Some of the most common questions I was asked as a newlywed were, “Does it feel any different to be married?”, “Have you got used to calling him ‘husband’ yet?” and of course, “So are you taking his last name?” When I answered in the negative (for all three questions, actually) the latter query was almost always followed up with further questions. “Oh, so are you keeping your name for professional reasons? Is it because of all the paperwork hassles with getting a new passport and ID? Are there no boys in your family to carry on the name?” And then, in a conspiratorial whisper, “Do you not like your husband’s last name?
That’s not it, I would reply. I just don’t believe in changing one’s identity for marriage.
I decided at the ripe old age of 15, almost 10 years before I met the man who would become my husband, that I would not change my name for marriage. At that age the decision mostly sprung from the fact that I just plain liked my name. I have an unusual first name and last name – nothing too weird, just neither of them are very common – and while I’m not particularly enamored with either name alone, together they made a pretty cool combination. Think “Harrison Ford”. People react to my name; several times I’ve introduced myself to someone on email and received a message back signed off with “P.S. Cool name!” In my brooding, introverted teenage years I gave a lot of thought to my name; if asked right now how many letters and syllables are in my first name and last name, or in my full name, I could answer without blinking.
To me, as it would be for many other people, my name is my identity. If someone asks you “who are you?”, the answer that you give is your first and last name. For me, my name is who I am.
As I grew older, learning more about gender politics and the inequalities that women still face in society cemented that teenage decision to keep my name. The expectation that women should change their last name for marriage, swapping their own identity for their husband’s, is – inarguably – sexist. And I say “inarguably” because no one could claim there is an expectation of the same name-change in men. I remember a class in college about gender and the media, where a male student asked in our discussion group, “Would you change your name for marriage?”
“No. Would you change your name?” I answered coolly.
“What?” he sputtered. “No! Why would I change my name?”
“Exactly,” I replied.
To put it bluntly – as I sometimes do when people really grill me about my decision – it’s not 1950 and I’m not cattle that needs to be branded with my owner’s name.
So identity and equality are the two most important factors for me in keeping my name. However, other reasons have reinforced my decision, after receiving the following reactions to my matrimonial surname plans…
• “It’s tradition”: So was slavery. So was women not being able to vote. Tradition doesn’t make any of them a good thing.
• “You could still keep your name, but add his with a hyphen”: That would still be changing my name and identity, and would not be much of a move for equality unless my groom were doing the same.
• “Well, what if your husband did hyphenate his name, too?”: Great for equality, but then it would be two people changing their identity for marriage.
• “What will your children have as a last name?”: They could have both our last names hyphenated, mine as a middle name, or just take their father’s surname – none of which I have a problem with. I do think it’s unequal that children automatically take their father’s name, but other approaches are not yet as widely accepted as women keeping their surnames – though I think this is a convention that will change with time.
• “Won’t you not feel like a family if you have a different last name from your children?”: I’m quite sure that if I birth and/or raise a child, that’s plenty to qualify me for feeling like their family. Whether or not I have the same last name as my child won’t stop me loving them or feeling attached to them. Also, with this logic, would I no longer feel like I’m part of my parents’ family if I take a different surname from theirs? In these days of blended families, the idea that everyone in a family would have the same last name is a touch old-fashioned. You’re still a family; you’re still a unit.
• “Keeping your maiden name is keeping your father’s name; isn’t that also sexist?”: Yes, it is. However, that’s the name I had for the first 29 years of my life before my wedding, and that’s who I see myself as.
• “People will refer to you as ‘Mrs Reflective Groom’ anyway”: Yes, they will. People more familiar with my husband do indeed call me that on meeting me for the first time – just as people familiar with me have greeted him as ‘Mr Reflective Bride’. I’m not going to give them a lecture, just as my groom has not made a big show about correcting them. I understand we live in a society where it’s quite common for wedded women to change their last name, and that the same surname is a fair assumption to make with married couples. A few decades ago it was common to assume any married woman you met was a housewife; that’s not a good reason for women to stay out of the workplace.
• “Ah, you’re just afraid of divorce”: That’s not a reason for my decision, but it is something to consider. I love my husband dearly, and hope we are together until we die in each other’s arms at the exact same moment at age 100, but it would be naive not to realize that something like a third of western marriages end in divorce. Would I then change back to my birth name? And if I re-marry, do I change it again to the new husband’s name? What am I, a baseball card?
Then there is the reaction I get from women who have taken their husband’s name for marriage, who often look a little hurt by my decision: “It’s just nice.” If you think this way, then I applaud you. After all, the same thing could definitely be said about weddings: they’re stressful, expensive and time consuming… but, you know what, they’re just nice. But the things that make weddings nice are that they bring together family and friends, celebrate your love, and are an excuse for an awesome party. Really consider what you find so nice about changing names. And if it is so nice to have the same last name as your spouse, perhaps it shouldn’t only be women stepping up to make the change.
This is my own, personal reasoning for maintaining my birth name. If you, however, do not like your name and do not see it as part of your identity – perhaps because it’s from a parent you don’t have a good relationship with, the name is something you got teased for, or you just feel that it’s not particularly you – then I think marriage is a great opportunity to take on a new name. But I also believe this should be the case for men as well, and that neither gender should feel obligated to switch names.
If you are debating whether or not to make the change to your surname for marriage, don’t listen to the people who question your decision – don’t even listen to this article – but take time to ponder for yourself your thoughts on name and identity, and what’s important to you. If you, too, do think “it’s just nice”, ask yourself what you find nice about it before committing to a decision. It’s your name, and only you should decide what to do with it.Imagesbuddy.com, second image from Doltone House, third image from Weddbook, fourth image from Man Wife & Dog, fifth image from Wedding Paper Divas.)