What Should We Call Me? Changing My Name as a Feminist Choice

It’s that time again. The time where we get to discuss name changing, or not, from a feminist perspective (part of our ongoing series of posts on the subject). APW has a 100% feminist staff, but we have a pretty even mix between those of us who didn’t change our names (Maddie and me) and those who did (the rest of the crew). I would argue that this blend is pretty typical of the current young(ish) feminist generation. Because of that, I think it’s important to discuss why and how changing your name after marriage can be a feminist choice.  And this post from Taylor Behnke puts name changing in a better feminist context than I’ve ever seen.

In about nine months I will celebrate my twenty-second birthday. Three days after that I will graduate college. That same day I will become completely financially independent from my parents for the first time. Three weeks later I will get married. Two weeks after that, I will (hopefully) start my first full-time “real world” job. Along with marrying what we now call young, I’m throwing myself into a pressure-cooker of big, weighty decisions, knowing I will come out the other side a newly minted independent adult woman.

So when it came to making the adult decisions surrounding my marriage, like changing my name, I didn’t want to be quiet about it. I talked to my fiancé, Luke, about what would become of our names after the wedding. When I expressed reservations about traditionally taking his name without thinking about why, he encouraged me to keep my given name if that would make me happy—but that wasn’t what I wanted.

See, with all the big rites of passage that I will participate in around the time of my wedding, I wanted a symbolic representation of the new person I will be on the other side. Plenty of cultures allow (or even require) people to assume new names upon rites of passage to mark their new identities (see Catholic Confirmations, Buddhist Shinbyu ceremonies, fraternity initiations, and so on).

I know many women choose to keep their given names because they feel that those names are tightly woven into their identities. But my given name almost feels like a cocoon I need to shed to feel truly independent and self-sufficient in this world. I’m going to be doing a whole lot of transcending in the months leading up to and after the wedding, while assuming a bunch of new identities—college graduate, wife, badass independent adult—and I want a new symbolic identity to match. Marriage just gives me a good legal excuse to do so.

So we talked. Would I come up with a new name just for myself? Would we combine our names to form a new one? Would we pick an arbitrary name for both of us? (I lobbied really hard for becoming Mr. and Mrs. Awesome, you guys, but it just didn’t stick with him.) Ultimately, I decided I wanted to share names with Luke, and he is quite attached to the name he has, so I’ll be taking his. I’m moving my current last name to the middle to carry that identity with me as well. Woo hoo! Choices that feel good for us! Success, right?

As it turns out, it did not quite work out hearts and rainbows from there. When I started announcing my decision to friends and family members, I took a lot of heat from some my fellow feminists. My future mother-in-law, who kept her maiden name, seemed disappointed in me. What I was doing totally negated my feminism and independence, people told me. To them, I was just implying that I belonged to a man, never mind that I got my current name from a man anyway. It really hurt, honestly, and I spent a lot of time second-guessing my decision. I tried to tell myself that Luke’s last name sounded weird with mine, that my current signature looks so perfect and I would never get it right with the new one. I tried to tell myself that if I was a good feminist I would keep my name, so that keeping one’s name would be more common. So that future generations of women—my future hypothetical nonexistent daughter, perhaps—could chose to do whatever they wanted with their names and other people wouldn’t question them.

Oh wait… so that they could chose to do whatever they wanted with their names and other people wouldn’t question them? What was I doing? I realized that in a subtle way, changing my name was a good feminist decision. I had to go with my original choice to take Luke’s name so that other people, either for or against name changing, could not pressure me (or my future hypothetical nonexistent daughter) out of doing what I truly wanted to do. Since that realization, I’ve tried to change the conversation around what I am doing with my name and why. When anyone gives me an opinion on what I should do with my name, or how I should configure it, I don’t even try to defend my decisions anymore. I just state clearly and assertively “Nope. You don’t get a say.”

Because really, names are just the containers in which we hold our identities—sometimes we find freedom in those containers changing shape, sometimes we take pride in them remaining steadfastly the same. But our names belong to us alone. My name is my name. I am the only one who has to live in it. I am the only one who gets to decide what it looks like, and what it means. You don’t get a say.

I’m excited for the months ahead. Turns out I am taking on my badass independent adult identity pretty well.

Photo of Taylor and Luke by: Emilia Jane Photography

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  • Kcaudad

    More power to you, and those of us changing our names, for whatever reason! Feminism was originally about freedom of choice, anyways.

    • Korrena

      I feel pretty neutral about the whole name-changing business, but I don’t think that it can honestly be said that whatever choice a woman makes is a feminist choice because feminism is all about freedom of choice.

      That being said, I think in this case the writer’s choice was a feminist one because she truly examined the question and came to the conclusion that she thought was best for her and her new family. An un-feminist choice would have been to substitute her own judgment for the judgment of others, regardless of whether those people thought she should keep her name or not.

    • Ancy

      I’m in the process of getting divorced after more than 30 years of marriage and 4 children. I took my husband’s last name because it seemed the practical thing to do so my husband and children would have the same last name as me for family identity, etc. I felt a strong sense of loss giving up my original last name even though I kept it as a middle name, but I eventually became proud of my identity with my new nuclear family. Now that I’m getting divorced, I still would have kept my married name after divorce for the sake of family identity (I have 3 boys), but my husband has dishonestly betrayed me and his family has shunned me. So I am recently coming to the conclusion that I will be more at peace going back to my original name. I’ve consulted with my children (now all adults) and they have encouraged me to do what feels right. I still have some ambivalence, but am tipping toward changing back. My sisters are also encouraging me to go back to my original name, since they experienced my husband’s attempts to dishonestly manipulate them against me. In hindsight, I would still have married my husband so my children would exist, of course, but I would have kept my original last name. Changing back is complicated because I am a professional who is well known in the area where I live. There’s no perfect answer to the question. “Feminism” isn’t really relevant in my case, even though it was a much stronger evolving issue back when I was getting married.

  • Lauren

    This post is so timely (my partner and I were just talking about name changing this AM over coffee) and SO awesome…most particularly this: “But our names belong to us alone. My name is my name. I am the only one who has to live in it. I am the only one who gets to decide what it looks like, and what it means. You don’t get a say.”

    I am struggling with my desire to take my partner’s name (at least socially – changing my name professionally could be problematic at this point of my career). I wanted to be linked together but didn’t want to be seen as doing the “un-feminist” thing of taking his name. This post helped me so much in realizing that I should do what I want in this regard because it’s what feels right to me – to hell with having to defend it. Unapologetic feminist. Love it.

    • “I wanted to be linked together but didn’t want to be seen as doing the ‘un-feminist’ thing of taking his name.”

      This this THIS. I had the exact same struggle. I’m changing my name, and while my decision has surprised some people, I’m the harshest critic of my choice. I hate the idea that I’m letting down woman-kind by taking part in a very gendered tradition, but – like the author – I can’t let myself be forced into any decision because that would also be un-feminist.

    • MDBethann

      I struggled with this over the winter as I prepared for my spring wedding. I have worked and published in my field for 9 years, so I really didn’t want to lose my work identity, but at the same time I wanted to have the same last name as my husband and future children. In the end, I double-barreled my last name. Is it complicated and do I get odd looks? Yes, because our last names both end in “er” and don’t run together very smoothly. Fortunately, they are both relatively short last names so it works on forms and everything. But it’s me, it’s my new identity, and I’m embracing it.

  • Roxanne

    I think the biggest problem with this topic is the fact that it seems to only be a discussion among and about women. I’ve had this discussion with my own friends many times. Though we all have read about the few progressive couples where the man takes the woman’s name, they both co-hyphenate or they take a new name together, even among the male partners of feminists (who hopefully also identify as feminists), it is not “normal” for them to consider changing their own name. I’ve personally struggled with the disappointment of not being able to convince my fiance that we should hyphenate together (even though I know hyphenation is not great, you end up with a very long name and what happens in the next generation?). It’s disappointing to me that he, who will actually identify as a feminist, won’t consider this option. He claims it’s about not wanting to change his own name because he loves it, but probably there is also underlying discomfort with the idea of being a man changing his name (since it’s not the norm). So basically I think this discussion, from the perspective of women, is old news. Change your name or not, either is fine in today’s society. The next step is including men in this conversation and decision.

    • rys

      Right. Why do men enter this conversation only when asked by women? Why do men feel attached to their names in ways many women do not? Why does male attachment to a name preclude changing it? And why do we frame this as a decision that affects daughters but not sons?

      • margo

        Yes, yes, yes to these questions.

        However, it’s important to remember that men have not changed their names in marriage for… oh, the whole history of Western civilization. So the hesitation not to embrace it or consider it isn’t that puzzling.

        Also, feminism has brought us a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Boys are still taught that “girly” things are inferior. We have yet to raise a generation where boys are given dolls as often as girls are given toy trucks. These kinds of things still matter. Do men have any famous or well known examples of a man who changed his name? Do the majority of people know a man who has changed (or even considered?) changing his name? No? Then of course they don’t feel the conversation is relevant to them.

        • Another Meg

          Jack White changed his name when he married Meg White. But that’s the only one I know of.

        • tennymo

          I believe the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa (born Antonio Villar), changed his name to a shared name with his (now-ex) wife, Corina Raigosa. Strictly on the name change front, I think that’s pretty cool for a politician.

        • Class of 1980

          “However, it’s important to remember that men have not changed their names in marriage for… oh, the whole history of Western civilization. So the hesitation not to embrace it or consider it isn’t that puzzling.”

          Not entirely true. Name changing conventions are not that old in the Western world. The concept of surnames isn’t as old as we think. Going deeper into history, either the husband or wife used to change their surname upon marriage, depending on who had the higher status name.

          However, in recent generations, it’s true that we haven’t experienced this form of equality. It’s hard for people to change because emotions have grown up around current conventions.

      • Alyssa

        YES! Not to condemn any individual, because of course every case is different, but the sheer number of times you hear “he really wasn’t comfortable,” or “he’s very attached,” and the conversation somehow ends there…it starts to sound fishy, especially in light of all of the women who don’t really get to do that.

        • Meredith

          Yes! My goodness THIS!

          • Sarisa

            Yes, yes, yes. I literally went to file our marriage application yesterday, and I am changing my last name but putting my current last name into my middle name. When I suggested that my fiance add my last name to his middle name as well, a move that would not have affected his name on a day-to-day basis AT ALL, it was met with this attitude of puzzlement / dismissal that I found SOOOOOO frustrating. It would be helpful if this were something that women AND men had to think about seriously. Men should be part of this conversation too!!!

    • Newtie

      Yes… and while I’m 100% for individual women making choices that suit them, is it really an *equal* choice when girls/women are still brought up knowing that changing one’s name at marriage is the norm, and boys/men are not? No matter how feminist or progressive one’s family is, chances are you’d have to live under a rock to reach marriageable age without realizing that changing one’s name is the culturally sanctioned choice, at least by the numbers — and that has an influence on women’s choices (even if by only having us spend time deciding what we want to do, when our male partners don’t always think about it so much).

      I think it’s worth considering, when women have this choice, why do so many more women still choose to change their names? What’s happening, culturally, to make this so, and are any of those issues important enough to look at critically? Why are women raised to consider the issue of having the same name as their spouse as important, whereas men aren’t, or if they are it’s more likely to be that the solution they think of will be for their wife to take their name? Why are women raised to see name changing as an empowering thing, demonstrating a major change in identity, and symbolically embracing adulthood, whereas men are raised to see changing their names at marriage very differently? Surely there are just as many men as women who aren’t close to their fathers, never liked their name to start with, want to symbolically show their identity shift at marriage, want a family with all the same name, etc — if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be just as many men as women who change their names, and just as many women who feel as connected to their names as men often do?

      When people of all genders have the same cultural expectations about changing one’s name (which, I hope, will someday be no expectation at all), THAT will feel like true choice equality to me.

      • Meredith

        YES THIS!! x 1 million!

        Since I read this post almost 2 hours ago I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts and write a coherent response but have failed. THIS is what I’ve been trying to say, you just said it more eloquently than I could have.

        Especially this “when women have this choice, why do so many more women still choose to change their names?… Surely there are just as many men as women who aren’t close to their fathers, never liked their name to start with, want to symbolically show their identity shift at marriage, want a family with all the same name, etc — if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be just as many men as women who change their names, and just as many women who feel as connected to their names as men often do?”

        Given the array of name (non)changing choices, why do so many women, really the vast majority, either drop their old last name and take their husbands or drop their middle name, move their given last name to their middle name and then take their husbands last name? Surely, out of the all the options available, you would not expect so many women to make essentially the exact same choice.

        • Nora

          love everything about this article. I think we need to truly view name-changing as a choice, and above all I love the statement that you are the only one who lives in a name. And above all, what is most important is that it feel right to you.

          I think, in response to Meredith, it’s important to think about the legal structures that still make only women changing their names, and only changing their names to their partners, significantly easier than any other combination. My partner and I are thinking about both changing our last names to Hislastname Mylastname. When I called to inquire about the process, I was informed that because I don’t want Mylastname-Hislastname, I would have to go through a legal name change process. My partner, because he’s a husband, would automatically have to go through that process to change his name (in my state, not every state). The legal name change process involves not only much more money ($207 in my state to file, where changing to Hislastname could just be done with the marriage certificate) but much more time, including running an ad in the newspaper once a week for three weeks informing the public, showing up in court, more paperwork, etc. All that to say Hislastname or no change is by far the easiest in our current legal system.

          I think we should keep our names or change them but someday have equal access to permutations of ours and our partners names, regardless of gender (reason 6,542 for legalizing gay marriage as well ;) ).

      • while I’m 100% for individual women making choices that suit them, is it really an *equal* choice when girls/women are still brought up knowing that changing one’s name at marriage is the norm, and boys/men are not?

        Systemically, the name issue is still drastically imbalanced. On a cultural level, I’d love to see the changes you’re talking about here. But the tricky part is that individual people are living within that broader systemic imbalance, and they have to make certain choices. And how can you change the system itself, while also having to navigate it as an individual?

        I like what you are saying about how crappy it is that women still have to actively make a choice and then defend it in a way that men don’t. I think that’s true for women who change, hyphenate, make up, or keep their names. No matter what you do, you”re stuck defending your decision to someone, and probably lots of someones. I think that’s why, as a community of feminists, it’s so important for us to support all decisions, whether they would be ours or not, because it’s one less group of people scrutinizing, judging, or asking for a defense of a deeply personal issue.

        • Jessica

          I totally agree with this framing. I absolutely agree that name changing in society at large is an unbalanced issue with serious sexism going on and that the proportion of women who change their name is reflective of that. At the same time, as an individual woman, I want the right to make the choice that is right for me, and I don’t want to be judged for that. So how do we make those individual choices based on our personal circumstances while working towards a broader context that is more fair and equitable? We can talk about our own choices and we can vocally support our friends’ choices. I am already in the habit of asking my friends IF they’re changing their name, not assuming, but after a suggestion I read on here, I’m trying to get in the habit of asking both men and women what they as a couple are doing with their names, rather than assuming this is just an issue for women. What else can we do to make the overall context more fair?

        • rys

          Hmmm, I’ll push a little and say I don’t think feminists need to support all decisions, but rather need to support thoughtful decision-making. I can sublimate outcome to process, but only if there was actually process/thought/deliberation, not simply axiomatic “just because.” For me, this holds for more than just names and absolutely applies to men as well as women.

          I realize this is a somewhat impractical standard, as I don’t think I have the right to inquire about how everyone arrived at doing everything, but I think it’s problematic to value choice without valuing how one moves from choice to decision. Being able to articulate an answer to “why” is, I think, rather important.

          • This is an infinitely more eloquent way of saying what I’m always trying to get at with my hesitancy to embrace “choice feminism.” Just because a woman chooses something doesn’t make that choice necessarily feminist – the process is important.

          • I agree with you, in theory, but I think it get’s really hard to parse out who’s been thoughtful enough to merit our support. I think in practice, this ends up experienced as judgment for many women, even those eventually determined “thoughtful enough.”

            I like Jessica and Newtie’s suggestion to just open up the conversation, in general, more often. I think that’s part of the success of what Meg does here on APW. Specifically b/c she expends so much energy in making this a judgement-free space, people have the opportunity to be open as they work through this heavily loaded stuff.

            Because what about the women who didn’t fight to make a choice, but went with tradition because it was easier or because their parents/partner/church wanted them to. Shouldn’t they still be invited to the conversation? The power of tradition is really powerful, in both positive and negative ways, and it’s influence in our decision making can only be fully recognized and addressed if we abstain from judging those who make their decisions accordingly.

          • rys

            Tea — I recognize that “thoughtful” is a hard barometer and contains its own set of problems, including the potential perception of judgment. That said, I think “tradition” can be a thoughtful answer (be it about names, wearing a white wedding dress, not wearing white after Labor Day, using cloth napkins at formal meals, or anything else) if someone can articulate why tradition is meaningful to them. It also means being aware of the history of the tradition — whose tradition is it, how old is it, why was it created, who helped maintain it, etc.

            Most decisions turn on weighing and then prioritizing values, and I think making this explicit and transparent is really important, both for understanding why we draw the conclusions we do and in being able to empathize with people with whom we disagree. Newtie’s comment below seems to me a very clear example of thinking through a set of choices and finding ways to, as she says, “be aware of why this choice, which is the more common and more gender-traditional choice, feels like best one for my family,” and, moreover, move from her own analysis to fighting for policies that would alter the conditions surrounding her choice.

            Emphasizing process is therefore not about barring entry to the conversation, it’s about making sure the conversation happens. Being able to explore why tradition matters is absolutely part of the conversation; assuming tradition (or feminism) sufficiently explains any decision cuts off the conversation.

          • This is a reply to Meaghan, but sadly I can’t reply directly to you:

            I certainly don’t think that every choice a woman makes is inherently feminist, but I do think that as feminists we can do the best work when we accept all women’s choices.

            Does that make sense? So if a woman decides, say, to work at Hooters*, I might not consider that the most woman-positive employment choice. But I do not promote gender equality by criticizing her for making those choices.

            The reasons for this are 1) She’s just an individual trying to operate within an inherently imbalanced system. That system is not her fault (although it is all of our responsibility to try and improve it) and if she can make individual gain by acquiescing in some way to that system, who am I to criticize that survival technique? We’re all doing that in various ways from “getting married” to “wearing makeup” to “performing as women” so what is to be gained from judging certain participation in the system over others? 2) When we take on individual choices, we lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to attempt to deconstruct systemic patriarchy: why is this the only/ best option available to her? In this case, what can we do to trouble the objectification of women’s bodies for commercial gain? Etc.

            It’s a bit of a complicated balance (isn’t all of this), but I think we can respect an individual choice, while simultaneously asking questions and starting discussions and taking actions that challenge the bigger picture.

            *Arbitrary example, I could just as easily have said “Starbucks” or “Bank of America.”

        • Newtie

          I agree with you, Tea, — but I don’t think there should be any reason why discussing systemic issues should make individual women feel judged for their personal decisions. I believe the fear of hurting others’ feelings by talking about larger issues is part of what’s hurting modern feminism today. There’s a trend to perpetually say “That’s great! Whatever you want is great!” — and while that is completely true, it is ALSO true that women are still forced to make choices in a society that is imbalanced. The two are not mutually exclusive by any means. I think the only solution is to support women in their individual choices AND to not be afraid to continue the discussion about how those choices fit into a greater society — because otherwise we won’t be able to change society.

          I’ll give an example from my own life, since that’s often easiest. Right now my husband and I are actively trying to start a family. If and when we are so lucky to do so, I will be the one who works part time in order to care for our child. This is because I am the one with the job flexibility, and because I earn less than my husband. It’s also because I WANT to be able to spend as much time as possible with my child(ren). Do I stay up at night worrying if this is the feminist choice? Hell no. I feel totally comfortable making the decision that’s best for my family, period. I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to try and make a more feminist choice for the greater good of society (because frankly, one woman working part time or working full time makes very little difference on society as a whole anyway).

          BUT. I DO feel like it is my responsibility to be aware of why this choice, which is the more common and more gender-traditional choice, feels like best one for my family. Why does my husband make more than I do? Why do I have more job flexibility? Is it because we live in a society that still does not have equal pay for equal work? Is it because we live in a society that encourages women to go into “family friendly” professions instead of more high-powered ones? Yes and yes. Why do I want to stay home part-time whereas my partner is less interested in doing so? Is it because I was raised to think that getting to spend lots of time with a small child is one of the joys of motherhood (and part of being a “good mother”), whereas my partner was raised to think his strength as a father is not as closely tied to daily childcare, and indeed, that his strength as a father might be more closely tied to “providing” for the family? Yes.

          So — what can I do about changing those things? I can vote for politicians who actively work toward improving fair pay in this country, and I can be active in fair pay lobbying. I can be conscious of how I raise my own children and the messages I give them about careers and parenthood. I can talk about this with friends and colleagues and I can try to think about whether or not I really believe the cultural messages I’ve been given about motherhood and work. And I can remember that the fact that society is imbalanced and that systemic anti-feminist beliefs have probably affected the way I make decisions does not make me a “bad feminist” nor does it mean I have to make decisions that aren’t right for me. In other words, I can think critically about these gender imbalances, and even how they have affected my life and my decisions, without feeling “judged.” Something can be true on a political and society level and still not be a judgement on my personal choices.

          • I don’t think there should be any reason why discussing systemic issues should make individual women feel judged for their personal decisions.

            I couldn’t agree more! I really like your example about your family and work. There are few things I hate more than this idea that one can be a “bad feminist.” I rarely hear actual feminists calling each other bad feminists, too. I actually think it’s an internalization of these cultural norms that tell woman they have to be perfect all the time. The Rush Limbaugh version of feminism that gets thrown around doesn’t help, either, as it establishes feminist as mean and angry and exclusionary, where women are cat-fight style judged as “good” or “bad.”

            And while I might not always agree with other feminists opinions a) I don’t get to kick them out of the club or call them bad members and b) I don’t get to judge people’s personal life decisions (changing names, working and raising families, getting married, etc.). And the latter, especially, I never hear as a judgement from other feminists, but this bizarre internalization. Let’s go on a campaign to end that, shall we? No more calling ourselves “bad feminists.”

          • MEI

            Newtie, I wrote something similar on a comment on Hanna’s post earlier this week that wondered if a woman could prioritize her family over her career and still be a feminist. I’m reposting just because it seems relevant here as well (and because I posted it a day after Hanna’s post went up so it may have been too late of a contribution).

            But here’s the thing about “choice,” and I know it’s been mentioned before on this site. When women are consistently choosing to do one thing, while men are choosing to do something else, it is worth examining why, and I think that’s why feminists are still very interested in looking at women’s career trajectories. When women are consistently choosing to forgo pursuing the corner office when men are not, what are the factors that influence that decision, and are those factors the result of unfeminist policies? For example, both my husband and I are attorneys working for big law firms. We are planning/hoping (I know many things can derail such plans) to have a child soon. We have discussed it, and I plan to go part-time or stay at home for a period of time after the kid is born. Partially, my husband enjoys the work more and I find it boring and stressful. Partially, though, our decision was influenced by the fact that the culture at most big law firms is still that of an “old boys club;” more work is given to men associates, more networking opportunities are provided for men, men are more likely to make partner, etc. (I didn’t say all, but I have yet to find a “big law” firm where this is not true. Also, in case anyone is unfamiliar with law firms, you generally stay an associate for awhile until being promoted to partner, which is often very difficult.) And therefore, my husband has a better chance of getting to the corner office than I do. So am I making the choice to prioritize my family over my career and still choosing to identify as a staunch feminist? Yes. But I can also acknowledge that it is influenced by the fact that my chosen career field (and probably much of American corporate culture) is structured in a decidedly unfeminist way, and that’s a problem.
            Now, my anecdote is obviously not data, but merely an example of why feminists are still very much interested in why women choose to prioritize family over careers more often than men. It is not to make you feel like a “bad feminist” or even a non-feminist if you choose to prioritize your family. Again, one part of feminism is making such a choice seem as valuable for all people, regardless of gender. But it is something feminists are going to keep exploring, because it is symptomatic of a system that doesn’t give women a fair shot.

            I think it relates to the “choice” to change one’s name as well. That is, as mentioned in this thread, women consistently choose to change their name while men do not. That is not attacking any one woman’s choice to change her name, but to still recognize that there may be issues with a system/institutions surrounding that choice. For the record, neither my husband nor I changed our last names, but it’s been fraught for me in a way that it has not for him, and I think that’s unfair.

          • Claire

            Love this. So thoughtful and wise.

      • Ancy

        For me, it was about having the same last name as my children. Please see my other post of today regarding my ambivalence about changing back to my original name, for the same reason, as I’m getting divorced after more than 30 years of marriage. I’ve never considered my self to be or not to be a feminist, but I can’t stomach calling my original last name my “maiden name”. So I guess I’m somewhat of a feminist.

    • sarahmrose

      My husband’s going to be taking my name. (After our wedding — we’ve done the civil part but the wedding will be a bit later.)

      It was a simple, though personal, decision for us. I like my name and have never imagined anything except having my name, or maybe hyphenating if it really mattered to my FH. He cares more about the family unit having a unified name than I do. And he is pretty much estranged from his father (from whom he gets his last name). It was maybe a five-minute conversation for us.

      What was weird was when we casually mentioned it to my family. My brother and dad both had really strong, borderline-offensive reactions (probably actually offensive to many, but we don’t really give a shit what they think about this subject, so instead it made me laugh): my brother told me that people would question his masculinity or think he was effeminate, and that they would immediately figure it out because my name is very Jewish, and my husband is very clearly not Jewish.

      My husband also laughed when he heard about this. Neither of us really see what all the fuss is about.

    • Cali

      This is a really good point, and I totally identify. I’m taking my fiance’s name, because I love the way it sounds with my first name and because I want to share a family name. We briefly discussed somehow combining our names into one new shared name, or creating a new last name all together, but we couldn’t really find anything we liked and the subject just kind of died. I suggested that he take my last name as a middle name, which is what I’m doing, so that it’s at least kinda there. He didn’t want to, and there seemed to be this underlying fear that the world would view him as less of a man if he added his wife’s name. It would be interesting to see that side of the argument talked about a little more by society in the future.

      As a side note, the lady at the County Registrar gets some major brownie points, because when we picked up our marriage license yesterday, she looked straight at my fiance at one point and asked, “Will you be changing your name?” I wouldn’t have even expected her to ask him, so it was refreshing!

      • My husband is adding my last name as a middle, as am I. It’s a long, multi step, unofficial and gradual processes in my state (there’s no “official” name change form, you just decide you want to and then change all your appropriate documents) so we’ve been lazy about it since the wedding, but it’s still our plan to go to the various agencies together and change our names together.

        Opposite your fiance, my guy was more than happy to add my last name to his, whether it was this way or hyphenating with me, he just didn’t want to lose his. This takig of his last and adding of my middle was my idea and ultimately my choice, but I’m still a little bitter that it’s a “safe” one that really doesn’t affect him. Middle names are so private, in general, and no one is going to know what he did (other than the nice government employees at the DMV) unless he tells them. Perhaps this is a point you can raise to your fiance if you want to continue the discussion with him. That it’s important to you, and really, doesn’t impact him all that much.

        Plus then you’ll get a fancy person name, like John H. R. Smith.

    • Tessa

      Exactly this. This is the problem I have with name-changing upon marriage. It’s not about choices; whatever works for you and whatever you truly want is fine by me. It’s that men do not even consider (or have to consider) changing their names. This is left completely up to the woman, as if it is only HER identity that needs to change, not his. This is, unfortunately, reality. And it bugs the heck out of me. What if I’m also very attached to my own name? Am I the one who will have to compromise by hyphenating? The vast majority of men will balk at simply adding your last name to theirs. And it’s just not fair. If my partner is not willing to change his, then I am not willing to change mine. Maybe that sounds stubborn, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with doing it otherwise.

  • SassyCupcakes

    I just want to shout YES to this. The whole point is – you have a choice. The End. Just because we’re not having these things forced upon us doesn’t mean we must refuse them. My mother in law was shocked that I was taking her surname, which doesn’t compare to how she feels about me choosing to be a stay at home wife. Clearly I’ve failed as a woman if I (realistically the two of us) don’t take every opportunity that feminists fought for. We all need to find what works for our families, we all need to accept that that’s going to look different for different people, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be bullied one way or the other because of what we feel we should do – whether that be to please others or be a gold star feminist.

    • Taylor B

      “You have a choice. The end.” Exactly.
      This is how I felt in the 2008 Democratic primary, when so many women around me and in the media were talking about our responsibility to vote for Hillary. I felt guilty for a long time, because she wasn’t my first choice (though absolutely my second!). And then I realized the point of equality was the choice. The success was having a woman in the contest. It would have been disingenuous to vote for her solely because of her gender.
      I’m stumped on my name change. I find the choice overwhelming, with no perfect solutions available. But I appreciate having the choice, and the space in my family and community to exercise it.

  • KEA1

    HALLELUJAH! Huge best wishes on all the awesome rites of passage that lie ahead, and huge congrats on your badass independent adult identity. I love that you have taken to telling people explicitly that they are not authorized to give input, and I really wish that more people would do that. Myself included. %)

  • “To them, I was just implying that I belonged to a man, never mind that I got my current name from a man anyway.”

    I consider this to be a huge part of the whole issue, and it’s so often left out of the discussion. I don’t have a relationship with my father, and I’ve spent the last decade wanting to get rid of his name – getting married just gave me an officially sanctioned way to do so. Even when I explain this reasoning a lot of people still give me flack over making the “unfeminist” choice to take my husband’s name.

    Somehow I’d just rather have a name that ties me to someone I care about, rather than someone I don’t.

    • Laura

      That makes a lot of sense to me. I think women should be able to make their own choice and be left alone about it!

    • Keeley

      “To them, I was just implying that I belonged to a man, never mind that I got my current name from a man anyway.”

      This point stuck out to me too, since I don’t see it being made very often. I’m changing my name, but I think all other choices are great too. Plus, my husband to be has an unusual last name, and I have an unusual first name, so I like the idea of making my name even more unique and of that being my new independent identity.

      • I was quite pleased when I realized that my name changed from one shared with a handful of people (tops) to one shared with no one, ever. (Unusual last name changed to unusual last name that morphed a few times since leaving the Old World.)

    • Jashshea

      I have a friend in your situation who changed to her moms maiden in her teens/20s, then took her husbands name when they married in their early 30s.

    • Copper

      I was scrolling down to say just that. I plan on changing my name, because if I’m going to be named after a man one way or the other, I’d rather it be the man I chose than the man my mother chose.

    • Marie

      Hell yes! My father and I have a similar relationship (it’s still in the air if he’s being invited to the wedding), and I will take any chance I can get to distance myself from him.

      As so many have pointed out, the feminist choice is to HAVE a choice. And I choose my fiance’s last name. My middle name will stay my middle name, it’s my dead grandmother’s name and you would have to pry that name from my dead, cold fingers. I will never change it. This only leaves one option- Firstname Middlename Hislastname. And I’m totally fine with that.

      Btw, I love that we’re having this discussion, it’s wonderfully affirmative. Oh, and “You don’t get a say”- I simply have to use that in future arguments! (We’re childfree atheists in the middle of two Catholic families, you can imagine how often these talks arise.)

    • Just came here to leave this comment! You are so right that this gets left out of the conversation, and when it’s part of it, it often doesn’t seem like a valid enough reason to change your name? I feel like you can say you don’t have a good relationship with your father and it’s like “YEAH BUT SEPARATE IDENTIFY FROM YOUR HUSBAND.”

    • Erica

      The “it’s my father’s name anyway” argument always rubs me the wrong way a little bit, and this actually helped me figure out why. First, I got my last name because my MOTHER – a feminist and a doctor – made the choice in 1970 to change her name (even though it definitely felt to her like something of a betrayal of her feminist ideals). Her choice is no less valid than anyone else’s. So my last name doesn’t just come from my father, it comes from my mother and saying otherwise feels (to me) like it disrespects and diminishes her choice. Second, my last name, whatever it’s origins, is now part of my identity. I’ve had it my entire life. It’s not as if I was raised with no last name and on my wedding day I had to choose b/w my father’s last name and my husband’s. I was choosing b/w *my* last name and my husband’s.

      All of which is not at all intended to argue in favor of one decision over another or attack anyone else’s choice. But really just to say that I loved Taylor’s assertion that “I’m changing my name b/c I want to” full stop, no one else’s opinion needed or solicited. No need to trot out the “it was a man’s name anyway” excuse for further justification.

    • Cara

      I totally respect the desire to ditch your father’s name if you don’t like having your father’s name, but I don’t get it as the reason behind taking your husband’s name. It seems like a reason to perhaps change your name to your mother’s name.

      • It’s not the whole reason behind my taking my husband’s name, just part of the whole thought process. Which I think is so important to remember when considering the decisons people make about their marital names: they are layered, complex issues that often can’t be summed in by just a couple sentence explaination. There are about fifteen contributing factors including my disconnect with my birth name and the fact that this just felt like the right decision to me.

        Changing to my mother’s maiden name, which she doesn’t use (even though she’s divorced) was never a real option in my mind for a variety of reasons including the fact that it’s very Hungarian and *I* can barely pronounce it myself, so it would have driven me nuts. It also would have caused a lot more family strife than the issue was worth.

        Ironically enough though, my first initial and new last name together are actually a direct translation of my mom’s last name.

  • Laura

    I live in Quebec, where women are not allowed to change their names. When you marry, you keep the name on your birth certificate. If you move to Quebec already married, with your name already legally changed to your husband’s in your home province or state, you have no choice but to change it back. The only way to change your name is to go through the same legal process you would use for any change of name. Since they do those on a case by case basis, they are likely to reject you if they see you are just trying to take your husband’s name.

    I have really mixed feelings about this. When I asked around to find out why Quebec does this, I was told that it was done as a feminist action. But it seems like misplaced feminism to deny women the choice. They can’t change their names, their husbands can’t change their names, and any children they have are legally required to take the father’s last name regardless of the parents’ feelings on the matter. I, and many of my married friends too, encountered a lot of hostility when we expressed a desire to have a choice in the matter. It was strange because there was just such a sense of finality about it, a sort of, “You’re crazy to want your name to come from a man” attitude, even though, as Taylor points out, we all got our names from our fathers anyway.

    It’s really unfortunate that women feel like they have to justify their decision to others either way. It is nobody else’s business but everyone demands an explanation from you. I have many very conservative friends who live in the States and just assumed that I would be changing my name. When I told them that I wasn’t, they were very surprised. Instead of defending what would have been my own choice regardless, I found myself rushing to say, “Quebec won’t let me!” I just felt like no matter what you do, somebody will criticize. So I decided to stop justifying myself. I no longer fall back on Quebec as an excuse. If someone asks, I simply tell them that I am attached to my name and have no wish to change it.

    • Amy March

      Yeah, my parents lived briefly in Quebec and when my mother was hospitalized I had trouble finding her because they insisted on registering her as FirstName MadainName. Even though she has not used MaidenName in 30 years and it appears on none of her ID. I found the whole thing extremely off-putting, as did she, and wonder if it was a reactionary decision after the Catholic Church lost control of the province post-1959

      • Laura

        Yes, I think it was. Even though the Catholic Church lost so much of its power in Quebec during the 1960s, the province is still hugely affected by the extent of the control it had before then. You see it everywhere. I’m studying to be a librarian, and in the early 1900s the Church went out of its way to shut down any library institution that was opposed to censorship. Because of that, even now Quebec’s library system is still decades behind other Canadian provinces.

      • Hmm, it would be kind of a delayed reaction if it was a result of the Quiet revolution, since the name change law came in 1981, wouldn’t it? Unless you are thinking that there was more of a move towards equality between the sexes after the Quiet revolution, and that eventually led to the desire to “equalize” name changing by giving no one a choice?

    • Class of 1980

      I think it’s awful when a government thinks it gets to boss you around, to the point that you don’t even get to choose your own damn name.

      It’s treating the citizens like children.

      • It’s pretty much Quebec in a nutshell.

    • Well, I live in Québec, and though I do think the legal lack of choice was clearly a drastic measure taken by the Québec government, I am glad I could not take my husband’s last name.

      I come from a conservative culture where everyone I knew took their husband’s names- and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I knew only ONE woman who married and did not change her last name.

      Fast forward to my late twenties: I had been back and forth on the concept for years, but I had been thinking more about how I liked my last name and wanted to keep it. When I moved here to Québec to get married in my early 30s, it was settled for me. And yes, it removed my choice. However, I just feel I got a bump in the direction I really wanted to go anyways (but might have wavered due to the extreme lack of examples in my culture of origin). If I had been leaning the other way, I could see how my experience would be quite different.

      So even though I didn’t have a choice, I am thankful to have the opportunity to see how a society works when family unity is not equated with having a shared name (or marriage, for that matter), and it’s been eye-opening to see that family unity really is separate from a name. (For years, I worried about the potential implications on “unity” if a family name isn’t shared.)

      Now, what I wonder is if the law were now removed and people (either spouse) could choose to change their names or not….what would happen?

      Also, about the law regarding the last names of children in Québec: the children can have either last name of a parent or a combination. Here’s the civil code addressing it: http://www.etatcivil.gouv.qc.ca/en/birth.html#nom

  • Beth

    Hi! I love this! Asserting your own choices prepares you for that life of adult bad-assness. Just a thought– I am not sure where you reside, but it may be beneficial for you to look into the fine print regarding your state’s regulations regarding your middle name. I attempted to drop my middle name and just go with First Name Maiden Name New Last Name, and our DMV (PennDOT) would not permit me to do such. Further research indicated that in PA, a court order is required for middle name changes. This was confusing to me, as Social Security had not had a problem with my name as I wanted to coordinate it. I have been advised by peers that perhaps I should have gone to a driver’s license center (small satellite offices) rather than the state office, and may have been permitted to do so. Just a thought– this was quite a source of frustration to me, so I wanted to share this to save you some time and unnecessary hassle!!

  • one more sara

    I never really understood why someone (who doesn’t necessarily have an estranged farther or similar non attachment) would want to change their names. When I asked about their decision I was usually answered with it’s important to me or something else equally as vague. Thank you for explaining this so clearly. Now I think it will be much easier for me to accept that name changing is equally as feminist as name keeping and the most important thing is to just leave other people alone to make their own damn decisions

    • Class of 1980

      I think we all have a hard time putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

      For a long time, I didn’t understand women having emotional feelings about not wanting to change their name. Then I realized why … it’s because I don’t like my father, therefore losing his name upon getting married felt like a liberation.

      The only way I could put myself in the (emotional) shoes of women who wanted to hold onto their name, was to imagine that my last name was my mother’s maiden name. That’s when I finally understood the emotions.

      My mother’s maiden name happens to be a name I like. More importantly, it represents the people I loved most, it represents generations of happy marriages, and it represents the “sane” side of my family. If that had been my maiden name, I’d have had a hard time saying goodbye to it.

      • And the whole “fathers’ name” thing always confuses the hell out of me because I come from a long line of single mothers and/or women who kept their last names, and so I have the same last name as my maternal grandmother!

      • “My mother’s maiden name happens to be a name I like. More importantly, it represents the people I loved most, it represents generations of happy marriages, and it represents the “sane” side of my family. If that had been my maiden name, I’d have had a hard time saying goodbye to it.”

        This is me, too. When I say “my extended family,” I’m really talking about my mom’s family because that’s the only side of the family I ever see (save from my paternal grandparents). I much more strongly identify with the side of the family with which I do not share a name, which makes it easier to drop the name I do have in favor of my husband’s.

  • Annika

    I love this! I also felt like changing my name was my choice – there was no pressure from my husband or either of our families to change, not change or hyphenate. I ended up choosing to take my husband’s name with my maiden name as a middle name, and it’s a choice I’m happy with.

  • Lauren

    Huge congrats! I am also going through these same life events in the next year! I certainly look forward to reading more posts/seeing some pictures – maybe – in the future!

    In my experience with changing my name, it’s actually been really simple. My best friend and I are getting married within six months of each other and we had one conversation about it – we both decided to change them without a lot of anguish.

    I live in the south where, traditionally, mothers’ maiden names are passed on in middle or first names for the kids. My last name is super clunky, so I’ve decided for now to use it as a second middle name for both myself and my future children. His last name is more sparse, so I have no problem adopting it. It’s also important to me that my future family share a last name, and with hyphenation out of the question (see clunktastic name) I’m just taking his. He’s more attached to it anyway.

    I chalk that up, in my experience, with him preferring his father’s side of the family. I have awesome family on both sides, so being attached to the name I have versus the name I don’t have but have equally good associations with is kind of… Silly? Trivial? I’m not sure of the right word.

    We also have to remember that men get a choice, too. If it’s legitimately his desire to keep his name, shouldn’t that carry as much weight as a woman’s desire to keep hers? If he really doesn’t want to hyphenate, for whatever reason, that’s still his choice. And if you talk it through and he still doesn’t want to change/hyphenate/whatever, it doesn’t make him less of a feminist than you would be if you were having the same discussion, reversed. It becomes unfeminist when either person tries to control the other’s choices.

    • Jashshea

      Exactly to the whole last paragraph. To harangue men for not making the choice you don’t want to make yourself is hypocritical.

      That being said…if his reasoning is “because that’s how it’s done” I’d probably ask him to delve a little deeper.

      • Lauren

        I completely agree. If he (or she! even) has the “that’s how it’s done” mindset, the next step should be examination as to why that’s the feeling and then work from there.

        • Jashshea

          My nearly husband’s family is a bit of a big deal locally and he’s very attached to his name. My family is, to a lesser degree, the same in my hometown, so I completely understand that. I’m also attached to my name (people don’t call me “first name”…ever. It’s always “last name” or “firstlast”) but I honestly gave about 5 seconds thought to changing/not changing. I’ve poked and prodded since then to make sure I’m cool with it and I just am.

  • Jessica

    Taylor, I felt like I was reading my own story while reading yours! After much thought and deliberation, I, too, will be taking my soon-to-be husband’s last name because 1) it is important to me that we have the same last name, 2) he is very, very tied to his name, and 3) it just feels like the right thing to do… for me and for us as a couple.

    And I completely understand where you’re coming from in that it’s hard to explain to others what you’re doing when they say “NOOO! Be a REAL feminist and keep your name!!!” — that’s tough, and it’s wrong. You are so right when you state that others do not get a say. Amen.

    Thank you for sharing your story! Congrats and best wishes to you as you begin a whole new journey.

  • Jashshea

    Good god, woman! You have enough going on to have to deal with name change bullies! Glad you’re standing up for yourself. I’m also a name changer and my answer when non-close people ask why is “because I feel like it.” immature? Yes. But it shuts up the nosy Parkers.

    • Laura

      “Because I feel like it”? I think I need to give that one a try! It is awesome. :D

      • Jashshea

        And my mother says I was a “willful” child. I’ve changed so much ;)

  • Lauren

    Thank you thank you THANK YOU!

    This post struck a loud chord with me, and I so appreciate you sharing your “name journey.” I went through something strikingly similar with my fiance, and took his unwillingness to add my name to his (not a hyphen scenario, but more of a middle name/last name scenario) as a sign that he did not respect my identity and thus, me. The Feminist voice in my head kept me from hearing him say (over and over, by the way) that he wanted me to make my decision for myself, just as he was doing for himself.

    So I did. And I will be doing just as you are, taking his name to represent this wonderful, beautiful change we are about to go through, and keeping my maiden name as a middle name, because that will always be part of me.

    Thanks again.

  • margo

    It would be nice if the name issue was a simple Choice A or Choice B and both were neutral or equally weighted, like choosing between vanilla ice cream and strawberry. But it’s not like that. It is not even a choice between keeping or changing, since many people hyphenate or pick new names or wait to change or change back when the new name doesn’t fit or they divorce or get re-married or, or, or… the list goes on.

    And, the thing is, changing your name is always going to be the choice that is Patriarchy Approved. It is always going to be the choice that carries a many-century-long history of women being sold and treated like property of men. It is always going to look like the choice non-feminists make. (Emphasis on the “LOOK LIKE”, please.) So I understand why feminist relatives and friends feel disappointment when women change their names. I feel that disappointment when my friends have changed their names. Even when they do it for totally great reasons, like Taylor. I don’t believe they are bad feminists. I don’t think they are wrong. But because we can all feel varying and contradictory things at once I’ll admit that I do also feel disappointed.

    So I don’t think anyone should shy away from explaining why they changed their names and what it means. I agree that no one gets a say but you, but that doesn’t mean your community’s reaction (varied as it may be) isn’t also legitimate. Especially when you (and/or your community) identifies as a feminist, I think it’s important to keep having these conversations. Even if you don’t come out of them with 100% approval warm and fuzzies from those around you.

    • Audrey

      This actually explains very well how I feel when I have friends who change their name to their husband’s.

      Is it their choice? Hell yes!

      Do I get a say? Hell no!

      Am I a bit disappointed? Well… sorry, but yes. (Although I personally have never said anything to a friend who was planning to change – as I said, it’s not really my business, even if I have my own personal opinion.)

      I really like the discussion earlier about how legally changing the husband’s name is often harder. I think that’s a more important fight than any individual name change.

    • Class of 1980

      “And, the thing is, changing your name is always going to be the choice that is Patriarchy Approved. It is always going to be the choice that carries a many-century-long history of women being sold and treated like property of men.”

      But it ISN’T a many-century-long history. Name-changing conventions were not set in stone a few hundred years ago. Either the man or woman changed their name, depending on which name was of a higher status.

      Those women may have had fewer rights, but they were still often proud of their family names, and their husbands didn’t object to changing their name if it meant assuming a “better” name.

      Besides that, in many countries where women have never changed their names, it hasn’t stopped those countries from being oppressive to women. Many of the most extreme patriarchal countries in the world have never had a tradition of name changing for women.

    • Emma

      Yes, to all of this. Just this weekend I was at a bachelorette party where three of us are in various stages of engaged. Of the three, I’m the only one keeping my name. The rest of the women at the party were already married, and they’d all taken their husbands’ names. It’s not that I felt pressure from them to change my name, but I just sat there thinking, “How can I be the only woman here who feels that it would be unfair to take my husband’s name? Why are there so few of us?” And while no one told me I was wrong to keep my name, the fact that almost no one else there made the same decision certainly made me wonder if they were silently judging me for it.

      I don’t judge any of them for taking their husband’s name. I understand why people do it, and I think if I’d married when I was younger I might have done it too. But I was still disappointed, still frustrated to feel like I had to defend my decision. I do wish there were more women who chose to keep their names, even though I agree that women should be allowed to do whatever they think is right on the issue.

      But that feeling of loneliness deepened my resolve to keep my name — someday I’ll be sitting around with another group of women, and some newly engaged person will say, “I’m keeping my name.” And I’ll be able to say, “Oh, that’s what I did, too!” And she won’t be alone.

      • margo

        Class of 1980: Really? I have never heard of a man taking a woman’s name because of higher family status. Where did that happen? When? Can you link/share resources? I’m asking not because I doubt you, but because I’ve never heard of that and I’m intrigued!

        By saying a centuries-long-tradition I’m saying that it has been the dominant practice in the western world for centuries, not that it was the only. (Which it has in the Western world, especially after the invention of our modern day common law system.)

        I was talking mainly in the US. It was a legal requirement until 1970 that women take their husband’s last name. It is still the norm among Western religious and political conservatives. I didn’t mean to imply that it is required for the oppression of women everywhere, only that in our patriarchal society it has been the tradition and is the only “choice” they support.

        • Class of 1980

          I’ve read it in various places, but here are some links.


          “In medieval times, people took the name of the higher-status spouse when they married, according to Stephanie Coontz, historian and the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.” If a wife was wealthier than her husband, he took her name or they kept separate names. By the time America was settled, this tradition became unusual, Coontz said. The majority of women changed their names right up until the 1970s women’s movement encouraged women to seek new roles outside the home.”


          “In the Middle Ages, when a man from a lower-status family married an only daughter from a higher-status family, he would often take the wife’s family name. In the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, bequests were sometimes made contingent upon a man’s changing (or hyphenating) his name, so that the name of the testator continued.”

          ORIGIN OF SURNAMES: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~edwardbwalker/faqs/origin_of_walker_surname.html

          HYPHENATED NAMES IN THE U.K.: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2011/04/look_theres_tiggy_leggebourke_and_edward_innesker.html

        • k

          It was a common practice in the Middle Ages in England for a man marrying a woman of higher status to take her name, and in England to this day, “double-barrelled” (hyphenated) names are very common among the upper classes because either a husband married a higher status wife way back when (the more illustrious name goes second), or two illustrious families married and wanted to show off their lineage, or perhaps an ancestor, in order to keep the estate intact but lacking a male heir, demanded that a man marrying into the family take the wife’s name. Winston Churchill, for example, was actually Winston Spencer-Churchill. (Google Duke of Marlborough.)

          The above is just about England, but a place to start if you’re interested would be to look up “family name” on wikipedia (not that wikipedia is the arbiter of anything). They break it down by country and you can get an idea of 1) how recently family names even came into play at all for the commoners — many cultures still don’t use them at all — and 2) how incredibly varied practices regarding them have been and still are.

          • Class of 1980

            Yes, I have the Wikipedia link up there.

          • Copper

            I’ve also heard of this happening in Asian cultures, particularly if a man was marrying into a situation where he would take over the family business. The names are associated so much with wealth and status and business power that if you marry into certain families, you take that name no matter what gender you are.

            Heck, I’m surprised that we don’t see more of this here: who wouldn’t want to be a Clinton or a Kennedy or a Rockefeller, even if it was perceived as unmasculine?

    • AnnDee

      One of the best ways I’ve heard this explained is that each time a person makes the patriarchy-approved decision (especially if they do so just because it’s “easier”), they are greasing the rails of the patriarchy for those who come after, making it harder and harder for women and men to come off the rails, so to speak, and make any other decision. And for these past couple of hundred years, in our society, that name change on marriage has been a marker of a woman as property.

      When men change their names on marriage as much as women, then and only then will the tradition have overcome its sexist roots.

    • L

      Just to add to what Class of 1980 said, about name changing being patriarchy approved, I just want to point out that this is only the case in certain cultures. For example, in Islam, women don’t change their name. And so in the Arab region, Turkey, and Pakistan and Bangladesh, this is not the norm. I am an American marrying and Arab, and we are both Muslim so I will not be changing my name, but the entire thought process is very different than all of this.

      • Class of 1980


  • KB

    I almost hate reading these name-changing posts because they always hit too close to the mark. I’ve actually been waffling over changing my last name. When I say something to my fiance about it, he gets all excited like, “Ooh, so you’re going with that, eh?” but I always immediately respond in a rush, “Maybe, I haven’t decided.” I feel like I’m actually putting off thinking about it because I feel like if I sit with it, let it marinate in the back of my head, the decision will come to me like cosmic osmosis. In the end, what it boils down to is: 1) his last name is weird (and hypenated); 2) I’m only sort of attached to my own last name; 3) I am the type of person who wants to change her last name in order to “feel married”; but 4) what if I change it, hate it, and then have to go through the hassle (and unspoken social judgment) of changing it back.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Usual caveats about variations state-to-state.

      But I have a friend (in Virginia) who took over a year to change her name. It didn’t have to be reflected in the marriage license paperwork. I think she just changed it as her driver’s license expired, she opened new bank accounts, etc. So you may have the option of changing your name gradually, or in no-pressure contexts (like e-mail and Facebook), before higher-pressure contexts (like your business cards).

      The clerk when we got our California marriage license, where the paperwork does have to reflect any name-change, said we could indicate a name change, but never follow-up on it. The marriage license info is not automatically shared with the IRS or DMV or other agencies. You have to take it to them, if you stick with the change on the license, which, again, you don’t have to.

    • Cali

      If you think you probably want to change it, but are afraid you won’t like it, maybe try changing it in a social context, but not a legal context, to see if it fits. I’ve known several women who have changed their names on Facebook, for example, only to change them back a couple months later without having actually done any legal paperwork. Then if, after a couple months, you like using his name… you can go through the legal process of changing it. If not, then all you have to do is change it on social media and start using your original name in social settings again. :-)

      • KB

        No, it’s more of the social judgment that I’m worried about – as in, I change it on Facebook, decide I don’t like it, change it BACK and then I have to deal with people emailing me and saying, “Oh my God, what’s wrong? Did you guys get divorced?” and then I have to explain why I changed my name back – and, yes, I realize that it’s nobody’s business but my own, but really, even if I was 100% ok about explaining it or telling people to buzz off, it would still get annoying as all hell.

        At any rate, I think I’d be sad to make my fiance feel bad if I went back to my maiden name because it’s like “Yay, I like your name! Just kidding, I hate your name!” So it would be best to come to a final decision instead of “testing it out.” Thanks for the suggestions, though.

    • Taylor B

      Agreed! This whole topic makes me cringe.
      I have all this freedom and space to make this decision (my mom added my dad’s name to hers legally, without hyphenating, apparently this was legal in CA in the 70’s? not so now) and my fiance’s mom never changed her name. I love my last name, because it comes from my dad. I love my middle name, because it was my mom’s maiden name, and is an important link to that side of the family. I don’t want to lose either. I want my children to have a family name, but my fiance is of a different ethnicity and has an “ethnic” last name (that he feels strongly about keeping) so that’s part of why I’m not totally comfortable taking his name. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to “be Mexican.” (also, honestly? my first name sounds funny with his Mexican last name). Names are about identities, and a big piece of my identity is being his partner. But that’s not the sum of my identity. Argh! I lean towards taking his name, but remain undecided. And it’s hilarious, because his response is always “why would you change your name?” Luckily, I still have about 9 months!

  • PA

    This conversation was an interesting one. I had wanted to keep my name originally (and I’m still not overly keen on the idea of standing in a whole bunch of lines), but a couple of things changed my mind. First and foremost, I needed to figure out WHY I wanted to keep my name. For me, it turned out to be about honoring my heritage. As Taylor points out, “I got my current name from a man anyway.” I realized that my current last name is not a good way for me to honor the wealth of diversity and history in my heritage, because it pays homage to such a small piece of it. In the end, my name was not a good way for me to remember my family–I’m working on finding another way, maybe putting together a collection of stories for future generations about the past generations of our family.

    Also, it wasn’t my hill to die on, so to speak. Maybe it “should” be, maybe we should have thrashed it out for the sake of thrashing it out, but at the end of the day, I’m proud to be married to him and that’s what the name change is a part of, for me. I’m contented by the fact that he admitted from the first that he would feel the same way in my shoes, and that his emotions are not centered around, “why do you have to be so uppity?” One of his dreams in life has been a family and children, and passing on his name. I just want us all to have the same name. It makes sense for us! (Also, my writing is all under a pen name, so … )

  • EmEm

    I love name change posts! I have feelings about this (don’t we all?), but mostly, I wish that every time someone asked me what I’m doing with my name, I could tell them something just like this–how all of my past experiences, my beliefs, my struggles, my conversations with my fiance, my second-guessing, and my final reasons led to this decision.

    Unfortunately, most people just hear “Firstname Lastname” and map all sorts of their own issues and assumptions onto your choice.

    Maybe I should just start signalling “Firstname Lastname*” and hand people a card with my explanation. Unfortunately, it would probably be more like a thesis than a card.

    I’m so impressed at how thoughtfully and honestly you’re approaching these changes! Good luck and mazel tov!

  • Anna

    I have been thinking about this a lot since I got engaged (about a month ago), despite my partner and I having talked about it previously. I still don’t know what I want to do.

    He is in a family of all brothers, none of whom have had children, and he has a pretty unique name. He feels pretty strongly about not only keeping is own last name, but passing it on to children.

    I have a SUPER common name. As in, even if I gave you my full name on here and told you my upcoming wedding date, it would take a tremendous amount of Google power to find me. I have a brother, but he has no intentions of reproducing, ever. My dad was the oldest and only boy of his 7 siblings. I have always been very close with my aunts and cousins and I have a strong feelings tied to my last name. Even though none of my cousins share my last name (though one aunt does), we are still collectively referred to as the “My Last Name family.” I don’t want to lose the last name that I identify so strongly with, and I’d like my children to carry that name as well.

    We are both published under our current names. I am published under my full first, middle, last name because my name–even when combined with a middle initial–is just too common. My middle name also really matters to me (it’s the name of the Irish clan I’m descended from). So professionally, we’re likely sticking with our current names, but socially and legally, we could change them.

    Our two last names are long-ish two syllable names, making them too long to hyphenate. Neither of us want to scrap our old names to come up with a new one. I like the idea of having a family name.

    I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ve thought about having all kids have both last names, with one taking my last name as a first last name and another child taking his last name as a first last name. It’s not a particularly contentious issue and we don’t fight about it, but it’s still an unresolved issue. I’d love to hear about more creative solutions.

    • Emma

      I had a friend in high school whose parents kept their last names, and then alternated those names among their children. So my friend wound up with her father’s last name, but her older sister had her mother’s last name. It’s not a perfect solution, but if you’re planning on having more than one child, it might be a decent compromise.

      Even now, I think about that friend and her family and am grateful to them for having been a part of my life. Being exposed to people who found a way to deal with the last name conundrum in a different way helped me to realize that (1) you don’t have to follow tradition if it doesn’t feel right, and especially not if it actually feels wrong, and (2) it’s not necessary for a family to all have the same last name in order to feel like a unit. If anything, I think they were bonded to each other more deeply because they shared a naming convention other people found strange. Just recalling my friend’s family helps me feel more secure in my decision to keep my name, and have faith that my husband and I will figure out how to deal with it if/when we have children.

      • sarahmrose

        I know a family where they gave their daughters the dad’s last name and the son’s the mother’s last name. I kind of like that idea.

        • Or there’s Meg’s proposed solution: girls carry on the mother’s name and boys, the father’s.

    • I just made a comment above about how through living in Québec I’ve seen that here family unity is unconnected to a shared last name (because women cannot take their husband’s name here). From seeing unified families with a mix of last names (I know one family with 3 last names in it) doing just fine here in Québec, I would encourage you that if you decide it’s right for you two to not take a common name, you will be just as much a family. :)

      For me, it’s been a shift of perception, like with engagements and the “necessity” of a proposal, or a ring, or whatever. I find myself rethinking some things that I used to believe went together (ie. unified family and shared last name). Now I feel like they just exist; sometimes they go together and sometimes they don’t. I think sometimes we perceive things as either/or when maybe they are just two separate things.

  • julia

    Adding myself to the chorus of those thankful for the space for this discussion. Others have already made very insightful points about this issue, the biggest one that stuck out to me is: Why is this only a conversation for/among women?

    I have had the gmail address with my name.future husband’s last name for a lot longer than we’ve been engaged. I really like his last name and think it looks nice with mine. I like the idea of cementing our familyhood with a common last name. I do not feel especially attached to my last name and professionally it is not an issue for me to change. But our wedding is less than 2 weeks away, and I have started having feelings of mourning for my last name. My future husband has said he is fine if I do not change my name, that it is up to me. This goes back to what others have said about it being the woman’s decision and that there is pressure on us to make that decision. I have been envisioning everything that will change – all records, credit cards, my work email, business cards, my name on the office door – and how I will communicate with people I’ve never met who know me under my current name and might think I’m someone else with the name change. All minor stuff to be sure, but picturing it has made it more real.

    But I am also picturing our new family and having children together in the future, and all being under that one name. That feels right to me. Thanks to the author & APW for this post and thread, very timely for me. I too have felt that I am making a “bad feminist” choice by opting to change my name. I will stop lowering my voice and looking sheepish when responding to people who ask if I am changing my name, and just say “Yes.”

    • Jashshea

      I’ll be right there with you, Julia, including the new gmail addy. I made the decisions swiftly and decisively and I’ve been testing myself to see if I’m cool with it as time has worn on. I had a moment of panic when I saw us on my friend’s wedding invite list as Mr and Mrs HisFirst HisMiddle HisLast because it seemed SO OLD FASHIONED. Then I realized that I was just jealous that he got all his names and I only got one of mine – meaning, I already identified “his” last name as “mine.”

      I do anticipate some level of mourning the change when it’s really time to make it happen.

      Can I say that I really hope your fiance’s last name is Gulia? Like in The Wedding Singer? Any takers? My friend Julie doesn’t like to go by Julia, but we call her, among other things, Julia Gulia frequently.

      • Cali

        I will say that I strongly dislike the “Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast.” I’ve just never understood it. I’m not changing my FIRST name, people! My fiance’s sister sent out invitations addressed like that (fortunately not ours, since we aren’t married quite yet, but everyone else’s were like that), and I told my fiance that if anyone ever refers to me as “Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast” I might freak out.

        • Class of 1980

          It’s fine to insist on not being addressed that way, and it’s becoming less common over time. I expect it will eventually disappear altogether.

          But to be fair, “Mrs. HisFirst HisLast technically never implied that you changed your first name or lost your first name.

          It only means “Mr. So-and-So’s wife”.

      • Taylor B

        Julia Gulia! Awesome!! One of my most favorite moments in cinema.

        Alos, both the mourning and the logistics/tedium are totally legit concerns, in my opinion. It’s not an easy thing.

    • Chalk

      I’m in this same camp. I like the idea of my family all being under the same last name. It has both romantic and pragmatic value. I asked my mother why she kept my dad’s name after their divorce, and she said it was important to her to have the same last name as her kids, that it simply made life easier on her as our parent.

      I’ll be changing my last name in a few weeks, and am glad I have the freedom to make that choice.

      • Laura G

        People talk about the “same last name as the kids” thing a lot, and as someone who has a different last name than my mother I can only think of one circumstance, ever, where it affected our lives. (The one circumstance was transferring a car from my mother’s name to mine without paying the transfer tax; we had to bring either my birth certificate or my parents’ marriage license to the office to prove we were related, which if we had the same last name would not have been necessary.)

        I wonder if there is a regional or urban/suburban/rural component to whether there’s any hassles to having a different last name from your kids. In my east coast urban upbringing, the majority of kids I went to school with had different last names than their mothers, whether because people chose not to change their name or the parents were never or no longer married. If “authorities” had expected mother and child names to be the same, they would have had a lot of extra work!

        • Chalk

          For my mom, it was less about sharing a name with the kids for official stuff, although she does cite it simplified insurance-related things. It was more about being able to sign a permission slip at school without anyone batting an eye (even though batting an eye doesn’t hold anything up for long), or signing up to sew dance recital costumes and people recognizing, instantly, that we were related.

          I guess it was the small things that came up in daily life that went by smoother because she shared a name with us. I’m speculating, because she’s never spelled it out for me, but this is my best guess.

        • Meredith

          I also grew up with a different last name from my mother as she never changed her name when she married my Dad. I can’t think of a single instance where this was ever a problem at least as a kid/ teenager/ young adult. Perhaps because I was still a child the burden fell on my mother, but I never heard about it and in school, sports etc etc it was never a problem.

          My mom was also really laid back about it too, though. If my friends called her Mrs. MyLast, she didn’t care.

          • Laura G

            In terms of what other kids called my mother, in my neighborhood and school the social custom was either Firstname or Miss Firstname for the parents of friends, so the whole “Mrs Childlastname” thing never came up.

            We could always tell if someone who was calling was a telemarketer because they would ask for (or, when I was older, if they were speaking to) “Mrs Dadlastname.” Our instructions under such a circumstance were to say she wasn’t available, since my Mom hates dealing with telemarketers.

            Again, I suspect that people’s reactions and assumptions really vary depending on what’s common in your neighborhood/school. Permission slips were certainly never a problem because most mothers at my school had different last names than the kids, so why would anyone bat an eye? I suspect if we had lived in a more “traditional” region/neighborhood this might have been different.

  • kate

    I’m going back and forth on this right now. However, I think changing your name at 22 is way different than changing your name at 28 after you’ve already established a professional identity. The writer is just starting out so she doesn’t have much to lose. She said she’s never even had a real world job before. I’m in the position where I feel like I would be losing something. I worked hard to make my name important in my field and I would undeniably be losing name recognition. I feel like this writer isn’t really faced with a difficult descision at all because she’s barely established herself as an independent entity before getting married.

    • Granola

      I’m curious though how social media has influenced this discussion. A whole generate has much more of a “public persona” than their mothers did thank to Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, etc.

      Has that public name capital factored into anyone’s thinking on a name change? I know it’s influenced mine (granted I’m also a journalist, so it would be there anyway), and is part of the reason I decided to keep my name professionally, but legally change it.

      • kate

        I think social media is a big part of it. I have a linkedin, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. on which I’ve established an identity. I’m a writer too, so that’s a big consideration for me as well. Neither my fiance nor I are especially traditional. At first he wanted to take my name but I discouraged him from that because he’s an academic and number of citations of papers is a big deal in his field. The largest thing for me personally is that my name is Kate and I was born in the early eighties when everyone was naming their little girls Kate. Kate has never been a descriptive word for me because I grew up with so many other Kate’s. My friends always knew me as Kate plus my last name, or just my last name. As an adult with a professional career I’m afraid if I change my last name, I will change the one memorable part of my name. Networking is important in my field so I’m not sure if I want to risk that. I think I’ll end up doing what your doing, Granola, and keeping my name professionally and then legally adding his name to my first and last name. Maybe eventually I will transition to three names, but I’m worried people will end up dropping my name and just calling me Kate his name.

        • Granola

          @Kate & Margo — I’m planning to write an article on how social media influences the decision to change a name after marriage and I’d love to include your comments/perspectives! If you’re interested, let me know at alexandrahazlett [at] gmail.com

          • I actually changed my name on Facebook but NOT in real life (work, LinkedIn, gmail, legally). Which means we/I get invitations for Mrs. HisLast, or if we’re lucky the correct form, Mrs. HisLast-a, since he’s got a crazy Russian last name with different versions for males and females.

            If I changed my name to crazy Russian (from simple Irish), I’d do it right, and have the fem. form – and then we wouldn’t even match anyway! One of many reasons I didn’t make the switch.

      • margo

        Actually, I think social media has made it easier to change your name in some respects. There are a number of friends (from high school or with whom I was never that close) that have gotten married and changed their names and I would have never known it if they hadn’t also updated their facebook pages. Without that if I heard their “new” name somewhere else, I would have no idea that it was someone I sort of know.

        Of course I ALSO think it has made keeping your name easier, too. You can still link yourself to your spouse in a public way through facebook and google profiles, meaning that anyone searching for info about you online can easily figure out who is part of your family even if names are different.

        I do think the age/profession question is much more relevant, especially for writers/performers/artists and anyone who relies on networking and name recognition.

      • This is a huge issue for me as a writer and blogger. My name is my URL. It’s my brand I planned to change it when I got married (I don’t love it, I didn’t have a good relationship with my dad) but I expected that to be a WAYS off, if it happened at all. Then I fell in love. Now I’m engaged. I want to change my name but the fact is, I’m going to lose a TON of Google power that I worked SO hard to earn.

        I feel like my best professional days are ahead of me, and that I will grow professionally with my new name. But the Google juice…it’s just so hard for me to let go of it.

      • Copper

        I think it’s offered the ability to more easily be “Firstname Hislastname” socially but “Firstname Yourlastname” professionally. Because there are more obvious/visible facets to our lives now, it’s easier to communicate those distinctions.

        Personally for me though, it doesn’t factor into making the change harder in any way. The only attachment I have to my last name is that my graduate thesis was very well received and won awards, got published and referenced in a variety of places, so I’m a teeny bit scared of distancing myself from that.

        • Granola

          @ Rachel & Copper

          I’m working on an article about this topic and I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the subjects. Could we continue this via email? My address is alexandrahazlett [at] gmail.com

    • Cleo

      While I understand where you’re coming from, I don’t feel that this comment is fair considering how little you know about the poster. Last names can be important to those even before they’ve made a professional mark on the world. When I was really young, I’d lay in bed imagining my Newberry Honor acceptance speech (yes, I was that person) and before I gave that speech, the announcer (because there was an announcer) would always announce my full name, first and last. That fictitious announcer made it so I knew I didn’t want to change my name professionally (at least) even before I had made any professional headway.

      Even fantasy lives can make this decision wrought and I don’t think it’s fair to take away the author’s struggle because of her age or position in life.

      Granted, it is different when your professional accomplishments are real, but attachment is attachment, and whether it comes from an emotional place or the realities of life, it’s something to contend with.

    • k

      There are many factors other than professional reputation that could make the choice to change your name a difficult decision. That may be a major consideration for you, but for others it may hardly even register. One can still feel like they are losing something by changing their name, and clearly many women do feel that way.

    • NB

      I agree, Kate, that the name-change discussion looks different after you’ve spent some time establishing yourself professionally (and, currently navigating that world myself, I agree that it is a weird, scary, headache sometimes). Name recognition is important, and you can hardly just run a “find & replace” function on all the brains you’ve made a professional impression on, to keep them up to speed.

      Still, that doesn’t mean that folks at the beginning of their careers have nothing to lose or less at stake (Social media footprint! College achievements! The Theorhetical Future You you’ve been carrying around in your smart little brain since you were 7!)—or that the conversation even has to be about loss at all.

      The name-change game necessarily involves wrestling with the You that you’re holding out to the rest of the world—not just the ones that you see everyday, or even over the holidays, but the ones that you go to interviews with, interact with on social media, and the ones who read the exceptionally smart papers you’ll write someday in the not-that-distant future. With or without a professional footprint, that is a heady and fraught process. If you’re already professionally established, or have a particularly unique name, there may be some tough navigating to be done between your desire to establish a ‘family name’ and your desire to hold onto that footprint (and lots of other things!) and there’s an awful lot at stake there—but even if you’re not, and you’re relatively googlenonymous, the name change conversation involves a serious consideration of whether the name you’d take is the one that you want Future You to be holding out professionally and socially, and whether that choice is an authentic one for you.

      I love the idea that your post-marriage name (even if there’s no change from your pre-married one) is a choice you’ve made, rather than whatever random combination of letters you were assigned at birth. Getting married, like many other events, is a milestone, and it seems an appropriate time to reflect back on whether or not the You on your gmail handle is the one you’d like everyone else to see. Whether you keep your original name or take a new one, this is a neat legal opportunity to say: Yep! This is me!

      Still, any choice involves some opportunity cost, even if that cost isn’t measured in search results on JSTOR. The key, then, is finding the balance of cost and benefit that’s right for you. Like buying a house: Sometimes, the question is not just “does it fit my life today?” and “what will it cost me?” but also: “Does it fit what I imagine our lives together will be tomorrow?” If you take the one with the heavenly kitchen for your theorhetical future cookie-baking, you might not get the one with the pretty, pretty, patio for your theorhetical future awesome dinner parties. When it comes to names, which are so tied up in identity and professional life, the conversation gets harder, but I think its worth noting that *everyone* is going to have to do at least some muddling to come out to the result that’s right for them—and that the conversation often involves not only what your name is on so far, but also who you imagine yourself to be in 10, 15, or even 50 years.

      Not to mention the fact that sometimes Social You retains a different name than Professional You retains a different name than Legal You, and now I’ve made myself dizzy. I include this disclaimer because I became Ms. MyFormalFirst MyLast HisLast professionally and Mrs. MyShortenedFirst Hislast socially, becase Mrs. MyFirst MyLast is a noted writer of erotica, Mrs. MyFirst HisLast is a porn star, and this lawyer right here is neither of those things, and wanted to avoid the Googlefusion among those who don’t quite know me yet.

      Sigh. Names! They are complicated! (But I’m glad that APW is a place that we can wrestle with them)

    • Laura

      Yeah, I think age might be a factor. I’ve noticed that my friends who married in the 21-25 range seemed to have an easier time with changing their names than those who were 25+. One of the reasons why I don’t wish to change my name is that I’ve done so much stuff with my original name.

    • Emma

      I agree, and not in a “well, when you’re older you’ll understand” kind of way. I just think getting married at 22 feels different than getting married when you are older. As I mentioned upthread, I think if I’d gotten married when I was younger, I probably would have changed my name. I’m not even sure I would have given it much thought (unlike the author, who has obviously put a great deal of thought into it), and I’m absolutely a feminist.

      By the time my wedding rolls around, I’ll be 34. When we discussed whether or not I would change my name, my response was simply, “No way.” There wasn’t even a question. This is who I am, and that’s the woman he fell in love with. I think there was some disappointment on his side that I didn’t even consider taking his name, but he’s pragmatic. He wouldn’t change his name either at this point.

      I have no doubt that many people are quite attached to their names at 22. But I feel pretty strongly that by your mid-30s, you are even more attached. It’s not just about becoming professionally established with your name. It’s just that the more time you spend with something, the more it becomes a part of you.

      • Granola

        I wonder if this could also have something to do with the rite of passage into adulthood that Taylor talks about. In previous generations, getting married was the seminal marker in the transition to adulthood, so marking that with a name change, as Taylor is doing, makes a kind of sense. But now, if you’re a woman who has lived on your own for a number of years, you’ve made that transition to adulthood in a different way, with different markers that aren’t marriage, and with your given name. So perhaps it’s not about attachment per se, but the ages at which we go through certain rites of passage.

        • Emma

          I absolutely think that’s part of it. It totally makes sense that at 22, you might celebrate taking a new name to go along with a new status as an adult. In your 30s, that same perfectly good reasoning no longer makes any sense at all — I’m already an adult.

          I also think that I might view marriage differently now than I would have at a younger age. At 22, I think I might, like Taylor, have viewed getting married as a transformative experience, given that it would have happened at a transformative time. But I don’t feel that way about my marriage. We’ve been living together for years, we’re in the process of buying a house together. By the time our wedding actually happens, we will have mostly completed the transformation into a unit, and we’ve also both completed the transformation into adulthood before that. At my age, taking his name would feel like an obligation, not a celebration. But that’s just me.

        • This is a really interesting comment. I think you’re onto something…

      • I think it really comes down to the person and their circumstance, not age. I changed my name at 28. Because of the work I do, in the industry I’m in, there is no career cost for changing your name. Of the people I socialize with, there is no correlation between marriage age and changing or not changing their names. (Nor between being a self declared feminist or not, seeing as basically all women I hang out with are feminists.)

  • Lauren

    I loved your post. And it made me think, isn’t what feminism gave us–gives us–exactly this: not another script for how to live, but the freedom to come to decisions like taking our husband’s name or not taking our husband’s name on our own terms. And perhaps that’s all we need say when a friend expresses disappointment or surprise in the decision to take our husband’s name: I came to it on my own terms (and that is consistent with feminism).

  • Another Meg

    We went back and forth over this. When I first married, very young, I was psyched to change my name. About a year and a half into the marriage, I really, really, wished I hadn’t. Got it back in the divorce not long after, and I’m keeping it. My fiance and I each have three-syllable last names with lots of letters, so we took hyphenating off the table. He wants to keep his name because he loves it and is close to his family, and he is an only child. I’m okay with that. He’s making his choice, like I’m making mine. There’s a part of me that still wants to change my name to his because it would sound nice, and it would make us more visibly a family. But I remember that feeling- that awful feeling that had nothing to do with my then-husband or his family. It had EVERYTHING to do with me. I wanted my original last name. *And even though it came from another man, my dad, it was still my name my whole life.* I’m the only one of my friends who is keeping her name, in the slew of weddings coming up, and I decided that, while I am keeping my name, I’m never going to correct someone who calls me Mrs. HisLastName, or M and B HisLastName, unless it’s really necessary.
    I love that APW continues to discuss this, because it’s so important. I know it’s nowhere near happening, but I’d love to be in a world where it’s just a question. And it’s not quite so weighted. Or judged.

  • A

    “I got my current name from a man anyway.”

    What? No! Your current name is YOUR name. You have had it (presumably?) for your entire life! Maybe you aren’t particularly attached to it (that’s fine, obviously) but it’s still yours. No one would say that your fiance’s name is “just” his father’s name and therefore it shouldn’t/doesn’t matter whether he changes it or not.

    I am of course fully supportive of everyone’s choices, always (I hope that goes without saying, in a space like this!). But I find this particular line of reasoning to be incredibly frustrating. The underlying assumption is that no woman can ever have a name that is truly her own — that all names belong to men.

    I may share my name with my father, but IT IS MINE.

    • Totally right and totally valid. I guess I was just trying to point out that we don’t (or the vast majority of us don’t) inherit our names from our mothers (if they choose not to change their names). And that is another topic for a discussion. Why is that? Is that something we should change? Even feminist women who are very vocal about keeping their birth names, they tend to give their children (if they have them) the names of their husbands. If we are really serious about our names being part of us, we should be talking about this too.

      • A

        I kind of feel like… I *did* inherit my name from my mother? I mean, she has had MyLastName name since before I was born, so how is it not her name? Since she chose to take that name upon marriage, isn’t it “really” hers? If it’s not really hers, then what name is? I believe that we need to fight for not only the right to choose what name to use after marriage, but also for the right for that name to be considered YOURS, rather than “just” something that a man gave to you. Really truly yours — no matter what name you choose.

        I too have noticed that hetero women that don’t change their names tend to still give children their husband’s name. (I can’t think of any counter examples to this among people I know.) It feels like it is still not quite acceptable to make any other choice when naming children. I agree we absolutely should be talking about this as well.

        Thank you for such a thought provoking article! I hope my comment didn’t come off as any sort of a personal criticism. I seem to feel rather passionately about this oft-touted line of reasoning? Thanks again for your article and your response.

        • Claire

          I think you bring up an important point. Among my own group of friends, the most common situation is for both spouses to keep their own original last names. But, when the time comes to add children to the family, then the conversation tends to go something like this, “Well, I was really hoping to give the baby my last name, but it’s important to him to pass his name down to the children, so I couldn’t convince him.”

          Yes, it’s their decision. No, it’s none of my beeswax. No, I don’t get a say.

          But. I have to admit that it does make me a tiny bit sad, because it seems like a foregone conclusion that the husband has a “right” to give the children his last name. And its pretty much up to only him to decide if alternatives are even on the table. It seems like it’s not an even playing field. I can’t count how many times my woman friends have said, “Oh, he would never go for that. No way.” Its just sorta assumed that it’s the husband who has the decision making power, who would have to “allow” the child to take the mother’s name. I have never, ever heard a man say that his wife “insisted” on giving the child her name, or that she “would never stand for it” having his last name. Sure, it probably happens, but I’ve personally never heard of it. and that makes me a little wistful that it would be a more equitable decision, where the desires and what’s “important to” both parents was equally weighted and considered.

          • Jessie

            I don’t know anyone who has done that either, but my husband and I agreed before we got married that if (when?) we have kids, they will get my name. I did not change my name, and he took my last name as his middle name and uses both middle and last. If we have kids, we will all share my last name in some form. I get so frustrated with the assumption that if a woman didn’t change her name (and her husband didn’t either), it won’t even be a discussion that the kids will take her husband’s name.

        • If we have a child someday, we’ve already talked of giving him/her my family name. My southern, conservative father was even the one to suggest this….that shocked me to no end. And I’ve still get the biggest kick out of it every time I think of it, even years later.

    • Jashshea

      I do agree with this point, A. My last name is the same as my father’s, truth. But my dad is adopted, so it’s a name given to him (this is actually how he thinks of it), rather than something more meaningful in our family.

    • Brittany

      My husband and I had many conversations about the name change, and as much as it bothers you to hear last names referred to as “father’s last name”, one of the things that gave me the courage to make my own choice was that my husband was fierce about “his last name” not being his. Once I decided to take it, he started correcting people and saying *our* last name, or our family name. He has been adamant that as soon as the marriage lisence was signed, the name was something that belonged to both of us, and while it may have started out as something that was his and not mine, so did a lot of other things. Now when people ask if I took his name, I’ve also started telling them, no, we share our name. It’s not the exclusive property of either of us.

      • A

        Oooh, I LOVE this way of thinking of your new name!

      • NB

        “..The name was something that belonged to both of us, and while it may have started out as something that was his and not mine, so did a lot of other things. Now when people ask if I took his name, I’ve also started telling them, no, we share our name. It’s not the exclusive property of either of us.”

        I really, really like this, and will unabashedly be stealing this approach to use in our lives, as well. So…thanks?

        Yay for starting a new baby family together!

    • Class of 1980

      “The underlying assumption is that no woman can ever have a name that is truly her own — that all names belong to men. I may share my name with my father, but IT IS MINE.”

      I think the line of reasoning is pointing out something valid. We may keep our surnames because they are indeed OUR names that we inherited, but we have to acknowledge that the only reason we have a particular surname is because a long line of maternal surnames were discarded through the generations.

      You’d have to go back further in history when naming conventions were not set in stone for this to not be true. There was a time when either the man or woman changed their name depending on which name had the higher status.

    • L

      I’d like to thank you, too, for bringing up this point, which hit me pretty powerfully. Part of why it was so powerful is that I identified with the author’s comment and had not imagined an alternative to feeling that my name is my father’s name–and my mother’s name is also my father’s name. I now can appreciate that I probably feel this way because I grew up in a patriarchal household. This doesn’t mean that my name isn’t my name, too. But just that the associations we give to names because of our lived experience with that name seem to matter to us. This is also why it is so empowering to be able to choose to adopt a new name, with a new set of associations…

  • Moz

    I love your reasoning – great post.

    But even if I didn’t, I don’t get a say.

    Good luck to you, lady!

  • Granola

    A bit of a non-wedding tangent, but this blog post is a great exploration of the question of how much can we really make our own decisions when our choices and perspectives are undoubtedly influenced by society.


    • Other Katelyn

      Loved this (esp as a woman who grew up in an intensely religious environment myself)

    • Influenced? Yes. “Brainwashed”? No.

  • Aileen

    Thank you so much for this. I’m getting married in 10 days, and I have decided to have my current last name as a second middle name, and take my soon to be husband’s last name as a last name. This was after assuming I would take his name only, discussing keeping my own name, and then arriving at the above idea. This was actually something that we fought about. Not that he doesn’t support me in everything, but his family is pretty traditional so his knee-jerk reaction was that if I didn’t want to take his last name, then I didn’t really want to marry him. Once I assured him that I did indeed want to marry him, it was just important to me that we discussed what we are going to do with our names, he simply said to do whatever felt right to me.

    • Woot! 10 days!
      I’m not changing my name, but just wanted to give you a virtual fist bump as I’m also getting hitched on the 22nd.

    • Yayy!!! Another Team Practical 22nd bride! (I did a whole legal name change. Shortened my first name, took my maiden as middle, and my partners as my last. Love it so far.)

  • Ashley

    I got married six months ago and took my husband’s last name, while adding my maiden name as a second middle name. Making the whole decision aside, it frustrated me when people made a big deal about my new name. “HELLO MRS. HISLASTNAME!!” or “Aren’t you so excited to be Mrs. HISLASTNAME?!” I mean, sure, I was and am very excited to be married, but for me the act of changing my name wasn’t the thrill that other people made it out to be.

    • Granola

      If you don’t mind me asking, what state are you in? I just looked it up, and that option isn’t available in New York or Ohio. Of course the two states I happen to be dealing with, unless I go through the formal name-change process.

    • This made me SO uncomfortable. I almost got the impression, at times, that some other women were jealous – like, “ooh, lucky you, you’re Mrs. ____ now!!” which just made me sick.

      • My aunt bought a Mrs. champagne flute for my bridal shower. I’d never had strong feels about Ms. vs Mrs. until then. I’d understood the arguments but I HATED hold that glass. Ms. Hislast for me.

    • CB

      This made me wildly uncomfortable as well. I thought I was all on board with a name change, then a previous APW name change post stopped me in my tracks and made me realize I HATED the idea. Cue many conversations, fights, tears, and bitter “your friends/aunts referred to us as The HISLASTNAMEs and WE’RE NOT EVEN MARRIED YET” comments. As a traditional guy with strong reasons to keep his name and a published academic – including his middle initial – name changing wasn’t an option for the husband.

      After many months, I finally came around to the idea (believing strongly in a “team name”) and also decided to change mylast to mymiddle as a buffer in case I was feeling weird about having myfirst next to hislast. It was definitely hard to muster the enthusiasm for the name most people expected and I wanted to launch into a “Yes, but…” every time. The other selling point for me was that the hubby decided to legally add my last as his second middle, which here in Wisconsin was no bigger deal than the normal paperwork. It made me feel less lonely and put-upon while waiting at the DMV.

      Three months into being Ms. Hislast, I’m definitely getting used to it and am starting to feel like it’s MY name, not just mine through marriage. Probably because I actually thought about it and made the choice myself.

    • Sarah

      While I used to be really excited about the name change thing, I’m not anymore. As I posted below, I just don’t LOVE his last name. It’s LONG and Ukranian so people find it hard to say. The conflict comes in when I have to use a prefix; I dislike “Ms.” because I don’t like intentional ambiguity.

      I am sort of evilly looking forward to the “Oooh, now you’re Mrs. Hisname! Don’t you just love it?!” reactions followed by my, “Well, actually no because I kept my name…” followed by the trailing “O-oh. Okaaay.” Hee hee.

  • A.

    I think I’m going to hyphenate, which I anticipate will make nobody completely happy. And it will cause massive bureaucratic headaches forever, I’m certain. But oh well – I choose my choice! Honestly, I mostly want to hyphenate because I enjoy the way this particular compound name will sound.

  • Kashia

    My mum turned 60 this year. And as a present to herself she changed her name back from her married name to her birth name. She went to Scotland, which is where our family is from, and had a ceremony and had asked her friends and family members to send notes or tokens for her to include in this ceremony. In a way she was re-marrying herself.

    This happened with my Dad looking on proudly as his wife of 33 years re-claimed her name. It was amazing and inspiring and it makes my mum so happy to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. She says she never quite liked her married name and she feels so much more like herself now.

    She is changing her name both socially and professionally, even though she has a reputation built up around her former last name. She says that being honest with herself and be happy about her own name is far more important. She says at 60 she just doesn’t care what other people think anymore.

    I think she is pretty darn amazing. And even more so that she supported me in choosing to change my name when I got married because she knew it was the right choice for me even though it had not been the right choice for her.

    Yay for feminism.

  • Jashshea

    One more short comment – My brother is marrying a girl who has my first name. If she chooses to change her name, she’s taking my name. In a way I get to keep my name alive if she does that.

  • I remember standing in my classroom for my first teaching job after college and secretly wishing that I could change my name at that moment to indicate the life step I had taken from student to adult-with-a-job. My name had been the name of my childhood and I need a name for my adulthood. We need ways to mark these passages in life.

    By the end of the year I had fully embraced the nickname my students gave me – Miss Giggles, and was known by that for the next many years teaching (I’m pretty sure I had a student or two who never knew my actual name). It isn’t quite the “adult” name I was going for, but it worked.

  • Katie Mae

    “I’m going to be doing a whole lot of transcending in the months leading up to and after the wedding, while assuming a bunch of new identities—college graduate, wife, badass independent adult—and I want a new symbolic identity to match.”

    That’s how I felt too – I wanted a new name for my adult identity, even though my adult identity got a bit of a head start (I got married at 23). And it worked out that I just *liked* his last name better. Because I created this name for myself, not really him, I dislike the symbolism of Mrs. and insist on Ms., despite some pretty strong pushback. I’ll write a blog post about it eventually. :)

  • k

    Two comments – no, three.

    First of all congratulations on all your big changes coming!

    Second, yes it is of course all about the freedom of choice. I graduated from college in 1989 and moved across the country to NYC where of course I lived in a group housing situation with many young ultra liberal lefty types, one of whom I heard one night exclaiming “My (hypothetical future) wife is going to keep her own name!” He was quite the ardent feminist, but had completely missed that the whole point was the she was the one who got to choose, not him.

    Third, I would just like to note that when we say “The vast majority of women change their names,” or talk about name-changing upon marriage being “The Tradition” we really mean in the English-speaking world or perhaps in the West. Traditionally in many Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Burma, and Korea, women do not change their names on marriage, nor do Sikh or Muslim women generally (in fact some think it is haraam, or sinful, for a Muslim woman to do so), there are matrilineal Hindu communities where the women keep their birth names, even in much of Europe women taking their husband’s name is a late 19th/early 20th century innovation — for instance in Iceland women don’t change their names on marrying because they are still their parents’ daughter. And then you can get into Hispanic/Latino naming conventions which are a whole other ball of wax but which maintatin the mother’s name to a much greater degree than the standard English practice.

    I think that knowledge of the fact that “our” tradition is not the only tradition can be helpful when discussing our choices with others who may or may not agree with our decisions, and that it’s also important to remember that there are many cultures where women keeping their birth names isn’t at all seen as a blow against the patriarchy/status quo, it *is* the status quo.

    • Class of 1980

      Yes, we do forget that name changing is only practiced in a fairly small part of the world. It’s not remotely traditional elsewhere.

      Here, NOT changing your name brings up worries about not looking like a family unit or not sharing a last name with your own child.

      But in many countries, changing your name would make people think you were your husband’s sister instead of his wife.

      • Carvaka

        I am from India and lived all of my pre-professional life there. Their are some matrilineal communities in India but really they are the small small minority. Muslim women might also not change their name, but again – a minority.

        The truth is that the vast majority of India (one sixth of the world’s population) is patriarchal and changing your name name to HisLast upon marriage is very much the default choice. In fact in parts of India, it was common until one or two generations ago to also change the woman’s FIRST name to a name of the in-laws’ choice upon marriage. This has now thankfully almost entirely changed in only a couple of generations.

        My husband is also Indian (and a feminist) but from a different state and in his state, you automatically get your father’s first name as your middle name when born. Your middle name then changes to HisFirst upon marriage by default. When we discussed how strange I find this (being called YourFirst HisFirst HisLast), he was amazed to realise that this wasn’t the normal assumption for me. We shouldn’t forget that name changing was very much a way to make you give up your old identity. You can choose to do it yourself and that’s totally fine but we must ask why men don’t feel the need to give up their identities upon marriage.

        I got married at 24 last year we had a few fights over the name issue with him saying ‘Don’t you want to be part of my family?’. So I asked him if he would change his last name to be part of my family (after all we are the same family now, right?) and he said ‘I’m never changing my name’. He got the point and I kept my name but their were tears of frustrations before that!

        Chances are that I probably wouldn’t have found changing my name to MyFirst HisFirst HisLast strange if I was born in his state and brought up to accept and celebrate it. Chances are that you might have chosen to even change your first name if that’s what you had been brought up to celebrate (I appreciate your choice was well thought through but society influences us).

        As feminists (or just decent people) we should support women and certainly shouldn’t judge their choices. However, their is a cultural narrative that tilts the scales here in the favour of one choice. While I support you, no matter what your name, I think it is important to question and talk about why we change our names when our husbands don’t.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’m keeping my last name because it’s what my future husband wanted. I was talking with some true misogynists about it, and that totally confounded them. Got lots of laughs over that.

    However, shortly after getting the license, I realized that I hate “Ms.” outside the office and also “Mrs. Elisabeth Smith” (as opposed to “Mrs. Jason Smith”). I don’t hate them for others, but they are definitely not what I want to be called. And so I realized that I must attempt what I always thought was impossible – to “take his name socially but keep my name legally and professionally.” I use quotes because I’m still so uncertain of the practicalities, it still kind of feels like a fantasy.

    • Cleo

      Here’s some anecdotal evidence that this social name change thing is not a fantasy

      I have some older cousins who went to elementary through high school with Elliot Gould and Barbra Streisand’s kids. Obviously, Barbra Streisand is super famous and everyone knows her by name, first and last, because of her profession. However, when she went to parents’ nights, PTA meetings, and other school functions, she would always introduce herself as Barbra Gould (or Mrs. Gould if that was appropriate) and insist on being called that. And it worked.

      If one of the most famous singers of all time can insist on a social name change, I think anyone can.

    • Granola

      Women broadcast journalists do it all the time for privacy reasons. Keep their maiden names on air and legally change it to their husbands names.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Those may very well both be examples of the legal reverse of what I’m doing. Legally, I’m not changing my name. I’d also point out that Streisand had a manager, etc., to make sure that even if the name in lights was “Streisand,” the checks were issued to “Gould.” (assuming she legally changed her name) Also, because she was so famous, people she knew socially knew to look her up under a different name professionally. I’m worried that if I introduce myself with my husband’s last name at my kids’ back-to-school nights, the other kids’ parents won’t be able to find me under my maiden name with the State Bar.

      [Because of how the California Bar website is, if they knew me under my maiden name, but I changed it professionally, they’d still be able to find me, but not in my situation.]

  • I just finally finished my formal name change today and this is exactly how I felt about it! I took my husbands name because I wanted to, because I wanted to represent our new baby family, because I want to grow with him as a team, and nothing made more sense to me than changing my name.

  • Steffanyf

    The thing that I mostly get fired up about when it comes to name-changing is that it seems to still be strictly about the woman (in a hetero partnership). The woman chooses. The man chooses nothing. My husband would consider hyphenating but not outright changing his name-my friend’s husband was ok with her keeping her name but would not even consider changing his.
    I ended up keeping my name but I feel so much pressure from women around me, most of whom have changed or hyphenated. I feel like I have to constantly explain or even apologize for keeping it.
    In the end, you are totally right. It’s about what you want and what you and your partner decide. Other people are always going to be full of opinions and you just have to realize when it is appropriate to (respectfully) tell them to eff off. :)

  • Jessica

    I love this quote: “Plenty of cultures allow (or even require) people to assume new names upon rites of passage to mark their new identities (see Catholic Confirmations, Buddhist Shinbyu ceremonies, fraternity initiations, and so on).” I’ve been through two of the three ceremonies listed, and yet I’d never thought of it that way.

  • Kimberly

    Love this post! I changed my name, which I found to be very difficult in theory and really kick-ass in practice.

    As my grandmom told me when I was fretting about my name-change pre-wedding (and she is one of the original bad-ass Second Wavers), “A feminist would never second guess your decision because it is just that: your decision.” She’s pretty awesome!

  • Class of 1980

    I kept my ex-husband’s last name when we divorced years ago. I didn’t want to be bothered with more paperwork, plus my maiden name reminded me of my father, and I don’t like him. I figured I’d keep the married surname for good, unless I remarried and changed it again.

    Lately, I’m strongly considering going back to my maiden name, and adding my mother’s maiden name as a middle name. I had no idea that all these years later, going back to my family names would feel like something I’d want to do. It’s a decision based on nothing but changing emotions and I could not have predicted it.

    This just goes to say that we can’t ignore our emotions in these decisions. If I remarried, I would change again, but right now, I want my family names back.

    As a side note, I recently learned something interesting about hyphenated family names. I was reading a message board frequented by people in the U.S. and people in the U.K. and an American asked why hyphenated names are so common in the U.K.

    All the U.K. people had immediate negative reactions. They said only “posh” people hyphenated their names there and they thought it was snobby and silly. The upper class in the U.K. has apparently been giving their children hyphenated names for a long time in order to preserve the legacy of both parents and signal their prominent family backgrounds. Going further back in history, either the man or woman might change their name according to which name carried the most clout.

    I thought it was interesting that a hyphenated name in the U.S. makes us think the parents were concerned with equality, whereas in the U.K. it’s more about status.

  • Bessa

    Just popping in to say that I also lobbied – fairly seriously and strenuously – to both change our last name to “Awesome.” (Why on earth would you NOT want to introduce yourself by saying, “Hello, I’m Firstname Awesome”? You’d be listed in the phone book as Awesome, Firstname! It’s just about the coolest thing ever.) Anyway, I am sad to say that my efforts also failed, but not for lack of trying.

    • … phonebook? They still make those? :)

  • Sarah

    Turns out, after my very strong feelings about DEFINITELY changing my name, turns out I’m not. At least not right away. First off, I’ll be moving out of the country immediately and a name-change would mean getting new documents and creating a mess. Second, his last name is LONG. He’s Ukranian and his name is 13 letters long with six syllables. Mine is five letters, one syllable. Third, he doesn’t care. He was sort of surprised when I first said I’d be willing to change my name. His mother didn’t, despite being a fairly traditional, conservative woman. I have no objections to being Mrs. Super-Long-Ukranian-Last-Name, and am fine with people calling me by what will be our family name, but I’m just not in a rush. I’m proud of my dad’s family and happy to keep the last name for awhile.

  • I got married two and a half years ago and changed my name, for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned above.

    But your point about signatures? And learning a new one? IS SO TRUE. 2.5 years later, my signature is a vague scrawl that kind of looks like my baby did it. (Okay, fine, I have the handwriting of a teenage boy anyway, and I know that doesn’t help, but still.)

    And, of course, now that that random T-dash-wiggle scrawl is on all my paperwork, and credit cards, and passport, and driver’s license, I can’t exactly change it now, even if I could figure out a better looking way of doing it.

    (But no regrets on changing my name. Ugly signature and all.)

    • Ha!
      My fiance’s signature and my signature are almost identical, even though our last names are very different–we both have 1st names that begin with “J”, his middle initial is the 1st letter of my last name, and we both scrawl the damn thing. So if I were to change my name, I guess that’s one thing I wouldn’t have to worry about…

    • The middle section of my last name now is “enni” and I’m pretty much at the point now where I get the right number of bumps when I sign it every time. For a while there it was anyone’s guess how many bumps would be in it, I’d just dot the last one and call it good. It helped that my husband said he had similar issues when he was first learning to write his name in cursive.

  • Laura G

    I was open to the idea of hyphenating or “squishing” or something so that my partner and I shared a last name (I’m definitely not willing to just give up my last name and take his), but my partner legally changed his first and middle names about 10 years ago and he’s unwilling to go through the annoying legal name change process again.

    We’re considering whether we ever want to have children and it’s very important to me that, if we do so, they carry mylastname as at least one part of their last name. I’m very close to my family, many of my extended family members have chosen not to have kids, and if I don’t have children with my name there’s a good chance of us there being no more mylastnames in my family branch. So we’re left choosing between giving our hypothetical future kid a hyphenated name or giving them mylastname.

    If we gave hypothetical future kid mylastname, they’d have a different last name than my partner. Which I think would be difficult for his extended family to accept, but might also lead to people thinking of the kid as “my” kid instead of “our” kid. For one thing, there’s research showing that, among unmarried women in communities where many children are born to unmarried parents (such as my neighborhood), the decision of whether to give the child the father’s lastname or her own is used as a way of indicating her intentions and/or expectations around how much the father will be involved in the child’s life. And our hypothetical future kid will not be biologically related to my partner (kid might or might not be biologically related to me), which would likely add to the whole “my” kid instead of “our” kid perception. I know lots of stepfathers are accepted as fathers to their children without sharing biology or a lastname, but it makes me sad to think that trying to pass on mylastname to future generations will likely be read by the outside world as a signal that I do not intend my partner to be father to our child.

  • Tory Lynne

    Good for you for making your own decision!

    My husband and I had a similar discussion and went a different route. I think he always assumed his wife would keep her own name (he’s uncomfortable with the “ownership” feel that has.) His parents had hyphenated their names together, and while they liked that decision my husband and his brother had to live with the confusion of few people understanding – they’d just assume it was one or the other. Anytime you want to access your bank account or pick up your tab at the bar, confusion abounds. Not the end of the world of course, but what was I to do? Add a third name onto the pile?

    But me – I wanted the same last name. There were more things to consider than just feminism – like my future children (obviously not applicable to all couples!) My mom raised me and had her maiden name, while I had my father’s name. Everything from picking me up from school to dropping me off at the airport created confusion and distress. “Who is this woman? Is she stealing this child?” Another problem I didn’t want to deal with.

    We batted around each keeping our own names and giving some of the children one last name, and the others the others. In the end, we decided that we wanted both us and the children to feel like a family – to be recognized by family, friends and even teachers based on a common last name. The “Oh, you’re Victor’s little brother! How wonderful!” sort of thing.

    The other hard factor was that is I took his name, I didn’t want both of them. But then, would I have to choose between his families? No thank you.

    We finally came down on choosing a brand new last name, just for us and our kids. Starting a new tradition of our own. He didn’t love the idea in the beginning, but his parents were very understanding and I found a name we both liked. And, we could both take on our last names as middle names.

    Thus far only the paperwork and hoops they make you jump through have been a problem. I’m sure our solution will have it’s own downfalls, and we’ll discover them in time. But, we’re very happy with our decision and willing to take on those inconveniences when they come along!

    So that’s my tale. I applaud you doing what’s right for you and yours by making your own decisions! Ignore the nay-sayers – you can never win with everyone =)

  • R

    “My name is my name. I am the only one who has to live in it. I am the only one who gets to decide what it looks like, and what it means. You don’t get a say.”

    Exactly! I am very, very attached to my name. My first and last names pretty much rhyme. While that was horrible as a child, at this point I feel like I’ve put up with the crap and I’ve earned this name, d*mn it. Plus, it’s pretty memorable. And I hate standing in lines. And it’s MINE.

    At the same time, my guy is a 3rd. He’s not totally attached to his name as a name, but as part of a family legacy it matters to him. And frankly, I think it’s cool that his name has so much heritage, and I wouldn’t want him to change it and lose that.

    Also, we have the same first and last initials (off by one on the middle initial, darn it). And his last name is only three letters off from my last name. As far as I’m concerned, close enough. We can be The FirstinitialLastinitial Squareds. So, we’re keeping our names. And he’ll probably still be Mr. Mylastname at the grocery store when he uses my rewards card. Which we still giggle about all the time.

    I’m very attached to the idea of naming a future son with his name (because how cool would it be to be a fourth?), but I’ve also demanded equal naming rights. The parents of one of my friends growing up had kept their names and then split last names between their two children. Even though their last names were super different, it didn’t make them seem like any less of a family. At this point, I share my last name with a tiny percentage of the people I consider family- I don’t need to share a last name for my baby family to be mine.

    • YES: “Even though their last names were super different, it didn’t make them seem like any less of a family.”

      I have seen so many examples of this the last 3 years and I totally agree.

  • Caitlin

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your post. I am getting married in one month and I’ve been agonizing over the decision to change my name. I felt as though I was letting my fellow feminists down! I will henceforth adopt your “you don’t get a say” retort to those who feel it’s their duty to inform me of my “mistake.” In fact, that’s a good approach to take for the whole wedding! “Not your wedding? Not contributing financially? You don’t get a say.”

    I am and will continue to be a devoted reader of this blog! Love you all!

    • And then after the wedding you can say – “Not your uterus? Not contributing financially? You don’t get a say,” when that one comes up. :)

  • Ali

    Such a fascinating discussion!
    I got married fully intending to keep my maiden name. And I did for 3 years, during which time my dad left my mum (following an affair).
    My mum kept her married name after her divorce, because she’d hated her maiden name and much preferred her married name independent of its association with my dad.
    I’m a Dr and a common thing here (UK) is for female Drs to be Dr Maidenname at work and Mrs marriedname at home. Thinking about this I realised that the only parts of my name I’m attached to are my first name (named for my mum’s mum and my dad’s favourite footballer!) and my title, so when I made a significant career decision, I decided to go for Dr Marriedname and mark a new chapter. I actually found it a very satisfying transformation – plus it annoyed my dad which was a major bonus at the time!
    I think my parents think they failed in the raising a feminist thing because of this, but I chose the name I wanted – having tried both I like it this way, but wouldn’t rule out changing back in the future…..

  • Yes, absolutely we get to make our own choices and feel good about them, but…

    Just because it’s a choice made by a woman, doesn’t mean it’s a feminist choice.

    We don’t live in a vacuum. All the choices I make are within (and unavoidably coloured by) the [patriarchal] society I live in. My choice to take my husbands name (or not), my choice to stay at home with the kiddo (or not) – these are choices that come pre-weighted by pressure and expectation.

    I guess what I want to say is that I don’t think that taking your husbands name is a ‘feminist’ choice,
    but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a feminist if you make that choice.

    And for most of us, that’s okay too – we make a million choices a day, some of which contradict each other. Because we, like life, are complex and nuanced and grey.

    We contradict ourselves? Well then, we contradict ourselves – we are large, we contain multitudes.

    • Class of 1980

      A lot of stuff is rooted in biology too.

      Giving a child the father’s surname was seen as stating the birth was legitimate, which could have repercussions as far as inheriting property. Since there were no DNA tests, legal marriage was the only way of establishing paternity. Men were at a disadvantage in knowing a child was theirs.

      Even a mother staying at home was rooted in biology. There was no formula until modern times and so someone had to breastfeed, whether it was the mother or a wet nurse. Also, even the ability to control getting pregnant with reliable results is fairly recent … and still not perfect.

      The old patterns didn’t exist merely to keep women in a limited role. For most of human existence, biology played the bigger role. I think we tend to forget this nowadays.

    • “My choice to take my husbands name (or not), my choice to stay at home with the kiddo (or not) – these are choices that come pre-weighted by pressure and expectation.”

      exactly. And the expectation, in my case, was that I was to keep my name if I wanted to be a good feminist. But I reject the expectations forced on me by others if they don’t fit what is right for me as a person. That is the nut of feminism to me. Not rejecting something with patriarchal overtones just for the sake of rejecting it. If that is what feminism is about, none of us should be getting married at all.

      • @Taylor – in terms of the equality of a choice in an unequal context, I think that the discussion between Newtie and Tea & Strumpets above captures what I was trying to get at, far more eloquently than I managed to:

        A snippet: @Newtie: “while I’m 100% for individual women making choices that suit them, is it really an *equal* choice when girls/women are still brought up knowing that changing one’s name at marriage is the norm, and boys/men are not?”

        Whilst a decision may be right for you, as an individual woman in all the complex beauty of your life, and I wholeheartedly support your right to make those choices for yourself, it doesnt mean that it is necessarily suppoprtive of redressing systemic imbalances. And in our current society where it is so weighted in favour of men not even questioning the retention of their pre-marriage identity? I don’t believe it is yet an equal choice. And by choosing the ‘patriarchy approved’ route? The fact that you choose is feminist, the substance of your decision, not necessarily. So. As I said, I think Newtie and Tea & Strumpets above cover this aspect more clearly.

        The crux of it, to me: not all choices made by women are feminist and we do to better to reconcile that with our self-identification as feminists than to try and convince ourselves that they are. It’s not about “rejecting something with patriarchal overtones just for the sake of rejecting it” – but I can’t accept unreconstructed choice feminism. Make the choice that’s right for you, but we don’t have to agree to label it a feminist one.

        FWIW I haven’t decided yet what I’m doing – I have a professional identity, our son has both our last names, if I took his then every single one of our initials would be “P” which is just way too much alliteration for one family ;)

        I’m not calling anyone a ‘bad feminist’ – my point is that every day we all (mostly) have to hold together in our heads all of our beliefs and values and priorities that are part of our identity even though their strict requirements intersect and may conflict in respect of any particular decision (catholic, socialist, feminist, environmentalist, daughter,, mother, wife, friend) and we manage to reconcile that.

  • Melissa

    I come to this conversation from an interesting place. I carry my mother’s maiden name, as my father refused to acknowledge me and share his name. While I love my name, it took time for me to wear it proudly (I used to use Melissa Father’slastname as a pen name). Quite a bit of baggage comes with my surname, and I’m torn about casting it away completely. My mother and I have a very strained relationship, so I don’t have qualms about distancing myself from her. But this name also links me with my grandparents, for whom I have the utmost respect, admiration, and love. I am proud to bear my grandfather’s name (which ironically also includes my grandmother’s maiden name. Pretty damn convenient, if you ask me.).

    Having given it a lot of thought (thanks to APW), I’m fairly certain that I’ll take my future husband’s last name and use it without much fuss, mostly because I want to. I’ve always expected to and have no qualms about it.

  • KW

    I pondered the name change issue, read and re-read prior posts on this issue, and for the first few weeks after I married last month, still had not decided. The “am I a bad feminist if I change my name” thoughts percolated in my head, I admit, though I tried to remind myself that feminism was about allowing me the choice to do as I wished. I like his name, like my own name, but I definitely did not want to hyphenate or lose my current middle name or have 2 middle names. So it came down to either keeping mine or changing to his. My husband told me early and often (once he knew I was having difficulty with the decision) that it was my decision, and he supported me whatever I wanted. He even offered to change his name, which was pretty awesome an offer although I declined to accept it.

    In the end, it came down to the fact that I am 39 and pretty well known by my current name across the very large university where I work (not an academic per se, I work in a professional role). And frankly, I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of changing my name everywhere. So, we each still have the names we had when we met, and it doesn’t make us any less married and committed to each other.

  • Betty

    My fiance offered to take my last name and I hadn’t even brought it up! He also dawned an engagement ring because he didn’t think it was fair that women wore a ring showing they’re off the market but men don’t wear a ring until they are married. A lot of his students and their parents started asking him when he got married, so it just goes to show you how true the idea of a man wearing a ring = married is. What a keeper.

    But I want to take his last name. I personally like the idea of it for myself. I don’t give any power to the idea of a name change as a sign of transfer of “property”. That’s not why I am doing it, so that’s not what it is. To me it’s just one more thing that shows the world we are married. If he had a horrendous last name then we would both take mine, but we both have very generic last names so either way it’s a “Smith” kind of name.

    I also think there should be either a way to denote that a man is married by title, or get rid of the two titles for women and have just one. Like Mr. for unmarried and… I dunno… Mrt for married? OK so I need to work on the idea, but the premise is there.

  • hope

    I love this. Great writing–such clear thinking. Thank you!

  • Susanne

    Very interesting to read all of this. It’s quite different for me.
    I am Dutch and just got married to a Mongolian man.
    On my side it was not expected that I change my name. My mother didn’t nor any of my other female relatives (aunts etc).
    Then on the Mongolian side it was not even an issue. It just does not happen here. Every woman goes by her own name and changing your name after marriage is not even considered.
    Combined, this meant that changing my name was never even really discussed.
    What is more interesting is how our future children might be named. In Mongolia children get the first name of their father as their last name if their parents are married and they get the first name of their mother as their last name if their parents are not married. This means that if we were to follow this, changing my last name so that I might have the same last name as my children is not even possible as my husband and I would have my husband’s last name and our children would have my husband’s first name as a last name. It also means that you cannot really trace back what family someone belongs to as the last name changes per generation.
    Personally I don’t mind our children having my husband’s first name as a last name. It’ll just be funny (and probably a nightmare when traveling…) that none of us will have the same last name :)
    Just thought I’d mention how different these things can be in other countries.

  • Louise

    ARGH, this was a weird decision making process for me. Ever since I got serious with my now husband, I figured I would take his name. I love his last name. I wanted it. But as we approached the wedding and I had to decide for REAL, I got really nervous about it. Was I being a bad feminist? I talked to friends who had gotten married and changed their names. Not super helpful, since they hadn’t given it much thought. I checked with Nick… I wanted to make sure he didn’t expect me to change my name. He did not. I asked him SEVERAL times if he would be sad, or hurt or anything if I kept my name… he said, “do what makes you happy.” Not super helpful, at the time, but as I look back, its almost the same as saying, “no one else gets a say.” He’s a wise man, in retrospect.

  • Mrs May

    I changed my name to my wife’s last name. We are as feminist as could be. It was easy in Massachusetts. As soon as we knew we were getting married I just knew I wanted to. I feel like if we have kids it may limit the fussing over who is “really the mother,” even though as Meg writes today I know it won’t keep anyone from being invasive about it. But, I just love her name (our name). I often think of her when I sign my name now and it gives me a mini-warm-fuzzy.
    I know some people thought it was silly, but for me it was right. I never thought I would do that… But I’m happy I did. I don’t think it negates my feminism at all.

  • I know I’m late to the conversation, and I know this was mentioned above, but it’s really hard for me to get behind the whole “feminism is about having a choice” idea. I think feminism is about women having equal choices as men. And I definitely don’t think we’ve gotten there with the name change thing yet.
    My very feminist fiance wanted to discuss the reasons behind me deciding to keep my name. But he didn’t really have any reasons behind keeping his, and he was surprised that I even asked. When he said he just wanted to keep his, I replied that my feelings were the same, and that would be the end of the discussion.
    Even though I haven’t felt much pressure about keeping my name (those who know me well would never dare to do that), I have felt pressure to justify it, to make it about my family of origin, or my career, or my age. And I refuse to make it about that, because he doesn’t have to do that! So even though we have the choice now, things are definitely NOT equal.

  • Kristina

    Just wanted to add my two cents. I’m 38 years old, with a very established career and lots of publications, and I just married and changed my name. People have been shocked. But for me, I feel so secure in my identity and career that I have absolutely no worries about losing my sense of self. Maybe if I had married younger, I would have worried more about my identity being subsumed somehow. But for me, the big challenge has actually been to sacrifice some of my independence and see myself as part of a greater whole, a family. So changing my name signals to me and to the rest of the world that I am married, part of a couple, that I am not just out there doing whatever I feel like on my own (which is what I did for most of my life). Being a feminist gave me the strength in myself to be able to change myself without fear of losing myself. And so I appreciate this post — thought the writer is in a very different place than me — because it tells the world that no, changing your name does not mean that you are somehow weak or anti-feminist. Thanks.

  • “Would I come up with a new name just for myself? Would we combine our names to form a new one? Would we pick an arbitrary name for both of us? (I lobbied really hard for becoming Mr. and Mrs. Awesome, you guys, but it just didn’t stick with him.)” THIS.

    I step away from this website for a few days, and I totally regret it! I’m always reminded how different, but how similar we all can be. I’ve never considered myself a feminist, though others who know me well would beg to differ. I don’t know why I’ve rejected the term for so long. I think I just considered a four letter word. Finding meaning in the constraints of a label can be liberating!

    My significant other and I have had such an adventure with the Name Game. I knew I would never take his name. What surprised me was that HE didn’t want his name either. With the first words of this conversation, it was clear that we were amazingly on the same page–and yeah, Mr. and Mrs. Awesome was a real option considered. Well, sort of. We giggled at it alot. So we researched and reflected as to how we would choose a name that would have meaning, and more superficially, have an available url! I’m not kidding. We’re techies by profession. We own our url’s and have gmails with our name, and this was a priority for us. Not THE priority. Yet again, we were ridiculously on the same page.

    And this blog was really the only valuable resource we could find on going about this business of the Name Game. We’ve settled on a name–and our families have made it a non-event. They just chalk it up to it being ‘us’–adventurous, unified, and thoughtful. This wedding thing, completely understimated(by us), can be such a remarkable experience.

  • This whole conversation is fascinating to me. Our culture is in such a state of flux that there isn’t even firm agreement on what our name should be after marriage. Feminism and patriarchy aside, it seems improbable that our American culture won’t settle into either a new naming pattern or the old one within a few generations.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll probably change my name after marriage. I like my last name, but I am not less a member of my family because my name has changed; I feel closer to my mother’s relatives, whose name I do not share, than to my father’s relatives. And I have always been irritated by how common my name is–when I was a child, there was another girl with the exact same full name, who was born the same day I was at the same hospital, at my doctor’s office.

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  • Tessa

    I’d like to add a different perspective to the idea of changing your name if you were not close to your father or didn’t have a good relationship with him. Because I am one of those girls, and I do NOT want to change my name. A lot of the time, though, I feel like people imply that I should change my name, because why would I want to keep my awful father’s last name if I can take my wonderful husband’s last name? It’s just switching from one male name to another, right?

    Wrong. I may be estranged from my narcissistic, drug-addicted, alcoholic father (for very, very good reasons), but his last name has been mine for my whole life. My first, middle, and last name flow really well together, and I love the history that my last name comes with. My last name means “free man” in German, and for some reason I find that really cool. Basically, despite the association with my father, I am very attached to my last name. I never think of him when I see that name; I think of myself. I think of overcoming what my father is, what runs through my veins, and making it something better, making it mine. It is such a big part of my identity, and I can’t even fathom changing my name to anything else.

    I guess I wanted to point out that having a jacka** for a father does not mean that you should automatically want to change your last name to your husband’s upon marriage, nor should you feel obligated to do so because of it.

  • I’ve actually wanted to change my name. I’m actually a very independent person but changing my name has more to me accepting the next stage of my life, my married life! Plus I like his last name better than my own (he likes mine better than his – so we joke about switching last names). The only issue I face with changing my name is the legal and immigration mess. I live overseas now and have several visas in my name for different countries as well as my passport. To change my name on all of these documents gets time consuming, messy and just plain expensive. So as much as I want to change my name, it might not happen for quite a while (due to outside factors).

    What’s funny is I grew up with my mom’s family tradition where girls weren’t given middle names so that the maiden name could then become the middle name (initial) when she became married and therefore able to keep the first last name of her life. Not sure that’s a tradition I’ll keep up but that might have been a factor in my decision as well. However, I’ve never seen changing my name as giving up on my feminine identity. I’ve seen it more as shedding of my old past and starting on my future.

    One of my friends husbands actually took her last name due to the meaning her last name had (there are several meanings but one is of an animal that mates for life). I thought that was pretty cool too! I think people put too much importance on whether someone wishes to change their name or not, the name doesn’t make the person and well it’s a personal choice IMHO.

  • Nicole

    I am so happy I found this article; I teared up reading it. Ever since I got engaged six months ago, I have been struggling with myself over whether or not to take his name. My fiance wants me to do whatever makes me happy, but he also prefers that I use his name in some way. I liked the idea of being unified as a family, but I also struggled with the idea of giving up my last name, especially since my mother never gave up hers and I have my mother’s maiden name as my last name. This article (and the numerous additions to it in the comments) has truly made me feel comfortable with whatever choice I make. As of this week, my choice is hyphenation with the use of his name socially. But I know that if I want to change my mind, I don’t need to feel like I’m betraying the ideals of feminism or the women who came before me that decided to keep their own names.

  • Aly

    THANK YOU. I’ve been so frustrated with all the push-back I’ve received because I want to change my last name to my (future) husband’s. I wholeheartedly believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your name or change it — it’s all about what fits YOU. For me, I want to change my name, and all the questions and almost disappointment I’ve received from friends has been hurtful and upsetting. You’re not alone, girl! Do what’s right for you!

  • Meghan

    Thank you Taylor!! I’m debating the big name-change question myself, and am in a similar boat. I’m 23, graduated college two years ago and have been spending that time working on being an independent grown-up with my fiance. Just this week I had the half-formed thought, “Maybe changing my name to his doesn’t mean I don’t get to be me anymore/I’m a bad feminist…maybe it means embracing my new, adult identity and using this opportunity to outwardly show that change AND show solidarity with my husband (he’s big on that).” Your post put it so much more eloquently!

    I’m still on the fence, but I think your decision and this post about it might be swaying me over to the new-name side. Thanks!

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