that was a big part of my life growing up. But my brother was the only male born in our generation and there’s always been this weird pressure on him to grow up and have a bunch of sons. Somewhere along the way I thought, well, I can have kids, too! Why should he bear the burden of carrying on the family name all alone?

It’d be nice if we did the Icelandic thing… people’s surnames are just a patronymic (which can also be a matronymic AFAIK) and so aren’t passed on.  Inherited surnames are really rare there (according to what I’ve read, open to correction from any Icelandic people).

I don’t want to offend anyone, and I do totally understand why some women choose to take their husband’s names (I didn’t, but I’ll probably just allow my kids to have his name, which amounts to the same thing in the long run), but I have to take issue with one argument I see trotted out again and again, which is that your name is just your father’s name anyway.

Simply put, it’s nonsense. The vast majority of people who make this argument don’t frame it as choosing between your dad’s name and your husband’s dad’s name, but between one man’s name and another’s. It implies that your name is your dad’s, but your husband’s name is his own. Why does your husband get to own his name, even though it’s probably also passed down from his dad? At what point do you finally get to have a name that actually belongs to you?

I entirely understand that some women have bad associations with their original names, and it’s fair and normal and empowering to want to change those associations. But again, why is the default answer then to adopt your husband’s name? Why not pick a totally new name? Why not have both yourself and your husband choose new names together, if it’s important to you that you have the same name?

I guess for me it comes down to the age-old feminist problem, which is the need to distinguish between individual choices and the broader system. We all do some things that say fuck the patriarchy and we all do some things that reinforce it. I’m sure all the awesome Persephoneers here have perfectly good reasons for changing their names on an individual level, and have no doubt given a lot of thought to it – the comments alone make that very clear. But in the context of a system in which 90% of women change their names automatically, in which it’s expected to change one’s name, in which men changing their names represent only a tiny minority, we have to be open to the reality that while a choice might be smart and valid and wise for us, that doesn’t make it a feminist choice. Hell, I spend endless hours putting on makeup and removing hair from my body, but I don’t pretend it’s the feminist thing to do. It’s just a choice that I’ve made, and a valid one in my life, but that doesn’t make it feminist.

It implies that your name is your dad’s, but your husband’s name is his own. Why does your husband get to own his name, even though it’s probably also passed down from his dad? At what point do you finally get to have a name that actually belongs to you?



I’ve been thinking about your comment all morning, and how right you are.  I always get persnickity in these conversations, probably because I feel defensive about the fact that I took my husband’s name (even as I say that, the urge to justify rises – we considered taking mine! it is a good professional move on my part! his name kick’s my old name’s ass!).  The truth of the matter is that for me, taking my husband’s name was empowering in a cold-hearted and economic sort of way.  It made me stronger and, weirdly, more independent and able to provide for my family (husband is a stay-at-home dad right now).

But there is a difference between “I am a feminist and this is something I have chosen to do, in good faith, knowing all of my options, and because it is right for me,” and “this is something I do to further feminism.” I didn’t further feminism by taking his name, instead, I perpetuated the patriarchal tradition.  Even though individually, it was in line with my feminist beliefs.

I see your point about the “your name is from your dad but his name is HIS” argument, but I think the real point there is that the majority of names in our society are paternalistic – so who cares what name you pick?  And then the answer is either to claim your name as your own and start a maternalistic tradition in your family by passing it down, or to make up an entirely new name.

But there is a difference between “I am a feminist and this is something I have chosen to do, in good faith, knowing all of my options, and because it is right for me,” and “this is something I do to further feminism.” I didn’t further feminism by taking his name, instead, I perpetuated the patriarchal tradition. Even though individually, it was in line with my feminist beliefs.

Thank you for that. Sometimes, I just want to see this acknowledged.  It’s a hard place to be stuck, deciding between doing what you want (for whatever reason) and knowing that you’ll be perpetuating a patriarchal tradition.

Why does your husband get to own his name, even though it’s probably also passed down from his dad? At what point do you finally get to have a name that actually belongs to you?

The point of the argument is that women don’t ever really have a name that belongs to them, so they might as well do what they want for whatever their own reasons may be.  IMO the argument about your last name being your father’s name is valid because of the way names add up historically. Almost no one ever got their last name from their mother.  If there was some sort of equal distribution of parents either giving the kids the mother’s or the father’s last name it wouldn’t be an issue.  Additionally, a lot of women frame the issue as “taking on a man’s name”; if your mother took on your father’s last name , you’re not really solving the problem that’s bugging you by keeping your father’s name.  The fact that women are expected to take on their husbands’ name and pass it on to their children means that it’s his family.  That’s why he gets to own his last name and women don’t really get to own theirs.

YES.   My name is  MY name, dammit, regardless of how I got it through centuries of fathers’ last names being passed down and mothers’ last names being dropped.  I may not like where it came from (I don’t, in principle), but it’s still mine, and I get to own it too.  I’ll be squidjiggered if anyone tries to take that away from me.

Names are complicated.

I love the idea of having the same last name as someone who wants  me to have their name. The idea literally makes me cry. As it is, my last name is my dad’s step-father’s name. While I loved that man dearly, I associate the name with  shame, rejection, and my biological grandfather’s (involuntary) absence from my dad’s childhood. I have never met anyone outside of my immediate family with my last name because my step-grandfather’s family quit speaking to him when he adopted his wife’s bastard son (my dad).

I don’t want to carry the name with me forever.

I want a name that reflects my family. I want a name that is shared with people who want me. I want a name that I have a connection to. If that name happens to be a future husband’s name, so be it. If it means taking my mom’s maiden name or my biological paternal grandfather’s name, that is fine, too.

I just want a name that wants me.

If I ever get married I’ll base my decision to change my name on whether I like my or his name better.  My last name is my father’s last name; clinging to it like a banner of feminism doesn’t ring genuine to me.  Hyphenating is a temporary solution, and mothers’ names get dropped from these combos before fathers’ do when they get too long.  Systems like the Spanish one are often brought up as solutions, but mothers’ names are similarly filtered out early on.

Like rah29 pointed out, we think of a man’s name as his name.  At some point, women are going to have to start owning the surnames we were given and think of them as ours.  The likelyhood of us starting from scratch where last names are concerned in the name of equality is nil, so maybe taking ownership of what we have is the best place to start.

What about practical-ish reasons? I *think* this is what my partner and I are doing: I will take his last name and use it in my personal life/our family  life, but in terms of my academic career I will stay Dr. Wannabemusicologist. I think it would afford my partner, myself and our future kids some privacy, in a time when every undergrad and their dog has google. I don’t know quite how the logistics would work on this, though.

This! I am having papers published before we get married, and although I am the only one ever with my name, I would like to have all my research under the same name. My plan is to hyphenate, and just use my maiden name for research and my married name for everything else. I assume this means the children, if there happen to be any, would just go with his name, which is fine to me.

On a tangential note, my mom took my dad’s name because her family was so dysfunctional and she wanted out, which I think is pretty rational.

I have mixed feelings about this topic. The one that’s not mixed is that I don’t want to [just] change my name [as opposed to us both taking each other’s or a new one]. I’m like 90% that I want to keep my family name. Sometimes I don’t know if I’d even want a portmanteau-type name, because then you’re not connected to your families either and I’m really jazzed on my family. On the other hand, I’d still be family with them if I had a different name. But if one is changing I’d prefer we both change.

I dislike the appearance of hyphens in names, though. I know. I know. But I DISLIKE THEM. I prefer just having two surnames, like Hillary Rodham Clinton/Ruth Bader Ginsburg style. I might consider this.

I don’t mind the idea of my future husband and me having different surnames, but (and this is overcomable, I know) I like to refer to my family as “the [Lastname]s” and it bums me out that I might not be able to do that. (Like when I call my mom I exclaim, “[Lastname]s!” to refer to the fact that I’m calling the family house. This is true. Our surname is not especially cool.)

So my plan is just to not change or to have us both take both, but all options are weird. With my current partner, both of our surnames are compound-word-like (in a way that doesn’t portmanteau well–I’ve thought about every possible option) so that it would be like AdjectiveNoun ForeignAdjectiveNoun in a way that’s not too too comically long but also a little awk. But whatever. WHATEVER I say.

I bounced around the idea of hyphenating as well as keeping both my surname and taking on my husband’s, but then…Shaw Judd (or Shaw-Judd) just sounds awkward. I also thought about mixing up our last names to create a new last name, but then all I could see with the letters was “Jaws” and “Shudders.” (Yeah, the “-ers” isn’t in there, but that’s still all I could see…) Anyway, all of that played into my final decision on names.

Good luck figuring your own situation out!

It’s complicated, isn’t it?  And there’s no easy answer on what to do.  I do wish there was a standard (equality based!) practice that we couple implement that would become the norm.  That would be so nice!

PS… If you both kept your own last names, you could The HisLastName YourLastName Family.  Or vice versa.

I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this article, but the part about deciding that being a feminist meant that you would keep the name you were born with (I think you meant just for YOU, not for everybody, although it isn’t entirely clear in this statement) discounts a lot of reasons why feminists would take their husband’s name. The name you were born with is almost certainly given to you from a man. You may feel more connected to your new in-laws than your birth family. Your maiden name (I hate that term) might be “assholeface”. In my personal case, my decision to change my name had very little to do with love or feeling like I *should* do it, but it was a very smart career move for me. In my field, his name has authenticity and my old one just didn’t.

For me, changing my name made me more powerful, made me stronger as a woman.

I actually feel attacked by this article because unlike almost everyone else who commented, I took my husband’s last name when we married. It seems that by doing so, it is assumed that I didn’t think about the ramifications of changing my name or not and just went along with what the patriarchy told me to do when, in reality, I spent a very long time coming to the decision to share a last name with my husband.

First of all, by keeping my maiden name, I would still be keeping a man’s name (my father’s), so that didn’t seem to solve the patriarchichal (is that a word?) hierarchy issue. Even if I were to take my mother’s last name, that was still her father’s last name, so that brought me back to square one. There’s the argument to keep your maiden name because that is the name that you were born with or because that is what older feminists told me I should do because they regretted changing their names when they got married (true story). There’s the idea of the husband taking my last name, but when I brought that up, he wasn’t keen on it because he’s very proud to be identified with his family, and for good reason! He has a great family! And I wanted to be identified with them as well as with my own, so…stuck again.

I couldn’t get rid of any of my names, nor did I want to as my first and middle name  were derived from my grandmothers’ names, and I didn’t want to lose my maiden name. So, after a lot of internal debate, I kept my full maiden name (I know how two middle names, one of which is my former surname) and took my husband’s last name as well.

I think the main issue around this choice of names is to have a discussion with your future spouse and to come to an agreement where neither party feels disrespected or demeaned. It’s important to understand the why behind your decision of whose name ends up where, but I don’t think taking a husband’s last name is the end of feminism.

PS. What about name changes in gay or lesbian marriages?

Thats actually pointed out in the article – “I understand why women change their names. I really do. I chose not to change mine, and in the spirit that allowed me to choose that option I’m certainly not going to tell someone else what to do. ” Nowhere does the author demean or attack women who change their names and actually presents an argument that bends towards taking your husbands last name, mostly due to the fact that its 1. easier 2.  less social rubbernecking from people who  need to make it their business as to why one wouldn’t take their husbands name. If anything, the part of the article that talks about the  inertia of changing ones name to the husbands is something that personally speaking, I find problematic, and I can see why one would find it insulting, but I think the author’s intentions are meant to make obvious the ease that can come with taking a husbands name and the acceptance of it ( as well as the legal ease, considering that there are some states that will put up a fight if you try and keep your name).

As far as gay/lesbian relationships, thats a different context that is already removed from atypical patriarchal norms, especially since the institution of marriage in the LGBTQ community is a relatively new and is still not a legally protected right depending what state you are in. Thats not to say that there are certain hooks or perhaps embedded ideas of sexism and patriarchy in that dynamic, but it is like comparing apples and oranges.

What worked for you personally is great – those who choose to take their spouses lasts names are free to do so and shouldn’t be met with judgement or scorn from anyone, especially if its something based out of a long process of thinking. It sounds like you are fully aware of the implications of taking your husbands name and what the benefits and downfalls are. And it makes sense why you took his name and that decision is really when it comes down to it, no ones business but you and your husbands, plain and simple.

But the author is questioning why it is still such a radical idea that a woman would not take her husbands name and the disdain it can bring from both men and women alike. Not making judgement calls on women who do take their husbands names. If anything, it begs the question as to why conversations like this are still happening ( mainly b/c we live in a culture that questions womens choices no matter what – you take your husbands name, what are you a tool? or, you didnt take your husbands name, think of the children!)

I read into the article more than I should have… :( Like I told Firstmute below, I have the tendency to do that even when I think I’ve given myself time to process before I react.

Wait…I just went back and reread your comment. There are states that have a problem with women keeping their maiden names? What the hey? Which ones? And…why?!

Hm, well, I tried to be clear that I wasn’t addressing people who had given thought to it, but I know it’s a hot-button issue, and I’m sorry I came off belligerent. I appreciate your point about the patriarchy inherent in women keeping their birth names–in fact, my husband, who’s way more radical than I am, brings that up when we talk about it. He insists that to be truly feminist, I’d have to change my last name to ‘X’. So, absolutely, valid point.

Gay and lesbian marriages? That’s where your point about having a discussion comes in, I think!

Personally, I think it would be awesome if every married couple chose a new name. I know there can be a lot of pride around family names (and I’m certainly glad I’m a part of my family), but IMHO clannishness is a huge social problem.

I probably read meaning into what you wrote that you didn’t intend, so I’m sorry for not phrasing my own response more politely. (I have a problem with this, and it’s something I need to work on.) I’m curious to hear more of your opinion on “clannishness,” as you put it. Meaning you don’t want to see the Hatfields and McCoys play out again in society or…?

Also, I like your idea of married couples choosing a new name, but then…I like having a history that I can look back on–the good, the bad, the totally crazy–so would that genealogy disappear? Not that genealogies can actually disappear, but isn’t there something to be said about having familial roots? :-/

But wouldn’t the roots still be there? As a commentor said up top, surnames are uncommon in Iceland, but they still have family history. I think clannishness plays out in much more subtle ways than Hatfields and McCoys, although sure that’s an extreme examples: legacy college admission, nepotism, and simple ingroup preference are all examples of what I’m thinking about. I tutor a kid who is the FOURTH of his name (I’m in the south, can you tell?)–to me, that seems to place undue emphasis on status and position as opposed to individual merit and opportunity.

i don’t know what i’m going to do…. my boyfriend and i will get married at some point…but i don’t know what to do about the last name thing.  my parents are really traditional and i feel like they’d expect me to “do the right thing” and take his last name.  his last name is cool (it’s iranian), so i’d take it just cause it’s cool sounding.  but, then again, mrs. hislastname is who his mother is, and that freaks me out!  i realize ms. mylastname is my mother, but…i identify with my last name.

whew.  then there’s the issue of whether or not to even wear a ring….

I had to create a username just to comment on this article and on why I hit “angry”.  It wasn’t anything the author said… it’s just the subject. It always feels like such a fight whenever it’s discussed, and I usually end up feeling like the misunderstood outsider.  I plan on keeping my name, and my family doesn’t support that decision in the slightest.  When they first heard me say it, they were shocked.  And then they were irritated that I wouldn’t just conform like a nice submissive little lady.  My boyfriend is just fine with it.  He doesn’t particularly care either way.  He’d prefer our kids not have the hyphenated names that I’m going to insist on just because it’ll be lengthy.  But, I’m one of only two women I know who are holding on to their names.  Regardless of the big group of women who say It was my choice! or I didn’t like my birth surname!, they’ve gone along with the patriarchal tradition.  And that makes it harder for a change to come about.  Unless more of us are willing to buck tradition and demand equality, it just won’t happen (in my opinion).

Oh, that’s so upsetting to have it come from your own family! It’s a little surprising to me that more people don’t at least come up with alternatives to taking the man’s name. It doesn’t help that there’s such a negative attitude about (the rare) men who change their names.

As a person who’s getting married in the next year and has chosen for some very, very specific, intentional reasons to take her fiance’s name when she does so, it’s really hard to hear you blame the continuation of patriarchal values on me and my family choices; it kind of smacks of the blaming of the dissolution of marriage on gay people. In other words, it doesn’t fucking follow. Like another commenter, I come from a really problematic home; carrying on their name is not a choice that is empowering for me. I don’t WANT my husband to take that name. As it happens, my husband was adopted by a family when he was old enough to know what was up, and took their name at that time. They in turn have welcomed me into their family and made me feel like I belong there. I don’t give a shit that their name was passed down by men, or that it’s coming to me through a man. I give a shit that that family unit has been empowering and supportive for me. I don’t want to choose an arbitrary third name that has no meaning for either of us; I want to take the name of the family that took my husband in when he needed a family. That is what matters to us, and I fail to see how our decision to respect that group of people in our name choice (which we made together; my fiance never threw any kind of tantrum demanding that we both take their name. I have been free in every respect to make my own choice here) has any bearing on patriarchal oppression. I think it’s of much greater weight in our society that we build a marriage on equal respect and trust, decisions made taking the other’s feelings and thoughts into account, full of equal opportunities and equal support.

Of COURSE I recognize the situations in which women have felt pressured or coerced, or situations in which women have given it no thought at all, are situations which can be representative of the influence of patriarchal values in the private sphere. But to assume that the average woman who does this does so thoughtlessly… Well, it’s insulting.

I appreciate this perspective, and, as I responded to another commentor, I hadn’t really thought about situations in which getting rid of a family name and adopting a new one can be the empowering choice.

It seems that “adopt” is the key word here–there’s a difference, I think, between changing your name *because you got married*, which strikes me as not a great reason, and adopting a new name because it means something important to you beyond simply having found a man. So, no, of course one individual person’s choice doesn’t keep patriarchy going. But the attitude that makes the other options difficult or even practically unavailable (as in the case of the man taking the woman’s name) does, doesn’t it?

I think it’s safe to say that your situation isn’t the norm.  And though it does sound like you thought it through and made the best choice for yourself, statistics back up the fact that women are expected to take their husband’s name.  They just are.  And while some women do have actual reasons (as I said in my original comment), plenty do it just because that’s what’s done.  When women change their name, the whole of society doesn’t think about why she did it.  The assumption is that She got married, of course she took his name!  And that has an effect on all women.  And if you think I’m totally off base, think about what Firstmute said… there’s a major stigma about men who change their surnames.  There’s a running joke in Hot Tub Time Machine about one of the guys adding his wife’s last name to his own, becoming Nick Webber-Agnew.  They found out by accident and proceeded to give him shit about it. Just do a Google search and see what men have to say about the idea of taking their wife’s name — even just hyphenating.  It’s not pretty.

I know that women who took/plan to take their husband’s name are going to be offended by my stance on the subject because they feel like they’re being called out.  I’m all for women making their own decisions, I just want them to be aware of how their decision is viewed by society and not hold delusions that Joe and Jane Blow see them as being a special snowflake when they did exactly what Joe and Jane Blow expect them to have done because it’s what is done.

Thank you for tackling this subject without demeaning the feminists who do choose to take their husband’s name. I love reading balanced takes on this topic.

I, personally, did see taking my husband’s last name as a life victory. My maiden name was the name of a man who beat my grandmother, a grandmother who emotionally abused me as my supposed caretaker, and a mother who abandonned me. It was the name of a family that I had cut connections from. My husband’s name belongs to three of the most wonderful women I know: my mother-in-law and her two daughters. I am happy to be making his name my name, and I am happy to take his family as my family, and I am happy to identify myself as Mrs. Coleman (something I love sharing with my MIL).

I do recognize that though I have deeply personal reasons for it, that for all intents and purposes, I’m conforming to the norm. A name is such a personal choice, and one that should be thought about more, rather than just blindly choosing the “default” choice without understanding your own reasons behind it.

Thank you for this response! I hadn’t really thought about situations where changing your name could be a very powerful affirmation of recovery, and I love hearing your story. You say clearly what I didn’t: it’s important to understand *why* you’re doing something (and maybe that’s the truly feminist act?).

Wow, thank you for this comment. It’s kind of what my struggle is with my last name. I’m not (yet) married, but I have this boy I seriously love like nothing else and we’re just getting all our ducks lined up before we make it official/stressful. But we have serious Talks about this, and here’s how I feel about my last name: It isn’t special. It’s the most common last name in America, and it sounds especially plain next to my first and middle names, but I love my  boyfriend’s last name. I am not particularly attached to my family with my last name. In fact, I have never met any of then except for my grandmother, dad’s sister, and my dad’s aunt, who told me to my face I shouldn’t exist. I think the most positive way of describing my relationship to the patriarchal side of my family is “indifferent.” With VERY few exceptions, they are all a bunch of abusive, cheating alcoholics, and I want nothing to do with any of them. They hated my mother because she dared to get an education and not be a factory worker or waitress for the rest of my life. I know they would hate me for the same reasons. I am the first person with my family’s blood to graduate from high school. And then I graduated from college and law school. And none of them even know it. But that’s kind of the thing where I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand, changing my name would be symbolic of cutting whispers of ties with those people I am related to; and I would like nothing more than not to be associated with people like that. On the other hand, I don’t have a brother, and it kind of makes me sad to think that if I change my name, if I am no longer one of them, then all my name (or at least our version of it) will be is a bunch of alcoholics who beat their kids and tell them that they’re mistakes. If I keep my last name, then even if my (phantom future, may never actually exist) kids have my husband’s name, at least I made this family mean something other than booze, affairs, stealing, and rage.

But then again, f*ck them, ya know? I go back and forth.

I really applaud you putting thought into it. Did you ever think about just changing your name on your own? I know it’s a lot of work, but it seems really important. I kind of want to convince my dad to change his, but then my mom would, and I just don’t think it matters to them as much.

I did, actually, think about changing my name before my to-be-husband stepped into the picture. I flirted with the idea of dropping the last name entirely and making my middle name into my last. But, then again, both of those names were given to me by the person who gave me lasting emotional damage, so where does the changing end?

I can definitely see where you go back and forth. For me, I would probably decide that I didn’t owe anything to that name and that family… making yourself the sole example of goodness for that name is placing a lot on your shoulders. I’m sure they can take it (and congratulations to you for overcoming everything that was stacked against you and thriving), but do they need it?

Anyone have a a sense of how common BOTH couples hyphenating is? Taking my husband’s name isn’t something I want to do, both for personal feminist reasons (I believe you can, of course, keep your feminist card and change your name, it’s just not for me) and also because I promised my father once when we were both a bit tipsy and maudlin that I would always keep the family name (awww). Right now my fiance and I are considering either Option A: both of us keeping our own last names, or Option B: both of us hyphenating our names.

I don’t know how common it is, but it’s what future Mr. paperispatient and I plan on doing. It’s just what makes the most sense to me (and to him too) – that if any names are going to be changed, that both of ours change. We decided to do it in the same order (so, we’ll be Mr. and Ms. mylastname-hislastname), and we picked the order based on what we thought sounded the best! This approach appealed to me because I feel like it reflects that we’ve made a new family while also representing each of us as individuals and the families we’re coming out of and are still a part of. But anyway, now I’m curious about how common it is as well! I remember reading an article quite a while ago about a guy (I want to say in California?) who had a hell of a time when he wanted to take his wife’s last name upon getting married, but I can’t recall ever reading anything about both people hyphenating…

Yeah, I think he’s a little…not concerned, exactly, but curious, about how much dumb stuff he’ll get said to him.

It’s just what makes the most sense to me (and to him too) – that if any names are going to be changed, that both of ours change…This approach appealed to me because I feel like it reflects that we’ve made a new family while also representing each of us as individuals and the families we’re coming out of and are still a part of.

Exactly our thinking! Thanks for the response; I’m glad to hear we wouldn’t be utterly alone if we took the plunge.

Some of our friends just got married and the man hyphenated his name while the woman just kept hers. I’m sure if they lived anywhere other than Portland they’d get a lot more flack for that!

As an aside, I wonder what couples do when both partners’ surnames are already compounded or hyphenated, in particular how to go about choosing your kids’ last name. I imagine that this is becoming fairly common and perhaps a driving force for a somewhat more egalitarian nomenclature system – if using both parents’ names could be considered the norm, maybe the paternal names wouldn’t automatically be chosen out of three or four parental last names. I don’t mean this as a criticism or a deterrent to hyphenating names. I really like the notion of having the freedom to choose one’s family name, since the commenters here have pointed out that it can carry a lot of emotional and aesthetic significance.

I said this article made me feel motivated, because I feel like everyone around me is getting married and all I see are Facebook comments saying “I can’t believe you’re going to be Mrs. FutureHusbandsLastName in 67 days!!!!!!!!” and the more I see it, and read stuff like this, it makes me want to rebel. My boyfriend and I have talked about this, and he’s fine with me not changing my last name (even though I hate my so-called “maiden name” because it’s so common and I don’t particularly care for that side of the family). I will probably be the only girl I know who doesn’t take my husband’s last name. But that’s okay – we’ll also be the only ones who don’t blow the gross national product of a small country on a wedding ceremony and reception. I also don’t really want an engagement ring, but I think both of our families would have a hard time accepting that. (That’s not how it’s done and all that.)

See, I would have thought the same would have applied to law school, but so many of my friends got married in school or are getting married now that we’re graduated, and they’re taking their husband’s name. I don’t get it. I mentioned it once to a friend (I know there’s an education level correlation to this, so I’ll just note that she has a high school degree for what it’s worth) who went apeshit on me for not wanting to change my last name.

I’m thinking about it a little more, just because the only significance my name has to me is that it is my name, and part of my identity, and partly because I want to redeem it. My dad’s side of the family is straight up factory workers who abuse their wives and are abusive alcoholics. My dad’s dad in particular was cruel and unloving and an asshole. I’m the first person in this family not only to graduate high school, but also to graduate from college and law school. I don’t have a brother, and I hate to think that I change my name and then that’s all my family will ever be, because I won’t have that name anymore.

Thank you for this article. It was so articulate and hit so many things I agree with, mentioned arguments I had not even thought of, and acknowledged differing perspectives.  This is why I love this website.

Blarghhh can I just say how much it irritates me to see the whole Facebook thing! I’ve also had a few friends get married recently, and I fear that I’m going to pull a muscle from all the strenuous eye-rolling I’ve been engaging in lately. I also get the women going “OMGZZZ I can’t wate to be MRS.SMITH in jus 4 daysss!!1!” I’d delete these people, but they’re either relatives or friends of my partner’s.

I hate to say it, but mine are actually my friends. Bless their hearts. It’s the whole life validation that kills me. Do these people think that I am not succeeding at life because I still have my old last name? I have never seen any get this excited about the accomplishment of my life goals. Like a law degree. But then I get on FB and see my “best friend” fawning over someone’s new last name or whatever, and I’m like “Bitch you didn’t even text me about passing the Bar.” Sorry. Still a touchy subject. Seriously though, crazy.

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