The Middle (Name)

On May 14, 2011, my husband Ben and I were married in the little theatre where we’ve collaborated on performance-making over the years. Out of the deal I got a hilarious and creative life partner, an extension of family that vaguely resembles the United Nations, and a brand new middle name.

The middle name part was a bit of a surprise given the conclusiveness of our We’re Not Changing Names discussion. Ben and I like our respective last names—together and apart. We’ve made a lot of art and lived a lot of life with our names stamped on it. But, one day a couple months before the wedding, it struck me that I could write in whatever I wanted on the “name after marriage” line of our marriage license. And, mutually motivated by a desire to mark my marriage transition while keeping my last name and to get rid of a middle name I wasn’t particularly fond of, I changed it. To Ben’s last name. I gut-checked a solid dozen times as I contemplated the change, but it just felt inexplicably right.

As with most decisions, though, there’s always some kind of result, not necessarily explained with a label as simple as “positive” or “negative.” I’m here to report that it’s lonely in the partial name-change camp: you changed something, but didn’t come out with the typical post-wedding result. Everyone’s confused. And, if you get really excited about your new middle name and change it on Facebook, you’ve officially lost everyone. Now it’s not just your Gramma sending you incorrectly addressed mail (Mr. & Mrs. Ben & Laura ?). Facebook assumes you suffered from dyslexia and swapped your maiden name for your married name, or that perhaps you forgot your own name altogether. And, Facebook would also like you to know that it’s partially your own fault for confusing people in the first place. You can make new rules, but sometimes you have to hand out educational fliers when you play by them.

It’s a strange mystery navigating the nuanced path of feelings that accompany a decision. I have a lot of feelings about my name, and I didn’t anticipate how strong they’d be. And, as with many very personal decisions, the world hasn’t intuited the depth of these feelings. As with every decision, regardless of how right it feels, it marks the death of what I didn’t choose. We will never be a single-name family, marked by a succinct return address stamp. And I don’t have the same name I grew up with.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my married friends and their names—a fabulous collection of brand-newly invented last names, hyphenated last names, husband’s last names, maiden names, and even partner last names that they don’t always use. I love them all. I love that these names represent decisions—the simultaneous embracing of one thing and saying “no” to something else. Maybe we’re united by the strength of the gut-check.

Last week I was waiting tables, when a man who goes by the name of Mad Pierre (yes, really) walked in the door for Happy Hour. Mad Pierre is something of a local institution, and was wearing his usual uniform of a straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, his long fingernails painted blue. He was full of strange, mostly-incoherent advice and musings, most of which I tried to ignore as I darted around the restaurant, attempting to do my job. Mad Pierre called me over to his table again to spout more advice, which he tried to work into the letters of my name. “What’s your middle name?” he unexpectedly asked. “McGinley.” “Ahhhhhh!” he cried, as if he’d hit some kind of jackpot. “That’s a great name!” I grinned larger than ever before, amused that it had taken a half-crazy, high-as-a-kite man to remind me that I liked my decision.

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  • Thank you! I’ve been dealing with name change (particularly middle name change) syndrome for weeks now and I’ve become exhausted. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who took the opportunity to make a name change that really means something to me after the wedding. It sounds like you did too and its hard when you don’t get the reactions you’d like to something that feels real and big to you.

    Unfortunately my main issue has been my husband who is very vocal about his dislike of my new middle name. I (happily) took his last name, personally because I couldn’t wait to no longer belong in any way to the family I was born into. The middle name was another family name and I hated it, hated reading it or hearing it so on my husbands suggestion, I changed that too. The mistake I apparently made was deciding what my new middle name would be on my own without discussing it with him and because I knew he wouldn’t like what I chose, I was reticent to hear his opinions on it. This has led to some fairly big arguments about control and respect. Because the fight about my new name is ongoing, I don’t feel comfortable sharing the news with others as he’s so uncomfortable with it and has expressed concern about how people will react. It’s frustrating because it means a lot to me and now it feels like the whole thing has been ruined. Actually just writing that made me realize I need to talk to him again about it because not having him on board with this is making me sad.

    Good luck on continuing to share your new middle name and basking in the excitement and freedom of the change. It seems small, but can feel so very powerful.

    • Anonymous

      I completely know how you feel. If anything, know that you are not alone in your partner not being comfortable with your name change decision. Before my husband and I were engaged, I adamantly thought (and expressed to him) that the most i would ever do with changing my name would be adding his on to mine but I would still keep my maiden name as it means a lot to me personally and professionally. He wasn’t fond of the idea at all (whereas I thought it was a nice compromise) and discussions only intensified leading up to the wedding and even shortly afterwards. Although he’s somewhat come around to the idea, there are moments when it appears that he’s not. It’s a tough conversation to have but I believe that above all, you have to be comfortable with what your decision is (that ultimate gut check). A coworker who’s been married 30+ years told me that to this day, she regrets changing her name and I always reflect on that. You will probably have much harder discussions within your marriage but I’ve learned that it’s important to get your voice across even if it may be uncomfortable. It will only make your ability to communicate with each other that much stronger. Best wishes :)

      • Annon

        I’m also in the partner-not-completely-happy-with-my-name-change-ideas camp. To be fair he doesn’t have an examples of women doing unusual things with their name post-marriage – i.e.: not just taking their husband’s name. At first I thought I would make my last name a 2nd middle name, but that didn’t feel quite right. Right now I’m thinking about double barreling sans hyphen. He feels like I should just take his name and ditch my own. Somehow by keeping my own name diminishes the value of his last name after it. I don’t understand why it is so important. I’m MARRYING him for goodness sake. I’m in it for the long haul. Same for kids. I mentioned maybe our kids could have my last name for a middle name and no go (to be fair it was just one convo and I dropped it for the time being). He’s completely not an anti-feminist guy – I think these things are just so out of the realm of things guys have to think/worry about until strong willed women like us put them up to it. It is hard though to express why you feel strongly in a way for them to get it. I think maybe I need to keep more conversation going. He has accepted by dual last name solution because it is my name and obviously I get to choose it. The whole thing still gives me anxious feelings though – like maybe I won’t be able to do it! Maybe I’ll be a late in the game name changer – once we get serious about kids or something. I just feel like I would break his heart by not taking his name, which he sees as something he is giving me.

        • Liz

          I did the double barrel sans hyphen, and just a few anecdotes for you to consider if that’s one way you’re thinking about going

          1) it gives me both names, to use as and when i please (sometines mylast, sometimes hislast, sometimes both together)
          2) it confuses the everloving daylights out of some people, so i do a lot of explaining
          3) the DMV refused to double barrel without the hyphen, so my passport doesn’t match my driver’s licence or my visa. This hasn’t yet caused a problem, but I”m bracing for it.
          4) It’s very much a compromise, so both of us had to work on making it feel right. (2 years in and it’s just getting there)
          5) it’s kind of cool when people who don’t know us think he’s mr. mylast. :)

          • Annon

            Thank you for this. It helps to hear other people’s experiences. I was worried about the DMV thing. I heard that if you did your passport first then the DMV was required to match it – but apparently not. I also liked the freedom of having three different last names to choose from. It’s good to hear from many people that it doesn’t really feel right right away necessarily but takes time and work. How do you Both work on making it feel right? If you can even put that into words – if there are little things you do, or maybe it’s not explainable or personal which I totally get.

          • MDBethann

            The DMV thing must depend on the state. Maryland hand no problems double-barrelling my last name as two separate words without a hypen. I get comments all.the.time about the number of names I have (especially since my first name is already a compound name), but since I write/publish under my name for an agency for a living, I wanted the professional continuity but also the same family name as my husband and future children.

            Socially, I’m Mrs. HisLast, but professionally I’m Ms. HerLast HisLast. It’s a mouthful, but I survive, and when I sign things now, I just use the initial for my middle & last names, as it’s faster & takes up less space. I decided to go this route because there are some awesome ladies at work who’ve successfully done this so I did the same thing.

            My husband was fine with me taking whatever last name I wanted, though I will admit I was rather annoyed he wouldn’t even THINK for 2 minutes about double barrelling (or out right changing) his last name too.

            I say go for it if you want to. I think connects your past, present, and future in a way that taking on a spouse’s last name does not.

        • I made my last name a 2nd middle name as I felt that way I wasnt losing any of my name (which Ive got my professional qualification using) but I was also taking my husbands, which I was also happy to do so we could share a surname with any future kids. We’ve now got a 1 year old and we gave him my last name as his middle name too as I’ve got my mothers maiden name as my 1st middle name and I wanted to do the same. Not sure what we will do if we have any more kids.

        • MDBethann

          Anon, just so you’re sure to see this, I’m reposting some of what I wrote below:

          The DMV thing must depend on the state. Maryland hand no problems double-barrelling my last name as two separate words without a hypen (though they did mess up the spelling of DH’s very common last name, as did Social Security – grrr).

          I get comments all.the.time about the number of names I have (especially since my first name is already a compound name), but it’s seen more as unusual than a problem.

          I decided to go this route because there are some awesome ladies at work who’ve successfully done this so I did the same thing because I’ve been publishing under MyLast for almost 10 years.

          I say go for it if you want to. I think connects your past, present, and future in a way that taking on a spouse’s last name does not.

  • Ahh, the middle name. Post-wedding, I attempted to start going by Ms. Lauren His Hers, not legally, but just because putting his in the middle felt like kind of a shout-out without changing my name. I changed it on FB, work email, personal email… and everyone was confused. For me, it just didn’t stick, and I didn’t like it enough, and it made my name really LONG. Anyway, I’m happily back to going by just my name (which I had to explain all over again), but I love the concept about playing by your own rules but needing to educate everyone else about those rules while you’re doing it. Exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. Great post!

    • soleil

      At first I thought I would hyphenate. Completely dropping my own name just didn’t feel right at all. I even announced it after the ceremony that I was not changing my name, but I would be hyphenating. After the wedding, I addressed all my thank you cards with my name hyphenated. But whenever I met someone new and had to introduce myself or give my name at the oil change place, I would just say my own name. I couldn’t get the hyphenated part out of my mouth. Ever. My throat would close up and I would choke on that last part. So a month or two post-wedding, it became very clear to me that this whole hyphenation business wasn’t going to work for me. I’m glad I took the time to try it out before embarking on making it legal. And yes, some people were confused when I didn’t end up hyphenating so I had to make it clear that I am still my first my last.

      • Trying my new name out before legally changing it has been big for me. I tell people that I’m “growing into it” and while I’m (mostly) comfortable with the new name I’m still not ready to legally change it.

        It actually really surprised me to hear a “name after marriage” line was on the license. That wasn’t something I had to fill out when I did mine, thank goodness. It feels like rushing a big change.

        • Samantha

          I like the idea of “growing into it” but that was my question. If you have to put what your name will be post-marriage on the certificate, how long do you have to act before you have to pay a lot of money to change your name. How long is too long for it to not be a marriage associated name change. . .

          • Teresa

            Well, I’m not sure if this is totally accurate, but when we went to get our marriage license, we left the line for name after marriage blank. When the woman was looking over our paperwork, she asked us about it. She let us know that if we don’t fill it out, it’s very difficult to change your name (think having to do it in court and paying $$), but if you do fill that out, you don’t have to legally change it, but you can if you want to. So, she made it seem like it was a security blanket if we wanted to, but that we never had to use it. It seriously freaked me out a little, but I was glad she said it. We had talked about us both changing to herlast-hislast, but it seemed so LONG (my last name is 11 letters!), so then we thought we’d just keep our own names. We wound up both hypenating on the name after marriage line, just in case we ever want to!

          • Samantha

            @Teresa, Thanks! I hope that your experience is true in all states. It’s nice to know you can use it but that you have time to really make the best choice.

          • Teresa, We did the same thing with our marriage licence. I had originally said the most I would do on the name change camp is to hyphenate mylast-hislast. But as we got closer and closer to the wedding, I started having bigger feelings about the name than I anticipated. At the time, my thoughts were that is wasn’t fair that I was expected to change and he wasn’t, so after a LOT of deliberation, we decided to have mylast-hislast for both our names on the marriage certificate. In New York, at least, that just makes it easy, and much less money, to change your name after the fact, but doesn’t do anything to legally change your name.

            After the wedding, I sent in my paperwork to social security for a name change and was rejected. (I sent in a copy instead of the actual licence.) I was not at all anticipating the huge weight that lifted by that rejection. And the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to give up my name, even if I was just adding another one on. So I decided to just keep my name exactly as it is, with an open option to hyphenate some day if that feels right. (Although it’s increasingly looking like that isn’t an option that feels right to me.) It’s different for everyone, but sometimes it’s hard to gauge how you’ll feel about a big change before it happens.

          • Samantha

            I did find this info about NYS and apparently whatever you write becomes effective immediately after the ceremony. In fact you can change your name in NYS just by using, consistently and without attempt to fraud, a new last name.

            Name Change Options
            We ask you to carefully consider whether to change your surname.
            Learn more about Name Change Options
            Learn more about Domestic Relations Law

            Various surname options are listed on the back of the application.
            You must state your choice of surname on the application. If you elect to make a surname change on your application, the surname change takes legal effect at the conclusion of the Marriage Ceremony.
            The name change option does not apply to your first name or middle name.
            If you wish to change your surname through this office after your Marriage Ceremony, you must remarry.
            Although you may correct mistakes in your Certificate of Marriage Registration, a surname choice is not considered a mistake and cannot be changed through our Amendment process.

          • Amy Hawkins

            In Missouri, there is nothing on the license regarding any name changes. You do the name change afterwards and I believe it can be done at the social security office by bringing in your marriage license.

          • Samantha, the NYS wording is really confusing, but multiple state employees confirmed the the marriage certificate surname section is not an automatic name change after the ceremony. Filling in that section just makes it easier to apply for the name change. In New York, you can also apply for a name change for any name you use on a regular basis, as long as you don’t use it for fraud.

        • Marina

          It’s different state by state. I was shocked that in Oregon I was only given five name choices (first middle mylast, first mylast hislast, first middle hislast, first middle mylast-hislast, and first middle hislast-mylast). It was all computerized and I had to decide on the spot instead of writing in the name change I’d agonized over deciding for months. At least he had the same five choices so it wasn’t gender biased in that way…

  • Lizzy

    I’m planning to do this! (and my partner will take my last as his middle) It seems perfect for us, because I never wanted to change my name until I fell for a man with kids (and an ex-wife down the street who still calls herself Mrs. Hisname). I want to feel more like a part of the family without giving up my name. He wasn’t willing to give up his name because he shares it with his kids. So the middle name solution lets us all share a name but not as a singular identity sort of thing. Same for new kids in the family: they’ll alternate between Baby Hisname Myname and Baby Myname Hisname.

    I’m at peace with a little confusion from strangers. It’s a better alternative, in my mind, to sharing a name with his ex-wife and to either of us being stopped at passport control with our kids demanding a birth certificate to prove we’re the parent of a child whose name we don’t share.

    • Kess

      This is what we’re doing! Although we haven’t discussed what to do about kids. On the one hand, I wish they could have some recognition of my family in their name, but on the other hand I have to admit his last name is way cooler than mine. If I was a kid it’s what I’d want! It’s a quandry.

      I’m a little hesitant about discussing our plans with people because I am anticipating some confusion but honestly I’m hoping it won’t come up too much. I don’t usually throw around my middle name as it is, and I plan to just continue on with my same name professionally and socially for most of the time, but use his name when it comes to kids, his family, etc. I like the idea of having it there because he comes from a distinct cultural group and I hope this will help me feel a little more like I’m a part of it, without me having to give up my family name in the bargain.

  • Ellen

    We have an event going on at work today that required me to make name tags for about 200 kids and their parents. I can’t even tell you how excited it made me that two of the kids had a last name that combined both of their parents’ last names without using a hyphen (i.e. Mr. Heath and Ms. Cliff have a kid who is Joey Heathcliff). It’s not something I’ve seen a lot of but it makes me giddy to think that each person can have their own unique name but they are all still tied together.

  • GCDC

    I also did the middle name change. To people I know, I only had to explain it once, and they accepted it and were happy for me. The government of the District of Columbia is a whole other story. I spent a total of seven hours in court bureaucracy in order to change my middle name. I haven’t even gotten to the social security office, not to mention the DMV. And some of my extended family members have been very confused. I got a wedding card addressed to a completely different person (different first name, some made up last name). I framed it.

    That being said, my new middle name is awesome and I love signing my new middle initial on filings and formal documents. I’m glad you had a similar outcome. Maybe all name changers (or life changers, or whatever) go through the same cycle: excitement, gut checking, exhaustion then back to excitement again.

  • I am one of those people who moved my maiden name over to a second middle. But my new last name (I took my husband’s) is two words. So now I’m Kelly Megan Maiden Husband’s Last. It’s ridiculous. I am still conflicted about it. I definitely didn’t want to drop any part of my name, but I also strongly wanted to share a name with my husband. I think the end result is a little clunky. I’m not in love with it, but can’t think of an alternative that would have been better for me, personally.

    I still think it’s a bit weird when people address me by my new surname. I still sign work emails with my maiden name all the time, and I’ve been married 7 months! It’s worse than the new year, where I write the wrong date on everything well into February…

    Also! Original Poster, Lauren: I, too live in the Twin Cities! I hope there’s another APW book club soon, so as to have an excuse to meet some local members of Team Practical. I’m an East Coast transplant still struggling to make meaningful connections and friendships out here!

    • I really debated doing what you did. I love my middle name and didn’t want to change it to my maiden name like my mom did. In the end, though, I dropped my maiden name altogether because I didn’t want to have such a long name. I’m still conflicted about it.

    • Off-topic, but as a recent East Coast transplant to Nebraska, I totally feel you on making connections. I’ve been here almost two years, and only now feel like I’m starting to build deeper friendships. The acquaintance-ships came easily, as I volunteered a bunch of places, but real, local, girlfriends take time. Solidarity! Good luck!

      • Thanks! It’s been 3.5 years here, and I’m starting to despair a little. I’m close with my husband’s cousins (so, so many cousins), but although we spend a lot of social time with them, that still falls under the “family” umbrella for me. I have one girlfriend I see every week for a beer, but she’s a friend of my husband’s from high school, so again, really bound up with him. It’s not that I don’t like having friends in common with my husband–I do. But I also need some that are just….mine.

        I’ve taken classes (cake decorating! yoga! dance!) in hopes of meeting people with similar interests. I’ve made a few friends through work, but we rarely socialize outside of the office. I’ve never had this much trouble finding friends before! I’m starting to get a little paranoid. :)

        • Yes, I know what you mean! My partner made good friends easily because he’s in grad school, so saw his classmates every day, and now many of them are good friends of both of us. I really do enjoy their company, but I’m still not at the point where I would call one up for an emergency-happy-hour on a bad day.

          Being the new kid, I don’t like to force myself on people’s already-established social circles, but I think I’m coming to the point where I need to just suck it up and ask people to grab a coffee or a cocktail and see what happens. So, at least know you’re not the only one with friendship issues!

    • Claire

      Another Minneapolis APWer here looking for quality lady friends (not necessarily lady-like)! At the risk of hijacking this thread (sorry, Meg), we should totally have a Twin Cities meet up. You can contact me at clairehaskell at gmail dot com.

      • Jessica B

        This Twin Cities love is making me really excited! I just met another APWer accidentally at a Book Club, and I would encourage any APWer to join us there!

        Sorry for being an accomplice in this hijacking…

        • I’ve been meaning to go to books and bars for YEARS. I mean, I work in book publishing. How have I not made it to this yet? I am GOING to the next one.

          • Jessica B

            We go to the St. Paul one, which is tomorrow.

          • ANI

            Wohoo, local ladies! Thanks for the hijacking, it would be fun to meet up with other APW folks.

    • Lauren

      I am planning on doing the same thing, becoming Lauren Elizabeth Maiden His. It flows pretty well that way, but isn’t as clunky as hyphenating (our last names start with the same letter, which can get to be a mouthful).

      I also just recently decided to use my second middle name (maiden) as an official part of my new professional name. I recently learned that there is a very successful graphic designer out there with the name Lauren His, and we work in similar fields, so I would have a hard time making the front page of Google, where I currently rank very high (unusual last name FTW.) So, when you look me up by my Maiden, it will still come up even with His tacked on the end. BUT, then I will have the same last name as my future children and save people envelope-addressing headaches (hopefully.)

      • Samantha

        This is my current plan but I’m going to do a duel last name. Mine His. Space, no hyphen. Decision of the moment.

        • Mellie

          We decided to both do this! I’m worried because I have a coworker who did two last names, no hyphen, and says it has been a huge pain but also she loves and is very proud of her last name. I am glad my fiance and I are doing it together, but also I have this weird guilt (that he is not contributing to AT ALL, it’s all from inside me) for convincing him to change his name too. Like if anyone gives him a hard time about it or makes his life complicated because of it I will feel very bad. I need to get over it! It’s just that I knew ahead of time that getting married as a woman no matter what you choose someone will give you a hard time, and I feel weirdly selfish for asking him to go through that too when he has an easy out of doing nothing. I really like our new family name, though, and I can’t wait to use it, and I have to trust him that he likes it too.

          • Ilora

            This is exactly what my parents did, they both changed to Momsname Dadsname. Lots of people talk about how hard it’ll be for the kids of you do that so I just wanted to say that I live it and am so proud of my parents for doing what felt right to them (even though it’s been over twenty years and they still get some poorly addressed mail). I say go for it with pride!

      • irene

        I had a similar issue – there are already MyFirst HisLasts in the world, and the first thing that comes up on Google under that name combination is mugshots and arrest records. (Nice, right?) Although there is absolutely no physical resemblance between myself and the other MyFirst HisLasts in the world, it helped seal the deal for me to not change my name.

      • Class of 1980

        Southern ladies, especially upper-class ones, have been doing this forever. They usually drop their middle names and substitute their maiden names for a middle, adding the husband’s name last.

        First Maiden Husband’s.

        A few ladies are not given any middle name at birth in anticipation of this. Probably some did keep their middle names and ended up with four names after marriage.

        I actually prefer this to hyphenation just because I find it more aesthetically pleasing to see each surname standing alone. And maybe I have a warm fuzzy feeling because it’s a traditional method of somewhat keeping a maiden name going.

        A lot of Southern families also give the mother’s maiden name as middle names to children of both sexes.

        • dawn

          My grandmother had no middle name, as her parents assumed she would marry. She always wished she had had a middle name. The result, was that she had two stand-alone last name when she married: First Maiden Husband’s.

          Then my mother did the same thing, but with the addition of a middle name: First Middle Maiden Husband’s.

          I was given a double last name at birth: First Middle Mother’sMaiden Father’s. This name was not hyphenated and is not hyphenated on my birth certificate. Somewhere along the line though, it has ended up hyphenated in some records. Meanwhile, no one knows how to classify me: Mother’sMaiden or Father’s, and my last name is too long to fit in last name boxes. The length of my last name is a fairly serious problem (I had trouble in college trying to file a FAFSA, e-filing my taxes only works with some programs, I’ve had issues with the TSA because my name is so long that the first name does not print on boarding passes…). I’ve never been married but people have been assuming I must be married since I was a teenager, and when I say that I’m not, they ask for proof of my divorce.

          The advantage of all of this is that I’m used to it, so when I get married in a few months, my name situation will be no more of a source of confusion for the world at large than it already is. The problem of course is that with my already extremely long and troublesome name, I can’t add anything else. It would be simply too much.

          My FH and I are planning to keep our own names, at least for a while. If we have children, we will have to figure out a last name for them/ us!

        • Lauren

          We are in the South, good picking up on that! :)

          My mom did the Maiden Last thing and dropped her middle name – but all of my female relatives middle’s pre-wedding have been Elizabeth (as is my middle) and it seems like such a lovely family tradition to get jettisoned as soon as one gets married. So I’ll be the first one to keep the Elizabeth legally, though my mom, grandma and others use it with family some.

      • MDBethann

        Exactly what I did.

    • Kara E

      I’m in the same boat – which actually seems to be common in my mom’s family (New Englanders of English heritage), so while my name is pretty clunky, it feels right. My husband would have been fine with me keeping my name, but it felt better for us to create a cohesive unit in name too – and frankly, it’s a lot more socially acceptable this way than creating a new set of names. And that matters for him professionally. A lot.

      [And I’m a former MN and totally miss it – good luck to all of you still in the Twin Cities!]

    • Ashley

      I did this too! I have always hated my middle name, but when it came down to it, I just couldn’t get rid of it to replace it with my maiden name. It’s semi-long too, so now I’m Ashley Elizabeth Mine His. It’s definitely clunky, and like you said, I’m not in love with it, but I’m growing into it and I think it was a good decision for me.
      Also to add to the confusion, I go by Ashley Mine His when signing things, on facebook, etc., so I suppose it’s really unclear what position all my names actually occupy legally. Oh well!

    • That’s what I did. I have two middle names and I love it. Super informally I just go by first-last. Signatures and my email account are first-middle initial-middle initial-last. My diploma next month will have all four names spelled out.

      The only place I’ve had a problem with it was the DMV that assumed, even though I specified otherwise and told them they had it wrong and they didn’t fix it and I had to go back and do it again, that I had two last names and not two middle names.

      Also, the Red Cross sent me a new blood donor card that reads First MgLast (my two middle initials are M. G.). I’m some kind of weird Scottish person to them now or something.

    • i still forget my last name, and we’re about to have our 2nd anniversary (although it took us six months to get our name changes). i seldom do anything as simple as use my former name – i just stutter, or blank, or generally feel stupid for not knowing my own name. it makes me really self conscious – because i *like* my new two-part last name, but it’s taking ages for me to get used to.

  • Claire

    Yay for making decisions that work for you! And also for brightening this dreary Minneapolis spring day with one of my favorite weddings ever featured on APW. I always love hearing from local Team Practical ladies. Fist bump!

  • “… united by the strength of the gut-check” – yes! That is what this decision comes down to for me. There are so many options and they’re all valid. A dear friend of mine, also named Laura, did a twist on this when she got married – so she is now Laura Middle Husband’s Hers – and I love it. I totally understand wanting to share a name in some way and not wanting to actually change one’s last name. It’s a route I’ve considered, too.

    • One More Sara

      That is actually how most people hyphenate here (NL). Technically, they are allowed to hyphenate in whichever order they prefer (bc this change isn’t 100% official/legal unless you go through court). So legally, I would always be Sara MyLast. Socially, I can be Sara Mylast, Sara HisLast, Sara MyLast-HisLast, Sara HisLast-MyLast. For whatever reason, whenever I see a woman with a hyphenated name, it has always been FirstName HisLast-HerLast.

      I’m keeping my birth name after we get married, and my partner is a little bummed that we won’t be the HisLast family. Our kids will have his last (we already have one, and here, all children from the same partnership must have the same last name, hyphens not allowed.), so I’ll be the only one with my last name. I told him that we would be the MyLast HisLast family. There will be more HisLasts, so my name has to come first, because it’s the adjective. I think we can’t really decide what other people call us, and unless I make a big stink about it, we will probably be the HisLast family anyway. Oh well.

      • “I told him that we would be the MyLast HisLast family.”

        Ooh, I like it! And I just realized I’ve been describing us as the MyLast HisLast household. Our daughter has HisLast(a), so in writing I’ll describe as as the MyLast HisLast(a) household.

  • Hintzy

    the little bit with Mad Pierre at the end just made me smile – gotta love those half crazed local institutions and the moments they create :-p

    I plan on doing the middle name thing although moving my family name to a middle position and taking his family name as the surname, I will just have two middle names legally. I will likely still label my art works with my (then) middle name instead of the surname, because really for stuff like that it often seems like it comes down to what people know you as rather than your legal documents. I got the idea from my former boss, there’s no hyphen between her names, sometimes she is simply Susan X, sometimes she is Susan X Y, and then others she’s Susan Y. I like the fluidity of that, it speaks to me in a way.

    Also, bonus inspiration, one of my very good friends changed her last name, and gave herself a new middle name of her own choosing. She’s got a tenuous at best relationship with her biological family and her given names – it would have been cumbersome to change her legal first name and encourage people to switch over, so she chose a new unrelated name and tacked it on as a second middle name as a gift to herself. love it.

  • This post was truly lovely. I am in the midst of changing my name from Stephanie Middle Maiden to Stephanie Maiden HisLast and I feel a little mixed up about it. (My middle name, which has no familial significance, turned out to be a source of more attachment than I expected when it came time to do the deed.)
    Then there’s also the feel the sting of what people think about women who change their last names (as the OP feels what people think about women who make their own rules).
    But I think overall, what I feel is excitement. And I think that’s ok.

  • Andrea

    This post really has me thinking today!! As the last generation of my maiden name in my family I have always felt a connection to keeping it when I got married. In addition it is unique enough that I felt keeping it was also good since its become an important part of my identity in my career field. I told my fiance early on that I would not change by last name and hyphenating maiden-his would really just be absurd…my name is super long and no ever spells it correctly and it just doesn’t sound right with his. So this middle name idea is intriguing to me even though I like my current middle name…might be something to consider for me personally…thanks!!

    • Samantha

      Keep your current middle name and just add a second middle name. Or have two last names without the hyphen and then “use” which ever suites each specific situation. I.e.: work or personal. Just a few ideas. You’ve probably already considered these.

      • BB

        I don’t know how relevant this is to your career field, but I have heard of some issues in publishing in the sciences with two last names without a hyphen. I have a friend who ended up with all of her publications having slightly different names depending on how the particular journal allowed you to input your name on the form. In one paper it’s HerMaiden, in another it’s HisName, and in a third it’s HerMaiden-HisName. It’s very confusing. I would suggest if you did this you went by one last name professionally. Just a thought.

        • Samantha

          I definitely hear you on this one. I’m a decorative arts historian so I would probably just publish under my own last name. There are so many things you don’t think about!

  • Zoe

    Wonderful post! I’ve always been fairly certain I would just drop my name and take my future husband’s–it’s hard to say why, but it feels right. Still, I’m struggling a bit on two fronts. The first is a little silly: If you google my current, maiden name, I am the only person who shows up. Apparently, my name is 100% unique. Which I LOVE! Not so with Zoe HisName. There are tons of them! Finding a new e-mail address was a nightmare, and that lack of uniqueness makes me a little sad.

    The bigger challenge, is explaining the name change to my fabulously feminist Mom and friends. I love that our shared feminism unites us around wanting marriages that are partnerships and all sorts of other wonderful things, but I have no idea how to explain my desire to take his name as a feminist choice. I don’t really have a grand reason, I just like the idea of sharing a last name, and I feel comfortable taking his.

    Any ideas, APWers?

    • I don’t think you need a “grand reason.” I think you can use exactly the wording you did here: “Zoe, why on earth would you change your last name?!” “Well, Mom, I really like the idea of sharing a last name, and I feel comfortable taking his. I’ve reflected on this and Partner and I have discussed this decision, so that’s what we’re doing. I’ll give you my new email address. By the way, [insert subject change here]”

    • Kess

      My view is that just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean every decision you make has to be a “feminist choice”! It’s probably not really overtly feminist to take your husband’s last name, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less of a feminist if you do it anyway. No one can live their life making only choices that are perfectly in line with the cause. If it were me, I’d probably avoid trying to explain it in that sort of light at all and just say it was the choice that was right for you and your new family. Hopefully your friends and family will recognize that it’s also an important part of feminism to support other women in their life choices and respect your right to decide for yourself!

      • “it’s also an important part of feminism to support other women in their life choices and respect your right to decide for yourself!”

        Since deciding to change my name, this is like my main cause now. Defending a woman’s right to make her own decisions. If we could stop seeing other women’s choices as a referendum on our own (basically: “that woman chose something different, she must think my choice was a bad one, now I must tell everyone how much better my choice was”), then that is real feminism.

        • I think your last paragraph really ties nicely back to the theme for this month: It’s GOOD for me, so I’m going to celebrate it! And my GOOD may be different from your GOOD, but hey let’s party together anyway!

        • Zoe

          Thank you for the support! Such a good point. Feminism is about choice, and about supporting our fellow women (and men) in being their best selves, whatever that entails.

  • Jenny

    I so greatly appreciate reading the posts on this issue. It helps to see that the name change game is so incredibly unique to every individual relationship, and isn’t just one of those murky waters I have to navigate because I’m in the same-sex wedding pool. I’ve been surprised at my own feelings on this issue, and it is really stirring me to take a deep look at my sense of self, and my sense of the family I’m creating with my partner. I feel strongly about having a shared family name, I think perhaps even more strongly because it forces us to be recognized as a married couple to some who otherwise may not. But I find myself upset about the implication from her family (and others) that I will of course take her name as she tends more towards the masculine. And then my feminist self wants to maintain my last name because well, it’s mine and it’s been mine for 26 years. The middle name seems like the most viable option at this point, as we both feel the hyphenation of our names is just clunky and awkward.

    While I’m not glad that society pushes so hard to fit us all into boxes, I am so thankful that we are having these conversations, and hard as it may be, we are making our choices and standing behind them as CHOICES, and not simply accepting what may have been or still is considered the ‘norm’.

  • Nic

    So glad to hear from someone else with a part-changed name! You’re right, it’s quite a small group (though not here – yay!)

    I was born with a double-barrelled/hyphanated last name from my father (combining his father’s and his mother’s maiden name) and spent the longest time considering getting rid of the whole thing (leaving everything else aside, it’s a very German name and I now live in London and married an British man and my first name is long enough, thank you very much), but then as the wedding was approaching, I was getting worried that after thirty years I would actively miss my complicated last name (the best misspelling ever was on my mobile phone bill with an astirisk * instead of a hyphen -).

    It took a while for me to admit that despite its annoying sides (like having to spell it every.single.time), I’ve grown to like it. For example, my email is just my first name, because I was convinced when I set up it up at the ripe old age of 23 that I would get rid of the whole long last name at the first opportunity. But now I’ve gone from Ms A-B to Ms B-C (and can I just say that I’m still Ms and not Mrs? I find the assumption that I’m now Mrs really annoying) and am actually really happy. It’s my name (just mine, because B is very rare and C isn’t widely used, either) and not so different that I don’t react when people use it.

  • abax

    When we got engaged I assumed I would keep my name, because I am very attached to both my middle and maiden, and my first his last is a terrible combination. My first name is Anita and his last is pronounced wrong by almost everyone we meet as ‘blow’. I-neet-a-blow is not an option. However, now that we are getting closer to the wedding I find myself really wanting to take his, or some version of ours, but I can’t find one that I like. I don’t like the hyphenation idea and I can’t use two last names because where we live (MI) you are required to hyphenate double last names. I’m also published with my last so taking my maiden as a middle won’t work. I like the solidarity of having one name as a family, even if its just the two of us. If we do decide to have kids maybe I’ll change my name then? This is probably the hardest part of the entire wedding:)

    • Samantha

      Yes it is the hardest part!

      • Class of 1980

        “My first name is Anita and his last is pronounced wrong by almost everyone we meet as ‘blow’. I-neet-a-blow is not an option.”


    • Anita Blow is certainly problematic, but you made me giggle in Brooklyn this morning!

      Can you make a double last name with no hypen or space? It’s a little quirky, but ParkerSmith looks kind of cool.

      • abax

        Hmm, that’s one I haven’t thought of…

      • T. R.

        That’s how it looks in a medical office. We have to take out the hyphens and/or close the gaps. DEVITO, DANNY … FAWCETTMAJORS, FARRAH… You’d be so ready-to-file… lol!

    • Carrie

      Or, if you decide to have kids, maybe he could change his last name to yours?

      • abax

        He may be open to it…I think his mom would be really upset though…I guess we’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

        • MDBethann

          I guess it comes down to how HE feels about his last name. If he doesn’t like having the last name Blow, then he should change it if he wants to. Mom might be upset, sure, but did SHE change her last name when she married her husband?

          I’m surprised that a state can require a hyphen; the federal government certainly does not. I mean, what if someone without a hyphen in their double last name (i.e. me) moves to MI? Are they going to make me change it? I suggest you try changing it with the Social Security Admin. & the State Dept (passport) first and make it what you want. Since you’ll then have TWO federal IDs with your name spelled the way you want it, MI would really complicate things if they force you to add a hyphen. I mean, what about people with names like Du Barry or something – their last names have spaces and hyphens would certainly look weird there!

  • I also changed my middle name to my last name. So now my name First mylast hislast. It means both names shows up on major documents (diploma, mortgage, work licenses) and I use my middle initial in my official signature.

  • Lindsay

    I did the same thing! My parents didn’t give me a middle name (the expectation was that my maiden name would become my middle after marriage), but I was always jealous of other people’s: it was like an alias that I didn’t get. I like my husband’s last name, but didn’t love the implications of changing mine–especially because he wasn’t interested in changing his. So now I’m Lindsay Hisname Myname, and I love it. I still get mail addressed to all different combinations, sometimes people are confused, but I don’t mind (except when I’m Mrs. Greg Hisname, this is unacceptable).

    I’m so happy to see this post, I think this is a small (but hopefully growing) club.

  • “you changed something, but didn’t come out with the typical post-wedding result.”

    Yep. My husband added my last name as a 2nd middle name which has been simultaneously a big deal and an invisible decision. I was (perhaps too) smug about how ~awesome and egalitarian~ we were being, but when you “just” change a middle name… no one knows unless you tell them. Husband didn’t change anything on Facebook (he’s always just been First Last on there), and so other than the very confused people at the DMV, no one knows about our ~awesome and egalitarian~ decision.

    The first few weeks after the wedding were a confusing blur of excitement and let-down, when people would excitedly greet me as “Mrs. Him!” and I’d feel compelled to be all “Well, actually we did blah blah blah and he’s also sort of now Mr. Me etc…” and it would just totally suck the spontaneous joy out of the interaction.

  • Erica

    Great post today! I particularly liked the last paragraph. Lots of small towns can relate to Mad Pierre, and it’s wonderful when the stream of consciousness transforms into one, special truth! What a wonderful, peaceful feeling that must have been!

    I decided to ditch my maiden name and take my husband’s last name for the following reasons:

    – It helped us identify as one new baby family (both personally and socially)
    – It helped ease the decision of what to name our kids someday
    – I was able to lose the name from the part of my family that I didn’t identify strongly with

    Disclaimer: these were just our reasons and by no means should be forced to fit anyone else’s circumstances. But I wanted to share because I see a lot of comments about still working through the decision. I love APW for this very reason – to see what other women are doing with their choices, because the beautiful thing is we all have them!

    My question though is that I have been adamant about referring to myself as MS. and not MRS. This has been the hardest hurdle to jump because people think, “You changed your last name to HIS. How much of a feminist are you really?” To which I respond, “I’m plenty feminist, thank you. And that’s MS. Feminist to you!” Ha! But, I struggle trying to describe my need to be called a Ms. even though I am married with a new last name to my family, my friends, and even my husband. They understand why I want to be called Ms. professionally – they just don’t understand why I have made that choice personally too, and the majority of the reason is because I’m not doing a good job explaining myself. It’s a gut check decision on my part – something I feel strongly about, but for other women who have opted to be a Ms. but changed some part of their name after the wedding, how do you “justify” or explain it to skeptics?

    Side note: it’s incredibly strange to me how there is no one official document or government agency that takes responsibility for name changes (female or male – marriage related or otherwise). My marriage license only says I’m married – nothing about name changes, but that’s the only document they ask to see at the DMV and the Social Security Office, so I could change my name to anything I like really. How strange!

    • Anyone can, at any time, change their name to anything they’d like, unless they are trying to commit fraud. I just did it!

    • The name-change discussions here have prompted my own reflection on this, too. I intend to take my partner’s name when we marry, but use the title “Ms” like you. Here’s I see the Ms/Mrs thing:

      By taking my partner’s name, I’m choosing an outward signifier of our partnership (not the only signifier or even a necessary signifier!). Taking his name is an intensely personal decision about me and about us. Using the title “Mrs” only signifies to the world that you are married. It does reflect personally or specifically on your partnership, just that you’re in one. And, to add fuel to the fire, there’s no comparable male title for distinguishing a single man from a married one. If there were a commonly used male equivalent to “Mrs” I might feel differently.

      So it boils down to: I’m more than happy to take on something that signifies that he and I are in it to win it. But it’s the difference between “I’m married to HIM, hurray!” and “I’m a married woman.” I’m just a woman, thanks. no need for the qualifier.

      And to end, these are my personal thoughts and feelings on the subject. I know there are plenty of women who are elated to take on the “Mrs.” title, and I’m very happy they have another way to celebrate their marriage as they please :-)

    • elizabeth

      I’m a teacher (high school) and the Ms. v Mrs. thing is a DAILY FIGHT. I hate being called Mrs and correct students every.single.time. Whenever it becomes a discussion in class, I tell them something along the following:

      “There is no equivalent for Mrs for men. Mrs is used to indicate that a woman is married, a hold-over from when our society valued married women more than single ones. We used to use Master as the equivalent of Miss, but now that’s disappeared. To that end, and because I do not care to promote or carry on such a dated view, I do not use the words ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ I make an effort to spell and pronounce your names correctly, please do the same for me.”

      • Elizabeth

        Lol. I teach in an urban school in Boston. It’s a daily battle to get them to call me Ms. Lastname, not just the ubiquitous “Miz.”

    • MDBethann

      It’s a shame that in English, we apply “Mrs.” only when women are married. In French, German, and other languages, the “Madame”, “Frau,” etc. are more signs of age & respect than whether or not a woman is married. I guess maybe “Ms.” was the English language’s answer to something between the unmarried “Miss” and the married “Mrs.” but once again, the English language likes to complicate things.

      I kind of like the “Mrs.” as long as it’s “Mrs. Bethann HerLast HisLast” or Mrs. Bethann HisLast. I DO NOT want to be Mrs. HisFirst HisLast because I have my own name, thank you very much.

    • Alison

      I understand the struggle to explain your preferences to others, even as I personally fall on the other end of the spectrum. In a similar gut check, I’ve always hated the anonymity of Ms. although I’d be hard-pressed to further elaborate on where that instinct comes from. I always register for personal and professional events as Miss MyFirst MyLast. After the wedding (and ensuing paperwork…), I’ll be known as Mrs. MyFirst HisLast.

      According to others this is the one instance when I fail the feminist sisterhood. For some reason, friends and family are looking to this designation as the final word on power dynamics in our relationship. The kicker is that due to occupation, I’m basically guaranteed to always be the primary breadwinner and there is a pretty good chance that my husband-to-be will be staying home with the kids. Our language may be traditional, but our lifestyle is not!

  • Unrelated to names (kind of), but I suddenly have the urge to drop my plans for the afternoon and write up educational pamphlets for some of my stranger quirks. Or maybe just little PSA cards to hand to people. I’d probably need a pamphlet explaining why I’m handing them pamphlets though.

  • MTM

    I’m jealous of all you Hisname middle namers that were able to do it without going to court! This is what I wanted to do but I have no desire to spend the cash and time to do it.

  • PumpkinPicker

    I am very angry a the State of NY over their name change rules right now. I’ve never been too fussed about the idea of taking a new last name, but I kind of dig my given name and would love to also keep it in some legal way. I don’t want to hyphenate so I finally decided to take my current last as a second middle and slap the new one on the end (and convinced the future Mr. to also take mine as a second middle).
    It turns out NY will ONLY change your last name with a marriage certificate, so the only way to change a middle name legally is to go through the full name change route (which involves a judge petition, fees, newspaper announcement in addition to the usual change with DMV and social security changes done with the marriage license).
    The name change legalities are annoying enough as it is, why is this such a big deal?

  • Laura K

    “the results can be decidedly odd—like when I get mail addressed to Mrs. David Keene” — this reminded me of a couple of times when the name confusion has gone the opposite direction for us, which was pretty amusing.

    Once when we were buying something together at REI, the clerk saw my name on my membership card, and then called him Mr. MyLastName. Another time we got one of those donation solicitations in the mail where they send you return address labels and stuff, this one was addressed to me and included a calendar which said “The MyLastName Family”, which I proudly hung on our wall. I like calling us the MyLastName family :) we had a good laugh over it. We’re not married yet, so the name mixups haven’t caused any serious crises yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a lot to think about when the time comes to make that decision.

  • “As with every decision, regardless of how right it feels, it marks the death of what I didn’t choose.”


    This is exactly all the everythings.

  • LM

    Are we cousins? I kept my last name and have gotten the same card in the mail from my grandmother several times, albeit with an incorrect house number and incorrect Minneapolis zip code in addition to the question mark for a last name. The USPS works miracles.

  • Suzanne

    For some reason my mom kept up the tradition of not giving girls a middle name. Reasoning for it was so our maiden name would then become the middle name and our husband’s name the new last name. I will be changing my name, but due to being in midst of immigration applications, etc we decided to hold off until I get my final permanent residency (saves $$ to do it all at once) and change all my passports, visas, etc in one go. So I have a bit of time still to decide what to change my name to. However I am torn. Growing up without a middle name, I have really gotten used to not having one. So I’m honestly tempted to not keep the maiden name as a middle name when the time comes. Then again, all my professional life is tied to my maiden last name, so I’m torn again whether to even change it (I do really like my husband’s last name and think it sounds better with my first name). It’s really funny, my husband hates his last name and likes my last name, I don’t care for my maiden name and like his last name. I told him we could switch =)

    • Good luck with the immigration process!

    • T. R.

      Why not take HIS name as your middle name? You can keep your professional identity and Google-ability this way, and still enjoy your husband’s last name. I’m “trying this on for size” before a professional lock-in to it, but I can’t find any commentary on using the spouse’s name as a middle name (or first part of a last name, minus the hyphen); it seems maiden-to-middle is more common than what I’m doing, but it keeps my name more recognizable but still adds the happy note of marriage to the mix.

  • Elizabeth

    I got married on Saturday and I TOTALLY DID THIS! My last name is extremely unique and I can trace how anyone with the name is related to me.

    Another big part of my decision to change my middle name is that I could keep my original initials – it just so happens that his last name starts with the same letter as my old middle name. It also happens that his last name is the same ethnicity as my mother’s maiden name (my old middle name!) so it just fits in there very nicely.

  • kimberly

    This post couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve always been decided that I’d hyphenate my last name, and that’ll be that. Well, I also didn’t anticipate falling in love with someone who has a 12-letter last name! (mine is 7 letters).

    After reading the discussion here, I’m starting to feel a bit better about my possible decision to take a second middle name. I can’t imagine getting rid of my middle name (my mother loved it), and I love my last name. I just gotta keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have any hassle in the name change process!

  • MDBethann

    I found the middle name change discussion interesting, especially hearing from the ladies whose families didn’t give middle names, figuring they’d get married one day and move their maiden name to their middle name.

    My grandmother has a rather unique, short first name (Mercy) that doesn’t pair well with other names, so her parents didn’t give her a middle name (even though her parents and all 3 of her siblings had middle names). Since she didn’t have a middle name (she used her maiden name originally, then she remarried after my grandfather died & made his last name her middle name), she didn’t really think to give one to my mom or my aunt. So both Mom and my aunt ended up using their maiden names as their middle names when they got married. In the end, it’s kind of cool that my mom, aunt, and grandmother all have the same middle name.

  • beans

    I am having the same difficulty. In my thirties, I already have kids who share my maiden name. I am about to get married and don’t want to leave them behind as the only ones left with my maiden name. I think I have come to a decision today; my middle name flows well with my first, so they together will be my first name. My middle name will then become my maiden name as I take on my husband’s name. Everyone’s happy! I think. Oh well, the important ones are at least :-)