A Male Perspective: This Is Why I Plan to Take My Wife’s Last Name

groom standing before seeing bride on wedding day

When it comes to big, complicated, emotional decisions, it can sometimes be hard to trace back exactly why you made your original choices. New rationalizations can cover the old, and the post-decision reactions could modify the reasons you did it. Herodotus famously claimed the Persians had to make each decision twice: once while drunk and then again while sober to ensure it was still the right one the next day. (Sometimes they inverted the two. I have tried both and can report they were onto something.)

For me, the decision to take Clarissa’s name happened almost impulsively. Clarissa was talking one day about how if we got married, she would have to make the decision on whether to keep her name, take mine, or try and meld the two.

Now, I’m not the best feminist. For example, I’m a huge reader but it took me to the age of twenty-five (as in right now) to read any books about feminism, namely the excellent primer Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks*. But I try to pay attention to my internal alarm that something isn’t right, and Clarissa’s statement set it off.

Why did she have to make that decision? That sounds like a pretty tough one to make, and it sets her up to make some sacrifice of her identity. If she keeps her name, then she gets to remain a Nemeth, but we have to explain that we’re married for the rest of our life. And are our kids going to be hyphenated? This solution doesn’t scale to more than one future generation unless you start having three or four last names hyphenated, which is going to be hell on their SAT forms. (Editors note: Long time readers know that planned hyphenation is my personal first choice, so if you want to hear about that, read more here.)

If she takes my name, she loses her last name. On a purely practical level, her last name is pretty awesome: unique, yet easy for English-speakers to spell. But more importantly, changing her name would mean the end of the Nemeths. Nobody on her side of the family has male kids who carry that last name, and she’s an only child. And hyphenating her name (or both of our names) runs into the same practicality concerns as using that solution for the kids.

And then I realized, Hey, changing my name should be an option here, too. And as an option, it makes a lot of sense! If I change my name to Nemeth, it allows us to carry on that name. I’m the oldest of three brothers, so they should carry on the Brown name just fine. When the decision came up, it even looked like Clarissa was going to far outpace me in professional advancement and other stuff, so it made more sense for me to be the one to change my name.

And not to lie, but gregbrown.com? Not available, since that damned folk singer took it while I was in high school. Gregnemeth.com? Oh yes, still open.

Those were all the reasons I laid out to her. After some discussion we agreed, and she was glad to have that off her back. But as I said, new reasons tend to creep in after you’ve made the decision. Since she and I started telling people, we’ve gotten some interesting reactions!

Some people (cough internet posters cough) react by making a crack about masculinity, implying that I am either marrying a dude or have ceded my patriarchal right. Others think it’s the best idea because you can make your new name google-proof and keep people from finding bad stuff you wrote on the internet when you were younger, as if my googleability (not our families, present and future) was forefront in my mind when making the decision.

But there are others who are supportive and even admit that it never even came up as a possibility when they thought about the issue. Women predominantly have this reaction, but some men say that too. Taking my future wife’s last name has been worth it just for those conversations; the deepest inequities are ones we don’t even stop to consider, and we’re not going to understand the dilemma better if we don’t discuss it at all.

Even if most of my enjoyment comes from swapping the usual gender norms, we made this decision because it was the right choice for our situation. It was the process of making a choice that was important to us, not the solution that tumbled out. And by talking about this with friends and others, we want people to know that last names are a choice that both partners in a relationship should make. Whether you go with the traditional route or choose a non-traditional option like us, both guy and gal (or gal and gal, or guy and guy) should be a part of that decision. It shouldn’t be left for one party alone to agonize over.

*Seriously, if you’ve been turned off by one of the strands of feminism in the past or just (like me) want to learn more, this book is the best way in. She defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” which is a pretty incisive, inclusive, and motivating definition! It’s super-short and very plainspoken, basically the opposite of everything bad about typical theory.

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  • “The deepest inequities are ones we don’t even stop to consider”
    Exactly. That is such a great point and something I struggle with every day when I try and talk about inequities (I think) exist, and others think I’m crazy.

    The other day I asked my boyfriend if he had ever noticed that there were Mr. , Mrs. and Ms. options when you fill out forms, because apparently France had just banned this practice (now there’s just Mr. and Ms.) and he had seen it in the news and was commenting on it. He honestly had never thought about it.
    (We live in Spain, where women don’t even change their last names when they marry).

    • Parsley

      That line caught my attention, too. Thank you, Greg for sharing such a thoughtful consideration of your process and decision.

    • Tracy Smith

      Actually, to be technical, what the French did was eliminate Mademoiselle (Miss) and kept Madame (Mrs). They followed the Germans, who forty years ago took this step by eliminating Fraulein (Miss) and kept Frau (Mrs). Instead of inventing an entirely new title, they re-purposed the old ones to base them on only sex and age, rather than marital status. Little girls are still called Mademoiselle and Fraulein, but all adult women, regarding of marital status are Madame and Frau.

      I actually think the European model makes better sense than the English-speaking solution. We started with one title for men and two for women. By inventing Ms, we now have THREE for women, and still just one for men. It’s not parallel with men and now we have to figure out which one of the three an individual woman prefers.

      If we’d gone with the European model and simply re-purposed Mrs to mean “adult woman” rather than “married woman”, I think it would have worked more smoothly. There’s even a precedent for it, in that in the 18th century and before, all women past a certain age were called “Mistress” (the true title where the abbreviation “Mrs” comes from — hey, THAT’S what that R is for!). “Miss” for all single women, regardless of age, didn’t completely take over until fairly well into the 19th century. You see the words spelled out Mistress and Mister, and you can see they were meant to be parallel terms.

      If anyone here is interested in the history of women’s names and titles, I recommend the excellent book “Mrs Man” by Una Stannard. It was written in 1977 and is understandably a bit dated, but it’s still a great resource and used copies can be had on Amazon and likely elsewhere.

      • K

        Geek alert: actually, Miss, Mrs, and Ms were *all* originally abbreviations for “Mistress,” which, like Mr, did not originally refer to marital status. You can find tombstones in England from the 17th century with “Ms” on them. Ms fell out of use, but people were advocating its revival as early as 1901.

  • So now I’ve just bought that book! Thanks for the recommendation, and thanks for sharing a male perspective on this topic – there are a million different options out there and it’s great to hear something from the “other side”.

  • Katie

    Amen, brother!! :)

  • My honey taking my last name isn’t an option for us because he has the same two first names as my dad. So if he took my surname he would have the exact same name as my dad. And that is just a little bit too weird and freaky for either of us to deal with.

    So he is keeping his name & I am keeping mine. I briefly considered changing but I don’t want to. I’ve had this name for 44 years, I like it and it’s MINE. And since he doesn’t care either way, it’s not an issue for us.

    • MinnaBrynn

      Similar thing here. If he took my last name, my husband would end up with the same first and last as three people in my close family. So we’re sticking with what we’ve always had too.

    • I know quite a few women with the same name as their mother-in-law. Funny how we don’t think that is freaky and unacceptable…

      • meg

        SUCH a good point, and points to the ongoing inequality that we don’t ever think about.

  • Really glad to see this post. About half of my married/to-be-married female friends are keeping their names; one couple combined their names into a totally new name; but I’ve never had a male friend who made the name change. I think it’s still a big taboo and I’m sure a lot of guys would be nervous about making that change because of the potential for, as Greg mentioned, comments that question their masculinity. But I can see this slowly getting to be a more common choice, just as women keeping their names is way more common now than it was forty years ago. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Greg!

    • Class of 1980

      Actually, women keeping their names was quite the thing in the 1980’s.

      • Tracy Smith

        I can attest to that. I was married in 1980 and kept my own name. Not only that, my 31 year old son has my last name.

        It also enjoyed a limited popularity in the 1910s and 1920s as well.

    • meg

      Sadly (ok, I think it’s sad) women keeping their names is less common now than it was for our mom’s generation (Who started it. Credit where credit is due.) It’s on a statistical downswing at the moment.

      • Chris Bergstrom

        I wonder why this is.

        • Caroline

          I don’t know. I do know that the fact that my mom kept her name, and it was never really a problem makes me more, not less likely to keep my name, so I don’t get it entirely.

      • Lys

        Maybe this is because we, as the children of name keepers, don’t like that we only have our dads’ last names.

        My mom kept her name, and my mother-in-law kept her name professionally. My husband and I wanted to do something to define our new family, including future children, as part of one blended team.

        • Yes yes yes: THIS.

          I’ve always been so sad that I don’t have any part of my mom’s last name in my name– either as a middle or last or something. Frankly, I’d prefer to just have my mom’s last name, but that would just about crush my dad…

    • J

      I’m gunning for my brother to change his name if he marries his girlfriend, our family name is Brown (one of the top three most common surnames in the UK), his girlfriend’s surname is Steele! STEELE! much better :D

      • Fiona

        Your possibly-future sister-in-law may be related! My mother’s maiden name is Steele (Scottish) and its a rather unusual spelling….

        I’m having that convo with my bf currently, I’m Mexican-Scott and have always had my name be written the Latin way (name, paternal surname, maternal surname), while my bf is Italian and it is very important to him that i take his last name as he is very concerned (as the last male of his family) that the name die out with him. I have no qualms with our children having his last name, but I find it difficult (identity wise, and emotionally, and cos I frigging LOVE my last names, especially my paternal one but also legally, in Mexico since few people change their names, the paperwork is IMPOSSIBLE) to consider giving mine up… It’s going to be a long and ongoing conversation I think…… Cos it means so much to us both! Hmmmmmm

        • Natasha

          It’s interesting that it’s a particularly male concern that a name “die out.” In fact, it’s tied to the traditional preference for boys over girls, because a family with all daughters would not traditionally pass on their surname to grandchildren. So, I’d be willing to question him about why it’s so important to pass the name on. Even if he”s well-meaning, it’s a patriarchal concern that deserves examination.

          In fact, it may be even more interesting that children are the primary concern in choosing a family name. We live in a culture that assumes every married couple will have children, and our concept of marriage is based around that. Sure, many do – but why is that the default expectation? What if you want to hyphenate your names and you don’t plan to have children? The primary argument I’ve heard against hyphenation is that your children would have unnecessarily long names when they marry if they combine their names.

          I’m lucky enough to be engaged to a guy who’s not only willing, but happy to change his last name to mine when we get married. When writing only our first names, we also try to put mine first to switch up the typical “Male then Female” pattern. I’m sure he’ll have a big battle to fight with his family about his choice, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, and we’ll be together at every step.

  • Carbon Girl

    That was very well thought out. I liked how you considered that her last name would become extinct but yours would not. I have never thought about it that way. Now I am glad we chose to use my husband’s because his unique name would have died out with him (he is the only boy in that generation) and mine would definitely not have. I must admit though, google-ability was a big factor in my decision.

  • Susanne

    I am getting married to a Mongolian this summer and here everybody just keeps their own name. Even though I wanted to keep my name anyway it is funny that it does not even need to be discussed at all.

    • So, what happens if you have kids? Which last name, or both, do they receive? I’m always curious about that aspect of the name changing debate… I’d love if you could share what is common in Mongolian culture, if you don’t mind.

      • Lan

        Vietnamese women traditionally don’t change their names when they get married and I don’t plan on changing mine even though its really difficult for people to spell. My mom kept her maiden name and my brother and I got my dad’s last name.

        Even growing up in suburban America, nobody questioned that my mom had a different last name (maybe because our names were “weird” to them anyway).

  • APW, thank you so much for all the name-changing posts. They are much-needed!

  • My husband and I both changed our names to Mylastname Hislastname. People are totally used to women have a two part last name, but I always have to say, “and it’s my husband’s name, too.” They are generally surprised that he’d be willing to change his name to include mine and often ask if I had to force him to do it. I was shocked by this reaction at first (how could any one think I’d forced him into such an important decision). Now I see sharing my story as a way to suggest to friends that there are many decisions to be made about name changing, and they are all ok, as long as you believe in your own choice.

    • I love that you *and* your husband did the two part name. It always seems so unfair to me when women choose to hypenate or use both names and the man doesn’t do anything about his name.

      • Kristy

        That’s what we’re doing! HE SUGGESTED IT – at first I was taken aback that he wants us both to be Mr. and Mrs. mylastname -hislastname, but I think it’s really sweet at this point. I fear everyone will think I made him do it/forced the issue, but I didn’t. I love having such an enlightened partner.

      • Tracy Smith

        Exactly. I figure that if only the woman does the hyphenated or double barrel surname, then she might as well just make the traditional choice.

    • Lys

      We did this too! The guy at the Social Security office said it was only the second time he’d seen a man change his name.

      Our plan before we got married was for both of us to take my last name as a middle name. However, around the wedding, family members kept saying, “You’re a HisLastName now!” or calling me Mrs. HisLastName, and I found myself replying, instinctively, “MyLastName HisLastName, please!” Then, at dinner before the wedding, someone asked him to pronounce his name, and he said, “MyLastName HisLastName,” getting cheers from the rest of the table.

      While a double-barreled surname isn’t for everyone, it just felt right, and exciting, for both of us to meaningfully change our family identities upon marriage.

      • meg

        Wait. That’s CRAZY to me that they are not seeing men hyphenate. Lord, we have a long way to go.

        • Natalie

          My husband and I both hyphenated, and we have two other sets of friends who have done the same thing. The stupidest part is that Social Security will change the names for you, but they apparently don’t have hyphens on their keyboards yet: you just end up with the two last names with a space in the middle rather than a hyphen, and when you point out the mistake, they tell you they cannot do hyphens.

          • My husband and I both hyphenated, as well. Neither of us had any trouble at the Social Security office (they were totally cool with it), but he’s had some raised eyebrows when he’s changed it in his military usages. Whatever, dude. We’re the proud Mylastname Hislastnames and I can’t imagine it any other way. :) AND I’ve had not-so-feminist friends compliment us on the decision and it seemed to have caused some thought for them.

    • Kimberly

      I really wanted to do that, but like my good friend who just got married, our last name’s sound really horrible together: Fisher Bush. Ugh! I’m probably going to keep my name because I love being a Fisher.
      (My friend would have been Swett Tolino, which if you say it very fast it sounds like Italian for a small, sweaty person! Plus, I think she really wanted to abandon Swett as a last name–it’s pronounced “sweat”!)

      Greg, when my fiance and I talked about name-changing, he was adamantly against taking my name. Your perspective is wonderful and I’m definitely sharing this with him for discussion!!! THANK YOU!

    • Marnie

      Yep, my husband and I are in the sharing-double-barrelled camp as well. It was important to us that we had the same last name, and neither of us really wanted to give up our own. Me for reasons related to identifying as part of my family, whom I am very close to, and he for career/academic publishing reasons. I got such a kick out of the first time I saw an article published with his new name (including mine) on it! I too like to explain that to people when they comment on my new name – ‘yes, we are now the last name last name family’, because they otherwise assume (or I assume they assume?) it was just me who changed. It’s not common in Australia at all.
      We are still unsure about what we’ll do with future children in a couple of years…but I am leaning towards giving them the double barrel too (they are both very fine simple common enough names – nothing fancy or complicated) and if they ever get married or decide to change names, they can decide what they want to do. Procrastinate for another generation? Or as I like to call it, leaving the options open and empowering our future children to make decisions with an open mind. Any ideas/experience with this?
      Love your work, Greg!

  • Greg! More posts from you in the future, please.

    • Liz

      Right? Can we adopt him?

      • He’s a pretty amazing dude :)

    • Yes! More guy perspective!

  • Hlockhart

    Greg, I love the way you explain your reasoning in this post. My husband kept his name, but he was adamantly opposed to me taking his (which, for some reason, people often find really funny). He’s very attached to the family heritage of his last name, much more than I am to mine, so I’m fine with passing that name on to future children. But I do sometimes think I let him get out of the whole name debacle too easily, just because (as Meg notes) it’s a great teachable moment. We have had some hypothetical conversations about what we’d do if one of us had an objection to the arrangement we’re planning to go with, and it’s been interesting to talk about.

  • N.

    Greg, thank you for this! Since I got engaged, what I’ll be doing with my last name has come up a bunch of times with people. For me, keeping my last name is the clear choice, driven by a gut feeling that’s too strong to ignore. I’ll add his last name as a second middle name because that’s what feels right. But there are so many benefits to having the same last name, too, and I’ve been processing that even as I’m staying firm in my decision.

    Women, whatever their own choices, have been supportive. Men, on the other hand, have had strong, negative reactions to my decision and that has surprised me. So many times, I’ve heard, “I would never marry someone who wouldn’t take my last name!” And I can tell that they (at least think) they mean it.

    Understanding how hard this is for women, being open to talking about our options, and supporting others’ choices (including our partners’) is the direction we need to go in. Thank you, Greg, for sharing your story and helping us get there!

    • I am completely flabbergasted that someone would not be willing to marry someone who wouldn’t take their name. That just makes my skin crawl.

      It’s like presuming that as women we have no identies and personalities and desires of our own, or that if we do they should be completely subjugated to someone else’s. Ugh.

    • meg

      As someone who never considered changing her name, I can tell you that I haven’t felt like I was missing a single benefit of a shared last name. I’m not saying that it’s not right for some people, but if name changing isn’t your thing, you’re missing nothing. We’re no less a family!

      • And I haven’t felt a single benefit of having a shared last name, besides getting my first name left off cards… the lovely benefit of the cost of a new passport… ok I guess one benefit is it made my husband happy, but I wonder if it has turned out to be as important as he thought it would be?

  • Ever since Something Positive had one of their characters take his wife’s name, I’ve wondered why more men don’t do this (except that the name-change system is sexist and difficult).

    • Mine did (as I explained in my comment below) but you are right- the process is incredibly sexist. I was completely shocked when I first looked into it. If I were taking his it would be a simple straightforward process but with him its all money and form after form. However, this just spurred us on to do it more!

  • Greg, this was awesome. others have pulled this quote already but i have to highlight it too: “…the deepest inequities are ones we don’t even stop to consider…” exactly. thanks for writing this, and speaking up on this issue in everyday life.

  • Class of 1980

    Before it became standard in Western society for the woman to change her last name to the man’s, it used to be standard for either of them to change their name to whichever family had the higher status.

    That makes me giggle a little. Can you imagine the conversations around which family has the higher status? ;)

    • Never knew that! A very classist tradition, but I like the THOUGHT that must have gone into it.

      I also like the idea of choosing names strategically, rather than just assuming “Women must take their male partner’s name.” Even considering the url of gregnemeth.com is a strategy… wonder what will go in that space ;)

      PS: Props to bell hooks! She taught me so much about feminism. And another interesting example of name changing (though not related to marriage).

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I know a family with an awkward hyphenated last name. Everyone assumes it’s relatively recent, but it’s actually a rather old name. Their story is once upon a time a Scottish girl was marrying a Scottish boy of a “lesser” clan, and she made him hyphenate the family name to keep her “higher” name.

    • TheRemarkableRocket

      That’s interesting – that must be why double-barrelled names are so strongly associated with upper classness in the UK. Which adds another dimension to the hyphenation issue – people would assume I’d just taken his (upper-class) family name. We’re both keeping our last names as it happens, but my fiance’s main objection to double-barrelling for our kids is the grief they’d get at school for being posh.

      On a brighter note, my best friend’s husband took her name and has had nothing but praise so far – particularly from the pupils at the girls’ school where he teaches (who will now see that as an option).

  • Claire

    Love hearing the male perspective on this issue, especially since this topic often seems to be one that is largely left to the women to grapple with. I think that’s the part that bothers me, that often the man doesn’t even have to think about the choice because it’s a foregone conclusion that he would never have to change his name.

    “Whether you go with the traditional route or choose a non-traditional option like us, both guy and gal (or gal and gal, or guy and guy) should be a part of that decision. It shouldn’t be left for one party alone to agonize over.”

    Yes! It seems so obvious (to me) that a big decision at the beginning of a partnership deserves the thoughtful consideration of both parties. If all the options are on the table and both people are willing to have the honest dialogue, it seems like a more fair and equitable decision process – regardless of what decision is ultimately reached.

  • Carissa

    Thanks for this post, Greg! It is really great to hear men discussing these issues. My husband seriously considered taking my last name for several of the reasons you mentioned here:
    1) Savage is just a plain awesome name.
    2) My name would have gone extinct in my generation, as my Dad was the only son and had three daughters.
    3) To challenge gender norms and stereotypes.

    When his parents mentioned me taking their last name and he told them he was considering taking mine instead, they were shocked and quickly commented on how difficult it is for a man to change his name. And honestly? That’s why we didn’t do it. As Christina McPants commented above the name-change system is sexist and difficult, and we were broke enough as it was getting married. We didn’t want to have to pay for him to change his name. So we both kept our own names. Sometimes I still wish he had taken my name, but I’m so glad he was willing to think through the issue and consider it as an option!

    • DanEllie

      If you are planning to have children, have you made a decision about their names? You could keep the line going that way, even if he didn’t change his name.

    • meg

      DUDE. You should do it when you can afford it! The system never changes unless we each take on small fights. And holy shit does that system need to change. (And if you do it, PLEASE write about it. This makes me so angry…)

    • Marnie

      Crazy. We are lucky that in Australia the process is the same for both parties. Take your marriage certificate to the authority with which you want to make the change. Sadly no marriage equality yet though so I expect it’s still complicated and expensive for same sex couples.

      • Emily

        Marnie – anyone can change their name in Australia via registering a name change.

        • Amy

          Yes, but you have to pay for that, knowing someone that did. Changing your name after marriage in Australia is as simple as providing the bank with a copy of your marriage certificate, and them changing it. Super easy, by comparison.

          • Amy

            Or other institutions of course. :)

    • Hmmm, sounds like a Story to me. I could be wrong, but it does. The rules differ from state to state, but in NY (for example), you can do it right on the marriage certificate. The only rule is that if you’re changing, it either has to be to your new spouse’s name, hyphenated, double-barreled, or a “hybrid” of the two names. (For example, my friend and her husband, previously Smith and Jones, changed to Smithjones*, which is kind of cool.)

      *Not their names. But you get the idea.

  • Thanks for sharing this Greg- an awesome post! My husband took my name and it has definitely caused some interesting reactions. For the most part, people thought it was pretty great about it but as he is an only child, his family took it really badly (one family member walked out of our wedding because of it). Yet despite all of this we were really happy with our decision. It was wholeheartedly a joint decision although many thought I must have pushed him into it. What was most frustrating was that people, positive or not, reacted so strongly to the news. If I had taken his name, I doubt there would have been the same scale of discussion, surprise or interrogation. Yes, it meant the end of his family name but we didn’t like to think of this as a negative. Instead we are taking ownership of my family name and making it new. This name will not mean the same thing to our growing new family as it did to the one of my childhood. It is now our name, personal to us and for us, has become a symbol of our marriage as a new beginning together.

    • meg

      And the thing is… people never even THINK about a woman’s family name dying out as an issue. The thing is, my family name will likely die out with our generation, in our line. But that doesn’t give me leverage to get the kids named with JUST my name, even in our feminist household.

      • I knew a guy whose in-laws offered to buy him a brand new car if he’d take his wife’s name (since she only had sisters). He didn’t even seriously consider it!

      • Cara

        I’m considering giving any girl babies my name and any boy babies his name. I know people flip about siblings not having the same name, but our names don’t hyphenate well and I don’t think either of us should get sole naming privilege. And I really just don’t think it would matter if your last name was different from your brother’s. Maybe we’ll do Boy MyLast HisLast and Girl HisLast MyLast. It’s just theoretical at this point, but I’m brainstorming …

        • They flip because it’s harder for them. And by harder I mean annoying. And by annoying I mean Not the Norm and therefore Scornworthy.

  • Yeah, what a great post. It’s so true that “the deepest inequities are ones we don’t even stop to consider.” That should be the motto of whatever wave of feminism we’re in now. When my husband and I got married we both kept our names, but of course no one ever asks him why he didn’t change his. Meanwhile, a very close friend of ours, when he found out I wasn’t changing mine, made a crack about how it must be because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of changing it back when we get divorced. Classy.

  • ambi

    I really appreciate the great post, and I find the issues surrounding name-changing fascinating, but . . . am I the only woman on APW who really wants to change my last name when I get married?

    • No you aren’t! I very, very, VERY strongly want to change my last name, for about a dozen different reasons – the biggest of which is that it just feels like the right decision.

      Sometimes when this discussion comes up I feel a little lonely in wanting to change my name, too.

      • ambi

        I struggle with it sometimes because I completely agree with the feminist perspective on this issue – it is incredibly unequal to expect women to change their entire identity based solely on their marital status. And yet, I really want to change my name. And not for any of the practical reasons listed in the post above, but because I like the tradition, I like the idea of our family having the same name, and the history of that name being passed down in this way. It is hard for me to realize that my feelings are the result of and completely stem from sexist practices and attitudes, but still want to change my name any way, just because it feels right. I feel this way about a lot of the “traditional” female gender roles that I happen to really love. It is pretty hard to be a feminist and still embrace the fact that you love being very domestic – cooking, cleaning, being a caretaker, and hopefully being a mom in the future. I am grateful to have the CHOICE to do these things, instead of the expectation, but at the same time it feels a bit like I’m not living up to my feminist ideals . . .
        Anyway, that is a much larger topic. But I just think it is hard sometimes to allow yourself to go with your gut and do what makes you happy, when your brain is telling you that you only feel this way because society has brainwashed your with sexist traditions. But changing my name will make me happy, so I am going to do it. It is great that years and years of struggle have brought us to this place, where we have choices, and I guess it is just to be expected that with choices comes confusion and conflict.

        • I can’t even tell you how much I agree with everything you just said.

          I’ve struggled in the past with the contrast between what I think is the right thing to do as a feminist and what feels right for me. It’s really hard when what feels authentic and true to yourself in some ways falls into those traditional gender roles. I know that for me, wanting to stay home and raise children and take care of the house (for the most part) feels like a betrayal of feminism, but to deny myself that feels like a betrayal of who I am.

          What I find helps is consider that it’s about making choices, and thinking through those choices. Does changing my last name come from a patriarchal tradition? Yes. Is staying home and taking care of the children a stereotypically traditional female gender role? Yes. Is that why I am drawn to them? I don’t think so.

          But they are what I choose. Feminists past and present have, really, fought for the right for us to get those choices. Whichever way we may decide.

        • Adrini

          I’ve never heard that feminists can’t cook, clean or look after a house.

          The only idea I’ve had of it is that a woman has as much right to decide for herself what she wants to do with her life (children/name/etc) and be supported and loved while doing it. No matter what she chooses.
          Are you sure you haven’t been confusing the right wing definition of feminism with the real one? Susan B. Anothney herself was supportive of women marrying and staying home if that is what they really wanted.

          • ambi

            Agreed, and that is why we recognized how important it is to have that choice. Choice is key, and we aren’t forgetting how far we have come in order to have that choice. My point is simply about which choice to make. Whether it is right or wrong, taking on traditional gender norms can feel a bit like betrayal. I’ve studied the ways those gender norms are used to oppress women and limit their options. I’ve developed myself (through education and career) so that I have incredible options that women fifty years ago did not have. So I think it is understandable to feel a bit of doubt or guilt when I voluntarily choose to embrace traditions that have historically held women back. I think a lot of us struggle with how to own our choices to take on traditional gender roles. While society at large still supports and even pushes us towards those roles, our own smaller communities of smart, feminist, progressive people have often chosen to move away from them, and they have very good reasons for doing so. I think this really becomes starkly obvious during wedding planning. You have to make thousands of decisions, and many of them have an obvious gender-specific norm. With each one of those, you have to ask yourself if having particular elements in your wedding or marriage (name change, the father giving hte bride away, asking the dad for the daughter’s hand in marriage, language of the ceremony, etc., etc.) you have to decide whether to stick with gendered norms or do something different.

            Is it okay to embrace traditions which stem from beliefs and practices you strongly disagree with (such as the groom asking the bride’s father for his permission before proposing) simply because on a very basic gut level they make you happy?

            Anyway, I will stop posting about this – it is getting kind of long winded. I just think it is great we are talking about it. :)

      • meg

        The vast majority of women who read APW change their names. Some do it happily, for some it’s a hard choice, but the VAST majority change (I’d guess 80%). That’s why it’s *so* important to highlight all the choices, and the less obvious and less used choices as well.

        • barisaxyvet

          How about a quick poll on this, eh? That way you will have actual numbers. I think that could be useful. :)

    • Hlockhart

      Definitely not. Check out the links to the other name-changing posts and you’ll find lots of APW women who changed their names.

    • Edelweiss

      I’m taking my fiancee’s name. I went back and forth for awhile (supported by past posts on APW around this topic), but then made that choice based on a variety of factors. HOWEVER, what I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how many people have asked me what I’m doing about my name. No one has asked my fiancee what he’s doing with his name – which would be a further step towards equity – but I’ve loved that people have acknowledged I have multiple options and that it’s my personal choice. It’s turned into a discussion and teachable moment, even with me taking the “traditional” path.

    • Maddie

      You’re definitely not! We just don’t talk about that as much here because the cultural narrative of our society already provides you with a lot of support for your decision. So, in keeping with APW’s commitment to diversity, we feel like we’re doing a better job if we’re speaking to an under-represented part of the community whose stories don’t get told as frequently.

      But you’re certainly not alone!

      • ambi

        Thanks. I kind of figured that I wasn’t alone. It is more a matter of feeling almost guilty about making traditional gender-role choices that feel right to you, but that you can’t really support with the same kind of reasoning or logic that often goes into non-traditional choices (like Greg’s list of great reasons why he should change his name). APW is such a supprotive community, so it really isn’t a problem here, but sometimes I feel almost ashamed to say that, in my relationship, we are both happier taking on fairly traditional gender roles and traditions. It is kind of like trying to tell your vegetarian friends, who have just explained all the smart and convincing reasons why they don’t eat meat, that you eat meat just because it tastes good. In comparison to all fo the well thought out reasons that APWers have expressed for challenging the norm, I feel a bit silly trying to explain why I’ve chosen to stick to the status quo (especially when my decision is based less on reasons and more on feelings).

        Anyway, I love that I have the choice to begin with. And I love that APW explores these issues. I think it may be a pretty modern phenomenon, but I’d be interested in reading some posts on why and how intelligent feminist women still choose to embrace traditional gendered norms around marriage.

        • “feeling almost guilty about making traditional gender-role choices that feel right to you”

          This, so totally this!

          We never even discussed DH taking my name as an option. I was hanging out to get rid of my name anyway, thankfully, as he is quite traditional in many ways and it would have been a really difficult conversation if I had wanted to change.

          And now? I am a housewife looking for work, while he is out there earning a living wage so he can afford to continue to keep us – he feels its his responsibility, while I feel guilty for not helping to provide for our household! He was bought up in a conservative, well-off, traditional household, my parents both worked and were still dirt poor… Makes for challenging decision making sometimes!

        • carrie

          Shameblast that shit, ladies! There is nothing wrong with it. No one here is judging you; we just like to have a place to talk about this stuff.

          • Class of 1980

            I must have been born without the guilt gene or something.

            I figure out my own private reasons for doing something, and take the view that other people aren’t entitled to judge what they have zero knowledge about.

    • Definitely not. I’m taking my fiance’s name, and never really gave much thought to it. I’m not attached to my maiden name and it’s important to me to have a family name. I’m glad that there’s a discussion about name changing options, and changing your name because you want to is still a very valid option.

    • MadGastronomer

      Why is it that every time APW has a thread on names that is about anything other than a woman taking a man’s name, someone feels the need to say this? This is still the default, that’s why other options need to be discussed — and for pity’s sake, APW has discussed this option, too!

      • Bialy

        Are you seriously suggesting that women not be allowed to discuss wanting to change their name? Saying that because something is the “default”therefore it shouldn’t be brought up is an absurdity. Maybe we should object to heterosexual marriage discussions since they are the default. I think what causes changers distress here is the unanimous praise and approval for men who change their name versus the condemnation for women who do the same.

        • Liz

          Wow, I don’t think that was being suggested at all- There definitely is NOT condemnation for women who choose to change their names, and I say that as a woman who DID change her name. The problem here is that whenever a post on one side of an issue airs, those who can not relate to that side voice feeling alone. This happens no matter the topic

          We’ve heard from women (and now a man!) who have changed, haven’t, felt torn, haven’t decided. Unfortunately, when posting the perspectives of one person in a single post, you can’t expect ALL sides to be explored.

    • Caroline

      I used to really want to. For years, I said I would change my name when we got married someday because he wanted me to, and I didn’t care. Over the past three years, I’ve gradually changed my mind. I wouldn’t mind being called Mrs. U occasionally, but I’d like to remain Caroline T. (and have us refered to socially in the plural as “Mr and Mrs T-U”, which isn’t that much of a stretch, because in our family, in families where no one changed their name, the family units are refered to as “The Herlast-Hislast’s”.

      • Paige

        I’ve never heard of the hyphenate when referring to a family unit, but otherwise keeping everyone’s names their own, but I love it and this is DEFINITELY something I’m going to consider for myself. Thanks!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      It’s important to me that we have the same last name. It’s not important to me who changes his or her last name.

    • PA

      Not at all – and I actually had a negative reaction to the name change idea at first.

      What changed was that I realized, simply put, that I couldn’t honor all of my lineage with one name. Not even close. When I sat down and thought about it, I realized I wanted to keep my name because I wanted to honor that history, but it’s only one of 8 family names I would want to honor – and I can’t do all of that with my name, or it’s simply going to get crazily long.

      So I am planning to change my name to my fiance’s last name (it’s really important to him), and trying to find some other way to honor my heritage – perhaps collecting a set of family stories and self-publishing copies to give to family members, or something. Making sure I can tell my children about their grandparents and keep the memory of them alive, honor them that way.

      • Josephine

        That’s a good point – you can’t honour everyone. My name is fairly rare but I’m not especially attached to it. Though the idea of being almost another person, with a new name is weird. Though with google benefits!

        My fiancées name is rarer, and she feels strongly about keeping it. she is much closer to her family than I am, and I love her family too. If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t like the name itself I’d change. But I don’t like the name, so I don’t know what to do!

      • carrie

        This is so hard. My husband is the one with the star studded genealogy. His middle name is his mother’s family’s family’s “famous” name, and his mother’s maiden name is a locally important name. But if we have children, I want them to have *my* name. But I would love them to have my husband’s mother’s family names too. Without being a million names long! I love your self-publishing idea. Having a family history would be really, really cool.

  • Emily

    It may interest people to know that in Quebec, where I live, women must keep their names after marriage. It’s even in the legal text that we must include in our civil ceremony:
    (I supposed one could make a legal name change, but I think that’s a whole other issue)

    • Yay, someone else in Québec! :) (And the legal name changes are pretty tightly regulated, it seems. Only allowed in specific situations…)

  • This was a really great post. I truly appreciate the thought and conversation this couple had. My husband taking my name wasn’t an option. Keeping my name wasn’t much of an option either. But we never had a serious discussion about it. I wanted to take his name so all of our conversations were all in the hypothetical. Had I really wanted to keep it, our conversations probably would have been different. I did keep my maiden name by dropping my given middle name though. And because I’m a writer, I use my maiden name as my byline and my married name as my chance for some privacy. I think it gives me the best of both worlds. I think everyone has to do what is best for them, but what they should do is have open and honest discussions about it.

  • Amanda M.

    I love reading all of your posts about the dynamics of name-changing. Until about a month ago, I was fully in the ‘I can’t wait to change my name!’ camp. Now, as the wedding approaches (19 days!), I still fully plan on changing my name to my future husband’s, but I am feeling much sadder about it than I thought. I never realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in my (extremely common) surname. I won’t miss having appointments cancelled because they called the wrong Amanda M. I won’t miss having to have my email address include my middle name, or some numbers, in order to distinguish me from other Amanda M.’s. But I will miss my former name, and I am not afraid to say so because of all the brave people who have written about it on APW.

  • Meg M.

    I was married before, and I did change my name. It was awful when I was going through the divorce stuff two years later and got my maiden name back- people kept asking me if I had gotten married. Some asked no questions and simply congratulated me, which was odd but somehow less upsetting. Now that I’m getting married again it’s not an option to change my name. I already know two things:
    a) How difficult it is to change everything once my legal name is changed.
    b) I will miss my last name! I tried to talk to my ex about changing it back even before we discussed separating. (His reaction was a sign of things to come- not very pleasant)

    The decision is incredibly personal, and there is definitely no one way to go about it. Great post!

  • Vmed

    Just wanted to say great post.

    I didn’t change my name to my husbands (which is apparently very weird to do in the midwest). As a teacher I go by Ms. Mylastname and my students (who pay attention to everything, it seems) sometimes correct the adults who call me Mrs. Mylastname “It’s Mizzzz!”

    I tend to let it slide, but if someone’s hesitant I tell them.

    I’m growing an offspring, though, and when the naming/how many barrels and hyphens discussions came up, my dear partner said, “We could just give it your last name. And mine can be on the next one.” It was a really sweet offer. But then I felt a little guilty for being so pleased. I mean, I am physically growing this little human, and I get to know it throughout the whole pregnancy. I don’t want him to feel distanced by the name. There is an issue of how to indicate to the world that this is our shared progeny.

    So I said, well what if your last name is the middle name? It bypasses the hyphen, and would really help us when traveling to both have our names linked to our child.

    So right now, that’s what we’re doing.

    • Diane

      That’s actually what my parents did for my brother and me. My full name is Diane Momslast Dadslast. It never occurred to me that there was anything abnormal about doing it that way until I was old enough to be a pretty good little feminist myself and be proud to carry both names. That said, my mom never changed her name, my parents divorced when I was very young (no, I don’t think these two phenomena are related), my mom remarried, and then our household had three last names. One of the unsung benefits: excellent way to screen for telemarketers!

  • riamac

    Thanks for the thoughtful article, Greg.

    I’ve gotten a surprising amount of blowback for my name decision- I took my husband’s last name and go by Mrs. instead of Ms!

    Stay with me now.

    I liked the idea of having the same last name as my husband, and my view on the “property” argument is that my maiden name marks me as my father’s property, so I’d rather have a name I chose than one I was assigned. We flirted with the idea of both of us changing to a third name, and while my husband was game, neither of us thought it would be worth the hurt it would certainly cause his family- right or wrong. My husband left the choice completely up to me- he wouldn’t even tell me his opinion, but after I decided to take his name, he confessed that it was the outcome he was hoping for. I feel good about my decision. What I never expected was people’s reactions.

    “oh wow- you must be very religious.”

    “Did he make you take it?”

    “What about your career?”

    While I get that addressing a woman as Ms. is the polite and safe option, If I’m going to see the person more than once I will tell them that I prefer Mrs. I’ve had people refuse because they don’t want to oppress me!

    I thought we feminists were fighting to be able to do what’s best for each of us, not simply adopting a different set of stringent rules.

  • Bravo! This post is being forwarded to my husband, not because I want him to change his last name but because I want him to understand why it is difficult for me to change mine. We have been married for over one year & I haven’t made a decision yet. Now that we are talking about having kids, I’m leaning towards changing my name for our family to share the same last name. TBD.

  • Sydney

    I have a friend who took his wife’s last name for similar reasons that Greg did (her name would die out and his wouldn’t). When he went to change his name, the lady at the desk told him that she has been changing people’s names for 20 years and he was the 5th male to take his wife’s name. That is crazy to me, especially because he lives in such a large city like Manhattan.

  • It’s so refreshing to hear this from a man’s point of view! I didn’t want to change my name, it was something that neither of us thought to bring up because neither of us assumed I would. And then the questions came ‘what will your new surname be?’ and it stumped us, we would have to look at each other, laugh and say ‘Coonan, the same as always’… but then we started thinking about kids and how nice it would be to feel like a family for them. Double-barrelling was the first thing we thought of so that was what we answered when people asked what name our children would have. We started getting sick of the questions. And then, just before the wedding we looked at each other and said, shall we talk about this? We felt pushed into making a decision. Now, 7 months after the wedding we are still just the same names as before…although the decision before the wedding was to double-barrell them for both of us – Mr and Mrs Coonan-Joyce. But we’re holding off for children, my photography business is starting up well and he’s writing a book. We don’t feel the need to do it yet. Although when we tell people what we will be doing in the future they so make jokes about Nathan’s masculinity, and treat me like I’m bullying him. It’s amazing how people feel they have a right to comment on your decisions like this. Someone even suggested that it was cruel to subject a child to our double-barrelled name and how will they spell it. I said they were underestimating our children’s brains!

    • Class of 1980

      “It’s amazing how people feel they have a right to comment on your decisions like this.”

      Indeed. Tell em to get off your cloud. ;)

    • PA

      Oh, shpf, that whole cruelty thing is blatantly ridiculous. No one would dream of saying the same thing to my parents about me taking my father’s name, but every single time I call a company, I have to spell my name out, and about half the time I have to spell it multiple times (and then the person STILL gets it wrong about half the time).

      I’d pause and consider seriously before naming your child Moon Unit (not that you shouldn’t do so in the end), but people just need to be quiet about the hyphenated names.

      *sits on hands* …I’m going to go away before this turns into a wall of text.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    So timely. I was asked just yesterday, 15 miles south of San Francisco, “What will your last name be after you’re married?” Answer: “His last name is [Smith], but we’re considering him taking my name. It has stronger ethnic connotations. It would be awkward for a bit, but I think it would work out.” Response: “Interesting. And you’re pretty established in your career.” “Yes, and he’s in a career transition.”

    Whenever it comes up, I make a mental note to make an e-note to seriously discuss it with him. This is not something we want to still be debating on my one day off to go to the proverbial courthouse [In our county, like in San Francisco, you get your marriage license in a county administration building across the plaza from the courthouse.] to get our marriage license, but for us it’s not something to discuss many times over the months leading up to that day.

  • AJ

    We talked about my Mr. taking my name, but he didn’t want to deal with the paperwork. I didn’t either, so neither of us changed our names. My friends call him Mr. Mylastname anyway :)

    • I have one friend in particular who refers to me as Mrs. MyMaidenName and him as Mr. MyMaidenName. It makes me smile. :)

  • RebeccaS

    I’m so happy to see this topic being discussed. My husband changed his last name to mine after we got married – and really he was the only one of us who had to consider it because there was absolutely no way I was changing my name. It just wasn’t something that was even on the table for me personally. In Washington State where we lived/got married there is no difference legally between males or females changing their last names after marrying. His family was confused/upset by his decision but I think they’ve mostly gotten over that by now (3 years later).

  • Greg, I think you win the Internet today for including Herodotus AND bell hooks in one post. Your Clarissa is clearly a very lucky lady.

  • Snow Gray

    I actually know a family where the man took his wife’s last name (about 25 years ago) so it has been done before. I believe it was for the same no men to carry on her family’s name reason, but didn’t even realize it until meeting her mother who had the same last name. So it might be something different for your respective families, but most people who meet you afterwards won’t know the difference… and if they do, they’ll probably just think it’s interesting and cool (I did).

  • Kat

    Great post :)

    I did change my name and wanted to, so it was a bit of a non-issue for us, but recently we were talking about name changing to some engaged friends at a wedding and they asked my husband how he would have felt if I’d kept my own name. He immediately said he would have taken mine. I was surprised, but really pleased he’d clearly thought about it and would have been happy to change to mine. He also wanted a family name, which was a significant part of the reason I wanted to change mine. I kind of wish we’d talked about it more, even though it probably wouldn’t have changed what we did.

  • Jessie

    Thank you, Greg and thank you, Meg, for this post! I was thrilled to see someone talking about this issue from the male perspective. My husband seriously considered taking my name and also seriously considered hyphenating. He ended up taking my last name as his middle name. His main reason for not taking my last name as his last was his family’s reaction. They were so upset, especially his father, that he would even consider doing something like that. His father told him that if he changed his name (including hyphenating) it would be as if he was disowning his family. His parents really wanted me to change my name to his, which was never an option I considered at all. I knew for years that I was never going to be willing to take my future husband’s name, but I did think about both of us using my mother’s maiden name as a possibility. The whole situation caused a huge amount of tension for all of us and was a big disappointment for me in the end, though I understand my husband’s decision. Greg – I’d be really curious to hear more how your family reacted to your decision…

    • Hey, Jessie, Clarissa here. The family issue is complicated, one that kind of deserves its own post (which he or I may very well write in the future). Surprisingly, there has been more negativity from *my* side of the family than his, at least so far. My mother is horrified at the idea of Greg taking my name and has been repeatedly pushing for us to hyphenate or for me to simply keep my own name and he keep his. She says that to her it is like an insult to his family, and that if she had a son who did such a thing, it would feel like he was disowning her. My grandfather has said the same thing, although he admitted that if he, like Greg’s parents, had more than one son, it “might be okay.”Other relatives have flat out said that they just don’t understand it at all, and think it’s weird.

      His family, while fairly conservative, is also remarkably non-judgmental. I have told Greg that I think he needs to have more conversations with his family about it as we get closer to the wedding. Ultimately, how he chooses to discuss this with his family is his decision, but I think his family relationship is such that it won’t put too much of a dent in things.

      Whatever difficulties we encounter (I’m sure we aren’t done), the most important thing to us, as Greg said, is that we’re challenging people to think about these issues. We don’t feel like our own families should be exempt from confronting them, and wouldn’t change our minds just to make them more comfortable.

  • Diane

    I’m curious, did any of you fabulous APWers legally change your name but continue to use your given name (“maiden name” doesn’t seem to work when you’re including men…) for professional reasons? I’m a psychiatry resident and my career up to this point has been under my original last name and I would like to continue to practice under that name but socially use my future husband’s name once we’re married. For me this has the added benefit of a layer of protection for me and my family because I wouldn’t be in the phone book under my working name, should a particularly ill patient want to find me at home. I like all of this in theory but does anyone have experience with this approach?

    • Chris Bergstrom

      My situation is similar to what you’re describing. I’m keeping my name legally, professionally, and in my own mind, but if people want to call me HisLast socially and informally, like “let’s have the HisLast over for dinner!”, I’m cool with that, and I tell people that! However, so far most people have picked up on my still calling myself MyLast, and so they call me that (even, interestingly, the ones who started calling me HisLast right after the wedding, assuming that I had changed it).

      Because names are a very personal thing, I know that not everyone is ok with just letting people call you what they will, but for me it works. I still maintain my pre-wedded professional and personal identity, but I accept people in other spheres (social and family) sometimes calling me by another name. For me, being called HisLast feels like a nickname – one I like and accept, not one my sister invented to annoy me.

      • I’m kind of the same way. I did hyphenate legally, and as a result, when I took a professional certification exam I had to put the hyphenated name on the certification. Oops. So, I’ve started going by the full name, but not inserting the hyphen in my work signature, not changing my work email, etc.

        I actually like it a lot more than I thought it would.

        Interestingly enough, I started doing this shortly after my father-in-law unexpectedly passed away. The timing was merely coincidental, however as a result I think people may think I’ve done this because of that, and haven’t said anything negative (I have gotten some positive comments).

        Some days, I wish I hadn’t changed it at all, and other days I wish I had just changed it outright instead of hyphenating. So, because I still really can’t make up my mind, I’m kind of glad I hyphenated.

    • Lynn

      I’m not changing my name legally so I will remain Dr. MyLastName professionally. However, when we are out together, I’ll be Mrs. HisLastName. Part of it is that I would like to keep my personal and professional lives separate, but more it is that it’s my name. All of my accomplishments to this point have been done with *my* name. I don’t want to let go of all of those. He understands that and is OK with it so that’s where we’re heading.

    • *puts professional hat on*

      You can definitely do this, however speaking from an HR perspective it’s a lot easier for your current, future, etc. employers if you flip it (keep your name legally, but go by his name socially/casually). All of your W2 forms, benefits paperwork, general HR/PHF information, performance reviews, etc., has to be in your legal name, by law, and you’ll have to explain this *every time you change jobs*, *every time you change bosses*, etc.

      Not to say you can’t do it – HR and managers deal with things that are a lot more of a pain, but there’s definitely a lot of room for errors and confusion.

      On the other hand, you don’t have to do ANYTHING if you don’t change it legally. It’s not illegal to go by a name other than your legal name so long as there is no intent to defraud. And there is a lot less paperwork all around.

  • carrie

    More like gregnemethrocks.com!

    Thanks for expressing this so eloquently and for taking action. You rock!

  • Mrs May

    To offer a differently gendered experience, I’m a woman and married my female partner and took her name. I thought it was pretty cheap ( marriage is legal for us in my state) and not that much hassle. I would say, easier than my taxes. I have no regrets and love being connected to her in this way. It’s important to me that we have the same name as potential children, and will reduce us dealing with crap about which mother is the “real” one, I think. I never would have imagined I would do this and I think she thought I was crazy, but I love our name and it was clear to me right away what I wanted to do. I realized my old name just didn’t mean a lot to me. My parents thought it was sweet.

    • Chris Bergstrom

      It is sweet! Thanks for your perspective!

  • lmba

    I am a woman and I took my husband’s name! And I feel all the twinges of feminist guilt because I feel that I should be MAKING A STATEMENT or something with my family’s approach to naming. However, I have thought long and hard about this and I’ve realized something big:

    My husband is not the only one with (unequal) privilege in our partnership.

    Granted, socially, it is WAY EASIER for me to take his name, because that is pretty much what people expect. He would take a lot of flak from his family and friends if he changed his name, either because they would think it was “unmasculine” or because of dogmatic beliefs about the roles of husbands and wives. So that sucks for me, because I am in a position where it is ASSUMED that my husband doesn’t have to change one single thing about the way he presents himself to the world as a married man, yet I have this gut-wrenching decision to make with regards to my name. In the “deciding what to do about names” game, he has the privilege.

    But the “deciding what to do about names” game only happens for a little while, and then you sortof decide, and then you move on with your regular lives. And in our regular lives, it is not my husband’s name that carries privilege, it’s mine. In our country, my name is a good ol’ English name that everyone recognizes, respects, and knows how to pronounce. My husband is a member of a visible minority – visible not just in terms of his appearance, but visible in every resume he sends out, every application he completes, every time he introduces himself over the phone. And I never thought anything of it, until he was fresh out of grad school with a professional degree from a prestigious university and applying for jobs for hours every day for months. And months. And he is great at networking and writing cover letters and blowing your mind in interviews. But he never got called. And then an article came out in the Globe and Mail detailing the results of a recent study of several major Canadian cities (one of which we were living in at the time). The study described how identical resumes were sent out in response to job postings, some bearing Anglo surnames and others bearing surnames from other ethnic groups. The statistics on the call-backs for these identical resumes were heartbreaking. It killed me to see how hard my partner was working, day in and day out, alongside this hard evidence of blatant discrimination based SOLELY on a person’s surname. That did it for me. If “the deepest inequities are ones we don’t even stop to consider,” then there was a big freaking inequality here that I had been ignoring while thinking through the name change debate. I realized that he may have the “male privilege,” but I have the “white Anglo privilege,” and that means a heck of a lot in some places. I realized that although giving up my name might be a sign of my lack of privilege as a woman, keeping it would also enable me to maintain a TON of privilege that my husband doesn’t have access to for very nasty, nasty reasons. There’s no perfect answer to our situation (or anyone’s?), but I decided that what felt best to me was claiming his name loud and clear, hoping that I may now be able to stand in solidarity with him a tiny bit more effectively as an anti-racist feminist.

    I’m curious whether anyone else has thought through similar aspects of the privilege involved in the whole you’re-getting-married-so-what-do-we-call-you-now thing???

  • Chris Bergstrom

    Yes. This is so true, and so well-said. It doesn’t negate the suckiness of women quietly agonizing over this decision that men (generally) don’t have to face, but my husband and I have this situation going on with our names too, and it’s infuriating to watch him struggle with it.

    (To be clear, I’m infuriated at the potential employers / society, not at him.)

  • Moz

    Dude, you had me at Herodotus and bell hooks.

    But seriously, this is fantastic. As evidenced by the fact that I just said it with a mouthful of cheese toast.

  • Kate

    I have a male cousin who changed his last name to that of his wife and her/their daughter (his wife already had their daughter when they met). His new last name is more ethnic than his former last name (my maiden name), and I think there were lots of family unity/school type reasons for him to want to unify with them and change his own name. I think it’s awesome, but I have a feeling his dad (my uncle) didn’t love his choice, and my dad (his uncle) was of the impression that my late grandparents would not have been happy. In my 11 first cousins, three of us were born with my maiden name and he was the only male with it, so the name “died” when he changed his – a particularly bold choice in the context!

    But like I said, I think it’s awesome, and it reminded me that no one gave me or his sister a hard time when we changed our names upon marriage. I hope that my cousin’s choice and the choice of the author of this post make it easier and easier for men to change their names so that tons of choices are really out there for couples to choose from, in a real, meaningful way.

  • MWK

    Yaaay Greg Nemeth!! I kept my name. Said for ever and ever that my future husband would have to take my last name. The man who ended up being my husband didn’t take my last name, mostly because he was already published in his last name but also because his last name is pretty rad. But I always hated that when I mentioned him taking my name people would act like it was SOOOO WEIRD. Gah. So I’m stoked to hear this story (and glad you pulled one over on that tricky Greg Brown). In other good news, a good friend of mine changed her name to her mother’s maiden name when she got married (her mother is deceased). Her husband kept his name but their kids are going to take my girlfriends’ last name/their grandmother’s maiden name as their last name. Makes me happy. For those who would ask, the jury’s out on our kid’s names. We’ll decide that at some point. Maybe.

  • K.

    Thanks, Greg and Clarissa! It’s great to read about folks thinking through how to live their principles in a context that puts a lot of pressure on those principles and/or gives you lots of opportunities to embrace them (ahem, all of wedding and pre-marriage planning) with such humor and grace.

  • secret reader

    Here’s a weird consideration we’ll have to make: my boyfriend is coincidentally in the same job field as my father. My father is An Important Person in this line of work. It’s true that my boyfriend now has the professional advantage of having a personal connection with an Important Person, but not everyone advertises in-network advantages through their last name. It’s actually why I never really considered a career in the subject, because I didn’t want the awkward baggage my name comes with.

    This just highlights the fact that every family has its own considerations to make, and that each decision is made for a multitude of reasons, not just Tradition vs. Progressive Politics or something.

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  • Leah

    I love the name-change discussions! I have been thinking hard on what I feel comfortable doing (changing my name, keeping my name, hyphenating, both of us changing to some combination) and have decided- finally!- that I am going to change my name to my fiancee J.’s last name. For several reasons:

    1) I have my dad’s last name (my mom never changed hers) and I don’t have any connection to that side of my family anymore. It doesn’t feel like *my* family name- it feels like an unpleasant connection to people I neither like nor respect. Ironically, I thought about changing my last name to my mom’s last name when I turned 18, but never followed through. Giving up a name which has only negative connotations to me isn’t so hard

    2) I have a HUGE connection to J.’s family. His mother, father, sister, and step-brother feel far more like family to me now than anyone I am blood-related to. And even though they ALL have different last names (numerous divorces, remarriages, and kids from different relationships on that side), by taking his name, I feel like it makes me truly a part of that family and honors my connection to all of them, not just J. They have all invited me into their family, and by taking his name I hope they see it as me accepting their invitation.

    3) My mom has a different last name than me, and frankly, when I was growing up, it was a pain in the ass. This is a small reason compared to the others, but still, having the same last name throughout the family sounds, well, easier. Which brings me to…

    4) Lastly (and please don’t judge for this one) I have a wonderful 4 year old soon-to-be-stepson that carries J.’s last name, and by sharing a name with the two of them, I’m hoping that it will make me feel more a part of a family that already exists. I was lucky enough to have known my step-son since he was an infant, and he calls me “Mommy” and I’m sure loves me very much (as I love him), but I still struggle with the feeling that I have to fight for my place in a family that was created without me. It’s been hard enough to get people to respect me as one of his parents- maybe carrying the same last name will make that fight just a wee bit easier.

    Wow.. that list was longer and more thoughtful than I realized. This is what happens when I just start typing! Thanks for posting such throught-provoking topics, and mostly, thanks for listening.

  • To Greg –
    “Some people … [have implied that I] have ceded my patriarchal right …”

    Well … you have. You’ve ceded it in favor of a matrilineal tradition that will start with your baby family. And that’s pretty damned cool, if you ask me. “Patriarchal right” – wtf does that really mean, anyway? Are your kids any less yours because they don’t have your birth name? I mean, obviously not.

  • Aims

    My FH and I have discussed this a lot. We have decided to create an entirely NEW family name for ourselves that in no way relates to either of our current family names. We considered hyphenations, an amalgamation of our 2 names, as well as many of the other options listed here by commenters. We both love our families, but we decided it would be way cooler and way more fair if both of us had to change our names. Also, googleability of the new names totally added to our decision process; no one has our new last name.

    Neither family is very pleased with our decision. Surprisingly though, my dad reacted the most negatively when I mentioned it to him. He said he’d disown me if I didn’t take FH’s family name (he never would, but it was still a shocker)! This from a man who is otherwise always incredibly supportive of me and has raised me to be a feminist. That was unexpected. But the conversation will continue and eventually he’ll get used to the idea.

  • Sarah

    I am first of all glad this is a recent post, and I love this conversation. Haven’t read all the comments, but wanted to add my own. My husband and I hyphenated our last name.

    My pet peeve is: They assume the last name in the hyphenated surname is more important and I get addressed as Ms. His first, his birth surname on envelopes. I didn’t take his first name, I didn’t become him. Why do you insist on calling me this? I scream, and sadly they can’t hear.

    Also I think we should state on forms “Birth Surname” instead of “maiden name”. So from now on for this question (if asked verbally) “What is your maiden name?” answer: My birth surname was…

    Honestly I read the other article, I am all for politely setting something on fire. I like that planned hyphenation thing where the children take off the name of their opposite gendered parent, for their wife or husbands name. I think it will vary for gay couples.

    I was also thinking of another option. Say you have an impossibly hard to spell surname, and you want to hyphenate it with your fiances name, but those names just do not flow well together. Is there a chance that you can find a easier variation of your name in your culture that is easier to spell, and then flows well with your fiances name, who does the same thing? I think there is. This option too may get some grief from family, but then, that is why we are politely lighting something on fire.

    And this last name thing, has always been on fire, since people started having last names.

    But what about the name that isn’t passed down? What to do with that? I don’t actually know. I am trying to figure this out. I am a lucky one to be given at birth four names, 1 first 2 middle and 1 last. My mothers birth surname being my middle name. That was before I hyphenated. My name just 1st and Hyphenated last name doesn’t fully fit on mailings. I think with this “other names” thing, it just has to be down to personal choice, my mothers birth surname is a common Spanish name. My “patrilineal” name is not. My parents divorced shortly before I was born, so really, I have no attachment to my paternal family, except through a few cousins and my Paternal Grandmother. I just love the uniqueness of that name though. It has become me. Though I recognize it is patrilineal, it is still my name. Nobody who knows me, unless they are related to me, know my father. They know me.

    My husband has even said: We are the only two people in the whole country with our name.

    And I love that idea. Now if only people would get it correct. Once it is corrected on every important form I am going to be ecstatic.

    And about the whole Mistress (Mrs), Mister (Mr), Master (Mr) (not used at all today but was during some periods of history), Miss (Ms) thing. maybe we are conflating everything, because not everything is clear? I mean look at those abbreviations. It could be that Miss and Ms was the same thing, and Mister and Master where the same thing abbreviated. The only thing different here is Mistress. I am guessing Mistress could be abbreviated same as Miss, as Ms. Taking the first letter with the last letter to abbreviate. At least now that I see it written this way. It very well could be this way.

    So simply stated, in that respect I would say that Ms. and Mr. Should be the only two available options for women and men as titles both married and not married. Either that, or we go with the European Model and state Mrs. And Mr for all people without regard to marital status and age, except I like to include the younger generation in on this, and just have Ms. That way little girls can still be called Miss. It seems the same to me.

    So sorry about this really long post like comment. Honestly have so many ideas about this, I could write a book.

  • Sarah

    And on further examination, I ultimately appeal that we do away with these titles all together. And do as they do in Iceland, go by first names or Full names. Iceland seems to me to have the best system, others have their good points too, like Russia with feminizing last names, and Spanish culture with honoring both names for giving to children.

    And because I didn’t respond to the actual article yet. I will say I love, love, love that last name. Nemeth is so freaking cool. Its even cooler then my birth surname, and I think my birth surname rocks.

    My husband hand the jitters about it and suggested that I should just keep my last name and he keep his, and that made me have a fit, it was seriously a week before the wedding, just when I had started becoming more comfortable with the name. I cried, and cried. It really hurt me. Until we both finally hyphenated. It was because of teasing, and so far he has gotten none, only that we have a bit of a trial with our church with getting the name correct on the directory. *sigh*

    But this is so cool. I would say that in the event one person makes the name change, choosing the cooler, more unique name is a great compromise. I also repeat that I think that if the unique name is hard to spell, it may be needed to first go through the court name change process to change the spelling slightly, to something that still sounds like the name, and still reflects the heritage of it, but ultimately becomes easier to spell. If I was in that situation i would have.

    I once considered changing my last name to something more Irish sounding, but I realize I am not completely Irish, nor Completely scottish, so I decided to keep my name as is, and its unique enough on its own, and really honestly easy to spell. The only variations I have gotten on it have been with a K, instead of C at the beginning and a “a” instead of a “e” near the end. Not a big deal (in fact I think its cool spelled that way, but it isn’t really on the list I found of similar names)

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  • RS

    My fiance and I have debated this for weeks. We both want the same last name, so we are considering issues of practicality. Nobody can ever pronounce my name, but nobody can ever spell his… we’re just going to decide which is less annoying to constantly correct and go with it. :)

  • Jay

    I will speak only to what I know, that is to say why my wife CHOSE to take my last name. We are Christians. We believe that marriage symbolizes to us and to the world the love that Christ has for His Church. In this symbolism the man plays the part of Christ and the woman plays the part of the bride. Christ calls the Church several times in the Bible. When a person becomes a Christian they abandon their old life in pursuit of a loving relationship with Jesus. They abandon their old identity (characterized by a self centered, self aggrandizing life) and pursue a life of close communion with the lover of their soul. Going back to the marriage analogy this abandoning of self is reflected in taking the name of the one who has professed his love for you. Yes it is a choice, a choice to declare to the world that you have entered into a commitment with this person to pursue intimacy and closeness for the rest of your lives. The woman takes the mans name not out of duty or “some patriarchal system of ownership” but instead she gladly gives up the past, for the promise of the future. She feels proud and honored to be so greatly loved and cherished and wants the world to know with whom she had been joined forever. My point is for Christian and non alike, you can make the argument on whether to change your name into a negative or a positive, reflecting love and relationship or self and seperate-ness. But I will tell you something about the ownership issue that you might want to think about, men throughout time have branded possessions and named things that were precious. If your man tries to brand you run! If he wants to share his name it’s because he finds you precious and loves you.

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  • Yet another late chime-in.

    I love my initials: kjo (obviously, right) and I love the look of my signature. I have, for the longest time, hated the sound of my name. It bothers me to hear it, it bothers me to say it. I even considered changing it on my own a few years ago (to a surname that showed up on both sides of the family) but I couldn’t quite do it.

    I like the sound of my fiance’s last name with my first name. I like to say it out loud. It sounds classic and it sounds like me. But I don’t want to change my initials or my signature. So I decided to add his last name to mine, no hyphen, and keep my last name as a second middle name. My brother grew up with two middle names, so I know it can be done. And it allows me to justify being kjo and keeping my signature unchanged. (As the person at the DMV recently told me, your signature can be whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t have to look like your name. “You can make an X if you want to.” It just has to be your signature.)

    My dilemma comes from the feeling that I am letting my feminist heritage down. *And* when I suggested to M that he could add my last name as a second middle name, he didn’t even want to consider it. To be fair, he was also a little weirded out about me changing my name.

    He has been convinced that I genuinely want to take his last name, but he would be perfectly happy if I didn’t. So it makes sense for him not to want to change his name…to adamantly not want to change his name. And yet I am annoyed with him for not wanting to consider the name change, then guilty that I am annoyed by this, and then more annoyed by the fact that I feel guilty, which sets off a cycle of guilt and annoyance. I know I need to address this at some point. Just…argh!

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