Why I’m changing my last name, and why I won’t be apologizing for it

Guest post by Daryl Thomas
Photo courtesy of Rawtography
Photo courtesy of Rawtography

For a long time, I never thought I would change my last name. When we were dating I told my husband-to-be about this plan numerous times, and he was always supportive. Both of us have always been fairly non-traditional, so it was never a problem. I identify as a feminist, and I am passionate about causes that celebrate gender equality. Since changing my mind and deciding to change my name, I have received some eye rolls and unsolicited comments from my like-minded liberal community.

So what made me change my mind? For me, it boils down to one word: kids. As I got older, and kids became more of a near-future reality and less of a far-off plan, I realized that I had always pictured having the same last name as my kids. Growing up, my family was the Thomases — a band of pirates facing the world together. It made me realize I had always pictured that same idea.

Let me be clear that I am completely aware that names are just a label and have nothing to do with how families interact. This is just the image that I had imagined in my own mind. If we had decided to not have children, I would have kept my current name — this was the variable that changed my mind.

I know plenty of women who do not have the same name as their children; couples where the husband and wife both changed their names to a brand-new last name; couples who hyphenated; and people who’ve mashed up their last names into a fun combination of both. Today, there are a million choices for all of us! None of these choices are better than the other, but they are a personal decision.

For a little while, I went through the choices in my head. I could hyphenate my name, but my fiancé’s name is already a little unusual, and I felt like it would be even more confusing to people if I added another word to it. I also thought about having four names, but that is still a little more complicated than I would like to deal with.

The last choice that I considered was making my current last name my middle name. But my family sometimes calls me by my first and middle names, and I feel a connection to it that I’m not willing to let go of. For me, changing my last name is the one that makes the most sense to me from both a practical and an emotional standpoint.

And to me, THAT is an important part of what feminism is about: choice. The goal is to have equal support and recognition of our decisions, and the agency to decide what is right for ourselves. The real meaning of being an Offbeat Bride is doing what feels right for you, rather than what others expect, whether that is seen as traditional or not.

Have you received judgements based on your decision to keep your name or not?

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Comments on Why I’m changing my last name, and why I won’t be apologizing for it

  1. I plan on changing my name, but for another reason – I’m more connected to his family than I am my dad’s side of the family, who are people that I take pains to not connect with.

    So why not join a family that accepts me and loves me and cares about my happiness?

    Actually, in his family, it’s tradition (going back to his grandmother even, and all of his aunts and sisters and in-laws) to not take your spouses name. I’m breaking tradition by…..not breaking tradition. It’s strange. I like it. 🙂

    • That is such a great example of why everyone’s circumstances / decisions are different! I’m so happy for you that you found a family you connect with 🙂

    • This is often a reason that women give for changing their names. However, with all the men with horrible fathers out there, few take their partner’s name (in straight marriages, at least). I wish that women were not alone in taking this moment of reckoning about family, identity, and heritage.

  2. I changed for two reasons 1) My husband really wanted to share a last name; 2) I’ve never liked my dad’s family, so I didn’t have strong attachments to my maiden name. I briefly considered changing my last name to my mom’s maiden name, because I’m very close to that side of the family, but ended up not doing it because I knew it would hurt my dad (who I like, even though I’m not close to paternal relatives). If I’d been close to my dad’s family and really identified with my name, I wouldn’t have changed it! I did keep my maiden name as a middle name, but I didn’t have a middle name to begin with- in retrospect though, I wish I’d changed my name to Anka Mom’smaiden Husband’slast, instead of keeping my paternal family’s last name.

    • Anka, your POV sounds exactly like mine! No connection with fathers family, wanted to change name to mothers maiden name but didn’t out of love for father. I haven’t kept my maiden name at all though. I already have two middle names, both of which are very special and meaningful to me. I changec my last name to my husbands because I had no attachment to my maiden name and he is the only boy in his family carrying on the family name. Now we share a last name and it feels right to us. And isn’t that what counts in the end?

  3. THANK YOU!!! I could have written this same post. I feel the same way you do in regards to the name. Yes, my ID card says something else now, and I am someone’s wife, but I am essentially still the same person as before we got married. My ideals, values and personality hasn’t changed. Before we got married, I’ve had lots of friends ask if I was going to take his name, keep my name, hyphenate, etc. I always changed the subject because it wasn’t something up for discussion. This is my choice, not theirs. (And each person has the right to keep or change their name as they please after they get married.) Like you, I chose it because of the practicality. I didn’t get rid of my maiden name completely. Since I don’t have a middle name, I use my maiden name for the my middle name, I feel that helps if my name is registered with something and I forgot to change it, that it wouldn’t be a huge situation.

  4. We don’t have kids. But I changed my name, well, because it is easier. I have a couple friends who did not change their names. One even carries her marriage certificate in her purse (well a copy) as a couple people (CPA’s) have questioned even if they are married?! I do have an attachment to my maiden name. I love my maiden name. This is going to sound strange. But if something ever happened to my husband (god forbid he passes before me). I have seriously thought about changing it back to my maiden name. Not because I don’t love my husband if he should pass before me. But because I love my maiden name. I never thought about dropping my middle name and using my maiden name as my middle. Maybe because I prefer to use my maiden name as a last name, not a middle name.

  5. What’s missing from this post is the option of the man to take the woman’s last name. If it’s always the woman who has to change/choose, that doesn’t really sound like feminism to me. Ultimately it’s always a personal choice, but the assumption that women have to make this tough decision while the man has no burden or threat to his identity is troubling.

    • Agreed! My finance actually gets called his last name by most of the people he knows (as a nickname), so I don’t think he would have wanted to give that up. We can’t walk across a parking lot in his hometown without hearing someone shouting it out to get his attention! But you are 100% right, and I know people who have done that too. There are so many choices now that it was tough to remember them all for inclusion! Thanks for catching that omission 🙂

    • Absolutely. I totally support every woman’s choice, and there are all kinds of factors that go into that choice. It just makes me sad that so few men ever think about it, and would find it strange to be asked.

      So much so that I was rather touched the other day when my other half, after many years of saying he would never change his name, suddenly said, “I don’t like your last name, but we can both change our names to something else if you like.” Now, as it happens, I don’t want to change my name anyway, and I know enough people from non-English-speaking cultures that having a different name to my children doesn’t seem that unusual. But I just liked that he had given it some thought, just as I’d had to (and woman generally have to).

      • So shouldn’t the thing be – we should start asking our menfolk? We can hardly blame men for us not asking them!

    • My cousin struggled with the same issue, but came to the realization that ‘keeping’ your name is a false choice because it only represents half of your parents’ family to begin with. So for most women the question is which patriarchal family name you’ll use, and keeping her dad’s name ended up not feeling as feminist as she thought! Where was *her* mom in the original equation? I thought it was a really good point that doesn’t get raised much. The system is rigged already, so it seems silly to squabble about how keeping your name is more feminist. Everyone’s choice should be just that. I just think it’s interesting that a lot of those choices are missing from the get go.

      • This point actually gets brought up *all the time*, and ignores the fact that taking your fiance’s name ignores his mother too, so that’s a complete wash. It’s not silly to “squabble” that keeping the name you’ve had your entire life is more feminist than assuming a new identity when you get married, something that men are not expected to do. Acting like a woman’s name is not her own because she probably shares it with her father makes no sense. According to that logic, only Prince has a right to his identity.

      • I actually hear this point all the time too, and it conveniently erases that a lot of people have their mum’s last name, not their dad’s. Or the last name of a man who is not their biological father. Or a last name that comes from neither of their parents.

        In general, I agree with OnMyBeat though. However I got my name, it’s my name and therefore part of my identity. I don’t think changing or adding to your identity is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s unfair that the burden of making a decision falls so unfairly on women.

      • My mom passed away when I was a teenager. She took my father’s last name when they were married and when I was born I was given my dad’s last name also. My father’s last name was part of my mom’s identity. When I got married one of the (MANY) reasons I kept my last name was because it was a connection to my mother. I know the rational seems weird since the last name I kept was my father’s last name but it was also how my mom was known, and she had been known by that name her whole adult life (they were married when she was 18). At one point I did consider adding her maiden name as a second middle name but I didn’t know her by that name so it didn’t have the same meaning to me.

        • I also feel this way. My last name is my fathers and has been the last name of some not very nice men in my family. However, it is the name my mother chose for herself and she spent a long time considering every aspect of my name first middle and end. All with specific meaning. A name becomes your name when you own it whether it was given to you at birth or changed later. There is this idea that a women’s name is not as important as a man’s and is it that idea that is anti feminist.

      • Oddly enough, my first name is my mother’s maiden name, so in changing my name (if I actually go through with it… I’ve been trying to make up my mine for a year and a half, and I’ve been married for nine months), I’ll be keeping my mom’s name and moving my dad’s name to the middle. Enh.

        • My sister did this for her first daughter. Our last name (Casey) is one of those names that could go either first or last. In fact, often times, in emails, I will sign both my first and last name, and then get a reply back with “Hello, Casey”. I am looking forward to taking my husband’s last name. It’s a bitching last name – Strong. Still haven’t decided whether to be Charlene Ann Casey Strong, Charlene Ann Strong, or Charlene Casey Strong.

    • I agree, Sara! It is a personal choice and I respect that but I never understood the whole having children argument when it comes to changing your last name. If a mother desires to have the same last name as their children, give them your last name! Why must the child assume the paternal name? If it is important for the whole family to share a name, why does it automatically default to the paternal name? Also, can we stop with this whole “maiden name” nonsense? I don’t know about you but I do not consider myself a maiden! Given name or family name is more appropriate for the 21st century.

  6. i’m changing my surname for one reason, and only one reason: i’m sick of having a surname that is not spelled the way it’s pronounced, has a hidden Z in the middle, and rarely fits on anything. my married name is spelled phonetically.

    • I feel you. My maiden name is Russian and not even the original name. It got changed to something (even though still Russian sounding), if people hear it quick, they think I am saying Costner, so they ask if I am related to Kevin. But my married name, which is very common last name, people think I am saying Murray (also a common last name), even when I spell my last name, they still want to hear Murray. So you can’t win, even with a common name.

    • I changed mine to get rid of a hyphen that always messed up paperwork. People liked to joke about me having three names though

    • The plan with my ex was to change at least my last name, although we contemplated changing both of our last names to a new one, but she started publishing, so that wouldn’t have worked. But I do NOT want my children to have to spell out their last name and correct pronunciation all the time.

  7. This is a great post. I’ve always been very partial to my maiden name, and it was important to my fiancé that I take his last name, so I have been at a crossroads. I recently made a decision to start a new business and because we are getting married in a month, I basically had to make a split second final decision as to what I was going to do with my name, as far as ordering business cards and setting up a web presence. I have been wondering if I made the right decision, and your post made me believe 100% that I did. Thank you for helping me realize what I’ve wanted all along!

    • Professional reasons can complicate this decision as well – as you pointed out with your new business. (Congratulations by the way!) There are so many things to take into account that no one’s variables will be the same as another person’s.

  8. I have had judgement from people because I don’t want to change my last name. The main person that is unhappy about it is my fiancé. I told him if his ex can choose to keep his last name I can choose to keep mine! It’s my identity, I’m open to exploring other options but I don’t want to give up my name. Everyone I know has taken their husbands name so I will be the odd man (woman) out, but I’m used to that. Lol….always marched to my own drum. I just don’t understand why people care what other people are doing. My last name does not affect you!

    • Everyone has their opinions (especially when it comes to marriage). But all that really matters is what you believe is right for you!!

    • To be fair, you finance isn’t ‘other people’. Ultimately the decision is yours but as your partner he should have a right to voice his opinion, and your choice can affect him.

  9. This really nailed it on the head!
    Im adopted, and have always struggled with NOT wanting to give up my last name. My Dad, adopted me when I was 3, and gave me his last name. That means to world to me.
    But, my FH and I have a daughter, who has his last name. And when we decided on her taking his name, he said “because one day, it will be YOUR last name too.” and that made me go all emotional and have all the feels.
    What I have decided to do, is to drop my current middle name. After all, it’s the namesake of a woman who despises the ground I walk on. (No, really she told me to ‘Eff myseld one year when I called to wish her a Merry Christmas). So, I no longer want that negativity attached to myself. So I am going to keep my Dad’s name as my middle name, and take my FH’s name for my last name. Then He, Our Daughter and I will all have the same name.

    Names mean so much and so little at the same time!!!!!!!

    So glad to see people doing what’s right for themselves!

    • This is so me! I love my maiden name. My family is amazing and supportive, my dad especially, and I would be heartsick to not share their name at all. I’ve also built a successful career under my maiden name. However, I really do love the idea of a unified family name. Conveniently, I shared a middle name with my lying, cheating former SIL, so I was happy to scupper it and make my maiden name my new middle name. My dad actually said, “I thought your middle name was the most beautiful name I’d ever heard. But now I’ll be glad to never think of it again.” I am so pleased with my choice!

      Except that changing your name is a major pain in the ass. My state made me do a quitclaim deed to “sell” my house to myself, just so I could change the name on my utility billing. DUMB.

  10. I am the last person in my family lineage to have my last name. My grandfather only had one son and that one son only had me, a daughter. Were we living in medieval times this would be a catastrophic event as there’s no direct male heir to pass the land and titles to. But since we’re not living in medieval times it’s not such a big deal. I’m the last P just as much as The Crow is the last JDM. He’s a IV and jokes a lot that he’s the “fourth and last” as we won’t be having children.
    In my mother’s family it is tradition to not give a daughter a middle name so that if she gets married she can retain her maiden name as her middle name. That’s what I plan to do. It’s sort of exciting to think I finally, after 27 years, get to have a middle name! I was the only one in my graduating class, both high school and college, to not have one. I think a lot of people, at least women I know who’ve gotten married, fear that taking their husband’s name somehow will erase their identity. I don’t look at taking The Crow’s name as erasing my pre-married self. I’m just adding a new layer to my identity and 28 years from now I’ll have been Brink M. longer than I was ever Brink P.

    • “…and 28 years from now I’ll have been Brink M. longer than I was ever Brink P.”

      I literally said to my sister the other day “I’ve lived like a third of my life, so when I’m sixty I’ll have been New Name longer than I was Old Name.” She got it, then.. lolz.

    • It’s really weird to read this comment now because I’ve done almost a complete turn around from the way I apparently felt about this 5 months ago. It’s weird, because I still agree with my statements that since we’re not living in medieval times being the last P doesn’t mean as much. In societal terms it doesn’t, but to me it does. I don’t want to give up my last name. Even though I would keep it as a middle name, how often does one actually use their middle name? Most forms don’t even require a full middle name, just an initial. I don’t want my last name to be downgraded to just an initial.
      How did this change in my outlook occur? After being married for less than a week I was sick to death of being “Mrs. M” It was like, not only has my last name been erased but now so has my first. It felt like “Mrs” was now my first name and I hated it. My co-workers were all doing it in a friendly celebratory way and I finally just said to them at the start of the second week “Please stop calling me that. I have a name. It’s Brink.” Everyone I’ve seen for the first time since the wedding has addressed me as that and it just feels wrong.
      But the real feels came along when we received the marriage license in the mail. It came with the name change form for the SS office and a handy checklist to use so you don’t forget to change your name somewhere. I’ll give our county some credit because there were two lists “Bride” and “Groom” so at least they weren’t implying that only the bride should change. I sat down to fill out the form and just started bawling. My hands were shaking, tears were blotting the page, it was just a totally unexpected and violent wave of emotion. It just felt WRONG. It felt like I was signing my life away. Like I was willfully erasing everything I’ve worked for and who I am. I’m the first woman in my mother’s family to graduate college and the name on my diploma would no longer match. I’ve had some really great leading roles in well known plays and my name would no longer match the old playbills and news articles. My father is a very well respected and important figure in our community and I am proud to carry that name because it gives me good standing as well. I don’t want to give it up, I don’t want to shove it aside.
      Not to mention the fact that after trying to use it for two weeks at work I simply hate the way my husband’s name both sounds and looks after mine. I never really consider how aesthetically pleasing my name is both to look at and hear but it is and I don’t want it to change.

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