This Is Why a Coin Toss Will Decide Our Last Name

initial letters wedding decor

Long before Bruce and I talked about marriage, I knew I wanted to keep my last name. I mean, I’m definitely not so attached to my name that I’d stubbornly refuse to become Ms. Awesome, should the right man with the right name come along. But, for anything short of that, I was prepared to resist. The fact that Bruce’s last name is unpleasantly alliterative with my first name only sealed the deal. The decision was easier than pie, and I’m pretty good with pies.

I was also prepared, I thought, to let our children take his last name. We’d both agreed that we didn’t want to hyphenate, so, really, it was one or the other, and he has convention on his side. I’ll admit, I was a little miffed about the tacit assumption on his part that they would take his name, but whatever. He’s all for equality. He just hadn’t really given it any thought.

Then one day, for no particular reason, I freaked out. I was so sure I’d thought it through, and I was so sure that I was fine with my decision, but I suddenly became hyper-aware of the fact that my future family would be the Russells, and I wouldn’t be a Russell.

To some people, this wouldn’t be a problem. I know that, rationally, a name doesn’t define a family. Of course it doesn’t. Still, I couldn’t shake my discomfort. Maybe it’s because I study English Literature, but my mind is fine-tuned to notice how apparently superficial qualities can have enormous symbolic weight. If my life were a novel, then my name would represent my exclusion.

The decision went from impossibly easy to just impossible.

My frustration built. Why do I have to go through an identity crisis? Why has Bruce never had to seriously entertain the possibility of sacrificing his last name? Even worse: why does a part of me feel guilty for asking him to consider it? Why do men have any more right to their last names than women? Well, they don’t. But, sometimes, it sure feels like it.

I expressed my frustration to Bruce, and he began to understand. We took another look at our options. The more we thought about it, the more we felt like we needed one name. For all of us.

We considered name blending. It wasn’t what either of us really wanted, but at least it was a compromise. Otherwise, we’d be stuck having to choose between mine and his, and there’s really no fair way to do that. Except by flipping a coin, we joked.

But the blending didn’t work, unless you think McRuss and Russellay are good, solid names.

We sat in silence, as we both realized that we would have to choose. I thought that it was only a matter of time until I gave in, and the moment I thought it, I realized just how important it was to me that I don’t give in. Not after all this. If it came down to either of us saying, “Whatever. Fine. I’ll take yours,” it would totally and completely suck. We wouldn’t resent each other, but we would almost certainly resent the decision, and that’s not how I want to begin my married life.

“So, why don’t we flip a coin?”

I can’t even explain to you the freedom I felt after the words left my mouth. I started bouncing a little. I might have even squealed. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so excited. It was perfect. The weight of the decision was lifted.

The beauty of the coin is that it does not discriminate by gender. The coin is not influenced by tradition. The coin does not assume that either of us has more right than the other. The coin is fair. If I lost, I would happily become a Russell; if I won, I would happily remain a McLay.

Bruce was underwhelmed. If he were to take my name, he explained, he’d rather do it because he’d decided to, not because a coin told him to. Understandable. Here, compromise came easily.

He needs time, so we’re giving him time. As a girl, regardless of my own decisions, I’ve certainly been exposed to the potential instability of a last name; as a guy, this is all new. He needs time to adjust. He needs to come to terms with the reality of taking my name. We both feel confident that, very soon, he will.

We will wait until both of us feel totally fine, no matter what.

Then we’ll flip a coin.

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  • Interesting solution! My only concern is that coin tosses are a way of clarifying what you really think about an issue – what happens when the loser suddenly wants to make it best 2 out of 3?

    • I recently found a saying that resonated with me in regards to a coin toss…it stated “When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin. It works not because it settles the question for you, but because in that brief moment that the coin is in the air, you suddenly know exactly what you want.”

      And, I think the beauty of tossing a coin for to determine the outcome of a decision allows you to instantly realize what that decision entails…much faster than if you go back and forth and apply weight to either decision.

      For me, changing my name was as simple as realizing that I am not defined by my name, so to take his last name was something done to make him happy. There was a bit more to it than that, but I will be me no matter what legal name I have.

      • I have that quote visible to me by my computer at this very moment. Love it. It’s Piet Hein.

  • I’ve recently come to this place as well. After the initial discussion about me not taking his name, I was so relieved to be allowed to keep my (wonderfully unique and alliterative) given last name that I happily ceded my right to the the kids’ names.

    Now it’s been 6 months and…not so much. Especially when I’ve seen the relieved reaction from his side of the family – well, we couldn’t get her to change, but at least the kids will be OurLast! I’ve already started to feel slightly outcast from my future family.

    To me, the biggest issue is my FH not even having to consider this issue. We discussed him adding my last name as a middle name, but it seemed more like an adorable quirk to him rather than a serious commitment to creating a family identity. I agree with Rachel that it takes men a long time to wrap their mind around this, and they fall back on convention time and time again before starting to peek around it and see if something else could be done. I feel like I’m just gathering the strength for another go round at this point. Thank you for writing this post!

    • Ms Fran

      I had exactly the same experience. I felt like because I’d “won” on keeping my own name he should “win” on the kid’s names.

      We’re both happy that we’ve kept our own names for ourselves and as we’re not having babies just yet we’ve got a while to talk it over and flip back and forth.

      I want to approach it with a more patient attitude. Yes, it’s annoying that often men don’t have to give a second thought to name issues, but instead of being grumpy and bitter about it I’m going to try to just get the thought process going for him.

      • meg

        Teachable moment!!

  • Rachel

    For me, changing my name has always been the plan. I grew up in a blended family, and between myself, my siblings/step-siblings, and my parents/step-parents, we had 5 different last names.

    And while as a rational, progressive adult, I can totally agree that a name does not a family make, as a sensitive child, I absolutely hated it. I got stressed every time someone referred to my mom as “Mrs. My Last Name” rather than “Mrs. Her Last Name” (even though as an adult, I can now recognize that it didn’t really phase her). I got upset when other kids questioned how I was related to my family members, which happened all. the. time. I longed for the sense of cohesiveness that I believed would come from being able to refer to my family as ‘The _________ Family’ with one simple name.

    Now, as an adult, do I recognize that my childhood feelings on the matter were well, childish and kind of ridiculous? Yes. Do I believe that everyone should make the name decision that works best for them and their family, whether that’s different names, hyphenated names, blended names, entirely new jointly-created names, or flipping a coin to pick a name? Absolutely. Do I believe that people SHOULD be giving this serious thought and making the right decision for them and shaking up the old patriarchal traditions? Sure! But could I ever, in a million years, imagine not having one shared last name for my own personal baby family? No.

    • You are not alone! As another with a blended family with 4 different last names, explaining all the relations and names caused its fair share of anxiety for me. Looking back on those feelings, it seems a little ridiculous that I was so worried about it; however, it is what it is.

      And yes, everyone should have this conversation and make this decision together. I will press exactly a million times for that!

    • Catherine B

      This was the conversation I had with my fiance. He grew up with a different name than his brother, and hated it. It was important to him that we have a family name. He volunteered to take my beautiful but unwieldy & unpronounceable French name, but I think we’ve settled on his easy Irish name, since it more accurately reflects our backgrounds.

    • Victwa

      We’re actually figuring out the baby before the wedding– I’m pregnant and due in July 2012 and we’re not getting married until 2013. My fiancé has two kids from a previous marriage who have hyphenated last names. Now we have three last names in one household, and I don’t want baby to make four. I know it doesn’t change any true sense of family unity–human beings are the ones that create (or don’t) the bonds of caring and family between each other, but as any participant in a stepfamily would agree, finding a sense of unity between family members is sometimes really, really HARD, even when everyone is trying their best. I want this baby to feel as connected to his/her siblings as possible, and if the baby and I have my last name, it feels like one more way they’re not connected. I could not imagine asking my fiancé to change his last name to mine (and sorry– I’m just really not a hyphenated fan)– because I think it would be even harder on his kids to feel like now they can’t even have a last name connection with their dad– spending 50% of your time alternating parents is hard, and I can’t imagine that your father changing his last name so it was unconnected from yours would make anyone feel better, particularly his daughter. And I really want to have the same last name as my baby. I don’t like the historical implications, and yeah, it sucks that it’s still a sexist solution, but I think for me, it’s the best of all possible solutions, given the other people involved with family names in our situation.

      • KateW

        I know of one family who solved this problem via hyphenated names. The children from the first marriage were FirstWife’sname-Dad’sname, and the second wife and her children shared SecondWife’sname-Dad’sname. This way, all the children shared a name, and the second spouse and her husband share a name as well. I know you said hyphens are not for you, but it’s worth considering, and if all the children wind up going to the same school, there’s a link between them on paper that might make negotiating bureaucracy easier.

    • Liz

      Oh thank GOODNESS someone said this!! I have been feeling like a bad feminist when I read these posts—I changed my name. I know Meg, you mean the best, but the truth is: for some people a name *does* “make” a family. (I put “make” in quotes because, obviously, names don’t have anything to do with the literal making of a family, but for some of us, names do have a lot to do with how we feel about being a family and ourselves as family members.)

      My husband assumed I wouldn’t change my name (bless him). He was visibly surprised when I told him that it was only logical for me to be a Liz HisLastName, because we were so very close to his family, and not at all to my family.

      For me it was simple. The anxiety, oh the ANXIETY!, of growing up in a family with a mish-mosh of names! Rachel, I love your comment on literary significance. This is exactly how I think about it. For me (just me, I very much think we each need to do what is right for us) having a different last name from my husband and the family we are so close to, was accompanied, in my mind, by ominous music, sepia tones, and cawing black crows. I just didn’t feel like a part of the family until I changed my name to match.

      If we had been very close to my family, not his, then I think I would have insisted we both take my name. And if we were equally close to both families… well… then I don’t know. A coin sounds like a good plan to me!

      • Maddie

        There is no such thing as a bad feminist (unless you know, you don’t believe we should have the right to choose what’s best for us). You made a choice that’s right for you, which is *exactly* what feminism is all about.

        As for a name making a family, I think it depends on who’s being asked (as evidenced by the comments in this post!) Meg and I were chatting about this post while we were on the road and I told her that I firmly don’t believe that a name makes a family, since I grew up in a house where names were ever-changing. But I’m loving this discussion, because I’m realizing that all kids who grew up in that situation don’t feel the same way.

        So good for you for doing what’s right by your baby family. It’s what this is all about.

        • sb

          I don’t think a name is the only thing that makes a family. But since my partner and I are both women, we are not going to have kids that are genetically related to both of us. It’s likely that no one in our family will be related to each other or even look much like each other. We’ll also have at least two religions. A name won’t make us a family, but it will help others see us as a family, and that’s part of why I’m changing my name to my partner’s (dropping my current middle name and making my current last name my middle).

          Also, her name is 5 letters long and easy to spell, which mine is not, and I really like her family and am eager to join it in such an obvious way.

          • Maddie

            Maybe what I should have said (and what I definitely meant) was that a name isn’t the *only* thing that can make a family.

            What I find most interesting about this discussion is that the reason for keeping or changing our names seems to stem very much from a similar place, even if it yields different results. It’s about what name you’re connected to and which family you’re trying to form or become part of, and is of course deeply influenced by our personal histories.

          • Josephine

            That’s a really interesting take on it. We’re not sure if we’regoing to have kids but it’s a strong argument for having the same last name.

            I have, in theory, no objection to taking her last name asit means a lot to her and hyphenating would create a reaaallly long name. But, I don’t like her last name! It has “ars” in it,which she can pull off, but me, not so much!

            So I really don’t now what to do. She doesn’t want to combine because she wants to carry on her last name. I wil probably keep my name at work so that I don’t lose my network, or at least hyphenate. But names are part of your identity so this is a hard decision.

    • Kelly D.

      I would venture to say that your childhood feelings were not ridiculous. At that time, they were the very valid concerns that were most pressing in your life. Now that you’ve grown and have had more difficult experiences to navigate, you have a different perspective on it, sure… but I think all the lessons we learn, all the hardships we face, all the achievements we win make us into the people we are now. So, perhaps, don’t be so quick to dismiss those “little” things.

      And I’m happy you’ve made the decision that works best for you!

      • suzanna

        I’m with Kelly D on this–I don’t think those feelings are childish at all. If you want to make your future children’s lives easier by saving them some of the grief/anxiety you experienced…that makes you a good parent!

        I plan on changing my last name for the same reason, btw. Also, his name is Chinese and I am clearly not, and for some reason that just cracks me up. Now maybe THAT is childish.

  • My situation is different from yours in that we are a two bride couple, but we, too, struggled with the name change issue. There was no ‘norm’ to guide us and who or what says her name should be chosen over mine or vise-versa? Its also a common topic of discussion among our gay friends – so, who’s name are YOU taking? Because there seem to be more options in our case. So, my wife and I talked about it and thought about it and played around with several options…. Because my name has always given me a hard time (it begins with the word dam and ends with two aa’s – talk about trouble), I have been looking forward to changing my name since I was little. But, when it actually came time for that reality, I struggled a bit. And then my wife didn’t understand why it should be her name we chose. Just because I was born with a tricky name didn’t mean we had to assume her ‘name-identity’. So, we compromised in our own way.
    My wife’s mother was adopted. Her maiden name is her adopted name. We liked the idea that in some ways adoption is like a chosen family, a family come together out of life’s situations. And, really, isn’t that what we would be too? A family made up of two women, hopefully two children (each of whom, the non-biological mom will have to adopt legally eventually). And we liked the idea of both of us changing our names. We were creating our new family in many ways, through marriage, through getting puppies, through eventually having kids, and in taking new names.
    So, that’s what we did. That’s what worked for us. And we both like it. Although the legal aspect has been tricky to say the least, it’s been worth it for us. We have carved out our little corner of this world for our new family.
    Thanks for your post. I love this discussion.

    • i just realized my post didn’t make enough sense – ultimately, we both changed our name to my wife’s mother’s maiden name.

      • That’s such a cool idea. My fiancee and I are both keeping our names because neither of us really wants to give ours up, and we couldn’t think of a reason that one should over the other. We talked about blending, but neither of those made sense. And I hyphenated in my previous marriage but once I got my name back after our split, I never wanted to take on any other name except my own ever again! But we worry about the kids – there’s no gender norm to encourage us to give them one last name over the other. Up to now, our plan is to give them our hyphenated last names, but then what about when they get married? And then their kids? The hyphenation plan can only work through so many generations.

        • revedehautbois

          As a hyphenated kid who is just now figuring this out, I really don’t think you should let this concern discourage you from doing what you think makes sense. I have had to figure out what works for me & my fiance, but really my choices are pretty similar to anyone else’s with a longish last name. Hyphens can be awesome. :)

          • V

            As another lifelong hyphenate who LOVES her name, I just want to chime in to agree that you shouldn’t let thoughts of what your kids will do in the future deter you from hyphenating. In my personal opinion, it’s your job to figure out what name they get; it’s their job to figure out what to do with that name.

        • nernin

          Most Latino countries don’t have any trouble figuring out generational name changes and no hyphen necessary!

      • Such a lovely idea! One of the first things we did when we started discussing names was to go back through the family tree and see if there were any we wanted to “revive.”

        • i like how you said “revive” – we kind of felt like we were reviving our name too – my wife’s mother doesn’t go by her maiden name anymore, so it felt kind of good to bring back a family name. also, we felt more comfortable with this choice because we knew that our individual last names would be carried on with other members of our families, so we weren’t going to end our name line with our decision.

    • Leanne

      Thanks for adding the 2 bride perspective to this conversation. Things were feeling a little heteronormative in the comments/discussion!

      • :)

        • Karen

          I am in a same-sex relationship too and I have a bit of experience with this. Many years ago in a previous relationship my ex and I both changed our last names to a new one, a character in a book. The book was very powerful and the character is a teacher and healer. We had a wedding but then over a year later changed our names to the same one. When we broke up several years later, I kept the new one but she returned to her birth name. I really like my last name and think it fits me much better than my birth name.

          Now that I’m in a new serious relationship, I can’t imagine that either of us would change our last names. I’m now very much identified with my chosen name and my partner is well known by her last name. Thus far this isn’t a discussion we’ve had but I think if I brought it up to her she’d look at me dumbfounded and ask why.

          A few years ago my younger brother changed his last name to our mother’s maiden name before his son was born so now that last name will continue on (because we only have aunts and one uncle who only has daughters), assuming that his son has children. Amazing how much significance people give names.

    • Jennie

      This is the compromise we ended up with! I feel strongly that we end up with the same name for our future children but do not have any connection to his name (which was adopted a few generations ago when Pigg didn’t seem like an appropriate last name – fair enough). We looked back through the last names on both sides of the family and have decided to go with his mom’s last name, which she took from an extended family member after her divorce. It took some time for us to wrap our heads around choosing a different name and for him to accept that he wouldn’t be keeping his name but ultimately we found something that works for both of us.

  • Aly

    I love this! When my now-husband and I started discussing the name-change issue, he didn’t see it as an issue at all. His argument was that just because the tradition of a women taking a man’s last name had some unpleasant historical connections, today it was simply a tradition that didn’t have to mean anything greater than just a simple solution to the issue of naming. If all women just took their husband’s last name without thinking about it then there wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. I pointed out that it couldn’t possibly be that simple – even though most men no longer equated marriage+female name change with literally owning a women, there is still an inherent unfairness about the situation. Even you know growing up that you will one day change your name, that doesn’t make it easier, because a name is part of your identity. And it makes it awkward on working women (who, in America, are MOST women) who have to explain why they need a new office nameplate or why you have to look up their degree under a different name. Not to mention this system does not provide a solution for gay and lesbian couples.

    I finally got him to agree that it was, in fact, a legitimate issue. But then he argued that my suggestion – each individual couple decides together what they should do, be it take one spouse’s name, hyphenate, combine, whatever – is just confusing, because then you never know what a newly married couple should be called and it will always feel unfair to someone.

    His solution? There should be some sort of event, sometime between the engagement and wedding, in which a couple does a “ceremonial coin toss” to designate what name they will take in a fair way. If everybody does the coin toss, making it a normal event in the lead up to marriage, then there would be no expectations from the rest of society on who’s name should be taken.

    Much as I loved the idea, we didn’t actually have a ceremonial coin toss. But I love seeing that someone else will do something similar!

    • Jessica

      Out of curiosity, why do you feel it is awkward for working women to change their name? I can obviously only speak for sure about my own situation, but I’ve found it’s been very easy and everyone has been really understanding about my new name. Granted, I don’t work in a field where people are looking up my degree, and granted, I work in a small-ish company, but HR changed all my paperwork in a matter of minutes, and IT set up my new email address as soon as I got back from my honeymoon. In fact, everywhere I’ve changed my name, from Social Security to my vet’s office, has been very easy. I’m interested to hear why you feel it’s awkward?

      I do agree with you though, deciding whether to change my name or not caused a bit of an identity crisis for me.

      • Kimberly

        I can see how it can be a pain. I’ve worked for years in the public and am to an extent defined by name. It’s a name people see in ads and in the paper, and they associate my name with my business. I am sure it will be simple to change my paperwork once I am married, but it will be much more difficult to change people’s minds. I just don’t think anyone needs to know about my marital status, so it would be very uncomfortable for me to explain my name change to every person that comes to my business.

        It’s for this reason that my fiance and I have agreed that I will take his name privately but still keep my name publicly. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.

        • Jessica

          I can see that. It just threw me off when I first read it. For the most part, my friends that are already married and myself work in the private sector so that’s always my first frame of reference.

      • Hope

        For teachers like myself it can be strange to change names when you hear it 100’s of times every day. Also all my certification is in my maiden name.
        Last week I had a conversation with middleschoolers that yes I am married but no I am not changing my name. Several of them have moms with different names to them or hyphenated and that’s even more prevalent in our preschool.

        I remember calling my female teachers by their maiden name for years after they’d got married.

        • Jessica

          Makes sense! I didn’t think of teachers!

      • Cara

        My coworker had a ton of problems when trying to register for professional certification because her degree was in a different name. She ended up missing the professional examination because the paperwork was screwed up and she had to wait another year to take it, which ultimately cost her thousands and thousands of dollars because there’s an automatic pay increase when you pass the exam. She could have paid for her entire wedding with those lost wages.

      • Emily BK

        It really depends! I’m a grad student, and since I got married, most of my colleagues and professors have simply assumed I wasn’t changing and either not asked or phrased it in terms of “but you’re keeping your name, right?” Meanwhile, all the department administrators have said, “congratulations! what’s your new name?” I think there are both career-specific and class-specific norms at play. (It took me a bit to figure out how to phrase the answer in a non-confusing way, but now I say, “It’s HisName legally, but I am going to just keep using MyName for most university purposes, so you can call me whatever you want.”)

    • You can also point out to your husband it shouldn’t be “confusing, because then you never know what a newly married couple should be called” . . . you can always just ask what they decided to do (if anything).

      Problem solved!

  • My brother in law took my sister’s (and my) family name and the reactions were interesting. The bank seemed unable to understand (even though there’s no difference in legal procedures around name changing), my maternal grandmother was annoyed with my sister and kept hurrumphing about it (I would have thought she would have felt honored!), my brother in law’s father almost disowned him.

    While the pressure to do it might be hard on women, the pressure not to is overwhelming for men. I think you are very smart to give him time. He will likely face little support–and some outright persecution–if the coin flips “your” way.

    However, the good news is that once the dust settles, everyone will go back to where they belong: minding their own business!

    • I just want to exactly this part: “there’s no difference in legal procedures around name changing”!

      My husband took my last name as his middle name and even that was difficult with banks and other institutions. For me, changing my middle and last name was easy. I just flashed the marriage certificate and the customer service person would congratulate me and ask about the wedding while they fixed my files right up.

      For him, it was much harder. At best, people were confused. At worst, they started making up all sorts of extra requirements that we knew were not needed, like that he would have to see a judge, present a legal name change form, and even, in one very weird case, present a certificate of sex change.

      It was a struggle, but now that all the administrative headaches are over, we are both very happy with our names and happy to have helped educate customer service representatives at banks, credit card companies, frequent flyer programs, government offices, universities, and hospitals all over the country!

    • Jennifer

      My browser won’t let me “exactly” this so I have to type – Exactly!

      A male coworker who got married around the same time I did had to spend a lot more time and energy explaining that he was taking his wife’s last name than I did explaining that I was taking my husband’s.* The two families I know where husband and wife each kept their own name, but the children have the mother’s last name, are always running into the assumption that the husband is not the father – they travel with copies of the birth certificate to avoid problems – which I’ve never heard of being an issue for any of the women I know who have kept their original name while their children all have the father’s last name. Of course, the more families that make different choices, the less of a Big Deal it will be.

      *although the flip side of that is that in our (generally fairly progressive) environment, he got kudos for his choice while I got a lot of “really? why on earth would a smart woman like you take her husband’s name?”

      • This part: I got a lot of “really? why on earth would a smart woman like you take her husband’s name?”

        Exactly! I get this a lot too and sometimes it drives me up a freaking wall. The worst comment: I’m taking the easy way out. WTF? You don’t know my life!

        *deep breath*

        I’m hoping that by explaining (calmly, rationally, in spite of my desire to punch some more judgey types in the face) why I’m *choosing* to take his last name I can help people understand that this is a personal choice for couples, and one that should have as many solutions as we want to come up with! Use blended, use hyphenated, change it to love symbol #2, take the name of your favorite fruit as your last name, whatever you want. Just make it yours and own it, for whatever reason you like.

        • Conversely, could we take the question as a (very misguided) sign that people are starting to internalize the message a woman does not HAVE TO take her husband’s name?

          • You could indeed take it as a sign of society moving forward. However, it’s that misguided part (that you pointed out) which still twists me up something fierce. It still points to that “you change it or you don’t” worldview that we need to move away from. It’s tripping up plenty of smart, sassy women who may want to take their partner’s last name but feel like they’re being “bad feminists” or “not doing their part for gender equality” or insert “don’t change your name” argument here.

    • PAF

      It’s true. It would be great to see a post written by a man on this, because they face an entirely different kind of pressure. I think it was in the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine” (ahem, don’t judge – it was on tv one day…), when a guy hyphenates his last name with his new wife’s and is so embarrassed in front of his friends , who he knows will just go berserk making fun of him. I cracked up (as stupid as the movie was) because the outcome is so true in so many circles among men, even those who are somewhat more progessive.

    • MissT

      When getting married at City Clerk’s Office in New York City, the clerk doing our paperwork asked me if I was changing my name – a process you do by telling the clerk basically. When I said no, he moved on to another set of questions. I stopped him. “Excuse me, you haven’t asked my fiance if he is changing his name.” He gave me a totally weird look and then asked my now husband, who did not change his name either. It really bothered me that an institution as represented by this individual was biased about name changes.
      For our son, we spent about 10 months discussing the last name and ultimately went with a hyphen for him (we’re still keeping ours). We didn’t love it, but we loved a compromise that allowed us to keep our names and to be linked as a family for our kids – and our kids teachers.

    • My fiance decided he wanted to take my last name, and right now we’re dealing with a mind-boggling amount of backlash. Every time I mention it to someone – even my close, feminist friends – I get the raised eyebrow and the “really? huh…” I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked (even by my own mother), “Why don’t you just keep yours and he’ll keep his? Won’t that be easier for everybody?” They’ve just never heard of a man voluntarily giving up his last name. We haven’t even started to deal with the difficulties of legally changing it (banks, passport, etc.)

      I’m trying to get him to write about his decision for APW. Unless more people are aware that this does actually happen, it’s never going to become a viable mainstream option.

      • We’ve been discussing name options recently, and almost every outsider has reacted badly to us contemplating him taking my name, the most common reaction being “oh my God! You can’t to that, you’ll emasculate him!” Or what feels to be a condescending high five and a “you go girl!” My dad is the only one who reacted remotely sanely, with “Well of course he should. We’re great.”

      • andthebeautyis

        My friend’s husband changed his name to hers – and I have to admit I was surprised. Delighted! but surprised. Considering the mental hoops my now-husband had to go through when I presented the idea of him considering a name change, I was surprised that a deeply Christian, family-oriented man would give up his name. It’s not backlash (I was thrilled!), but he was the first person I’d ever heard of to do that. And I was raised by non-conformists.
        But it absolutely does happen, and the more we talk about it, the less surprised we all will be.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Yes, Manya. My fiance and I have about-equivalent professional degrees and licenses. Though he’s older, he’s in a career transition, so the first headaches of changing business cards and e-mail addresses would be about the same for either of us, in changing names.

      But I worry about a few years down the road, if he takes my name, and he has to explain why the name on his school transcripts doesn’t match his resume or driver’s license. As a married woman, easy-peasy. “That’s my maiden name.” But for him, depending on whom he’s talking to, that could be a silly, awkward conversation.

      It’d be an opportunity to spread some feminist salt and light, but I don’t know that either of us wants to do that at the interviewing stage of a job search.

    • Manya – I feel really proud of your brother-in-law for doing that – and any man – yay for male feminists! :)

    • My husband and I talked about him taking my last name. He and his father don’t have a relationship and he doesn’t want to continue the last name when we have kids, so it would make sense to take mine, since our kids will have it. But, the legal challenge of changing a man’s last name has put it on hold for now. That’s the part I find more unfair– that a woman’s name change means hardly anything in our legal system but a man’s has to be a big deal.

      It honestly wasn’t a big problem for me, I like how his last name sounds with mine and don’t mind if people call me by it when they aren’t sure. But I also like still having my own last name. What does bother me is that my brother and sister-in-law (and sometimes even my mom) who are conservative Christian either don’t know I still go by my maiden name, or are refusing to acknowledge it. I get letters from them with my husband’s last name and that is annoying though I try to shrug it off.

  • My mother has always kept her last name. My sister and I have my fathers last name, back then there was no other option but for children to have the fathers family name (laws in The Netherlands have only recently changed in that respect). So, I know what it is like to not share a last name with my mother, and at least for me (and my mom) it was no big deal. So, now that I have a child we have choosen the same construction: I have my own name, he has his own name, and our baby has my partners last name (there is no option to name-blend here).

    I guess the only thing I did not like in the name debate (well, it wasn’t much of a debate) was how my partner did not think it was a real option for our child to have my last name. I felt that was rather daft and archaic of him. I don’t consider either option weirder than the other, but he definitely did. And then he dares call himself a feminist :-D

    But we did decide that if my partner can choose our offsprings last name, I get the final vote on the first name. In the end, that was not really meaningful since we found only one name that really appealed to us, so, ah well.

  • Oh, this is one of our biggest wedding planning issues. We’ve also been discussing our options since long before we were engaged. And now, we’re just over 3 months out (ahhhhhhhhhhhh) and still have no idea what we’re going to do.

    I had always grown up with my mom who kept her name, and other various strong female role models who also kept their birth names when they married. I always assumed that’s what I was going to do. But I’m so detached to my birth name’s family (except my dad, whom I love, but he got remarried and hyphenated, so I don’t even share a name with him anymore), and I love my partner’s family, so taking his name became an option.

    But then I mourned the fact that my mom’s last name, whose family I feel so close to, is not an option in the slightest. So we created a new name that uses syllables from each of our four family names. It’s also a possibility.

    But when it comes to actually deciding what to do legally — WHEW that’s a big choice. So we go back and forth, weighing options, talking out the strengths of each name. It’s exhausting. The only thing we’ve learned so far is to stop talking about it with our friends, because someone has something negative to say about each choice, no matter what.

    • Miriam

      its such a bummer that you can’t talk about it with your friends. I had a similar experience. The only conversation I found helpful was when my mom told me “I only kept my name because your Dad wanted me too.”

    • MadGastronomer

      Out of curiosity, why is your mom’s birth family’s last name not an option?

      • You know, we’ve actually talked about it as an option. I think, in my ideal dream of dreams, we would combine my partner’s last name with my mom’s last name into one name. But that would hurt my dad way too much, and it’s already a delicate situation because he’s coming to the wedding but isn’t exactly a part of my family’s community anymore. I actually told Donnie that, thank goodness I’m not Kinzie Momslast because then this would be a much more difficult discussion. But since I’m so not attached to my current last name, at least some other options have opened up to us.

    • woo!! three months out!! :)

    • carrie

      For what it’s worth, we talked and talked about before the wedding and I could never make a decision about my name (as it was, for my personal situation). The wedding came and went, no decision. Some more time, still no decision. My lack of decision about changing my name WAS my decision. I never had a lightning bolt moment of THIS IS WHAT I WANT! Turns out what I wanted was to keep my name. And I always figure if I feel differently, I’ll change it. My point? Maybe don’t stress too much about making a decision, maybe it will come to you in a way you don’t expect. Regardless, good luck and YAY! 3 months! (Breathe :)

      • I am also wanting to leave encouragement to not feel that you need to decide right away. I got married with no decision, so kept my name for a while, and then decided to take my husband’s name four and a half months later. While I initially had a ton of emotion about the decision (rolled in with some trauma of planning the actual crazy wedding), by the time I made my decision I felt fine about it. Give yourself time. (Carrie, isn’t APW cool that we’re leaving similar comments that have contrasting outcomes?)

        • carrie

          I love it! But I want to exactly your point about recognizing the charged-up emotional state with planning a wedding AND making big decisions. It’s okay to put it in the “later” pile. :-)

        • Just echoing in here that I took about 6 months to decide to take my husband’s name. And then I kept my maiden name for my job. It’s actually rather nice, since I have my “work identity” and my “non-work identity” and it makes it harder for work people to find me online (I work at a uni). But still, it took me 6 months, and as soon as the wedding was over, people pretty much dropped it, and I had some peace to think it over without the weeeeedddiiiiiing constantly looming like some sort of deadline (which it wasn’t, not really).

      • Same for me. It’s a year and a half+ after our wedding and I still haven’t added* his name to mine. Some days I think I will, and some days I figure that I haven’t done it yet so maybe I don’t want to.

        We don’t know, yet, what we’ll do about the last name for a child. But maybe the coin-toss thing is a good idea. :)

        *I’m bent on adding to, not changing, my last name if I do anything at all. That’s what marriage feels like to me– an addition, not a change.

      • That’s totally me. I was torn up about it for so long, and now – it’s been a year and I haven’t changed it. I was going to change it after the baby, b/c it seemed like it would be a huge hassle to switch all my insurance stuff in the middle of being pregs. (Not sure if that’s true.) Now, I’m torn up about it if I have time to think about it. Which I don’t. So, I guess I’ve made my decision? But, I get to change my mind later.

        To make it more tricky for me, our last names are SO reflective of our backgrounds. So it would be really hard for me to switch from Shotgun Shirley IRISH to Shotgun Shirley RUSSIAN. Except, that if I’m going to switch, I’m going to do it right and take the feminine form: RUSSIAN-A. But then we *still* won’t have the same last name.

        So, for now, I’m Shotgun Shirley IRISH in real life (SS IRISH RUSSIAN-A on Facebook), he’s RUSSIAN, our daughter is RUSSIAN-A, and none of us match! But, we’re “The RUSSIANS” in our return address labels. I’m sure when baby goes off to school this will be a huge pain; maybe I will change legally then.

        I’d like to remain Shotgun Shirley IRISH professionally and be RUSSIAN-A in my personal life; I wonder if I can make the change legally and still be IRISH at work. Like a nickname? Dunno how my giant corporation would feel about that, but if I never told them how would they know?

        • carrie

          You totally can! I have a friend who goes mostly by Laura Hisname, but legally, she’s Laura Hername. So when she books air travel, she books under Hername; credit cards, etc. I’ve known her for almost 7 years and I *just* found this out. I’d always known her as Laura Hisname, I assumed it was legal!

          However, for your work situation, your paperwork would have to be whatever your legal name is. Of course.

        • Well, I work for a fairly large corporation and to change my last name, I just had to tell them, no official paperwork or marriage license required. I’ve worked with more than one woman who changed her name at work but didn’t change it legally, so I see no reason why you probably can’t work it the other way. I mean, unless you’re a lawyer or stamping engineer or something where your signature is a legal bond…

        • MDBethann

          I think it depends on the employer. I work for Uncle Sam, so whatever my legal last name is, that is what I have to go by at work. I’ve talked to some of the women at work about it, as we have a mix of people who have kept their maiden names, taken their husband’s name, or used both last names with no hyphen. In the end, I decided to go with the later option. I like my name, my dad’s the only son of an only son, and I have 8 1/2 years worth of published material at work with my maiden name on it. But for legal reasons and for our kids (one day), I want to have the same name as my FH. I like what Carrie said about going by different names in different locations, but after talking with a colleague, she found out the hard way that there can be bank, IRS, and other complications with that at times. So I’m going to be Bethann MiddleName HerName HisName. It’s a lot, but I figure I’ll just initial the two in signing and to most people be Bethann HisName. It works for me, even though our last names both end in “er” and don’t flow very well. But I can live with it, and in the end, I’m the one that has to. FH told me it was completely up to me what I did.

          • Spines

            That’s exactly what I was going to do (after a lot argument!), have two last names with no hyphen, and generally go by his name.

            I was actually excited about this until….my fiance decided out of nowhere he might like to change his name back to his Mum’s maiden name, as his Dad really hasn’t had much to do with his life.

            The problem with this is, his Mum’s maiden name I really don’t like as much as his current name, and I don’t think it works very well with my first name (not enough syllables)…so if he did that I said I would hyphenate my last name with his, and since he’s the one who is determined for us to have the same name, he’d hyphenate too. But I still think I’d prefer his Dad’s last name to his Mum’s, if I had to pick!

            So…we’re at a stalemate…I might do what others are suggesting, and just not worry about it for a while, haha!

        • Emily BK

          That’s what I’m trying to do (although I’m still waiting for the new SS card, meaning I haven’t been able to change my driver’s license, university enrollment, or payroll information yet). You do have to inform them in payroll/HR and whatever other departments are responsible for legal info, but the odds are you’ll be able to keep your IRISH email, directory listing, etc., either because the systems are not actually integrated so you can just not tell IT or whatever, or because you can specifically request to be listed a certain way.

  • MadGastronomer

    My FW and I, after very little discussion, decided we’d each keep our last names. She’s already changed hers once, to something she chose very deliberately (to her mother’s maiden name, one that no one else in her family carries anymore), and I’ve always been very fond of mine. What’s caused rather more debate has been the issue of naming children, particularly since we’re both women, and we want to be very certain that there’s no question that any children we have are both of ours, in every significant way. It was especially important to me that any kids we have show an on-paper connection to her, since I’m the one who will carry them, and I do not, ever, want someone to decided my FW is not the mom, and refuse to treat her as the mom.

    So we’re going to hyphenate, despite all the issues associate with that. Her name first, because it sounds a little better.

    If we were less attached to our current last names, I’d be all in favor of us picking an entirely new one, but we aren’t, so there you go.

  • Ceebee

    What we’d do is, keep your name and only use
    his for school related stuff. Like sitting in the PTA as the Russells and being Jr russell’s mom on report card day.
    And keep your own names for everything else. When you go for family dos you don’t even need that. Depending on which side, you’d be the Bruces or Rachels or Juniors :)

    • DanEllie

      This is interesting. My mom chose to do just this – keep her own name legally, but take my dad’s socially whenever it related to us kids. And the piece of advice she’s given me and my marrying friends is “pick a name and stick with it!”

      She found it ultimately complicated to have different names in different settings. This may be in part because she was active with the PTA and ultimately the school board, and therefore became as Mom HisLast to the wider community in a way she’d never intended. Also people who knew her as Mom HerLast then started mashing the two names together on her behalf, creating still more options than than the choices she had made, so she was also Mom Hers/His, Mom Hers-His, and Mom Hers His (with each of these spelling options.

      But with her example, I’m choosing to keep mine, he’s keeping his and we’re deciding what to do for kids if and when they happen. I like the idea of a mash-up name, but I think he’s not entirely sure that he’ll feel connected if kids have a different name than he has.

  • Allie

    The story goes that one day, when I was about 6, I was helping my mom out with the dishes and suddenly, out of nowhere, I announced “I’m never getting married.” My mom was a little taken aback (probably mostly due to the randomness of it) but asked why. I apparently pondered for a little while and then recanted- maybe I would get married but “I’m not changing my name – he’s changing his.”

    I must have figured out that someone’s name had to change if you got married and decided this was not my fate.

    Fast forward a couple decades- I’m married, we both have our own names. Our discussion (like a lot of the above) was “the kid’s can have your name” but mine isn’t changing. Since kids aren’t planned in the immediate future, it’s easy to put this decision off, but I do wonder what I will feel like when that day comes.

    We’ve also decided that they should probably have my last name as a middle name, as we’re a mixed-nationality couple and due to our jobs it’s pretty likely that international travel without the other partner will be happening- it just seems like it might be easier if the theoretical children would have my name in there somewhere too… Does anyone have any experience with this?

    • Yup. We don’t have kids, but sharing a name has been really helpful when traveling just as a couple. Not every country has the same associations with the placement of names (middle vs. last). Where we live, you can say your three names in any order, and you never know which one will be left off official forms, so sharing a middle and last name as a family is a big plus!

      When we traveled together post-marriage, but pre-name change, we sometimes had trouble going through customs together, but now every country we have visited has treated us as a travel unit. Keeping my old last name as my middle name also really saved me early in our marriage when I had a visa with my old name and a passport with my new one!

      I can only imagine this gets more complicated with kids.

    • Sara B

      me and FH had a baby long before we were even 100% sure marriage was for us. We were pretty young when baby was born (I had turned 21 days before and FH still had a few months to 21). He is from the Netherlands, and we weren’t sure which country we wanted to live in (since, I’ve moved here to NL). But the first year of baby’s life involved a lot of travelling for myself with baby. I obviously still had my name, but baby had Dad’s. The first time I flew, they almost didn’t let me through passport control here in NL. They said my baby didn’t look like me (he has bright blue eyes and mine are brown) we didn’t have the same name, I didn’t have his birth cert on me, baby obviously couldn’t speak for himself. I almost burst into tears right there. Eventually I got through, but if you have a different last name than your child and are travelling sans partner, BRING THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!!!!

    • We’re mixed nationality too, and when I saw a comment above about travelling with the kids’ birth certificates, I felt like like I saw a glimpse into me future (assuming we have a kid). Ah. We have considered using the middle name of one parent and last name of the other route. (Possibly my last name for the potential kid?)

      Edit: Ooh, I just saw the comment just above. I was referring to one much farther up the comment list, but this one confirms it…travelling with birth certificates for future hypothetical travel plans with hypothetical baby.

    • Haha – I said something similar but eventually decided I was going to marry my cousin so I could still have the same last name!

  • Bubbles

    For me, this is a non-issue, as I am not a big fan of my father’s side of the family and will jump at the chance to no longer be associated with them by name.

    However, I do have a friend who is rather disappointed that I will be changing my last name, as my last name is the “prettier” option. She is of the opinion that whichever last name is prettier/cooler/sounds nicer is the one the couple should take, which is a perfectly valid opinion and would be a great option were it not for my extenuating circumstances.

    I do think that name blending is another wonderful option, if it works. I know another couple who simply smushed their names together, and the result never fails to induce giggles the first time people here it.

    I definitely dig the coin-toss idea, and I really do think that we, as feminists, need to work on making the world more accepting of different name options.

    • I totally just told my DH that if we were to mash our names the best I could come up with was Browrych.

      • J

        I just read that as ‘Baywatch’… Could that be an option? :)

  • The longer I think about it, the more I’m glad that the decision was made for me.

    In my country, a citizen can never lose their maiden name. You’re allowed to use your spouse’s, and they’re allowed to use yours (or you can hyphenate), but in your passport it will only ever say your name.

    I figured that if my passport said the one thing, it would be the easiest to keep on saying that thing myself too. Even if it sounds ridiculous in English. Even though my husband has the sexiest last name in the northern hemisphere and I won’t use it now.

    • is it Beckham..?

      • Dday, I love you. That is all.

      • Hehehehehe.

        Less sportsman’s charm, more ancient Scottish goodness :)

  • I loved my parents’ original idea about how to pick a last name for any kids they were going to have – girls got her last name, boys got his. In the end, she decided that it would be too confusing, so we got my dad’s last name. I did tell my husband that if I had gotten my mom’s last name, I probably wouldn’t have changed it. It’s just a cooler last name. As for my decision, it was almost by default – I didn’t feel that attached to my last name, so when J said that he *might* like me to have the same last name, I went with it. I occasionally feel like the decision should have been harder. Like I should have agonized over giving up a part of my identity. But hey, I was able to make the decision, I made it, and now I have a last name that no one can spell or pronounce. So hurrah!

    • I to made the decision without any real angst. I thought about, we talked about it for a while, I looked in to legally changing my middle name to my maiden name (and dropped it when I found out it would take $500 and a visit with a judge)… In very short order, I decided to take his. I very much want this baby to have the same last name as me, and he felt the same, and hyphenating our last names would have been pretty terrible. (Unpronounceable German name-pronounceable Spanishized German name? Yeah, no.) I, however, traded for a last name that people can spell, which is kind of nice, and I never had any true identity wrapped up in my middle or last name.

      A common name does not make a family, for very certain. But I couldn’t help but want us to share a common name anyway, and so that was, in the end, a major deciding factor.

      • Elizabeth

        I changed my name for the same reason: I like the idea of the two of us and our hypothetical future children having the same last name (and there was no way I was getting my now-husband to consider any other options than the accepted convention). But, it still feels weird and unfamiliar to use my married name – and I cried all the way home from the DMV when they took my last piece of ID with my maiden name on it. I’m just hoping some day my married name feels like mine, as opposed to some sort of secret spy alias.

        • Sara C.

          I agree! Sometimes I feel that there should have been more angst in my decision, but to be honest I don’t really like my maiden name and I do really like my future husband’s. :-) That said, I do intend to use my maiden name as a middle name – though I haven’t looked into changing it legally, (or the cost!) I want to maintain some connection with my previous degrees/profession.

          • Lturtle

            I think the legalities/cost really depend on where you are. When we went to the office of records to get our marriage lisence they had it all set up as multiple choice. You type in your current surname, and his current surname and it spits out a few options – same options for both spouses though you don’t have to choose the same one. He chose to keep his name as it was, and I chose to have my maiden name as a middle name and his last as my new last. What I really wanted to do was just add his last to the end of mine, so I had four names total, but they wouldn’t let me.
            Also, it was included in the cost of the lisence.

  • Sharon

    Two of my profs in grad school had a unique solution. They had both kept their own names, of course, seeing as they had earned reputations under them before they got married. But as for their children, they decided if if their first child was a girl, all the children would have her last name. But if it was a boy, then all the children would have his last name.

    Same 50% chance as the coin, but as they are both biology profs, with a biological twist! In case you’re wondering, their first child was a girl so all the children have her last name. =)

    • My cousin did the same thing with her husband! The first child wound up being a girl, so all the kids got her last name. My favorite part of the story is that right before the birth of the first kid (whom they knew would be a girl), her husband ran out and legally hyphenated his name so that he would have a name connection to his children. He doesn’t use his legal name ever, but it was ultimately important to him that he have it.

    • Maddie

      I think you just blew my mind. Must go tell Michael this idea straight away.

    • jessie

      This is currently our plan. I like it because you can do in any direction you choose (ie: my male partner likes the idea of girls getting his name and boys getting my name, just to mix it up) and it would work for a same sex couple too. As both my partner and I have a major interest in gendered identities though, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the implications of using sex as any sort of marker. I’m not fully resolved on my feelings, but I like this plan for now. I think my partner is secrely hoping the child will take my last name though, because he opposes the tradition that assumes children take the father’s last name, and he does love proving points.

      In either case, we’re both keeping our last names but taking each other’s last name as a middle name in addition to our exisiting one, and will give our children the ‘other’ last name as a middle name as well. We’re doing this more to have last names on our identification for children or important things, rather than for sentimental reasons. While I like the unified family name thing, I’ve built up a reputation with my name, and it’s extremely unique in a surprising way. Also, we’ve been together for so long, and I’ve considered so many of these years ‘marriage’ that it would feel odd to me to change it now… I’m already dealing with marriage feeling performative and I think changing my name would seem even more so. Maybe if we’d married within a few years of dating, I’d feel more inclined for one of us to change.

  • I very much dislike my husband’s last name. HE dislikes his last name. He’s open to changing his name but is afraid of the reaction he’ll get from coworkers and family. Let’s face it…we live in a society where a man changing his name to his wife’s name is a metaphorical castration. He wanted to perhaps change both of our names to something completely different, but it seems like the paperwork and process would be a pain, especially since he works with the government and all of his clearances are under his current last name.

    It’s not easy. I’d like my children to have my last name, but I’m not sure if he’ll be as crazy about the idea. I wish that no matter what we choose, we wouldn’t have to explain ourselves or our decisions, but of course anything outside of the norm requires explanations.

    • Amy

      I used to feel the same way. I have so many reasons for wanting to keep my own surname and it gets tiresome having to explain to people those reasons.

      Now when people ask if I’ll ever change my last name, I say, “no.” When they ask me why not, I say, “because I don’t want to.” End of story. If I don’t want to do something, then that should be a good enough explanation for someone not directly related to the situation… which includes everyone other than my man and me.

  • Allison

    I really have no idea what to do about this. The mister does not want to change his name, and I wouldn’t really ask him to since it’s his daughter’s last name as well. I like my first and last name together – they have similar consonant sounds and the same number of letters, and I want to keep it somehow. If I thought I could get people to tack on his name and use both last names I would do it, but I’ve seen coworkers try for the double-barreled last name, only to have everyone inevitably drop their name and start referring to them by husband’s name only within months. I’m also open to hyphenation, although it would give me a fifteen character last name, and probably screw up my records everywhere forever.

    What I know I do not want: I do not want to drop my name entirely. I do not want to be “The X Family” with him and his daughter, because adore her though I do, I’m not her mother and don’t want to masquerade as such. I realize a few people out there will feel this sounds terrible, but “parent” isn’t really part of my identity. I’m having enough trouble coming to terms with the idea of “stepparent”, so to be Mr. and Mrs. X and Child X would just be a bit too close for me. (Her mother kept her name upon marriage and still uses it, so mother and daughter have never shared a last name in their family.) But I still wouldn’t mind signaling a life change through name change.

    Basically, I’m either going to stick with my name the way it is, or hyphenate. Either one will be a bureaucratic pain in the butt in its own special way, especially in a conservative city where two-named couples aren’t common.

    The future mister is frustratingly neutral on the topic. He doesn’t want to change his (which again, I do understand seeing as how he already has a kid out there with the name), but he claims not to care whatsoever what I do with mine. We’re not planning on more kids together, so that’s a moot point.

    Augh. This is hard.

    • Amy

      Can you tack on his name on the end without a hyphen?

      So instead of Allison Hername-Hisname, it’s just Allison Hernamehisname.

  • PA

    Excellent article, wonderful timing, amazing topic!

    I’d like to echo the other commenters and say that I feel like I can’t talk with my friends about this: they all come down very strongly on the side of, “don’t change your name, you really shouldn’t, you’ll regret it.”* I really *like* my name, but unfortunately I’m inherently contrary and I really dislike people telling me I have to do something one way (in this case, keep my maiden name).

    What helps for me is to understand that if I were in my fiance’s place, I’d feel a little bit hurt, at a loss, like maybe I should take it personally. “Is this you saying you’re not proud to be with me, that you don’t want the world to know we’re married? My name is pretty cool, why don’t you want it?”

    It is completely valid for me (for all of us) to say, “Wait a moment. Why are we all assuming that I’LL change MY name?” But it helps for me to think of it from my fiance’s point of view, which is – as much as it is reflecting patriarchal and sexist norms – really not actively disrespectful, just *surprised.*

    I haven’t made a firm decision yet, so this is just a collection of my thoughts.

    *Also, most of the friends who don’t have a strong opinion are also not changing their names because they’re making their careers in scientific research and want to keep a cohesive record of their research.

  • Sharon T-B

    Well here is another story to throw a wrench in discussion….

    My mom (THE mom from the DC book event) kept her maiden name, Bloom. Apparently that made my father’s mother very nervous and she asked what the kids’ last names would be. They hadn’t planned on having kids, but when they changed their mind and did have my sister and me, they gave us my father’s last name Tewksbury. Well, fast forward 11 years and I am in fifth grade and I suddenly come into consciousness and decide that the naming thing is unfair. My parents have different names, why shouldn’t my name reflect both of them?

    So I start using both last names. When I move to a new school for middle school I make it official, going to court and having to pay $2 to have it changed legally.

    So with all this careful thought you are giving the decision now, I want to let you know you can always change it (though it is a bigger hassle as an adult). And no matter what name you give your kids, they might decide to change it.

    One more note on the consequences of having a hyphenated last name: a lot of frustration around forms that don’t include a hyphen or have a lot of space; assumption that you are unmarried and your parents are divorced; assumption that you are Hispanic; questions like “but which one of these is your last name?” (usually when someone is trying to find something that is alphabetized by last name); a lot more junk mail and confusing credit reports; awesome googalibility!

    • Cass

      Omg, your mom is APW famous!

    • SMW

      Let’s not forget the bonus of the junk mail: You always know when it is JUNK mail if one of us gets something with the wrong last name. :)

      And on a more preachy note: getting holiday cards address to “Mr. and Mrs. His Name” lets me know to put the sender on my “eyebrow-raised” list. :)

      • ‘Mr and Mrs His Name’ has led to my purchasing a new address stamp with our full names to subtly remind people of their social faux pas.

      • Cass

        Hell yes. There are several people from my husband’s family on my permenant raised eyebrow list.

  • I think you are sorely underestimating the awesomeness of “McRuss.”

    …because if there is a more perfect early-nineties-high-school-harmless-stoner-dude movie character name, well, I’d like to know what it is.

  • This topic came up this weekend, actually. One of my newly engaged friends is planning on taking his last name because she wanted their whole family to have the same name. Meanwhile, another one of my friends says if she ever gets married, she’s keeping her long, unpronounceable last name since she’s had it for 27 years and has earned it.

    My mother is getting married this summer and she’s changing her name, which will be utterly confusing for me. Upon her divorce, her logic was that it wouldn’t make sense to go to her maiden name, since no professional acquaintances in our city knows her by the name, but now it wouldn’t make sense to keep her ex-husband’s name while starting a new family with her new husband.

    I’m hesitant about having kids at all, but I do like the tradition that if a child’s a boy, then he gets the father’s name and if a child’s a girl, she gets the mother’s name. Doesn’t work for same-sex couples as easily, though.

  • Tristan

    I took my wife’s last name, but more specifically, I took her professional last name, which was her mother’s maiden name. To complicate matters, I changed my name legally before the wedding, and then she “took my name” in the marriage paperwork… to get her own (chosen) name. Whew!

    • Emily BK

      That’s awesome!

  • Ali

    I am engaged to a Colombian and we live in Colombia. I always assumed I would take my husband´s last name, but did feel a little sad leaving my last name which is a huge part of my identity.

    However my fiance thinks it would be weird for me to take his last name as most Latin Americans do not do that. I´ve tried to explain to him why I would want to take – just so he has an understanding of cultural reasons for doing it. He has said I can do it if I really want to, but the paperwork involved definitely deters me. He also said people would think I was his sister if I took his last name.

    I was a little dissappointed not getting to order a hanger with Mrs…… whatever on it, but I think Im actually happy and cool with it now.

    Our children will take both our last names and that is used for all official paperwork and identification.

    • Hello from Colombia as well! I might ramble a bit, but it is fascinating how name changes are so different and yet have much of the same impact regardless of the culture. This will go on a bit about naming culture in Latin America, so feel free to skip down if you don’t consider it of interest…

      As far as I am aware, we don’t really have much of a choice regarding our names in Latin America, and I don’t know if that is good or bad… It is assumed that you will keep your maiden name and when needed, will tag a “OF husband’s-last-name at the end”. While simplifying, when I look into it with my feminist glasses, it does have a feel of chattel, that we are property of our husbands. So whenever people call me “Señora de Ruiz” (my husband’s last name) I reply “oh no, he’s Mr. Rincón”. But obviously, in the legal sense, both of us have our last names.

      If we have children, they’ll probably be His last name My Last name if they are born in Latin America. If we live in the US it will mean that sometimes they will assume that our kids’ last name is in fact a middle name, and the maternal last name is the actual last name, and it gets messy when all IDs show slightly different names. Other times they will just drop my last name.

      To make this a bit longer, there is a downside to the mother-father last name tradition, because it enables people with prejudices to have an easier time judging people on their last names: children born without a father who recognizes them as their own use either their mother’s last name doubled up, (Rincón Rincón for example) or use both of the mothers names (Rincón Parra). But doubled up last names come with a certain stigma. The other case where names are doubled up are if cousins get married, even if second or more removed cousins, so this could give problems to a child if people decide to judge on the fact that perhaps his parents were related, or he was born out of wedlock. And if the child takes on the mother’s last names, well, he’ll be confused with a sibling and not a child, and a great enough age difference would point out to the same situation.

      sorry for rambling, but I find this topic fascinating!

      • Fascinating!

      • Ali

        Oh yeah – I never thought of that. Names are definitely a big deal and people can go through all types of judgements about you – where you are from and how important your family is. I´ve had a Colombian coworker even ask me my boyfriend´s last name obviously to make judgments- and she wasn´t even ashamed to do it! Sometimes I have even told my bf my students´ last names and he will tell me what part of the country the family is from and he is almost always right!

        There are some students at my school with the double last name. I always just assumed that their parents randomly both had the same last name – never though of it in terms that it could be an absent father.

  • Can we assemble some sort of list of feminist options around name issues? Something that couples could reference when debating this? As in, this:

    Options for name changing:
    -Everyone keeps their own family name
    -Person A can take Person B’s name
    -Person B can take Person A’s name
    -Both individuals can become People A-B or people B-A
    -Person A becomes A-B and Person B becomes B-A
    -Both people can choose a new, blended name
    -Both people can choose an old, recycled family name
    -Flip a coin to decide
    -Decide to keep each person’s family names professionally, but switch one or both people’s names legally
    -Decide not to deal with it until you have kids (if you want to)
    -Change it down the road sometime
    -Keep names, give male children a patrilineal family name and female children a matrilineal family name
    -Same as above, but flipped

    • Nicole

      Emailing this to myself now! My FH and I have barely begun discussing the options, and having a list of options like this will be super helpful.

    • Jennie

      Don’t forget there is always the option to choose a completely new name too. I had some friends who did this while moving their original last names to middle names and then adding the new, agreed upon last name. They love it!

  • Miriam S-T

    The conversations about names always get to me. I’ve had a hyphenated last name all my life. My parents each kept their names, so my brother and I had a different (and unpronounceable and impossible to spell) last name from both of them.

    Growing up, I couldn’t wait to change my name. But now, getting married in less than 4(!) months, the idea of changing my unique crazy name is harder to swallow. My brother and I are the only ones in the world that have this last name–it feels weird to just give it up. I can’t add another hyphen, because that would just make things crazy, so at the moment I’m leaning towards keeping it, which my fiance is totally supportive of and happy about.

    But the kids last name issue is still out there. We’re leaning towards giving our kids his last name, but it’s not definite. It’s a little hard to realize that we won’t be the “____ Family,” but rather dad and kids with one name and mom with something totally different.

    • I’m hyphenated, too, and I have this same thing. My brother and I are the only ones in the world with our nutty last name. I’m planning on keeping mine, but I’ve decided that we’ll use my fiancee’s last name for the kids. Part of it is that my name is so long and hers is so short. Part of it is that she has one cousin (on both sides) and I have twenty — my family is going to be hyper present in our kids’ lives regardless of what their last name is.

      I’m with you on the kids issue, though. I am going to be W-W, and my wife and the kids will all just be D. So I expect I’ll just have to be pushy about using my name all the time. But I’m already doing that in my day to day, so I’m used to it (“No, not “W,” “W-W.”)

      Also: part of the deal with the kids getting her last name is that I get to pick first and middle names. She gets veto power, but for me, there is a lot of tradition and name importance that can be passed down that way, so it felt like a good trade.

  • Miriam

    My dude and I have come up with a number of solutions to this, but will wait to fixate until it becomes a pressing issue (in our minds, it’s not time-sensitive until kids are in the picture). This week’s solution is as follows:

    We each keep our last names. However, we choose a new common middle name. When the kids come along, our middle name becomes their last name. So we all have the same name, and we didn’t have to give up nuthin!

    • Love this idea!

    • Oh My Goodness!!! That might actually be a solution for me (whenever I have kids)! Wow, thanks for that idea!
      I want our children to have a different name to both mine and his last name. This would be a nice unifying tie.

  • I really love, love how there is so much to say about this topic; it totally shows that APW Way of Thinking (for yourself) about stuff instead of just automatically going with the flow, with convention.

    There are so many reasons to change or not, here’s mine: I took my hubby’s name because I feel in love with his family of origin, a big bunch of terrific people, and the name seemed to be a huge part of who they are, kinda like a clan — it just felt right to me to be part of it and I love that.

    • Yes! My last name clan is at best dysfunctional and thoroughly messed up from the Second World War. His family name clan comes without the baggage, and are such a lovely group of welcoming people.

      Although, if we went away from tradition and chose a new name, I would have voted to take his mother’s maiden name, because that giant clan are some of the best, most fun and welcoming people you can imagine. My maternal grandfather was the last of his name, and there is no clan left, so it never even occurred to me. (We will, however, be naming the baby after one of my maternal relatives, capturing some of my family history.)

      I guess my only true attachment to my last name is as a link to the larger family groups that surround us – a link to the names of people who love us. When I thought of it that way, it didn’t seem to matter as much what we took.

      That, and a passing interest in genealogy, which basically requires some form of codified naming system to research very far in the past.

      • Yes, the link to something larger! And the clan history/genealogy thing never actually entered my mind at the time but, in retrospect, I’m now thinking that has some weight, too. So many angles!


      This is how I feel.

    • Emily BK

      This is true even if you feel that way about your own family! My husband’s family is also a huge awesome clan, and seeing how his older sisters who changed their names are still 100% part of it made me feel more secure about changing mine. I really love my own family, and they’re a huge part of my identity, and I’m the first person of my generation to get married, while his sisters have been married almost 20 years and have kids; seeing how involved and present they are with the family that far down the line helped me realize that name changing isn’t necessarily a rejection of where you came from, even though it’s an acceptance of where you’re going.

  • AmeLeigh

    I had originally though that taking Mark’s last name wouldn’t bother me since I’ve already changed my last name (legally adopted by my mom’s 2nd husband) and he didn’t think it would be a big deal either. And then I had a major meltdown with tears and cuddles in bed that ended up with him, for the 1st time, having to defend keeping his own name. My name is way too long to hyphenate with anything and we want to have the same name. He had some very valid points on why he feels strongly about keeping his name (although it took him some time to wrap his brain around articulating those thoughts) and I’m ok changing my name now, I’m just shortening my last name to the cute part (Amante – lover in any language is cute!) and am going to use it as a second middle name :) I’m trying to get him to add it too (don’t you want to be lover with me?) but he’s still thinking about it. Added bonus, my sister who was saddened about me changing my name thinks this idea is great and is now super supportive.

    And on a side note, Mark has a sister who’s getting married this summer and they are both each keeping their names (I don’t know if they’ve had the kids name discussion yet) because she’s a high school teacher and refuses to be Mrs. Beaver. We also have a pair of friends getting married 9 days before us and he is taking her last name. I don’t know all of the reasons but it makes a lot of sense to me, he really doesn’t like his family and she is the only and last on her side.

  • Cass

    Oh, business.

    I kept my last name. I briefly entertained taking my husband’s last name purely because my last name is an unpleasant word which causes some interesting social situations, but I decided that was cop out for me. Plus I’ve kind of bonded wtih my terrible last name. I suggested my husband take my last name, but he politely declined. Neither one of us put a lot of value on our family sharing a name. We jokingly refer to our family as the my last name – his last name’s, but neither one of us include the other’s name in our own. We might have thought about doing it, but together our last names come close to making a Jewish slur so it kind of ruled that out.

    I don’t care about not having the same last name as our children. But like the author, I do care that the last name default for kids is my husband’s last name. I had sort of resigned myself to it happening because for serious guys, my last name caused SO MUCH MOCKING growing up, but I still bristle at the double standard. My husband is up for hypenating the potential kids last name, but again the Jewish slur thing makes it awkward.

    No easy solution yet, but I’ll keep puzzling.

    • I have spent at least thirty minutes trying to work out yours and your husband’s names based on your clues. It’s like one of those word problems that they used to give us in IQ tests.

  • Shawna

    I’ve taken my husband’s last name… but that’s an entirely different story. The thing I wanted to share is that my husband’s parents each kept their own last name and decided (before having them) that any male children would get dad’s last name and any female children would get mom’s last name. So, they ended up with two boys and one girl, and sure enough, my husband does not have the same last name as his sister, even though they share the same parents, who are still happily married. It’s a different option that I don’t hear often, even in liberal conversations about last names, so I just wanted to throw it out there.

  • Mayweed

    I think often men don’t really understand what the problem is with changing your name, because unless we push them too, they never have to think about doing it, and so never have to think about how weird it is to take this name that’s been YOU for your whole life and just throw it away

    And when you ask them to consider doing it, they (well mine, anyway) get very defensive and attached to their name – which is useful for helping them understand why it shouldn’t be a given that all married women do it.

    I don’t like the fact that men often win this argument by default, but to my husband, me taking his name was part of the commitment that is marriage to him, so I did it, because I love him and because I also get to keep my maiden name as my professional name. I also didn’t want our daughter to have a different last name to me. Sometimes I wish I’d fought harder for a compromise, but there it is.

  • Diana

    Wow! This is something I am bringing this to my contemporary fem theory course at Rutgers this semester because we have had a few heated argument over issues just like this! I really hope that this point of view can really help some of my fellow students understand the heart of feminism and the implications that social constructions have over such decisions in our everyday lives.

  • V

    I laughed out loud when I read “unpleasantly alliterative.” I use my middle initial as my first name – V. My new last name from my husband has five syllables and three v’s. Three v’s. And my first name is V. I’m still not used to it and it’s been a year since I parted with my easy-peasy-never-have-to-spell-it-out maiden name. It makes me jealous of my mother in law who is 20+ years past this awkward stage of settling into those five syllables. When will it roll of my toungue as effortlessly as it does hers?

  • E

    My mom, who got married in 1980, never changed her name, nor did any of her sisters, and I always assumed that I would do the same. Her last name is my middle name, which I hated when I was growing up because a) I had to share it with my sister and b) it’s a fairly common boy’s name. (“Whyyyyyy couldn’t you have given me something pretty and girly like Esmeralda?”) I love my full name now–I’ve never met someone I wasn’t related to who shared my last name, and it’s awesomely Irish. It also is nicely alliterative with my first name. Someone once told me that I had a movie star name.

    So things seemed completely straightforward until a couple of years ago, at which point I was already pretty certain that my now-fiancé was it. I went for a hike with my mom and she told me that she was thinking of changing her name to my dad’s as a 30th anniversary present. She said it had always kind of bothered my dad that they didn’t share a name. Worse, she said that it had always bothered HER that she didn’t have the same name as her kids. My mom is pretty well-known in our community, and when there would be graduation announcements or whatever in the paper people often didn’t know that we were her kids. She also pointed out that she and my dad had been a family for much longer than she was ever really a part of her dad’s family, in the living-at-home sense anyways.

    In another twist, after deciding to change her name, telling my dad she was going to….she still hasn’t.

    I have no idea what FH and I will do. He’s set on keeping his name, including the middle one, and I don’t particularly want to change mine. But the kid argument definitely gets me.

  • pippip

    I get so jealous when I hear about a dude readily taking his wife’s last name. [/embarrassed to admit]

  • Cassandra

    Every time this topic comes up, I cringe. I’m not able to make this decision!

    I have my father’s last name, and my daughter has my last name – it begins with “C”. My partner has a hyphenated last name (his mothers-his fathers) which is “C-C.” My daughter and I currently reside in a province that doesn’t allow name changes from marriage (but in a country that does, overall). We are getting married in a state that DOES allow name changes. But if I change my name on my marriage license, I can’t come back and use it to change my personal information, nor my passport – until I move to the US.

    I’m not attached to my name, except in that it’s my daughter’s last name too. I’d be content enough to keep my name and hers and leave it alone, but we’d like more children in the future and I’d like our kids to share a last name, rather than for them to feel separate from one another (and in my experience, for siblings, having different last names does sometimes cause an issue). We can’t triple hyphenate all our “C” last names- I’d be Cassandra MiddleName MiddleName C-C-C. Headaches!

  • H.

    I like that I hear so many other women saying that it’s not just the wrestling with the name change thing, but the fact that their FH’s don’t usually even NEED to consider this like we do. It’s that assumption, that even some of the most progressive men, have. I’m not super attached to my last name, and he is very attached to his, but I don’t want to change my name (he’s ok with that) because Me HisLast dose not exist yet and I have degrees and publications under MyLast. I like what comes up when people google Me MyLast.
    But when it comes to kids, they will have HisLast, and I feel like I’ll be the odd one out. I know he’ll never change his name (to anything) but I think I will talk with him about this frustration that he has never had to even consider it…he doesn’t spend time thinking about what to do, or writing comments to blog posts about it. He doesn’t browse the internet for solutions or stay up nights wondering if people will think you’re not actually your future kids “real” mother.

    Thanks for these posts!

  • Sherri

    This is pretty timely. My husband, whose name I do not share, is having some outpatient surgery done right now, and every other couple in the waiting room is being addresses as “Peters Family” etc. whereas I’m being addressed as, “Oh, are you with him?”


  • One accidental compromise we made is actually about kids first names. I changed my last name to his when I got married and did it without much angst. Choosing names for this baby, however, caused much *much* more discussion. (Names are hard! We’re marking someone for LIFE with whatever name we pick! Pressure…)

    Anyways, we looked hard at our family trees, and discussed various family names, and immediately rejected most of them. (Herman, Bernard, Elmer and Agnes were all lovely people, but those names have have not stood the test of time…) In the end, and don’t tell my family because the names are still a secret, we’ll use my grandmother’s name if it’s a girl and my grandfather’s name if it’s a boy. So the baby will carry his family name, but will be named after my family. It may not be a perfect situation, but damn if knowing that our little one will carry the name of someone I love makes me happy.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    So this is kind of weird. When we were first married, I was pretty ambivalent about the name change. It was important to him and not so important to me so I just changed it. We are expecting a child and I always knew our kid would have his last name. Again, because it’s important to him and that I don’t really care. Or so I thought. Three years in I am finding that now I DO care, not in a “Oh God why did I change my last name” way but in a “I’m so glad to share his last name” way. Which is so weird for me. I have no idea how I got here or even why. And I cannot believe I am about the write the following but it’s true….

    While I do not think in any way sharing a last name makes a family, I am finding that I do feel more unified and solid as a team because we do share the same name. So perhaps there is something in a name. I do not know. I will check back in with this issue in 10 years.

    • We were the opposite – it meant a lot to me to keep my name while my husband didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other – but I would say that our result was the same. A year and a half in, we’re each other’s family. We’re a unit and a team. I would venture a guess that if I’d changed my name, we’d still feel the same way.

      At this point, I tend to wonder if we make the whole issue out to be a larger one than it is. I think these conversations are really good and necessary ones to have, for both couples and society as a whole, but for me, the day-to-day reality has been that our respective last names have had very little impact on how my husband and I relate to one another and the strength of the marriage we are building.

  • PAF

    We struggle with this so much. Neither of us has changed our name, and unless we have children, this is swell and dandy (our rule is that when making reservations, we always use our own first + the other’s last just for kicks). However, if a child is in our future, it sort of kills me for that child to have his name by default. Yet, I feel slightly guilty hyphenating a kid’s name, since everyone I meet who grew up with a hyphen hated it (although I do think that society is changing in this regard, and that it won’t be such an inconvenience for the next generation). We have toyed with combining names, but any name combo sounds horrible and we both have good names independently. I have also toyed with my last as the kid’s middle, but again, why does he get to pass on his last by default? Thankfully, we have time to make this decision, but all we can think of at this moment is to shrug, and say that it’s just not fair any way you slice it! We both sort of like the idea of girls having my name and boys having his, but it’s hard for me to imagine how I would have felt with a different last name than my siblings and if we’d be traumatizing anyone in the process.

    • Steph

      I feel like I could’ve written this. It’s like every solution I come up with has some big downside. Boo.

    • mel

      I loved my hyphenated name growing up! And I still do! Even though my name is french and no one gets it right. There are some of us happily-hyphenated out there. When I get married, I am definitely not changing my name. I love it too much.

      (However, I should clarify that in reality, my Mom’s last name is my middle name. So I guess I chose to hyphenate myself, in childhood. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much, because it was my own decision. I wish that my legal name was actually hyphenated and I’m considering changing it so that my legal name matches the name I use.)

  • Kess

    This is more of a question than story, but I know a lot of people in academia keep using their maiden names because that’s the name they began publishing under.

    However, I’ll receive my undergrad degree before we would get married (we’re in that pre-engagement stage, where we know it’s coming down the line and we’re talking about it, but not quite ready yet – name changing has come up a few times) but it’s quite possible I would not receive a grad degree before marriage or have any publications before marriage. Would it possible to change my name to his but keep using my maiden name as what I published under? I realize that most places want that name to be the same as on your diploma, and I do intend to make my last name my middle name, so maybe that would work?

    Basically, if you haven’t published yet or received a grad degree under your maiden name, can you change your name, but still use the maiden name for publications and the like?

    • This happens quite a bit.

    • Michelle

      You can go by his last name socially, but officially have your maiden name. I did this for a while and got tired of the mix ups when people made arrangements for us and then they needed my id.. and the names don’t match…crap. More and more things require ID these days so those issues are bound to come up more.

      I have my degrees and publications under my maiden name, and then married and moved my maiden name to the middle, and on my resume or CV I always right out First Middle Last so that when they get to the publications section etc, its pretty obvious.

  • Michelle

    I had my degree and had been published under my maiden name, so it needed to hang around somewhere. But the conversation just got lost in amongst other details of wedding and moving and new job etc, adn around our first anniversary, he brought it up and pointed out that he understood that historically its a very gender skewed tradition, but to him it was a part of us beginning life as a family and not just a couple. He didn’t want to push it on me, but he wanted his opinion to be incorporated too.

    I feel like sometimes we get so lost in the feminism side of the argument that often we forget that historical background aside, it might be very significant to our significant other.I ended up moving my maiden to the middle and having all the paperwork ready to go in case I wanted to change it back. But for us, it really was one of those things I thought would be a technicality but has actually had an effect on my perception and feelings of our life.

    What REALLY annoys me though, is that in several states (Florida in particular), if the guy wants to change his name, it takes a COURT ORDER (a la, you have to go argue your case in front of a judge and the judge gets to decide whether or not he’s allowed to change his name)!! WTF!?

    • In my province, to change my middle name, you also have to go in front of a judge. And pay $500. To change your last name, after getting married? You just go down to a registry office and 5 minutes later it’s done and a new driver’s license is in the mail. It’s bizarre, the random rules that different places use.

    • occhiblu

      “I feel like sometimes we get so lost in the feminism side of the argument that often we forget that historical background aside, it might be very significant to our significant other.”

      I think, in that case, the significant other can change their name.

      If one partner says that having a “family name” is super-important but that person is not willing to be the one to change their name, then I have trouble believing that the conversation is about “feeling like a family” rather than “showing that the family-name-wanting partner has more control.”

      (Which is not to say that partner has to be the one who ultimately changes their name, but if they’re not even willing to seriously *consider* it, then I think it’s more of a power-play than a togetherness thing.)

  • Beb

    Great post. I struggled with this issue a lot and now, finally, three months before my wedding, I’ve made peace (genuinely) with changing my name to his. This peace-making was proceeded by much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes (almost) because I felt that he didn’t totally get why changing my last name was such a big decision for me, and I was frustrated that he wouldn’t even consider for a second changing his. Eventually, after much discussion, he came to see why this was such an angsty decision and he began to say (and mean) the things I wanted him to say from the start: “You should do what’s right for you and I completely respect and embrace any choice you make about your name. Seriously.” Ah! Knowing that he understood and was not pressuring me to change my name suddenly made it much easier for me to choose to take his name. So now I feel good about it because it’s MY choice and not something I felt nudged towards in the name of “tradition” or “family unity” or whatever. His last name is also nice and, like mine, is five letters long and a common word. So, not too big of a leap. Anyway! Thanks for this post and good luck with your name journey.

  • Hannah

    The name issue was one that I dreaded in the early stages of wedding planning. DREADED. And yet when we finally discussed it, my fiance’s response was “I just assumed you’d keep your name.” Which was a huge relief. I’m in academia and just felt like changing my name after 60+ publications would be hard. But if I’m really honest, it’s also somewhat wrapped up in being my parent’s only child. Now I’m realizing that we haven’t figured out the kids thing, but I think I’d be okay with them having his name. Must ponder some more….

    • Yes, I am an only child too, and my dad was too, and my dad’s dad had a sister (who changed her name)… this definitely influences my thinking a lot.

  • occhiblu

    I did not change my name. Husband is very sure children will get his last name, I’m not willing to cede that. Right now it’s still hypothetical, though. I do think alternating last names for the kids would probably be fairest, though.

    And two random points:

    * As an oldest sibling, this was not an issue for me, but I know that my younger brother *hated* being compared to me throughout his school years by teachers. I’d imagine that siblings having different last names could be a definite plus in this regard.

    * I’d really love it if we as a society could start using the term “birth name” rather than “maiden name.” “Birth name” is gender neutral (both men and women have birth names) and therefore emphasizes that women aren’t assigned some sort of throwaway name while men have real names. Plus, I ain’t no maiden! :-)

    • In Canada, the government forms I was filling out yesterday requested both my legal last name, my birth last name, and my mother’s birth last name. So it does happen officially up north!

  • nataliiek

    Our decision was made easier because while my husband did originally consider taking my name (although sadly he was less sure after really thinking about how friends and family would react), what ultimately made our decision easier is that he was the last person in his family with his last name (his father was an only child and his sister has said she will take her partner’s name). We thought it would be nice to carry on the name instead of letting it phase out. It’s also fun to think we’re the only Hislastnames besides his parents.

  • OK, I love APW, but every time the issue of name-changing comes up, it makes me a little upset. I feel like it’s never presented as a valid point of view that some women WANT to change their names upon marriage. It seems to always be presented on this site as a choice women make under duress. For me, changing my name to my fiancé’s is a decision I have never questioned. Every choice is a valid choice, even following tradition and changing your name.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      It’s interesting to hear you say that, because in my learning-that-last-name-changing-is-a-thing-people-think-about position, these APW name forums are the first place I realized people actually cared a great deal about choosing their new/old last names, and I appreciate them for exactly that reason. If not for these, I would have (past tense, don’t flame me peeps!) thought people who changed their names were one type of woman, and people who didn’t were another, just based on stereotypes, and it’s been edifying to see that many people make strong, serious, thoughtful choices with regards to their last names. Like yourself. :)

    • PAF

      I really don’t think there is backlash here against people who choose a name change. The issue at hand is having the right to choose (which you did, as was best for you), and many of us are certainly frustrated with the LACK of appropriate choices for us. For me at least, the name changing discussions are my favorite because I feel like I have people to bounce ideas off of, and that I might read something that helps me with my own struggle to make a decision about a family name. I think the overall desire here is to have others talk about what decision they have made and why, so that others can identify with it (or just respect it). Your decision to take your partner’s name (with a clear rationale behind it) may inspire another to realize that he/she actually wants to do the same!

      • Umpteenth Sarah


    • Maddie

      Well, I think part of the reason that story hasn’t been written is because it would be very short! If you made a decision that was easy for you and you are happy with, then that’s awesome. But that also means that you don’t really need our help navigating those waters, whereas folks who are struggling with the last-name decision could probably benefit from hearing about other people’s difficult choices.

      Also, sometimes I think APW is such a progressive and accepting place that it can be easy to forget that one of the purposes of this site is to give a voice to the minority. Chances are that if you took your partner’s name and it was a pretty easy decision, there is plenty of content available online for you, but not so much available to those of us facing a decision like Rachel’s.

      • “Well, I think part of the reason that story hasn’t been written is because it would be very short!”
        As soon as I posted my comment, I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll write a post about my choice,” and then realized this exact thing.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t get that feeling about APW, Molly, but I will most likely be taking his name. We’re very traditional, in a place that likes to “escape” tradition. For us, my taking his name is counter-sub-cultural, like Meg getting married amidst NYC theater society was counter-sub-cultural.

  • Courtney

    In the process of deciding, I suggested to my husband – who goes by his middle name – that he change his name too. He could drop his first name (that he doesn’t use anyway), move his middle to his first, use my last as his middle, and keep his last name. I would do the same (move my last to my middle then add his last name).

    Simliar to the post, he asked to think about it for a while. A few weeks later, I brought it up again and he admitted he was struggling with the idea of what changing his name would mean – to his identity, to his sense of self, etc. This was a fantastic (and unintended) side effect for me, because it wasn’t really until that point that he understood why, “Just change your name, what’s the big deal?” was sort of offensive. After that, he fully supported whatever choice I made because he understood the emotional connotations behind it.

    I made the decision not to decide until after the wedding; I figured that it would sort itself out after a while. What I found – and this completely surprised me – was that I didn’t feel part of a family unit with a different last name than him. Something about it – for me, and this is entirely personal – didn’t make us feel “complete” until we had the same last name. What’s funny is that I don’t view other people with different last names as less of a unit, so I was surprised I felt this way about myself.

    • Kamille

      I may just try your same suggestion on my fiancé. He goes by his middle name because he is a junior and has had no relationship with his father for over 20 years. Still, he is very insistent about me taking his last name and he is very attached to it.

      My disclaimer: I’m not opposed at ALL to taking his last name, in fact I’ve decided already that I will. BUT, I do want him to at least understand that just as he has created an identity for himself using his full name, I have worked hard to develop an identity for myself in my career using MY full name.

  • Lea

    I will change my name to my husband’s when we marry. For me it’s partially that my parents assumed I would eventually lose my last name when I married, and so my they named me accordingly. My dad recently said that my name says “I am my sisters’ sister.” in a way that no one else’s does, because all of our first names and middle names sound alike. And so if I drop the last name, I’ll still be connected to my birth family that way.

    Plus my maiden name is more common as a first name (and it’s gender neutral!) so right now I am toying with naming my first born after my maiden name whether they are a girl or a boy. I think it’s a little hard on my father because his family name is dying out with my generation, but I think overall my family was resigned to that over two decades ago, so who am I to bring it back?

    And less importantly, my partner’s name is spelled unusually, so I will be the only person with my name that exists on the internet (which is not true with my current name).

    • One tiny little plus of the name change for me was going from one of like 4 Morgan OldLasts in the world the the very truly only Morgan NewLast ever. I mean, it wasn’t a huge thing, but I do think it’s neat to be that special of a snowflake. :)

  • I got married 2 1/2 weeks ago… and haven’t changed my name yet. I was almost unsure what to type in the ‘Your Name’ comment box. Ha. But, I am going to change it… to his.

    I love my last name. It’s short and snappy and memorable. My husband’s last name is decidedly less glamorous. It’s pronounced ‘wine-er’ but people mispronounce it as ‘weeeeener’ all the time.

    He actually brought up the idea of keeping mine. But, his father passed away several years ago and his mother has since remarried. I felt that his name was a legacy from his dad and I didn’t want to take that away. And in the end, a name change was really not that big of a deal to me.

    I respect and love him enough to face the prospect of being called Jenna Weeeeeeeeener (uh, that’s phonetic spelling) at the grocery store and doctor’s office for the rest of my life. I’m okay with that. It might not be short and snappy anymore, but it is definitely memorable.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I was just thinking about how very little I thought about this issue, and I realized why — in my upbringing, all adults (and children) went by their first names. This was partially due to my school (first named teachers — not as weird as it sounds… when I had to call the occasional teacher — at another school — Mr. Blah or Ms. Blah, I would choke on it and feel ridiculous every time) and the subsequent hippie-esque community that sprung up around it, but for me, families were never “the Joneses.'” They were always just “Megan’s family” or “Judy and Tony’s house,” which kids said the same as adults. I have very little idea of what those families last names were, but it was clear who was a family, so I must concur: in my experience, from my community, names did not families make.

    So, not surprisingly, when it came time to my “decision,” it was a non-decision. Didn’t care to, didn’t have to, no one else cared, done and (not) done. It is fascinating to hear all of the different thoughts around this issue, and makes me really realize how choices we never make (like the one where I was brought up in a first-name only community) very much affect our life-long attitudes about social norms.

    • OH MY GOD. Emily and Ian’s house. How have I never THOUGHT of that? I’ve been jealous of those little last name plaques for months!

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Ha! It’s a little bit more wordy, but I’ve always found last names a little formal anyway. First names for the win! Plus, I’m Sarah, and have never been Ms/Mrs/Miss anything, so there we go.

    • MinnaBrynn

      Growing up, I referred to all of my friends as FirstName LastName when talking about them. Now, I often find myself saying HerFirst HerMaiden HisLast (all my friends changed their names). It probably came from having to clarify which of the many Katies, Lindseys, or Jons I was talking about… Despite my use of everyone’s full name for most of my life, I have always wanted to be just MyFirst. I love the idea of a community built on first names.

  • revedehautbois

    I grew up with a hyphenated last name, so I got this question long before I’d even considered getting married. If we weren’t planning on having kids I think we’d just each keep our name. As it is, I’m pretty sure I’ve decided to make a combination name from my hyphenated last names (Webster-Clark to Clarkster), use that as a middle name, and then hyphenate my current middle with his last for a new last name that our kids would then have also. I’m not sure if he’ll hyphenate his last name or not. My parents are fine with it, especially since my current middle name is actually my great-grandmother’s maiden name, so I’m still keeping a family last name in the mix.

    We’re not getting married until October, so we’ll see if my mind changes at all on the details, but I think it works out okay. (I firmly decided not to just take his last name when I looked it up online & found that someone with that name already exists. I’ve had a unique name all my life & I’m not going to give that up to get married, even if that’s a somewhat goofy rationalization.)

    • Unrelated, but I like right by an intersection in Chicago of Clark Street and Webster Street. You totally need to come to Chicago and take a picture on that corner!

      • revedehautbois

        I actually live in Chicago & have thus had a number of people say that to me, but I’ve never been. I’ll have to make sure to go before the name change. :)

  • Anna

    I had such a different experience: the tradition (now/recently) in Italy is to keep the original names. I, as an american woman, had considered changing, but when I told the future husband, he said: “you’re not my sister! why would you have the same last name as me?” So we kept our names, just like his parents kept theirs.

    • Steph

      I’d be interested to know how this tradition works with kiddos involved. Which last name do they get?

      Thanks for sharing! I love knowing that although we might see one thing as the “normal” or “traditional” way of doing things, these same stances are seen as out-of-the-norm elsewhere.

      • In Quebec, the woman legally must keep her birth name after marriage, and if there are babies it seems a lot of couples tend to give the baby the father’s last name, though the civil code says this: “Your child can have a single or compound surname. The child’s surname may not have more than two parts, which must be derived from your surnames. If you, the parents, each have a single surname, your child may be given either of your surnames, or both, preferably joined by a hyphen.”

  • This is such a timely post because I’ve been thinking about this lately. My husband and I have been married for almost two years and the question still doesn’t seem settled. His last name is Njoroge–the n is silent–and my last name is Threlkeld–said exactly like it’s spelled.

    I kept Threlkeld after a LOT of fighting over the issue. He felt like I was insulting him by not taking his name, and I felt insulted that he wouldn’t even consider taking mine. What made it even harder was the fact that in Kenya, there’s an entirely different last name tradition, not to mention it’s a bit more patriarchal.

    I’m glad that I kept my name for several reasons. There’s only one other person in my family to pass my last name on, and it’s not someone I’m particularly close with. I don’t feel like I’ve lost my identity, which is one of the main reasons I was so afraid of marriage in the first place. And of course, I’ve spent a lot more time with my last name than a Smith or a Jones. So much extra time spelling it out over the phone to customer service people, discussing its origin with people who asked, pronouncing it over and over so someone can try to learn it and still get it wrong. I never fantasized about marrying so I could change my name. My last name is a badge, a weird point of pride. I love it.

    That said, I would consider hyphenating if we have children. Threlkeld-Njoroge. What a mess. :)

    • Amy

      Your last name is awesome and unique, I wouldn’t rush to change it either.

      With that said, I am a Smith. We Smiths surprisingly go through a lot of B.S. name business as well (for example: people always use our name to signify something common and boring. Sad face) and I actually hold my super duper ordinary name as a badge of honour too! I love it everytime someone says, “Amy Smith… if that IS your real name…?”

      You share yours with only one other person in the whole world. I share mine with about 5 million world wide. We both still deserve to keep ’em for our very selves.

      • We’re in agreement about that! If you want to keep your name, you should keep it, no matter what your name is. :)

        That is fascinating, though. Everyone in my life has always had the attitude that my life would be much simpler with an easier to spell, easier to pronounce surname. I never thought that it would be just as much of an issue!

        Oh, and to clarify, there are plenty of Threlkelds in the world, even a couple of Emily Threlkelds. (One married Harold Ford, Jr. who was a pretty prominent Democrat.) I just meant that in my personal family line there are only two of us left.

  • Jessica

    I have so much to say about this! My husband had originally said he would take my name when we got married, but about six months out from the wedding reversed his decision. He didn’t care if I took his name or not, he just didn’t want to take mine. It came down to what I decided to do, since I was the one who really wanted one familial name (my husband’s siblings and stepfather have a different last name than he and his mother so the idea of two last names didn’t bother him in the slightest). We spent hours trying to come up with some good combination of the two last names and just couldn’t get it to work. I couldn’t make a decision, picking either option felt like I was betraying someone. I actually called my dad and asked him what I should do, since choosing my husband’s last name meant that my (and my father’s) last name would die out (he was the only son, and had three daughters- my last name was screwed). I eventually decided to hyphenate, only to be talked out of it by three people at the city clerk’s office when we went to get our marriage license. Now that we’ve been married nearly 5 months, hearing my first name with my husband’s last name no longer sounds strange, and I am secretly (guiltily) glad I did it. It gives us unity I feel. I still have my name on facebook as Jessica my last his last though. And I still have yet to be called “Mrs.” That’ll be weird.

    One thing that really offends me though- EVERY. SINGLE. CHRISTMAS. CARD we received this year was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy his last. Just because I gave up my last name, I don’t get a first name either???? And it was from people like our friends, not just an older generation who are used to doing that. It also sort of stung because I make it a point to NEVER address any letter that way to married people. I always put both people’s first names on the envelope, shared last name or not.

    • Gigi59

      Interesting that my mother’s generation (probably your grandmother’s) would assume that a card addressed to “Mary HisLastName” meant that Mary was divorced. That’s another piece of etiquette that hasn’t caught up with current usage.

      • Jessica

        when she’s sending things just to me, my grandmother makes a point to write “Mrs. Jessica his last” on the envelope. I just thought she was trying to get me used to the usage.

    • Oh my God I hate that! I will be changing my name to my fiancé’s, but you can be damn sure that I am keeping my first name and expect to be referred to as such.

      I should clarify: I’m totally fine with being Mrs. Newlastname, but Mrs. Hisname Hislastname is where I draw the line.

      • Jessica

        I’ve yet to receive a piece of mail addressed only to me as Mrs. Jeremy Hislast. Sh*t will hit the fan when that happens. Hopefully my family and friends are smart enough not to do that to me.

    • Miriam

      Oh God. My mother in law addressed our Christmas card like that, after she knew that we had a really hard time deciding what to do and that I have strong feelings about being addressed as mrs hisfirstname hislastname. I don’t know if she thought it was a joke or what, I refused to acknowledge it because I thought it was so rude.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Does anyone else think that wedding planning unreasonably influences name-changing decisions, which are really marriage planning decisions? By “wedding planning” I mean planning that one day (or few days) in which you have a ceremony and reception, and get married. By “marriage planning” I mean “planning for all the days after your wedding.”

    Name-changing seems to be unique in that while it’s a marriage, not a wedding, decision, unless you’re willing to take on some extra headaches, it must be made with the wedding decisions. Most marriage decisions (career plans, child rearing, etc) are made long before weddings and/or can be re-thought long after weddings. This one we make in the midst of roses-or-peonies, band-or-DJ. And because, as we so often discuss on APW, our wedding decisions are so influenced by “tradition,” we and the men we marry are more open to “tradition” in the name-change decision, when we’d never just blindly follow tradition in choosing our careers or parenting techniques.

    I say all this because before we started planning our wedding, my fiance seemed very open to taking my name. But now that we have so many conversations trying to figure out and follow tradition regarding the wedding, he sees the name-change thing as just part of that. I think.

    [Yes, we’re aware many wedding traditions really aren’t. Yes, we know we don’t have to follow tradition. But starting our thinking and planning from tradition, real tradition, is an important part of who we are, so it’s our decision, after careful thought.]

    • MEI

      I feel like this is so so true. The husband and I both kept our names. We decided this pretty early on in planning, and felt fine about it, but as the day drew closer I felt the pull of the little voice of “tradition” – OMG we won’t have cute little monogrammed favors! There will be no cute hanger with Mrs. Hislast! No one will be able to announce us in the “proper” way! These are the type of insane things you think because weddings are so steeped in our cultural imagination as having particular rituals and items, even if those rituals and items are of recent invention. Now that the wedding is 6 months in our past, I am more than pleased with our decision, and so happy I didn’t give in to that little voice.

  • Sarah

    My mother, who passed away 5 years ago, once explained that her only regret in marrying my father was giving up her name. At that time it had much to do with a car loan application, but the message was loud and clear to me. With marriage on the horizon we have discussed and are both changing our names… with hyphen… but the same. Mine, then his. ….. and only in that order because it’s so much easier to say.

  • Kmt

    We have been debating this issue for some time – he would like us both (and any children) to all have the same name as for him it shows the world that we are one family. However my name feels like an important part of my identity, particularly in my professional life. One option I am considering is using his name at home and my name at work but I’m not sure how this would work – would it be easier to keep all documents (passport, driving licence, bank account etc) in my name and just use his name with friends and family, or change everything to his name and just let work know that the name on my bank account has changed but I’d still like to use my own surname? Or is this just a pointless compromise?!? Has anybody had any experience trying to do this?

    • Rachel

      I don’t have any personal experience this, but my sister does – and it’s a bit of a headache. She would have some of her accounts in one name, some in another; some people would call her by one name, some by another. It became very confusing for her, and she felt like she had a kind of double identity. In the end, she moved her maiden name to her middle name and took her husband’s last name.

      That being said, if you feel strongly that it’s the right answer for you, go for it! Especially if you are able to draw clear lines between the two ‘identities.’ Even doing something as simple as renting a movie, you’ll want to be sure of which name to give! Different answers work for different people, but definitely consider whether or not you could handle the potential lack of clarity in going by two different names. Good luck!

    • Chris Bergstrom

      I’ve been married only a few months, but I’m trying something like this, only heavily-weighted towards my name. Basically I’m not changing it legally or professionally, but if people want to call us “The HisLasts” socially or informally, I’m happy to go by that, because I know it comes from a place of inclusion and welcome (it’s mostly his family that wants to call us that).

      I got the idea from a friend of mine, and so far we’ve had zero problems. If people are confused (only a couple have been), they ask, and I explain that I’m not changing it legally “for professional reasons” but if they would like to call us the HisLasts, that is perfectly awesome with us. I don’t think this solution would work for everyone (and we will have to make some tougher decisions once kids are on the horizon), but so far I feel like I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it too.

    • Many female celebrities do this.

      • DKR

        I worked with a woman who did this too – she was Captain Herlast for the Air Force, but Mrs. Hislast otherwise. We weren’t close, so I don’t know how she worked it with accounts/IDs/etc, but as far as I know it worked well for her.

  • My husband took my name. We really want kids and it was important to us that we all shared a name. I could go into the many many reasons he chose to do it but unsurprisingly it was his family who had a major problem with us, not him. Some of them still will not accept it but he wanted to do it. I would never have asked him, nor would he expected me to have taken his (although his entire family just assumed I would). His name, his decision. I could write a thesis on the reaction to it though!

  • TheArchaeologist

    My mom never changed her sister and I had a different name (actually we had momslast dadslast, but only ever went by dadslast)..and you know what? It didn’t really matter because she was mom…not mom momlast, but mom. and we were her kids and that was that. Name definitely does not a family make.

  • Shira

    I’m so happy to see that there are some men willing to change their names! I feel like while a lot of women today are keeping theirs, they still don’t expect their husbands to consider changing their own names (and neither does anyone else) . I don’t personally know a single case where the guy took the women’s name. I think this needs to start happening if we want to try and balance things out. Hyphenating is also good, in my opinion, as long as *both* partners hyphenate. I’ve already written about this and it’s been mentioned above, but our solution was that we both changed our names (we took his mother’s maiden name. Mostly because it was pretty). So far we’re happy :)

  • Hope

    My passport says “FIRST MIDDLE MAIDEN NAME. The holder is also known as FIRST MIDDLE MARRIED NAME.” It makes me feel like a rockstar and helps negotiate when I book things using or paying with a different name.

    • DKR

      That’s awesome. I’m curious to know what country you’re from – is it a US passport?

      • Hope

        It’s a UK passport.

  • I have an unusual name story. When my parents got married my mother (a feminist) changed her name to her middle name, and my father was already using his middle name as a journalist and his last name legally. So I took a hyphenated HerName HisLegalName.

    Aged 11 I decided I wanted to drop one name, I must have felt I had changed and grown in some way. I organically became Ms MothersName.

    Later I decided to change my last name completely. I chose a new last name for myself which I love. I’m an artist and an actress (and a feminist), and I would probably never change it again.

    When I have children it won’t make sense for them to take my name as it is personal to me only, not a family name. But I wouldn’t feel right honouring only his family. So I want to invent a new name for them, so that neither mine or my partners lineage takes priority. But I haven’t got there yet… who knows what’ll happen!

    I really enjoy being creative with names and I’m fascinated by their meanings. I’d always encourage people to do things differently.

  • I love these discussions; it’s so interesting to see the choices that others have made. I am a teacher in a high-poverty, urban area, and I like to make my students aware of the fact that I did not change my name. I am not trying to tell them that they have to do what I did, but I am trying to let them know that they can if they want. Many of them didn’t even know that keeping their names after marriage is an option (one even tried to convince me that I wouldn’t be legally married if I didn’t take my husband’s last name!).

  • Emma

    Thank you thank you thank you for not “giving in.”

    I understand that someone might want to take her husband’s name. And if it’s her decision, and it’s what she really wants, I’ll happily defend her even though I don’t think women should have to take their husbands’ names. If it’s her choice.

    But what makes me sad is when a woman struggles with the decision because she wants to keep her name but there is pressure to take his — from him, from his family, from her family, from society at large. And then she gives in, because it’s easier than fighting, and because our culture has set her up to feel like she’s the one making it difficult. So thank you for not giving in, for persisting until you found a solution you could live with. Thank you because every time a woman refuses to just give in, it makes it a tiny bit easier for the women who come after you.

    I’m keeping my name. My SO is pragmatic about it. He refuses to tell me whether or not it disappoints him (though I think on an involuntary level, it does), but always points out that it would be unfair for him to expect me to take his name when he wouldn’t take mine. Because he wouldn’t. So we’re going to have different names. And if we have kids, we’re going to fight over their last names. But at least we both understand that we’re not really fighting with each other, we’re fighting with a social construct.

    It is not the job of women to give in to social constructs. It’s the job of all people to take on constructs that treat some of us unfairly and find another way. The old name-change debate is not a “woman problem”, it’s a person problem. So thank you for holding your ground.

    /end rant

    • Carrie

      But what makes me sad is when a woman struggles with the decision because she wants to keep her name but there is pressure to take his — from him, from his family, from her family, from society at large. And then she gives in, because it’s easier than fighting, and because our culture has set her up to feel like she’s the one making it difficult.

      Yes. This, exactly.

    • occhiblu

      Yes yes yes yes yes. Yes. I get so frustrated when these conversations don’t acknowledge that taking the male name is easier because it’s part of the patriarchal tradition — and yes, women may be making that same choice for other reasons, but they’re still supported by that patriarchal structure.

      I would *love* to have the same name as my husband; it actually would make me feel like more of a family. But he refused to change his name. So… why should I be the one to compromise?

  • Ro'

    I always knew I would never want to lose my last name, but I have no problem taking on his. My struggle right now is to figure out:

    a) Whether I have to do it legally (change ALL THE DOCUMENTS) or just go by his name socially and continue to publish as myself,


    b) If I change it legally (All. The. Documents! AHHH!), do I make myLast into myMiddle, or tack hisLast onto myLast, thereby creating the NeverEnding-Last-Name-of-Doom at a whopping 21 characters (22 with the hyphen or space).

    The main things that concern me about option B, the full-on legal Really Doing It option, is that if I make myLast into myMiddle, it will eventually get lost in the shuffle of Character Limits and Speedy Signatures. I mean, won’t it just get abbreviated or left off of things like driver’s licenses where space is at a premium? Is it more likely both names would appear if they were both part of the “Last Name” category? Will 32 characters even fit on my passport!?? (Yes. myFirst + myLast + hisLast = 32 characters. I don’t even think that’s possible).

    So I have no idea what to do. I’d almost rather just not change it at all and be addressed as Mrs. Him socially, by voice and in private mailings, but I also think that’s just the easy way out and not really the best permanent solution. I just wish I knew what the material difference is between making it a middle name or part of a proper surname, and how that affects the permanence or presence of myLast in the long run.

  • Myra

    You say in this post that you are worried about being known as “The russells”.

    I haven’t changed my name, I have decided to let (future) kids take my husbands name, but with my name as a middle name (not hyphenated) and I too worry that when we are refferred to as a family name, it won’t be mine.

    We don’t have kids yet, but since we’ve been married we have referred to ourselves colloqially as a blended name, ‘the Collinsons’ (he’s Collins, I’m Robinson). “The Collinsons” is just used conversationally (eg “Are the Collinsons coming on Friday night?”) or say when friends send us a casual email (eg Hey Collinsons, would you like to come to dinner Friday night?). It has really caught on with our friends, it is easy when they are talking about us as a couple. When friends send us anything proper, say a wedding invite, they still use our actual names.

    It does work for those situations when we want to be known as “The Lastnames”, but still acknowledges that officially we as individuals still want to be Mrs Robinson and Mr Collins. I can’t think of situations where people are formally referred to as “The Lastnames” other than the situations I have outlined above – in conversation and in emails.

    I hope our made-up name is used when referring to us as a family when we have kids too.

  • Alex W. Rouse

    WE DID THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My husband and I flipped coins in our ceremony. The most objective way in deciding our name was this:

    1. Put two pieces of paper in a hat (1 for heads, 1 for tails) and we each choose one.
    2. Our junior groomsmen (my 6 yr old brother) brought each of us a coin.
    3. Our junior bridesmaid (my 9 yr old sister) brought my Maid of Honor and the Best Man mini-whiteboards.
    4. We flipped our coins, each time flipping a Head it was a point for my last name, each time flipping a Tails it was a point for him. We had previously decided first to reach 5 won.
    5. Our MOH and BM tallied up the points as we kept flipping, my siblings chasing down any coins dropped, and our friends and family cheering us on (and placing bets on who was going to win.)
    5. He won 6-2.

    I still feel awkward having a new name knowing that most people will never know that this is how we decided it…and they may just assume I just took his last name. But screw it, it was fun.

    Our wedding pics are here and you can see the coin flip in them:

    • Sounds like fun! :)

  • Wren

    My guy and I are in the pre-engaged phase, so we’ve broached the subject on name change. He comes from a traditional Italian family, where it’s assumed I’d take his name, but in high school and college I stopped using my first name, so I’m just MyLastName. We can’t blend or hyphenate because it would sound like Zamboni, rigatoni, or something equally as ridiculous. I am not a pasta type, I’m MyLastName. I want to share an original name, because I want us to belong to each other, and not one partner’s family, but the traditional Italian rears its head. Any ideas on how to get him to understand this is my identity? And thank you to those other posters who mentioned being a teacher. That is also something on my mind, as I need to like the name enough to hear it 100 times a day.

  • Z

    It’s always interesting for me reading name change discussions because I have such strong feelings about it, which in a way doesn’t really make sense — I come from a background where what I want to do (i.e. retain my surname after marriage) lines up perfectly with cultural convention, so there’s nothing really to angst about. But I think it’s because for me, my decision to keep my surname is a profoundly traditional choice; it’s what my mother and grandmother did, and it irks me when people in the Western country I currently live in assume that their tradition of surname-changing upon marriage applies across the board.

    To a certain extent my decision is an assertion of cultural identity. It’s just a plus that it happens to match up to what I want to do. :)

    We haven’t decided what we’re doing about kids’ names yet, but I’ve made it clear to my fiance that it’s not taken for granted that they’ll take his surname. If they do, though, I’m not worried about the prospect of having a different name from my kids — my mom had a different name from the rest of us and there was never any confusion about the fact that she was our mom. I mean, duh!

  • KH_Tas

    Last night, after reading the comments left thus far, I went and asked my guy (who grew up with a different last name to his mother) if he had ever had anyone not believe they were mother/son. He said that not only had no-one done that, he had never heard of anyone doing it to anyone else either. So if anyone does have this problem I’m guessing it’s a regional thing. We’re hyphenating for kids, so this isn’t an issue for us anyway.

    Re the ‘people might think we’re divorced’ thing, I actually don’t care if they do (we’re keeping our names as is). We can correct them, and divorce is not nearly as big a deal as it used to be (at least in Australia). Also, several members of my family have escaped terrible marriages through divorce, and I don’t want to demonise the thing that lead to their happiness by being terrified of being associated with it.

  • Thanks for writing this post. As a newish mother and a newish wife this post hits home.

    Soon after meeting my future husband, I began the the process of changing my name to my mother’s maiden name. Our relationship progressed very quickly and we began talking about a future together. After many LONG discussions, we came to the conclusion that both of us would change our names to My Mother’s Maiden Name- Husband’s Name. He said it was important to him that we all have the same last name. I stopped the process of changing my name, since I didn’t want to bother doing it twice.

    Fast forward to after the wedding. When I went to the Social Security Office to change my name, I was told I couldn’t do it without a court-order because the hyphen name didn’t contain my maiden name. Bummer.

    My husband balked at changing his name (in his Indian family it was a big enough deal that I didn’t change my Middle name to his First name, as well as changing my last name to his). Second Bummer.

    When our daughter was born almost a year ago, she was given the name we originally planned (My Mother’s Maiden Name – Husband’s Name). I still haven’t legally changed my last name. But, now this post has lit a fire under me…it’s time to “get her done.” So, next week my daughter will accompany me on my rounds as I change my last name to my Mother’s maiden name. I can’t wait.

  • Ms. Neptune

    Our equivalent of flipping a coin was to put a poll on our wedding website for guests to vote on our last names. (We made it very clear that the results are non-binding!) The options we offered were to each keep our names, both hyphenate, both take his, both take mine, blend both names, or come up with an entirely new name, and people can give suggestions for that last one. So far 37 people have taken the poll, and it’s been interesting to see the reactions. Each keeping our own names is currently winning, and both taking his name is in second place.

    Other commenters wrote about a coin flip being a good way to test what you really want, and the poll has been the same for me… initially his name was winning and I found myself routing for the option of both keeping our names, which clued me in to what I *really* want.

    Even more than helping us decide what to do, though, I’ve loved having the poll there just to open up the dialogue with our friends and family. Some people have surprised us by being more liberal on the issue than expected, and for others, I’m glad to be opening their eyes to the possibilities, by showing that there really is more than just one option.

  • tirzahrene

    I suddenly became hyper-aware of the fact that my future family would be the Russells, and I wouldn’t be a Russell.”

    My first marriage involved marrying into a pre-existing family. Five kids.

    I’m not particularly attached to my last name – it’s not one I find particularly beautiful, I don’t care for my father, I don’t really think of myself in association with my last name. But when I was getting married, I needed to NOT take the last name that everyone else had. I needed that symbolism that I was still ME, that I wasn’t going to just assimilate into the Borg collective (no, their last name was not Borg) and lose my uniqueness. I wanted to be very clear that I was bringing myself to the table and not becoming whoever I needed to to fit the family and not make waves.

    Ultimately it worked out much easier when we got divorced, too, but that wasn’t why I did it.

    Next time around I’m sure I’ll have the name discussion again. I’m still no more attached to my last name than I’ve ever been, and I’m no more interested in losing myself than before, but I think a major difference is that I’ve lived through enough that I don’t need a name to remind me that I am myself.

  • Rella

    Thanks for sharing your story. My husband and I have been pushing off our conversation about last names because it’s a hard one–I don’t feel like it should be assumed that I give up my last name, especially since I’m the last person in my family with this name (my brother past away a few year ago and my sister took her husband’s name).

  • Sharon

    Some folks in my boyfriend’s family have assumed that I will be taking his last name (addressing things to Mr. and Ms. Soandso instead of to our individual last names). I probably will, because I wasn’t too fond of my father and would rather not have his last name follow me unto my death, but the assumption somewhat annoys me.

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