Why Being an Immigrant Makes a Name Change Complicated

My decision is mine alone


For the first time in my adult life, (and after fifteen grueling years of dating all the wrong people), I am in a great, stable relationship with the wonderful man I plan to marry someday. And while I am thrilled to tie my life forever to his, there’s one thing I will definitely not be doing: changing my last name to his.

I’ve had many conversations with married friends—both those who have changed their names and those who haven’t—and (at least in my circle of friends) I’ve found that the main reason for changing your name seems to be wanting to create a unified family unit (say, “The Smith Family”) and the main reason for not changing your name is a strong belief in feminist ideals and wanting to keep your own identity.

For me, keeping my own last name boils down to one thing: I’m an immigrant.

what’s in a name? sometimes… a whole lot

My family, a blend of Cuban and Russian, came to the United States of America when I was only eight years old. We quickly settled in Florida, and I grew up constantly bridging the gap between being an immigrant and being an American. Although I consider myself quite integrated into American culture (no accent when I speak, even), I never forget where I came from. And my name–a perfect combination of my heritage–is a symbol of that. Having my Russian grandmother’s first name and my Cuban father’s last name (or part of it, anyway, since it was chopped up from its original González de la Barrera when we crossed the border and filled out our political asylum paperwork) is a source of pride and a constant reminder of who I am and where I come from.

Growing up as an immigrant wasn’t easy. As a young kid thrust in a new environment, it took a lot to learn what being an American meant. I was constantly faced with the fact that I was an outsider and, eventually, even came to hate my name for a period of time. I hated the fact that I could never find “Irina” on any souvenir mugs or key chains whenever we traveled, and I hated that “Gonzalez” constantly gave away that I was different than everyone else.

But eventually, I started to embrace my own differences. I came out as bisexual, I accepted my J.Lo booty (another source of embarrassment when I was younger) and I learned what it meant to be Latina. Embracing my differences meant acknowledging every part of me that made me who I am: half-Russian, half-Cuban, and all-American. Seeing my name in my U.S. passport after my parents and I became citizens was the ultimate badge of honor.

Now that I am planning to get married, however, how can I let all of that pride go?


I love my future husband’s family and his family name. It’s every bit a part of who he is in the same way that my family name is a part of who I am. But that’s precisely the point: How could I ask him to give up who he is, and how could he ask me to give up who I am?

I don’t feel that it’s necessary for me to give up my immigrant status after I have a ring on my finger. I want us to be a blended family who embraces our differences as well as our similarities. Will I one day regret not filling out all of the extensive paperwork, including my citizenship papers, to change my name? I am sure that I will continue to come across people who think I should have changed my name, and people who support my decision not to.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to celebrate who I am: a woman in love, an immigrant, a proud U.S. citizen, a bisexual Latina, and someone fiercely proud of where she came from. As my naturalization certificate states, my name is Irina Gonzalez, and it will remain that way even after I say the words “I do.”

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