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 this post, and the name thing is something I’ve been thinking about since my FH and I decided to marry. I was married at 19, and took my then husband’s name because those many many years ago that is simply what one did. I didn’t question it. We divorced, and I kept his name. I don’t choose to return to my maiden name because my family is not one I want to associate with for various and sundry reasons not necessary to go into here. But, that leave me with no desire to return to my maiden name, a wish to loose the previous married name, and not willing to make one up out of the blue. My FH of course said he would be proud if I chose to take his name, but he left it to me – said he would honor whatever decision I made. Well, I’ve decided to take his last name. One of the previous posters mentioned that her FH’s family was more loving and kind and welcoming than her own, and I feel the same. I’ll be proud to call myself by the name of that wonderful wacky loving welcoming tribe! No regrets, no conflicted emotions…

  2. We both hyphenated, but go by my last name and will pass on my name to any children we have. I ended up with my mother’s maiden name, and I am very attached to it. I didn’t want to hyphenate, but my husband didn’t want his name to disappear completely and he wanted me to have it too. so our compromise was that.

  3. I decided a long time ago that I would keep my last name. My husband was actually willing to change his last name if it was important that we have the same last name (it wasn’t, and his mother would have killed us). (My MIL asked at our reception if I was changing my name – it was good that we’d had a few glasses of wine before the conversation.) About six months after we got married I started thinking about what last name we would give out children. I always assumed that we would give them my husband’s name but I was starting to think that I wanted something different. We discussed it and we decided to make a family identity around hyphenating our name (we have a sign that said HisLast-MyLast, we have address labels that say HisLast-MyLast, when we are playing a game as a couple our team name is HisLast-MyLast) and that we would give the hyphenated name to our children. This was a great compromise for us and works for us. We are expecting out first child in August and my in-laws do not know that we are hyphenating for our children’s last name (they are from a small town where wives take husbands last names so this is a bit out of the norm for them). At this point they may not find out until we announce the name.

  4. This was something that I struggled with a bit, my mom hyphenated her last name, and always corrected people as to the spelling, when she had my sisters and I, rather then traditional middle names, we got her maiden name as our middle names. When I got married I decided to adopt his last name, and use both, not hyphenated just the two squished together- like us, two people who decided to squish together. His family has a great tradition of having the first born son, with the mothers maiden name as part of their name, so that the name is carried on.
    Names are so personal, and at least in Canada you have a couple of different options after marriage with how you want to be known on legal documents.

    • Squished together might be the best description ever. 🙂 My fiancee and I have also discussed giving at least one of our kids my last name as either their middle or first name.

      I totally agree that names are such a personal thing!!

  5. The desire to not change my last name is probably deep rooted in my natural draw for being ‘different’. As a kid I liked quirky things, shaved my head as a 10 year old girl, and basically just danced to the beat of my own drum.

    Now that I have a bf that I want to upgrade to hubz status, the real issue is really really disliking his last name and how it will sound with my first and middle names. It’s a typical male first name (Dan) and the real kicker comes with my middle name being Danielle (:/)…while I could keep my maiden name as a middle name and drop the Danielle all together, it has sentimental value to me. So I’ve been pondering and discussing the issue with bf in length, and neither of us will budge. He doesn’t want my last name, nor I his…

    So, I envy ya’ll that can practically decide on a name that makes everyone happy.

    • “I envy ya’ll that can practically decide on a name that makes everyone happy.”

      To some extent it depends on who you define “everyone” as. For my husband and I it only mattered what we thought. There are family members who disagree with me keeping my last name (we both come from small towns/conservative families). I get mail on a regular basis from relatives that said “Mrs. [His First Initial] [His Last]”. And when we announce our daughter’s last name after she is born (HisLast-MyLast) people will again be upset (1. that we hyphenated and 2. that my name is last).

  6. This article and the whole comment thread has been very interesting for me. I kept my last name, but I never thought about how someone might want to change their last name to their spouse’s last name because they were closer to spouse’s family than their own. It makes so much sense to me, because in my case, the opposite is completely true. My husband was more than happy that I kept my last name – he is completely estranged from his father and “has no desire to pass on [his] last name”. He also mentioned that if we had had kids, he’d be totally for them having my last name and not his. He didn’t want to change his own last name, so I guess if we had a family, he’ll be the odd man out, so to speak.

    His brother is getting married this year, and he has said that he would be very upset if his fiancee DIDN’T change her last name (even though he is just as estranged from their father). Besides my husband, the rest of his family is very socially conservative, so I don’t think they liked that I kept my last name (although no one has directly said anything to me – his other brother commented that engaged brother’s fiancee could keep her current last name and “keep it in a jar with [brother’s] b*lls.”)

  7. Hawkguy was surprised that I wanted to take his last name. His last name is mellifluous and unusual – anyone in the U.S. that has it is related to him within 2 degrees – while mine is truncated from something Eastern European, that we aren’t even sure of, and several other names were frequently shortened to the same thing when families immigrated. So yeah, my decision totally came down to aesthetics. The important thing is that we have a choice.

    • My fiancee’s name is also unusual and a little tough to spell (which was the reason I didn’t hyphenate it – just for the practicality). But honestly, I’ve always had an unusual first name so I am pretty used to having to explain / spell / repeat my name anyways!

  8. I’ve been married twice and both times changed my name. The first time, my wife and I both changed our names and chose a new one. It was, in a time when we could not get legally married like today, a way for us to become a family. Plus, it was empowering. Our daughter has that last name. I also liked having a new identity of sorts for a new stage of my life.
    When my husband and I got married 7 years ago, there were no expectations on his part at all. His first wife had hyphenated. I decided that I just really like having the same name as my spouse. So I changed my last name to his and my middle name to my former married name, which is the same as my daughter’s last name. My husband was surprised, but he would have been fine whatever I chose. The hardest piece was to not have the same last name as my daughter anymore. Again, though, I liked a name that for me represented a new identify and stage in my life.
    I think the most important piece is that it is about choice and it’s personal. If it is done with thoughtfulness and honesty, it should be supported. Eye-rolling is disrespectful at best and totally rude and condescending at most. It has no place in accepting others for who they are.

  9. FYI to Offbeat Brides — You can have 2 middle names! Crazy, I know. But that’s what I did. My maiden name became my second middle name. And I took his last name.

    Sometimes people get confused and think it’s a hyphenated last name. But I don’t mind because I still like my maiden name.

    • Random upside of making your last name a second middle name is that your (US) Passport reads like this:

      First Middle OldLast on one line
      NewLast on another

      Totally un-jarring. : ]

  10. I saw this NY Times article on this subject today, and it’s great to see it being talked about on a “regular” news outlet http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/upshot/maiden-names-on-the-rise-again.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&abt=0002&abg=0

    I’m planning on making my maiden name a second middle name, and will keep using it as a last name professionally. I would have liked to hyphenate or combine names but our last names don’t sound good together. I decided to take his last name because I like the idea of being a family unit, especially when we have kids ( and I didn’t want him to change his last name because his name is perfect and he’s the only guy in his family to carry the name)

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