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?

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

  1. I love, love, love this article! I am counting the days until I get to change my name. I’m Russian and my last name is 9 almost unpronounceable letters long. His is 5 short letters. I love my family and will honor them by making my maiden name as my middle name (I’ve never had a middle name), but I’m so happy that I’m not the only one that feels this way!

  2. My current boyfriend and I have talked about marriage but haven’t talked about whether I’d change my name or not.

    I’ve always though I would keep my name. My mother kept hers (a very difficult to pronounce Italian name), which is my middle name, and my father’s last name is my last name. I’ve been thinking if I ever have children I’d give them a hyphenated name as my boyfriend’s last name and mine are 5 easy to pronounce letters each, so it wouldn’t be that bad of a last name.

    The rabbi at my synagogue has a hyphenated name as does his wife and children. They decided to hyphenate rather than either of them give up their name entirely. It actually led to quite a lot of discussion among the congregation when we found out who the new rabbi was! He’s the first rabbi in our congregation’s history to have a hyphenated last name and it made a lot of people realize it’s a possibility, even in a more conservative environment (we’re a ‘conservative’ shul – that’s a denomination of Judaism not our political leanings!).

  3. I have struggled with this a lot as I near my upcoming wedding. I told my fiancé from the beginning I would not change my name, and he totally supported my decision. As I started to think more about what our future would look like I was torn on the name thing. For me it came down to the fact that I WANT to have the same name as my spouse and my future kids. But I felt like I was betraying myself, my feminist ideals, and my family by changing my name. As I thought about it more I realized I shouldn’t do it because is what society expects, any more than I should not do it because it makes me a bad feminist. I needed to do what felt right to me. The truth is there is no perfect answer. Not changing would create problems, just as changing it would.

    When I told my fiancé I wanted to change it, he actively tried to talk me out of it. He liked my name and liked me with it. That was how I knew I was marrying the right man. We talked about mashing our names and BOTH changing to something new, but ultimately I felt like changing my name to his was the easiest for us.

    Another thought I had about this whole name change process…I was adopted at the age of 2, so I have already had 2 names. The more I thought about 1 year old me, now me, and future me – one person, three names, the less important keeping my current name became. My name does not define me, it only identifies me at a certain point in time.

    • I totally agree – I felt some of that “bad feminist” guilt as well. But really the point is to do what you want, not what is expected!

  4. all the lower to you – seriously, but I do find it a bit sad that the only option for kids is assumed to be to have their father’s name. I know lots of women who haven’t changed their last name yet their kids automatically inherited their father’s name. That’s why personally I always wonder a bit when I see people say they changed their last name to have the same name as their kids, if a true choice was made of just the default. I think the option to take your spouse’s last name is valid when it’s a real choice (& not just out of ignorance that other options exist), but I feel like… There’s literally no need to prove yourself. As you say, you’ve had worries about being a bad feminist etc etc… But outside of that, mainstream society loves you! Anyone who takes another choice is mostly spending time getting annoyed at people being ignorant (FFS, if your form doesn’t accept hyphens, your form sucks!). I feel it’s a sad state of affair that you feel you have to justify your choice because liberal people are too busy being angry that their own choices are being unloved by the mainstream that they have to shit on other people’s choice (which I’m probably doing to some extent at the start of this comment because I have all the feels about this topic).

    • You are right that this choice is the one most accepted by mainstream society – I can only speak to my own experience, which also involves living in a very liberal section of the country. And there are lots of choices for what last name to give your kids – hyphens, a new family last name, everyone can take the mother’s last name, etc, etc. The list goes on forever. I think it is great that we are living in a time when we are able to make these choices and have them respected.

  5. It definitely is a personal choice. But you must acknowledge that, societally speaking, it’s the easy one, the one that has the social (patriarchal) stamp of approval. Unlike those who do not change their names, or men who change their names to their wife’s name, or couples who choose a new name, your choice is unlikely to be scrutinized by anyone other than individuals who are both very liberal and very feminist (hi!), ie most people (at least where I live). Choosing to change your name to your husband’s confers certain types of social privilege that I think is important not to ignore and sweep under the rug in the name of choice feminism. As a feminist, I imagine you understand all of this thoroughly; honestly, I would appreciate some discussion about that, because I think it’s important and is frequently ignored, both in more mainstream discussions and in feminist communities.

  6. I’ll be changing my entire name. I’m sure you can imagine the response I’ve been getting.. most people start off outright saying they’ll call me my given name.. Then I, with a bit of humor, say something along the lines of “no you won’t” or “I won’t answer to it.” I’m giving them a new first and two new middle names to choose from. One of which is Clair- a name I choose partly because its one syllable and has the same KUH sound my given name does.
    I’ve decided that at the ceremony (which I have to admit is the part I’ve given most thought to but have “planned” the least of. Receptions are so detail-oriented, even when they’re stripped down.) the officiant will casually mention how I’ve chosen to change my entire name and be we will be introduced for the first time as husband and wife: Mr. His First Name and Mrs. My First, Middle, Last Name. On the ceremony program, after the reveal, I just changed to my new name when referring to myself. My closest people know I’m doing it but not everyone does. Either they will come around or they won’t.
    Your wedding, and marriage decisions are all yours. That’s why I love this site. xoxo

    • That is awesome – I love that idea. What better way to start a new phase of your life than with an entirely new name of your choice?

  7. Neither of us is changing ours–I honestly did think about it, but I like my name, and hers would combine really badly with mine (the first syllable of her last name is the same as my first name), and neither of us wanted to have a hyphenated name. I have heard that particularly for queer couples, it can be easier to share a name, because it is cultural shorthand for being a family. But really neither of us wanted to change, and we’re both published under our own names, so it wasn’t even all that big of a decision.

    I think this is maybe one of the places where it’s actually a little bit easier for queer couples? Because there isn’t this weight of tradition (yet?), so there’s a little bit more automatic freedom to do whatever you want (obviously any couple can do whatever they want, but it’s a little bit easier sometimes when you don’t have to actively decide not to do the “normal” thing, because there isn’t one). I’ve only had one person assume I might be changing my name, which startled me until I realized that he’d just heard me mention getting married, and didn’t know it was to another woman. Otherwise, really no judging from anyone.

    I did worry a little bit about future kids, and what name they might have–if I didn’t want to hyphenate, was it fair to do it to them, etc. Then I started thinking about my mom, who has a different last name from the rest of the family. But she definitely never felt like we were less her kids or anything. Obviously it’s different for everyone, and any choice is a fine one, but to me just that thought was really enough for me to realize that it would be fine with me if the kids have her name (I think).

    I have to admit, the first old friend on my facebook just changed her name on there this week, and it took me aback. Intellectually I think it’s a perfectly good choice if it’s what she wants, but in the moment it was weird.

  8. Yknow, the more I read about this, the more I start to think it’s just another arena where Women Can’t Win Ever.

    Take your husband’s name? MOOING SLAVE TO THE PATRIARCHY!
    Keep your name? WHAT, YOU DON’T LOVE YOUR HUSBAND?
    Make up a new name? WELL AREN’T YOU SPECIAL!
    He takes your name? … FREAKS! (also, whipped)

    Only one thing is for certain: Whatever you do, somebody or other is going to judge the crap out of you for it, and assume (or even flat out tell you) that your reasons for doing it are insufficient, incorrect, wrong, or bad. Whatever you do, or don’t do, take one lesson from the title of this article and Never Apologize For It.

  9. I just wanted to say that there is an option that was not covered here, which we are doing. I am not changing my name and any future children will have my name rather than my husband’s name. I’m the last of my line and the only one who could carry on the name so it’s very important to me. Hubby to be has a brother who will carry on his name, so he is more than happy to do it this way.

  10. I am so so excited to change my last name! I have my estranged father’s last name and I hate it! I feel no connection to that side of the family and LOVE my fiance’s fam so I’m really excited to take his. The one thing I will miss is that my current surname is pretty overtly Latina, and his is textbook Irish. People might just be a bit surprised when a tan and curly haired lady shows up instead!

    I’m just starting out my career however, and am at a point where I may have something published before the name change happens. Does anyone have any suggestions? I’m thinking of publishing under my future surname, so that all pieces of work will be under the same title.

    • You could definitely use your future name – you could also select a pen name that you could use no matter what your actual name is.

    • You can always keep using your maiden name for publishing and take his name as your legal name. Generally, you can use whichever name you like to publish (some caveats depending on your field). Although if you hate your name, it might make sense to start using the new one now, otherwise you will always have to use the old one to let people know about that published piece. And having to reference two names is definitely less convenient. I publish under my maiden name and will always use that name professionally, but if we have kids we’ll both change our names to a shared combined last name.

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