The best decision I made in my marriage? Keeping my name.

February 29 | Guest post by Ashley Lauren S.
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Thanks to Jayme Lover for uploading this to the Flickr Pool. Jayme explains this name jumble: I kept my last name, so one of my mentors was jesting about it. (Note: She didn't change her last name when she got married either.)

The best decision I ever made was keeping my last name when I got married in October 2010.

I didn't change. I didn't hyphenate. I didn't merge. I didn't decide to use my name professionally and his name socially. I didn't make my name a middle name and take his as a last name. I didn't take any of the plethora of options out there regarding this important decision. I simply kept my name the way it was.

There are many, many stories out there about why women have chosen to change their names upon getting married. In fact, a recent survey by TheKnot.com stated that 86 percent of women getting married are changing their names. Furthermore, another survey by the Gender and Society Journal has stated that about half of the participants think that changing one's name should be a requirement for marriage.

Women keep their name for a variety of reasons. For some, it is a feminist decision that defies patriarchal norms that often come along with becoming a wife. For others, a name can reflect one's culture; when you have a culturally specific name and your partner does not, giving up that name can feel like giving up your culture, too. For still more women, it's about working hard to build a career in a culture that uses social media to associate people with their names. This is not a conclusive list, but the decision to keep one's name — no matter the reason — is an important choice for many women, and one that should not be taken away.

Granted, sometimes changing your name seems easier than keeping it — after the visit to the Social Security office, and the DMV, and calling credit card and billing agencies, to be sure everything is up to date. When you don't change your name, that stuff is easy; you don't have to do anything at all. But socially, when you are constantly asked, "What's your new name?" and then given disapproving or confused looks when you respond that you kept your name, it can be disheartening. Even more disappointing is when you start to receive cards in the mail from friends and family addressed to Mr. and Mrs. His Name.

However, the benefits for me have been immense. My name symbolizes my identity, and it was very important for me to be able to retain my identity when I got married. Of course, you have to fit your life in with another person, but the symbolism of completely becoming part of him, while he wasn't symbolically becoming part of me, was too much to bear. Plus, as a little girl, I never dreamed of having articles or books published or earning advanced degrees as Ashley Lauren SomeoneElse'sName, but I did dream of seeing Ashley Lauren S___ on bookshelves and diplomas.

There are as many reasons to keep your name as there are to change it, and the decision is not one to make lightly. The choice should be ours to make with our families, whatever that choice is.

  1. I have a hyphenated last name, given to me by my parents, and it sucks. I absolutely detest having a hyphenated last name, mostly because I didn't choose to have one.

    It's hard to spell (there's a capital letter in the middle of a word, in addition to a freaking hyphen), hard to communicate (people always think it's one long name, especially since both of mine start with L), and impossible to fit on forms. A lot of people seem to forget how often you have to give people your last name, and how you don't always want to tell a story about the origin, and people always ask. People also always ask which one to use, and then when I say, "Both, the entire thing is my last name," they get huffy.

    I feel like I should warn people against hyphenation because it hasn't been a great time for me. I get asked a lot, mostly in a joking way, what I'll do when I get married. My answer is always the same: changing it. The second hyphen idea is stupid if only because it would never fit on forms, ever. The US Postal Service "doesn't recognize the hyphen" as an allowed character. Everything is against you when you have a hyphenated last name.

    If you feel that hyphenating your last name (and/or your child's) will work for you, go for it. It's definitely an option that can work for some names and some people! (Mine is a super mouthful, and everyone always tries to pronounce the whole thing as French, since the second part is.) For myself, I've lived with a complicated, annoying last name for 27 years, and it's almost time for it to go away.

    • Gee, I can see how ruff that would be, given your name. I know of two girls with a hyphenated last name. One is an italian-british combination, the other was a combination of one 7 character last name, and one 5 character last name which worked great together. They both loved their last names, but I can see for you it probably wasn't the best combination of names.

      I think the hyphen is great, but I am sick of spelling it out. So, combining it works well for me.

      You do have options with your name, and if you want to change it, go ahead and do so. And if you don't have a middle name, You could move one of the names to your middle. There are other options too. Like you could combine your last names. You can even do this before you get married. Many different combinations.

      • I'll be changing it within the next year and a half or so, to something wayyyyyyy shorter and easier to spell. I'm excited! (Oh, and he's neat, too.)

        Changing your last name just because you don't like it seems weird to me… these cultural constructs are strong!!

        • Oh congratulations. Actually people change it upon marriage for exactly that reason, and I've heard (reading through various blogs and forums), of people who did that.

          I love my hyphenated name, and changing it now seems weird since I already changed it. It would have to be for a real special occasion like a child and for simplicty's sake, but it would be a combined name.

  2. I know this is a little old, but I'd like to comment anyway. This has been a sad issue for me, only because it's the only thing my fiance and I don't agree on. My last name is unique. Unique enough that every time I've met someone with the same name they've been a relative – even if a distant one. It's also long (which I'm less excited about).

    My fiance's last name is Smith. It's short…but it's also one of (if not THE) most common names in the western world.

    I've never been a fan of hyphenating or having two last names. My own name being so long, the idea of adding to it just gives me a headache. And I fear a bit that any children you'd have would end up just taking one of the names and either dropping the hyphen or the extra name (and there's no cultural significance for either of us).

    What I REALLY liked was the idea of creating a new name by combining both of ours. That by marrying we were combining two families into a new one. I got really excited about that idea, until I found out that my fiance was only humoring what he thought was a joke on my part.

    When I brought it up later and he realized I was serious, he was completely against it. And it's not that he thinks I -have- to take his name…he just doesn't want to get rid of his (which, I'll admit, I have trouble understanding since it's such a common name). I've tried convincing him, but it's apparently a sticking point for him. He doesn't care what I choose to do with my last name…but he's not changing his.

    I don't really want to keep my name, as I feel like we're supposed to be starting a family (and the surname is, after all, ALL about family). And I'm not completely sure what I'd want to do with our children's surnames. I don't want to be Brooke Myname, and Kenny, Jane, and John Smith. Or some other combination that doesn't make it clear that we are a family.

    I'm probably going to just take his name since I can't think of any way to convince him and I don't like the other alternatives much better….but I am still really depressed that the love of my life had to have such a generic last name (it would be easier to stomach if HIS last name was unique or important to his family too…but I think he's just used to it and doesn't want to bother with changing it).

    1 agrees
  3. This is a subject very emotionally filled for me. I don't really have much family left. My sister died 4 years ago, my father died two years ago and my mother died this year. The only person other than me who has my name (other than very distant relatives) is my other sister, but she's a drug addict and I don't talk to her AT ALL. I'm only 29 and my whole family has basically been wiped out. I'm more or less the only one left to carry on their legacy and their name.

    At first, my fiance was a bit annoyed by my "silly" insistance that I keep my name. I also am choosing to wear my ring on my pointer finger because I NEVER wear rings on my ring finger (they never seem to fit right on that one for some reason). Also, when I met him he pushed me for a relationship for several months when I didn't want to be in one and he really had to wait a long time until I was ready for him to come into my life and be my boyfriend. So, with all of this he had questions of 'do you really even want to be married to me?' and 'how will anyone even know that you're married to me if you don't take my name and you wear your ring on the wrong finger?'.

    Though, during my mother's wake when he was talking about getting married to me, I broke down in tears and said I couldn't because he only wanted me if I would change my name. I really could never get rid of one of the only things that ties me to my now all deceased family. He seems to have changed his mind back, as long as any kids we have keep his last name. I don't know… time will tell if he's really committed to it and if he lets me "have my way" as he puts it. And if he doesn't, when he knows how much it means to me that I don't abandon my family identity, then perhaps he's not the right one for me. Time will tell.

    1 agrees
    • Alright, I know you might not be looking for advice or opinions of your relationship here…..but, wow. I'm really sorry for all of the losses that you've gone through, and I'm even more sorry that your fiance felt that a good time to pressure you about marriage was during your mother's wake. I'm also anxious that he pressured you for a relationship when you weren't ready.
      I know we're only seeing one side of your situation here….but I'm alarmed at how you've described your relationship. It really seems like he doesn't have a lot of respect for your situation. You've lost three important family members in less than five years…the guy can back off a little! My husband was initially a little confused by me wanting to keep my name, but once I explained about how important it was to me, he understood and was OK with it. Future kids will have his last name, and mine as a middle name. Not only is he OK with this now, he openly defends it to other people who question. If your fiance is seeing this as you "having your way" then I think you have a problem. He should not only fully respect your wishes, but knowing all of the grief you've dealt with, he should be 100% embracing your decision to keep your name in remembrance of your family. Heck, he should have put his foot down and refused to let you even consider changing your name. Argh! I'm a little livid right now, can ye tell?
      Ok, you can take my opinion or leave it, but if a guy says that you're "silly" for wanting to keep your name when he KNOWS what you've been through, maybe you need to do some serious thinking. It's YOUR name, from YOUR lost family, and dammit it's YOUR wedding ring so you can bloody well wear it on whatever finger you feel like! I'm worried that in years to come, this will be one of those things that he continuously brings up in every fight, along the lines of, "This is just like with your name! You're not happy unless you get YOUR way!"
      I know you've been through a lot, and he's probably been there during most of it and you might not think you're strong enough for another loss….but I think you already know the truth, and you said it in your last line, "And if he doesn't, when he knows how much it means to me that I don't abandon my family identity, then perhaps he's not the right one for me." Honey, you need to tell him (now, before marriage and definitely before having kids) that when the time comes, there is no "letting" you keep your name. You WILL keep your name, and it doesn't make your marriage any less of a marriage. If he doesn't get that, and if he doesn't make a complete 180 turn to embracing your decision whole hearted….you need to move on. If his past attitude is any indication, he will ALWAYS see this as a divide, as a lack of commitment on your part, as a silly quibble for you to get your own way. Seriously, do some major MAJOR thinking, and then have a deep conversation with him. But, I think you already know in your heart what the outcome needs to be.

      14 agree
  4. I am over the outdated etiquette stuff regarding name changing. This is 2012 and a woman is an individual regardless of who she marries. I thought we had moved on, but so many people are so hung up on this… including my soon-to-be husband. I would love nothing more than to keep my own last name… I love it and can't imagine being anything but. But my fiance told me forthright that he would be hurt if I didn't take his last name… even went so far as saying that he didn't want me to hyphenate my last name and his. I'm terribly confused, because if it means that much to him, then I suppose I shall concede (pick your battles right?) but I'm none too happy about it… *sigh* As for Mr. & Mrs. John Smith… that infuriates me!

    1 agrees
    • I say keep your name. Do what I did: tell your fiance that your name is very, very important to you, and it's unfair that you're the only one changing part of your identity in this way. Offer a compromise: both of you take each other's last names as middle names (or second middle names). Now I'm Jamie HisName MyName, and once he's done the paperwork he'll be Evan MyName HisName. This way you'll still be Amanda YourName, but if someone calls you Mrs. HisName on accident, they're still somewhat correct.
      The more of us that put our foot down, the more "normal" it will be, and eventually we'll get rid of this unnecessary, sexist tradition.

      7 agree
    • There is no reason he should be hurt — you aren't not changing your name to avoid his, you're not changing your name to keep yours. He should respect that it's your identity. If the important thing to him is sharing a name, then he should compromise by hyphenating, combining, using last names as middle names, etc.

      4 agree
  5. I spent my whole life in total agreement, convinced I would never change my name. Then I found my soulmate and after 10 years we're engaged and he brought up an interesting point: that he thought it made sense for us to have the same last name combo as our future kids. (note: in my country we normally have at least 2 last names, one from our mother and one from our father)
    As changing my identity and my professional name by adding his to the end just wouldn't feel right, we've decided to both take one of the others last names. So I'll be Mariana mylastname1 hislastname2 mylastname2, and he'll be P hislastname1 mylastname1 hislastname2. And our kids will be Kid mylastname1 hislastname2.

  6. It's really interesting to read this perspective and learn about the different ways people denote their identities.
    I myself have been looking forward to changing my name since I was a little girl–and rather hoping that I will get married someday so that it's cheaper. Ha ha, I guess I have unusual priorities? (There's nothing objectively wrong with my birth name, I just don't like the sound.)
    However, I still feel strange reading about the importance of being known by an individual name when I'd just as soon fade into the background. I don't think I'd be bothered by cards addressed to Mr&Mrs HusbandsFullname because I freaking loathe cards. "I can't even remember which distant relative you are. Leave me alone!" They can be his responsibility for all I care. Sometimes people comment on how "traditional" I am for being demure and softspoken, but the only reason the inaccuracy of that assessment doesn't bother me is that it's better than being recommended for psychotherapy. I am hoping that if someday I am addressed by a name that is more associated with someone else, it will not trigger the adrenaline rush that comes from near-strangers calling my birth name (and unauthorized diminutives thereof).
    (Funny-in-retrospect story: Once I accidentally put an eBook for sale under my real name. I figured out how to fix it, but this was after a fair bit of hyperventilating.)

  7. My last name is the same as my fiance's favourite hockey player growing up. It also means "The Best" in French. He has always said he wanted my last name, and, quite frankly, who can blame him? When I told my feminist friends this they thought that I had this amazing, progressive boyfriend who was smashing patriarchy and all that but really, it's because I have an awesome handle and he doesn't give a s*** about tradition.

    3 agree
  8. I love my name and it makes me sad to think of losing it. I told my FH that either I'll keep my name and he'll keep his, or we will both hyphenate, but I'm not willing to change my name just because I happen to be female. The husband isn't the head of the household anymore. He loved the double hyphenation idea so we'll both have each other's names, which I love. I also love that my children will have my name.

    1 agrees
  9. My SO seemed a little upset the first time I mentioned to him that I would never ever ever even consider changing my name, until I explained it to him like this: "Michelle is a perfectly fine name. It's a pretty name and I like it. However, it is not MY name. Why would I change my name to Michelle 30 years into my life? I wouldn't. Same goes for the last name."

    The only thing that sucks is that I really do like the idea of having a shared family name, but if I'm not going to consider changing mine, I certainly can't expect him to change his.

    4 agree
  10. Janet, your man with his demands sounds unreasonable and (dare I say it) downright mean. All things considered, I think you have all the right in the world to keep your name. Hang in there and don't give up. Your name is speacial to you and you should be able to keep it. This is 2012 for goodness sake!

    I myself am getting married in December and I'm taking the hyphenated road. In my country of origin, Finland, women still largely tend to favour their husbands names instead of keeping their own or having it hyphenated. I've already had a few raised eyebrows because my future name will be somewhat long-ish (with two hyphens!) and will never fit on any signature lines. I don't care. I love my own name and I'm delighted to have my fiance's name attached to it.

    2 agree
  11. First let me tell you that I found this post by simply inquiring whether I should have my middle name placed on my college diploma rather than just my middle initial, so that was kind of interesting! :)

    Anyway, after reading this, I felt like I might be the only guy out there that actually agrees with you! I've never been married, but I've always felt like if my wife wanted to keep her own name, I'd be all for it. I'm a huge advocate for personal independence and I wouldn't expect any less from someone I'm with.

    My only question/concern would be what happens with the children's names? Do they get the woman's last name or the man's? Or maybe some combination of both? Who's family name gets passed on to the next generation?

    1 agrees
  12. My FH is the last person in the world with his name, as far as we've been able to find. It was important to him to share his his name with me. I agreed, with the stipulation that I would give our first child my maiden name as a first name :) If there's no path, or if you don't like the path, you make your own!

    2 agree
  13. My sister's godmother kept her name so I've never thought of that as being weird. I am sad at giving up the name that helped me to define myself as a child. However, I also have a high respect for defined gateways from one area of life to another.

    When I graduated college, I got a piece of paper and two letters to add to the end of my name. Marriage is a much bigger change in life. I only had to commit to college for a minimum of 4 years (I actually took much longer, but that's a story for another time). Marriage is a lifetime commitment and, as such, is worthy of more than just a piece of paper to me.

    For that reason, I am choosing to change my name. I have considered having the middle name of my eldest son be my maiden name… if we ever get around to having kids.

  14. This was a good article. I don't think there should be any reason why a woman can't keep her name. However, I do think sharing a name makes things simpler down the road with family. Actually, one of the things I am most excited about is changing my name. We already have two kids, and it really is a pain not having the same name as them with all of the paperwork that kids bring about in life. Not to mention it makes me feel less connected to my own family. I might be the oddball here, but I guess that's ok!

    • I wouldn't have given my kids a different last name. If I had to carry a child inside of me for 9 months then either painfully push it out of me or be cut open to have it taken out, I would not want a disconnect between us. I don't understand why it is acceptable for a guy to provide his sperm, yet the woman does all the work and is expected to take the man's name and give it to her kids as well.

      2 agree
      • For me personally, I gave my kids their father's last name because it was important to him and it helped him feel more connected to them. But there were more factors at play there, and his very strict traditional family was giving him a lot of heat about us not being married. Being a father means a lot more than being a sperm donor. Also, I don't see how it's fair to force that disconnect on him if you choose to keep your last name and then give it to your children as well. If I were your husband, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that. It's definitely a decision both need to make together.

        2 agree
  15. Generally I agree with change but is this subject really about getting married or not losing who you are? Marriage is a commitment. Our society decided a long time ago that part of that commitment is taking on your husbands name. I know I will get bashed but is changing a woman's name about committing to the union or about holding on to self identity? Also realize how this can degrade something special built between two people. Marriage has always been about compromise. I think this is a symptom of why we have so many divorces in our society.

    • Chris, the issue here isn't fighting compromise — it's questioning why one person should be pressured to compromise when the other isn't. If changing your name is about "committing to the union," then why is it so rare to see men change their names?

      I'm all for people keeping their names, but your suggestion that women keeping their names shows a lack of commitment is totally galling.

      Also: "our society decided a long time ago" is not a good reason to keep doing something that doesn't resonate for you. "Our society also decided a long time ago" that women couldn't vote.

      To be clear: I'm all for anyone making the choice to change their names. But I am not ok with the suggestion that it has anything to do with the level of commitment they've got toward their partner.

      20 agree
    • Pretty much everything that Ariel said. The definition of compromise is "An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions." — What concessions are the groom making in this instance? I far more believe that having all the concessions and demands made of one side and thus making the marriage one-sided is the bigger cause of divorce than wanting to keep your name.

      4 agree
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