Our names are with us from (basically) the moment we’re born. We hear them over and over again — from abbreviated nicknames with friends to full-name admonishments from parents to our social media handles, our names travel with us each and every day of our lives. They become rooted in who we are as people — our identities, our businesses, our souls.
Then marriage comes along, and we all have to make a choice. Keep our current last name, merge our name with our significant other’s, take our SO’s last name, make our current last name our middle name… there are endless options. Here at The Everygirl, we believe that women should have the choice to change, modify, or keep their last name – free of judgment or outside influence. So we asked women who decided not to change their last names when they got married what went into their decisions, how others reacted to their choice, and their advice for women who are thinking about keeping their own name.
On deciding not to change…
It’s [my last name] my personal and professional identity, and I like the lineage connection to my birth family. Changing my last name to my husband’s seems like an unnecessary step to solidify our commitment to each other.
I’d planned to change my name after I got married — I married very young and, to be honest, it never occurred to me not to. I put it off after the wedding because we were living in Europe while waiting for my (German) husband’s green card to process and traveling frequently in the meantime, so I didn’t want to go through the hassle of switching out my passport. Still, I went by my husband’s last name conversationally for the first year or so of my marriage.
After moving back to the US, I continued to procrastinate changing my name even though I no longer had my passport as an excuse. It took me another six months or so to realize that I actually really didn’t want to change my name, hence the procrastination.
I made the concrete choice to remain Daryl Lindsey shortly thereafter. I love my name; I love that my first name is masculine and my last name is feminine. I love the four syllables. I love the way it sounds and the way it looks on a byline.
I also came to realize I didn’t jive with the double standard of the tradition. Most men would balk at the idea of changing their name to their partner’s, but women are expected to change theirs as a general rule. At the end of the day, I had to acknowledge that the tradition is deeply rooted in sexism and, for me, outdated and unnecessary.
I knew I had to make the decision when we applied for our marriage license about a week before the wedding. On the form, I was going to have to declare what my “new” name was going to be. So there we were at the Department of Health office in Honolulu filling out the paperwork and I knew then, I couldn’t do it. I was born a Watson and I am going to die a Watson. I think the person who was secretly pleased the most was my Dad. Family pride does run deep.
On your significant other’s reaction…
I don’t think it’s fair to assume that every man should have a say on a woman’s name. In fact, it’s insulting to think that a man should be offended because his wife is making a decision on HER last name. For me, I find him [my husband] all the more secure in who he is and our relationship that he doesn’t have a problem with it.
For now, we both have our ‘maiden’ names, however, my husband feels pretty strongly about our entire (future) family having the same name, so it’s likely that he will change his once we have kids. We talked a lot about names, combining both of ours, me changing mine, him changing his, and at the end of the day I feel strongly about keeping my name, and he feels strongly about our family having one name, but doesn’t have a particular attachment to his own. So it makes the most sense for him to become a Rose like me! I love that for us it was always a conversation on equal footing. He never tried to push his name on me or make me feel guilty about wanting to keep my own name, and we’ve found a solution that will work for us.
On the reaction from others…
I just got married last summer – at the age of 30 – and the man who is now my husband knew from the get-go that it was important for me to keep my family name. There were no Pinterest-inspired “Mr. and Mrs.” decorations and the pastor (who also happens to be my father) didn’t introduce us as “Mr. and Mrs. Poyant,” but simply as “Anna and Nicolas.” In the few months since our wedding, some people have referred to me as “Mrs. Poyant” and they seem a little surprised when I say, “Nope, I’m still Anna Howell.” Some of them react positively (“Good for you!”), others are a little confused (“But what about when you have
children?!”), but in the end, they usually move on pretty quickly. After all, the fact that I still call myself “Howell” has very little to do with the rest of the world or the relationship that my husband and I are building day by day.
On the “but what when you have kids?” question…
First, it’s rude to assume that all women want children. How do you know that children are in our future plans? Second, do you know what is confusing? The English language. Physics. Figuring out who you are in a tough world while your hormones are raging in middle school. If I do plan to have children, I think they will understand the concept of a name pretty quickly. Also, I would be carrying them for nine months in my stomach and being a 50% contributor in taking care of them, so I think that bond will supersede that of sharing a last name.
On advice for someone wrestling with the decision…
My advice would be to set traditions and expectations aside and think about what you actually want to be called. If you love your husband’s last name, go for it, no one is going to come snatch away your feminist card. If you decide you like your own name better, know that it comes down to your desires, because you’re the one who will be signing that name on every. damn. form. for the rest of your life.
If there’s a chance you might want your husband’s last name in the future, consider writing your “new” name on the marriage certificate. I was advised that by doing this I would legally still maintain my birth name, however, it would make the name-changing process significantly easier if I decide to take my husband’s last name in the future (for instance, after we have children).
Everyone should be able to make the choice that best suits them without worrying about anyone’s happiness other than their own or their partners!
You don’t have to be for or against taking your husband’s name, and it’s not a decision you have to make right away. You may find that it’s something you’ll want to do right after you get married, or maybe something you want to do on your 10 year wedding anniversary, [or something you never want to do at all], but it doesn’t have to be an immediate decision. Planning a wedding is stressful enough, so committing to changing your last name simultaneously can make anyone go crazy. Ultimately, the problem here is not the woman’s decision on whether she wants to change her last name. The problem is a society who puts so much pressure and judgment on the woman’s choice.