By: Revanche

Examining choices: keeping my last name after marriage

May 4, 2016

Would you change your name? What’s in a name?

My friend hung up the phone and turned to me, “Never change your name if you get married. It’s such a pain to change back when something goes horribly wrong and you have to divorce him.”

I just nodded.

She’d finalized a painful divorce. While enrolled in a 4-year professional program, supporting his worthless butt, she came home to find her husband had been cheating on her the whole time. He didn’t even have the grace to be ashamed of his betrayal.

In that position, I surely wouldn’t want to carry the taint of his name.

When it came time for us to consider the question, I knew that particular issue wouldn’t ever be a problem with PiC. I know you always think you know, but he’s an incredibly stand-up person, husband, father. It’s simply not in him to cheat. Leaving that aside, there are always reasons, and good reasons, for people to dissolve their marriages that aren’t rooted in betrayal.

And likewise, there are good reasons for choosing not to take your spouse’s name when you’re getting married, many of which ring true for me.

“The HisLastName Family” would be easier for people to remember, and most people assume that’s the case, but it wasn’t comfortable or the right fit for me.

First and foremost, I simply wasn’t feeling the love. My first name + his last name didn’t bring the sparrows out of the trees, twittering and singing. I was never that girl who scrawled her name, testing it out with the future prospective husband’s, and that wasn’t just because I didn’t feel that for anyone in those days but also because love didn’t mean a name change to me. Love is many things but it’s not a different name.

I asked PiC if he had an opinion, out of respect for his thoughts but they were the same as mine: it’s my name, it’s my choice. I left it open-ended, assuming that I might choose to change it at a later date but years later, it still feels like the right choice.

This was the name I was born with.

I got married, I wasn’t reborn. I don’t feel reborn in any way. Your mileage may vary, of course this is just about me, and speaking about me? I feel older, I feel like we’re a team, like we have evolved, and grown together. But this marriage didn’t just spring fully formed from Athena’s forehead. We haven’t experienced a rebirth as humans. We knowingly chose to enter into a legal and cultural covenant to fight this life’s fights side by side.

My husband doesn’t need to bestow upon me a new name because we’ve entered into this union any more than I need to bestow a new name on him.

But, (new) faaaaamily??

I know that some people feel that they need to share the same names as a family to be a family. That’s valid, for them.

For me, changing my name would no more make me part of a new family than not changing it would exclude me. Changing my name would unmoor me from who I know I myself as but it would not be in exchange for making me a part of a new family. Those were, and are, completely separate issues: my identity is one, my sense of belonging is another.

I’ll admit the issue gave me pause when we discussed having children. We were aware that there is a way things are usually done, and that people are likely to be confused if our offspring don’t share a name with both of us. But I have faith, people! I have faith that it’s possible for people to wrap their heads around the idea that I have my name, and PiC has his name, and those names don’t make or unmake our relationship to our child.

More seriously, there’s a nice solution that friends have had to the kids and naming question: they take both names. I don’t care at all for the idea that my last name and the last name of any children wouldn’t match and therefore we don’t “appear” to be family – I did so much work so darn it, my kid is going to have my name too. Giving our kid both our names in some way works for me.

But your name is just your dad’s name so Patriarchy still wins!

Sure, it was my dad’s name. But my first name was from my mom. It’s not like I was born with a first name attached and whichever parent appended their name determined whether patriarchy or matriarchy wins. They both gave me a first, middle, last, and non-English name. What I did after that made it mine.

I won awards in my name.
I made mistakes in my name.
I learned life and academic lessons, failed, and tried again, in my name.
I graduated from school in my name.
I established my career and a professional reputation in my name.
(I’ll take credit for my part in keeping our marriage healthy, in my name, but I don’t think the act of getting married is in itself an accomplishment.)

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

I’m a strong believer in fairness and equality. They don’t always mean the same thing but in this case they do: when getting married these days, there’s no good reason to my mind that only the woman has to consider whether or not to change her name. Aren’t you both getting married? Aren’t you both equally entitled to like your name enough for it to be the family name?

My favorite solution yet was the couple who hyphenated but took each other’s names as the first last name. So she was Mrs. His-Hers and he was Mr. Hers-His. That truly felt like something I might have, were I inclined to hyphenation, felt comfortable doing together. That felt like a family thing to me.

Since PiC likes his name as much as I like mine, neither of us chose to change our names and that felt perfectly fine.

Bonus: I didn’t know this at the time, having never called most of my family members by their last names, but it’s rare for any women in my family to change their names on marrying. It’s apparently the cultural norm not to and it’s one cultural tradition I’m ok with carrying on.

:: What’s the norm in your culture? Would you have / did you consider changing your name or not (whether you’re male or female)? I can barely remember my first name on bad days, would you be concerned you wouldn’t know what name to respond to if you did change it?

39 Responses to “Examining choices: keeping my last name after marriage”

  1. I changed my name, primarily out of simplicity. Not for the name itself, which no one can spell (but then, no one could spell my maiden name, either–they just thought they could). But because I knew too many women who had to “prove” that they were the mother of their children because they did not share a last name.

    The topic didn’t come up until I told Mr. Sandwich I was planning to change my name. No one on his side of the family expected me to; his older sister had not changed hers when she married. I have friends who changed theirs; I have friends who didn’t. I think we each do what works for us and our families, but I agree that the name isn’t what MAKES a family.
    Tragic Sandwich recently posted…Six Years OldMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “I knew too many women who had to “prove” that they were the mother of their children because they did not share a last name.”

      I know that happens, but haven’t run into this yet, what did you see?

  2. My mom hyphenated legally and uses maiden at work but answers to married socially if someone calls her that. I didn’t change my name 1. because I’m lazy and 2. because his last name is kind of meh. #2 didn’t change hers either.

    I have had fewer problems from not changing my name, even with children, even in the south, than my recently married students have had who have changed their names (because the name change doesn’t generally filter through the entire university system like it is supposed to). So, laziness FTW. I don’t correct school officials when they call me Mrs. Kid’slastname because, again, laziness.
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  3. I never considered changing my name. It’s hard to explain but do I even have to? Guys don’t even have to deal with this! Anyway, I think my in-laws were surprised but they’re ok with it.

    When we named our kids, we thought of how their first name would go with their last name. We wanted a good flow. So if your first and last name sound good together, just keep it. If you spouse has a horrible or difficult to pronounce/spell last name, keep yours. That’s my rule of thumb!
    middle class revolution recently posted…Hard Choices – Midlife Crisis EditionMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “It’s hard to explain but do I even have to?”

      NOPE. I talk through my reasons here because I choose to but I wouldn’t explain to anyone who questioned me because I’m obstinate and it makes no sense why this choice is less valid than any other.

  4. Linda says:

    I didn’t change my last name when I was married. Like nicoleandmaggie, it was partly because that would be the easier thing for me to do, and partly because I just didn’t feel like it. I told him he could change his last name to mine if he wanted to, since my last name is more uncommon and therefore less likely get mixed up in records, etc. (His last name was so common I could foresee issues with credit agencies and such getting info mixed on records. Sure enough when we went to refinance the mortgage, my record was just fine and his had a weird item on that he had to address, likely because he was mixed up with someone else who had the same name. Ha!)

    I also had similar thoughts to yours in this post. This is who I have been all my life, and I had established a career and identity with this name. I didn’t want to mess that up, either.

    Yeah, it made things easier for me after the divorce. I didn’t have to go through changing bills, records, etc. It’s stupid that women have to traditionally make this choice and men don’t. I hate that when my female work colleagues get married I now have to remember to find them in the corporate directory under a different name.

    I wonder if same sex couples are less likely to do name changes. Any studies or anecdotal data on that?
    Linda recently posted…Rice and lemonadeMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “I wonder if same sex couples are less likely to do name changes. Any studies or anecdotal data on that?”

      That’s a great question, I don’t know if it’s common to track that information but it would be interesting to know. None of my same sex couple friends are married and I’ve never asked what they would do.

  5. Cassie says:

    For us, culturally it’s the norm for the woman to take the man’s last name. Then again, I’ve been married for over a year and I still haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. My husband doesn’t care, he knows I’m not going anywhere. I do plan on changing it eventually, but I want to finish up getting my professional designation before I change it. I’ve had the same last name all the way through university and work, changing my name just in time to get my professional designation just complicates things unnecessarily. When our child is born they will have their dad’s last name, and I’ll eventually take it as well. I plan on moving my current last name to a middle name and then appending my husband’s last name at the end. I feels more like I’m adding a family name rather than replacing my family name that way.
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    • Revanche says:

      “I plan on moving my current last name to a middle name and then appending my husband’s last name at the end. I feels more like I’m adding a family name rather than replacing my family name that way.”

      I’ve had friends that have done that, it’s a nice combination!

  6. NZ Muse says:

    +1000. Even with the not realising my cultural tradition until really recently! Pleasant surprise.

    Honestly, from a cold and practical perspective, I think it’s a risky move given divorce rates. You never think it’ll happen to you, but …

    I was extra glad to have not changed my name when I was contemplating the likelihood of splitting. How much harder it would have been to deal with that extra hurdle, of changing back (which for me would be the only palatable option in that instance).

    I have gotten really confused in recent months by a smattering of new names in my Twitter feed – women who have split with their partner and gone back to their maiden names (acquaintances/professional contact type people rather than say close friends).

    • Revanche says:

      “Honestly, from a cold and practical perspective, I think it’s a risky move given divorce rates.”

      I suspect that reason is one that most people don’t want to consider at all.

  7. My mother took my father’s last name. When they got divorced, she even kept it. I asked her once if she’d ever thought about changing it back, but she said she’d built her career while with my dad’s last name so reverting it would be difficult. That said, she never really seemed to mind it much, so *shrugs*. Similarly, my grandmother took my grandfather’s last name and kept it after they divorced, even through her second marriage.

    So I guess the tradition in my family is to keep your ex-spouse’s name when divorced?

    I plan to take SO’s last name, mostly because I prefer it to my own. He’s suggested we portmanteau our last names to create a new family name, but I’d rather just have his. And yes, I’d keep it if we ever broke up.
    Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial recently posted…How Much Do You Spend On Groceries? (Week 2: Colorful Produce And May Challenge!)My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Any particular reason you like his better than yours? I’ve always liked mine, even though it’s constantly misspelled and mispronounced, so it’s interesting to hear the other side of it.

      • I have a pretty strained relationship with my father, so I’ve never much liked having his name. Plus my boyfriend’s last name is actually a word, and one that I like. I won’t type it out because internet privacy and all that, but it’s along the lines of Courage or Nice or Hope.
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  8. Leigh says:

    I would say that it’s normal in my family to change your last name upon marriage to your husband’s. My grandmothers, mother, aunts, great-aunts, etc. all did it in the generations older than mine. The only divorced one changed hers back when she got divorced. So far only one person in my generation is married and she didn’t change her name. My sister and I don’t plan to change ours either. And if I did have children, I would put up a fight that they have my last name in some way. My last name is short, spellable, and pronounceable, as is my boyfriend’s, so I would be comfortable with giving children a hyphenated last name.

    I also adamantly never want to be a Mrs. I’ve slowly come around to the idea of maybe getting married some day, but I see zero reason to indicate that I am married with using Mrs. vs Ms. when men don’t indicate their marital status.

    I hate that men never have to consider whether they will change their name and so many women still spend time thinking about this. Or my exes who thought if I wouldn’t take their last name, our hypothetical marriage would be a sham.

    My mother thinks that someone won’t know they’re your children or how will someone know who your husband is when you have different names and blah blah blah. I firmly believe that a family is what you choose and not necessarily the people you share a name with.

    Also: so much paperwork would be required to change my name and so many fees involved.
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    • Revanche says:

      “I hate that men never have to consider whether they will change their name and so many women still spend time thinking about this.”


      “I firmly believe that a family is what you choose and not necessarily the people you share a name with.”

      And YES YES YES!

  9. I changed mine, and I am glad I did. I had completed a master’s under my maiden name and had started building a career for myself, but there were 11 other women in the US with my first and last name. There is no one with my married name, possibly ever (nothing comes up in genealogical records even, it’s crazy). It’s great for personal branding! t is much more complicated to say and spell, but the process itself went very easily, most people got used to it immediately, I find it easier to sign quickly, and somehow it feels more “me” than my maiden name ever did.

    It’s probably a sign of the times that I rarely have an expectation one way or another how a newly married couple will be introduced, or that when I am asked my name in relation to my children (like at the pediatrician’s office), the default assumption is not that I share their last name. At least in my generation, probably half the women I know changed their names and half kept them. Also, I know two men who changed their names to their female partners’ last names, and several more who hyphenated. My same-sex married couple friends have so far each kept their own names.
    Little Miss Moneybags recently posted…Feeling the FIREMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Now that’s a great consideration. If I had changed my name, it would have been hugely common so that was likely a factor. I think the majority of women in my circle changed their names, I might be the only one in my school cohort who did not.

  10. I’m not married and don’t have any particular plans to be, but I’ve always felt that I would keep my last name no matter what. I really like your list of things you’ve done/experienced under your birth name, and I think that’s how I would feel too. Also, fairness and equality, yeah.
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    • Revanche says:

      I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that you CAN know, before considering marriage even, that you’re not going to change your name. I allow for the possibility of change but didn’t press the issue.

  11. In Quebec all the women keep their last names. 🙂

    It is not uncommon to see unmarried couples or even married ones with their own last names, but their kids usually take the father’s last names…

  12. SP says:

    I prefer my husbands name to mine – it sounds nicer.

    This was also convenient, as his family probably would have thought it weird if I didn’t take his name. I mean, we would have done what we wanted either way, but it is nice not to have that factor.
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  13. Karen says:

    I just recently changed my last name to my husband’s name. It’s funny because my last name was short, easy to spell and pronounce. Whereas my husband’s name has no vowels and is hard to spell and pronounce. LOL. I got made fun of a lot growing up because of my last name and I prefer my husband’s last name over mine. He told me he was honoured that I took his last name because nowadays the majority of women are keeping their own.
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  14. The Roamer says:

    What a great read but you list me here.
    I don’t care at all for the idea that my last name and the last name of any children wouldn’t match and therefore we don’t “appear” to be famil
    Are you saying you don’t like the idea of your kid not sharing your last name?

    That’s how I felt too but caved… It still irritates me that my little girl doesn’t have my last name.

    PS. Love the born again example what a great way to explain it. Also I completely agree with goose and gander thoughts.
    The Roamer recently posted…Big Savings & Happiness, Can you have both?My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “Are you saying you don’t like the idea of your kid not sharing your last name?”

      I’m saying that while I prefer my child to share my last name, I hate the idea that THAT is what defines us as a family. It’s not. I’m hir mother by virtue of giving birth to hir, raising hir, soothing hir hurts and fevers, and because I’m a dedicated parent. What name we each bear has NOTHING to do with whether we’re family.

      • Jessica says:

        I used to work at a school, and I ran into a lot of families where the boys had the father’s last name and the girls had the mother’s last name. I thought it was an ingenious way to deal with having the different last names in the family (although it may not seem as much of a compromise if you only want to have one child or you have all boys/girls in the end, I suppose).

        • Revanche says:

          I’ve heard that solution proposed before, but I’ve never known anyone to do it. Was that school in Scandinavia?

          • Jessica says:

            No, I live in the United States. It is an area with a high Scandinavian-American population, though, so I wonder if that’s why I saw it so many times.

            • Revanche says:

              Ah ha, the reason I asked was because I thought there were Scandinavian origins to the idea. It makes a lot more sense now!

        • This reminds me of something I learned where Sikh men get the last name “Singh” and Sikh women get the last name “Kaur”.
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  15. Jessica says:

    My husband “just assumed” that I would take his last name, but I didn’t see a good reason for it. We debated creating a new name out of our two, but I wanted to keep my last name, not just exchange it for one that had no meaning to me. We eventually both changed our last name to Mine-His, which really ticked his family off. His mom bawled at the wedding when they announced us (Mr. and Ms. Mine-His), even though we had already told her what we were doing. I think she thought I’d change my mind and do the “right thing” eventually. It didn’t help that she was already really mad at me for (1) not wanting and refusing an engagement ring, (2) not wanting and refusing a bridal shower full of people I’ve never met, and (3) not wanting and refusing to have a huge wedding for her sake. Of course, I’m not the DIL she really wanted anyway, because we’re also non-parents by choice, and I didn’t make her son “give her” a child when, um, I didn’t want one myself.

    In the end, this marriage is about the two of us, so we had to do what was right for us together. I think that’s the most important part of being married: finding your paths together. It sounds like you guys are on the path that works best for you, so good on ya! 😉

    • Revanche says:

      ‘In the end, this marriage is about the two of us, so we had to do what was right for us together.”

      YES. I’m sorry the family had to give you so much grief and couldn’t see the big picture that this is a marriage between the two of you and they should be welcoming, not imposing their own visions on you.

  16. moom says:

    In my culture (Jewish) we still think of surnames as some new-fangled thing that was imposed by bureaucrats… Though that was in the 18th Century maybe… In my wife’s culture (Chinese) women don’t change their name on marriage. So, this really didn’t come up. However, our son has my family name only.

    • Revanche says:

      I didn’t know that surnames weren’t common in Jewish culture! I’d love to know more about that.

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