Last Name: Keep It Or Change It?

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

I remember the last time I wrote a guy’s name because I wanted to see how it looked on paper, in my handwriting. I was 17 and working as a hostess at The Olive Garden. The guy was the brother of one of the female servers; he also happened to know one of my roommates so he had been over to my apartment several times. He came into the restaurant a lot and I thought he was adorable. One day I doodled his name on the inside back cover of a notebook I was using for a college class. I took the notebook to work with me several days later (I would study at the hostess stand when we weren’t busy), and at one point one of the male servers walked by and started flipping through the pages. Then, of course, he landed on that fateful page. He paused, and I could see the realization set in that he knew the name of this guy that was written inside my notebook.

My saving grace was that I hadn’t written my name in combination with my crush’s name. Thinking fast, I told him that the guy had written his name in there himself; that he had done it while hanging out at my apartment one night. It was dumb, but it must have worked because I never heard anything about the incident again.

That particular incident isn’t the “ah-ha!” moment when I decided I don’t want to change my last name if I get married; it was more of a gradual process. When I was younger, I always assumed I would change my last name. It was expected. It was what everyone does. But at some point I changed my mind.

A big factor in this decision would be the large amount of marriages that end in divorce. A woman has to change her name on countless documents and with multiple companies, she finally gets accustomed to using a different name — and then what happens? The marriage ends, and you either have to change your name once again (Back to your maiden name? To that of your new husband?) or continue to use the name of a man you no longer want to be identified with.

I’m not a famous published writer — or a famous anything, for that matter. There aren’t a lot of people who know my full name, outside of people I’m personally acquainted with. But I don’t care about that. My name is my identity. This is the name I’ve had for 26 years (and counting). It’s who I am.

There are other options: some women choose to hyphenate their names. There are even men out there who decide to change their last name to match their wife’s. But I’d ever expect something like that from a partner. Why should he change his name? It’s part of who he is. I simply expect the same courtesy and respect in return. If a guy equated my unwillingness to change my name with a lack of commitment on my part, it’s probably not a person I’d want to be with.

Some people never liked their last name to begin with, or they aren’t close to their family and would rather associate themselves with a new name. I do not, in any way, look down on a woman who decides to change her name — if I did, I’d be mad at a lot of people. I think it’s a personal decision. I just wish that more women thought of it as an option. I think it would be awesome to see a big uprising of women who get married and say, “I love you, honey, but I’m keeping my name.”

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  • Reply jen January 31, 2007 at 10:45 am

    my ex-husband and i both changed our names to a new (made-up) name. (and my in-laws really resented it.) i never changed it back after we got divorced. he didn’t either at first and then did right before he got married for the second time.

    i like my current last name better than my original one, which makes sense because i picked it (along with my ex). but i am really not very attached to my name at all. i used to think my name was this big part of my identity, until i got used to my new one. now it’s just a name, i don’t think of either my “maiden” name or my “married” name as “who i am” or anything like that. i don’t think of my first name as being part of my identity any more either. in fact, if it weren’t a hassle, i’d love to change my first name. if anything, i’d change my first name before i’d bother to change my last name.

  • Reply jen January 31, 2007 at 10:51 am

    by the way, because i don’t care what my name is, i’d be happy to change it if it mattered to my partner. in fact, i did offer to change my last name to my partner’s last name if he wanted me to, even though we don’t want to get legally married. unsurprisingly, he doesn’t care what my last name is.

  • Reply Mala January 31, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Hey Zandria,

    I LOVE the new layout!

    I don’t want to change my name either. When the time comes my children can use my last name as their “middle” name.

    I’ve never wanted to change my name. Many of my married female friends didn’t take their husband’s name. I think it really just depends on the couple.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ M

  • Reply Dana January 31, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    You know, I never really thought about all of the options out there, I always just assumed that if the day comes when I get married, I will change my name. I guess that’s the “traditional” part of me speaking out. I have heard of people though who either do what Jen said above and choose a new last name for them both or combine both of their last names. I guess for me too, I don’t like my last name, so I’d be glad to change it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Dana January 31, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    PS….I have also dated a couple guys where when I heard their last name I thought WOW, which one of ours is worse??? haha

  • Reply Another Chris January 31, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Hey Zan! Both of my sisters kept their ‘maiden names’ (such an archaic sounding term, as I sit here in the 21st century typing this) when they wed. I applaud that choice; one of them has had children, and here is a thing you might poll your readers on…the children of my sister both were given my sister’s husband’s last name. I have never really reflected on this, but my sister made the liberated choice of keeping her own last name hen she wed, but both of her sons were–as is tradition–given the husband’s last name as their surname. I wonder why that is…I think that is often how it happens when children are named in such circumstances. I cannot imagine that it is done this way for legal reasons…my sister’s last name is just as legally legitimate as her husband’s…I suspect it was done just because it IS traditional that a child–especially a boy–assume the father’s last name, but really, it doesn’t seem progressive, or liberated at all that the male surname is used, when the female keeps her own last name. Why not a hyphenated surname for the children of such marriages, so both last names are carried on to the future?

  • Reply DefenseEngineer January 31, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    I think this becomes more of an issue in the current modern age when men and women are getting married later in life. When people got married younger, they had not set up a real identity for themselves with their names (just out of school, who really knows you anyway?). But now, as people are getting married after they have been in their careers for many years, it becomes more of an issue.

    Their are many exceptions to my statement. One of which I fall under. I have a heavy family history with which I want to keep connected. My sister wanted the same thing and it was difficult for her to let go of her last name. But ultimately, it was her choice and she decided she wanted to change her name (mainly for the bennefit of the kids). After almost 5 years, I often don’t immediately recognize her new name when I see it pop-up in front of me….

  • Reply goodsnake January 31, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    When I was in college and really into my “feminist” phase, I thought there was no way in hell I would change my name. Why would I be willing to give up my identity for a man, but I also had a very different view of marriage back then.

    I will also admit that if I wasn’t with the person I am going to marry that I am sure I would have agreed to change my name. Yet, when I get married in 79 days I am going to change my name and I am very excited about it. So excited in fact that I have already ordered and received the stationary I ordered with my future husband’s and my name on it.

    I think it is dependent on the person and the relationship, but I cannot imagine not taking my fiance’s name. We are becoming a team, a unit, a family. It is a symbol of that. I don’t have to worry about divorce because I have no intention of every having one (and for those of you who may think I am naive, you haven’t met my future husband). It has nothing to do with being patriarchal it has everything to do with us wanting to be a unit. I might have made an argument about which name we took, but I had changed my name to my mother’s maiden several years ago to avoid issues that sometimes come from having an ethnic last name. Different people make different choices for different reason, but I can tell you, I don’t feel any less of an independent, dynamic, intelligent, and career-driven woman just because I want to change my name.

  • Reply janet February 1, 2007 at 12:21 am

    I changed mine because I don’t want to worry about it when we have kids, and I don’t want to hyphenate the kids (because when does the hyphenation end???)

    I guess I’m just glad that nobody pressured me or anything when I was deciding. It was up to me, and I liked that. I do wish that on average husbands changed their names to the wives names just as much.

    (Side note: when your layout changed I think your rss feed address changed, so I wasn’t seeing new posts in my rss reader. thank goodness I noticed and changed it, but I just thought you might want to know?)

  • Reply Sweet February 1, 2007 at 9:38 am

    I love my last name. Who knows? Maybe I’ll convince my future husband to take it?

  • Reply fw sunshine February 1, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I can’t imagine changing my last name – it’s as much a part of me as my first name. This said, I can’t say that my viewpoint on this would remain the same if I did meet someone and get married. And THAT said, the whole ‘maiden name’ and assuming your husband’s last name is just a wee bit too patriarchal for me. AND…I’ve been independent for so long that to change my name, midway through my life, would be kind of silly.

    To each her own, though.

  • Reply VivaciousVegan February 2, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Zan,

    I’m really liking the new layout! I changed my name when I got married. I briefly thought about keeping my maiden name but I never liked it much. Plus, I liked the idea of being the Smiths. A joint name that told everyone we were a family.

    I did have a friend whose husband changed his name to her last name. His last name was Douche but he always said it was pronounced Doo-Chay but no one ever pronounced it “correctly”. I would have changed my name too if I were him.

  • Reply Mary P March 26, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    My husband and I are from California. When we got married we decided to merge our names together to make a new name (think Smithjones). We debated which name would go first for a while but the one that sounded better was his first, then mine. We got married & our friend, who married us, announced it at the end of the ceremony. None of our friends or family thought twice about it. It seemed very “us” and worked well. We both were attached to our names but wanted the same name for our “family”, and we hate the hyphen option.

    When we went to the social security office to change our names they looked at us a bit funny, but didn’t question it. We got out new card right away. Same with driver’s licene, bank, passport. As long as we had our wedding licence, no one questioned. My husband and I had a completely seamless time.

    We love our new name & wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Reply Jaymie April 30, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I didn’t change my name when I got married, for a few reasons:

    1. It’s my name, and I am attached to it. I would feel like I would be giving up my identity of the last 27 years.

    2. I had a stepfather, and a mother with a different name and it never seemed to be a problem

    3. It still seems very patriarchal

    4. He wouldn’t even consider taking my name

    5. My name is easier to spell! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Unlike Goodsnake, I don’t see not changing my name as an unwillingness to be part of a team. We were together for a long time before marriage and have made that commitment to stay together, regardless of what we name ourselves.

    I have gotten a few remarks from my MIL and even mail (from both families) addressed to Mr. and Mrs. J. Doe. That pisses me off.

  • Reply Veronica May 15, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I feel the same as Jaymie, above. I did not work this hard for 27 years to become Ms. Veronica MyLastName, Esquire, to be called Mrs. Future Husband’s Name. ACK, nothing makes me angrier than seeing those words!

  • Reply VIRGINIA April 27, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Well, I’m Spanish, so we don’t have to decide about this. In Spain everybody have two surnames, the first is the father’s and the second the mother’s surname. So mothers NEVER have the same as their husbands or children. The only people who have the same two surnames are the brothers and sisters. So, this is the reason for us it’s so strange the anglo saxon system. People in Spain never change their name in their entire lives and for us couples with the same surname seem to be brother and sister. It is more practical because it’s very improbable to find someone named exactly like you. You also can name a child like her mother or father and they are never going to be confused because although they have the same first name one surname is different. English people have asked to me “but how do you write the couple?” like if it were a big problem. You simply could write to Fernandez Gonzalez family but we generally don’t do that, we simply write one of the adults name with the address on the envelope and then we refer to the hole family in the text, beginning with a “Hola a todos” (Hello everybody)

  • Reply » Strong Women, Strong Voices May 26, 2011 at 12:26 pm

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