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Do I Have to Say My New Hispanic Surname Incorrectly Because He Does?

I don't like my options

Q:Dear APW,
I decided a long time ago that I would change my last name to my husband’s when I got married. Not because of society’s expectations but because I don’t like my last name. I have never liked it and the only reason I came to terms with having this last name is because I told myself it was not permanent.

Now I am in my thirties, getting married and finally the moment I have waited for all this time, to shed this unpleasant last name, has become complicated.

I am white. My fiancx is mixed and has a Hispanic last name. We live in a US state that is about 80% white and 15% Hispanic.

He was raised to say his last name wrong, on purpose, to make it easier for people to say. For example, if my fiancx’s last name were Carrillo he would say it phonetically as “Care-ul”, and if someone asked for his first and last name he would say “John Care-ul, C-A-R-R-I-L-L-O.” This embarrasses me. Like when Hyacinth Bucket introduces herself as “Mrs. Bouquet, B-U-C-K-E-T.” Everyone knows that is not how you say it!

I feel that if I were to take his name and pronounce it correctly (to the best of my English-speaking-only-tongue’s ability) when giving our last name this would insult him because he has identified as “Care-ul” his entire life. But I have many Hispanic coworkers, a couple of them even have his same last name. I would not be comfortable purposely mispronouncing my last name to them.

In addition, he doesn’t want me to take his last name. He says that he is often discriminated against because of it and he doesn’t want that for me. We are planning to have kids. I want to have the same last name as my kids and I know they are not going to take my maiden name.

This name change thing has turned out much more complicated than I ever imagined. So what do I do? Do I stick with the maiden name that I hate? Knowing that my name will be different than my husband and children? Do I choose to take my husband’s name, knowing there will be discrimination, as well as the embarrassment and shame of having to pronounce it wrong, to maintain marital unity? Or do I take my husband’s name knowing there will be discrimination, but put my foot down and pronounce it correctly when I say it? Knowing that my husband is always going to pronounce it differently and possibly be resentful about it?

—Wish-I-was-a-Smith

A:Dear Wish-I-Was-a-Smith,

Surnames are just fabrications for the sake of family legacy. Some families changed their spelling at some point to shed bad connotations. Others changed them completely in immigrating. A last name is a matter of family history. Meaning, in this case, “Care-ul” IS how you correctly pronounce “Carillo,” no matter what sounds those syllables would normally make. If you’re taking his name, you’re taking his pronunciation. (You’re also joining his family history of trauma and discrimination, because that’s what happens when we marry, but that’s a whole other post.)

But it sounds like he doesn’t love his name, the same way you don’t love yours, and you guys aren’t unified in this decision to use it as a name for your new family.

So get back to the drawing board.

The name decision is never simple, meaning it’s tough to be prescriptive. But this sounds like a great time to hyphenate, the two names sounding different in their combination. Or to consider creating a new name, using bits of both names. If you both don’t like what you’re working with, start working with something else.

—Liz Moorhead

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