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Hayley: What’s In A Name?

From "Why not?" to "Why?"

Choosing a Last Name | A Practical Wedding

I always just assumed I would take my fiancé’s name once we got married. Why not? I even tipsily asked, a few months pre-engagement, if it would be creepy to reserve a Gmail address with what I assumed would eventually be my married name. (Spoiler alert: yup.) The thought of keeping my name honestly hadn’t really occurred to me.

So what changed? I wish I could tell you I had some massive feminist awakening over the course of our nearly three-year engagement, but that’s not quite it. The question in my mind has just gradually shifted from, “Why not?” to a plain and simple, “Why?”

In trying to find an answer, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the Internet, combing feminist blogs and WIC-message boards alike in search of a solution that resonated with me. But aside from vague ideas about romantic symbolism and misguided arguments about “tradition,” no one has been able to give me a really great reason why I should change my name—at least, no reason that wouldn’t apply equally to my soon-to-be husband.

I don’t believe the argument that life will be substantially easier if we operate under one name. I’m sure there would be occasions when this causes confusion or inconvenience, but truthfully, we’ve been managing as a household with two separate last names for years with minimal trouble. The security guards at our apartment address us both using my last name; all our video rentals are done in my fiancé’s last name. We have a handful of bills under his name, and a handful under mine. The P.O. Box is registered under my name, but my fiancé’s mail always arrives without incident. I am just not convinced that the world is going to come grinding to a halt if we continue operating this way after we’re married. (And again, if “avoiding confusion” is the goal, this might weigh in favor of my husband and I having the same name—but it wouldn’t necessarily follow that this requires me to change my name.)

Similarly, I have a hard time even wrapping my head around the (distressingly frequent) remark that a woman keeping her own last name shows a “lack of commitment” to the marriage. Ladies! If keeping your last name demonstrates a lack of commitment, why on earth have we been putting up will all these apparently uncommitted, name-keeping husbands? I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s because we realize that keeping your name (or changing it, for that matter) has absolutely no correlation to the strength of your commitment to spend your life with another human being.

Perhaps the most common justification I see from women who keep their names is that they did so because they were already “established professionally.” That makes sense—it’s certainly understandable that changing a last name would involve an extra layer of complication when one is already established as Dr. Maiden Name, or works in a field where name recognition is essential. I’ve tried using this argument with a few people who have asked whether or not I’ll be changing my name. “Well, I do have this one publication I’m kind of proud of…” I hesitantly explained to one naysayer. “Where?” she practically sneered. “The Harvard Law Review?”

Well, no. Maybe by using professional accomplishments or name recognition as our justification for keeping our names, we’re perpetuating the idea that certain women have acceptable reasons for keeping their names, while others do not. In other words: hey lady, if you’re going to buck “tradition” and keep your name, you better have a damn good excuse for doing so.

I’m not buying the idea that I need to have done something particularly fabulous to warrant keeping my name. I like my name. It’s easy to pronounce, and it rhymes with Harry Potter. (You’d be surprised how many people comment on this.) It took me a long time to sort out how to write it in cursive, but I’ve finally got that covered. If you Google me, you’ll find a few minor publications, sure—but you’ll mostly find a handful of “did not finish” results from my brief flirtation with downhill ski racing, and a long list of near-last place finishes from road races I’ve done over the years. Nothing especially spectacular, to be honest, but I just don’t believe that carries much weight in the decision of whether or not to keep my name. After all, no one is asking my fiancé what he has done to deserve to keep his name.

I haven’t decided for sure yet whether I’ll keep my name or change it. Maybe I’ll keep my last name and take my husband’s last name as a middle name, or vice versa, as many of my girlfriends have done. My fiancé has mentioned taking my last as his middle, so we’d each have both names. This possibility delights me but is, alas, not permitted where we live (yet). (We tossed around the idea of combining our two last names into one name, and the result sounds like some kind of hybrid zoo animal. Obviously, I think this weighs in pretty heavily favor of combing our names. My fiancé strenuously disagrees.) I could also follow my sister’s example, and delay making any change until the wedding was long past and decisions needed to be made about what to call an imminently arriving baby. Who says you can only change your name in direct correlation with getting married?

But I do know this: if I keep my last name, it won’t be because I was published in a fancy journal, or because my name is so well-known that changing it would be detrimental to my “brand.” It won’t be because I’ve won races and accomplished amazing feats that will pop up when searching for my name on the Internet. I’ll be keeping my last name because I am me, and that is reason enough.

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