After I got engaged, the name issue quickly became the most frustrating detail for me to figure out.
At first, the problem seemed to be around my last name. Should I keep it? I had already earned two degrees and published a few academic papers under my current name which was a significant amount of identity investment, as I saw it.
However, I have never been overly-fond of my last name, aesthetically speaking. And my husband-to-be has an awesome last name that I actually love. For a while, we decided to hyphenate both our last names. But something still didn't feel right about it. His name was certainly not improved by tacking my name to the front of it, but I felt kind of wrong just changing my last name — misplaced feminist pride, perhaps.
I genuinely believe that any partner should change their name if they so desire, but I couldn't seem to justify it to myself for some reason.
Then I had an epiphany. I wanted to take his last name — but I also wanted to legally change my first name.
WHY I changed my first and last name after I got married
My name dysphoria started a long time ago. I have a long, feminine, difficult, foreign-sounding name. My father is Hawaiian, and I was given the name to honor that heritage, though I was not raised in Hawaii. Everyone I introduce myself to immediately compliments me on what a beautiful name I have. After they mispronounce it twice.
For the past three years, I have gone by another name entirely. It worked well. Then I started my first full-time job, and was overwhelmed with my legal name on everything, including my provided work e-mail address. I reluctantly ordered business cards thinking “Well, maybe I can go by this name again.” But, in fact, I couldn't — I hated it. It was like an ill-fitting sweater that itched. So I started asking my coworkers to call me by my preferred name.
When I chose my new first name, I partly chose it because it is gender-neutral leaning toward masculine, which suits my genderqueer self far better than my given name ever did.
While my reasons for disliking my first name are many and varied, it's never been about my family — who I love dearly. After I told my wonderful mother that I wanted to change my first name, she said that, although she was sad, she realized “it isn't about you rejecting me; it's about you becoming you.” Just writing those words from her makes me weep with gratitude. She was completely correct.
Re-examining my values also helped a great deal here. Recently, when making big life decisions (quitting a miserable grad school program, quixotically looking for jobs near that fellow I am about to marry), I come back to a sentiment that is beautifully summed up by this A Softer World comic which says:
Please know that I am in no way trying to invalidate anyone else's experiences of feeling trapped. Sometimes we truly are constrained by circumstances far beyond our control. In this instance though, I have the ability to make a decision.
Did I want to keep having the same tiresome, negative conversation with every new person that I meet? Not really. Is changing my entire name going to be incredibly inconvenient? Most certainly, in terms of process, costs, and social confusion. Is my happiness worth the inconvenience? When I asked myself that question, the answer was a resounding YES.
I now have no problem taking my partner's (delightful) last name when I will also be taking my own first name, on my own terms. Though, I decided to keep my middle name for sentimental reasons — bracketing it between my chosen names.
I look forward to the person I am becoming, and the new name I will carry with pride. In the future, when someone compliments me on my name, I will be able to say: “Thank you, I chose it myself!”
A note from the editors…
How to change your last name after getting married
If you're changing your last name to after getting married, we suggest going the easy route using HitchSwitch.
They make the name change process simple, guiding you through the process step-by-step. Prices start at $39, and they make way easier than dealing with all the paperwork on your own.
However it works out, we wish you all the best!