Q: Hi APW! I have been following so many of your posts since becoming engaged in 2015, and continue to appreciate your advice since getting married in June of last year. One area I’m surprisingly still battling is reinforcing my decision to keep my last name with both my in-laws and my own extended family. Some background: my husband has always been supportive of me keeping my name, as there was never a question of my changing it. At our wedding, we were announced using our first names only, and all correspondence and social media include my full name, no change. We have also talked openly about it at family gatherings, but not made a big deal about it as we’re both non-confrontational. The problem is I keep getting mail addressed to variations on my husband’s last name, typically from his side of the family, i.e., HisFirstName and MyFirstName HisLastName, or MyFirstName MyLastName-HisLastName, or (my fave) MRS. HisLastName, etc. We have even received checks as gifts after the wedding addressed to me with his last name (plus his name, fortunately).
It’s very awkward at this point a year later, and I’m not interested in having a conversation about my decision as it’s not up for discussion. The kicker here is that we’re pregnant with our first, and our child will likely take my last name in some way, either outright or hyphenating both.
I want to be treated respectfully and addressed properly as I bear no ill-will toward women who have kept their names. Is this something my husband should be addressing with his family, and me my own, and how? Should I make a big social media post? Keep pointedly addressing mail as NotHisLastName? Return mail addressed to someone who doesn’t exist? Just kidding on that last one :) Thank you!
—Not His Last Name
You’re well within your rights to call people out for this every single time. It is your name! It’s personal. And I get your feeling that it’s been long enough that you feel awkward bringing it up, like asking someone to remind you of their name after you’ve been chatting for an hour.
The thing is, it’s not going to get easier from here. So, as awkward as it feels right now, imagine how much more awkward you’ll feel in another five years, ten, on your thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.
I talked to a bunch of women who kept their names when they married, and the ways they all handled this was totally varied. Some felt very strongly that it was important to address it every time. Others call it out in person but not so much in their mail, or choose to say something to peers, but not to elderly relatives.
You seem as though you’re not comfortable doing a hard crackdown, but it also really bothers you. So, I’d suggest easing yourself into getting used to bringing it up by latching onto a readymade excuse: that baby. Send a birth announcement or do a social media post where you introduce this baby with its full name, and maybe a reminder about each of yours.
But even as I say that, you need to understand that 1) People ignore stuff. Your baby announcement could say, “PLEASE NOTE NAMES” in huge letters across the top and folks will still be like, “Oh cute chub!” and not even notice. And 2) People forget stuff (even important, essential stuff). A full year later seems like a long time, but you’ll be making this correction for years and years. So making one big reminder right now is a great plan, and that baby is a neat little excuse. But if you’re considering it as a once-and-done solution, I’ve got bad news. Living in the patriarchy is never done. Which is exactly why you may as well get used to correcting it now. In fact, you can begin using the baby as an excuse right away. “Hey, I noticed you called me this, and wanted to clarify since the baby is coming and will also have my name (or be hyphenated or whatever).”
It is completely, entirely, fully an issue of respect to remember what someone chooses to be called, and you can remind them every single time they mess it up—that’s a completely valid and fair path. But it’s gonna take some getting used to.
That’s why you had a baby, right? To make the world a little bit better of a place?
And P.S. Make your husband do as much or more correcting of folks as you’re doing. It’s never going to be as easy as one of you taking one side of the family, and the other one of you taking the other, but you both should be partners in setting the record straight.
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