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. My fiancé wanted to change his last name when we first met because he hates his deadbeat father and hates being saddled with his name. So, though he didn’t go through with it and though only about .01% of men think about changing their last names, I gotta be like “not all men” when it comes to “men don’t change their names.”

    To be perfectly frank, the first three letters of my maiden name spell “cum.” (Sadly, it’s not “Cumberbatch.”) Even though I love a good dirty joke, it was the icing on the cake that made middle and high school hell for me (#yesallteenageboys). I’ve found that very, VERY few feminists/progressives will actually snark on women changing their names, they just ask because they want to make sure you’re at least thinking of the societal implications and context of women changing their names. If this piece and the comments on it are any indication, we do. Oh, boy, we. Do.

  2. Choice! That’s exactly it! Being a feminist means realizing you have a choice and you don’t have to do anything. I wouldn’t be changing my last name if my Fiancé said that I had to, but I am doing it because he is supportive of whichever decision I make. If anyone gives you crap about that, just pinch them!

  3. I changed my name and am currently going through the process of changing it with everyone on the planet. We are childless and will remain that way as we are both middle aged adults. I am a 45 years old woman who has had a 20 plus career with the same name which unfortunately was my ex-husbands name. I foolishly kept the ex’s name after we got divorced because I was (stupidly so) wishing we would get back together and it was easier to say and spell then my maiden name. I have regretted that decision for the last several years especially since getting engaged. It needed to go. And this process of getting rid of it has been cleansing. No one has said boo to me about it. Everyone totally understands the need, desire, and want to take my husband’s name. Which by the way is 10 times harder to say and spell then my maiden name ever was. It is a choice. No one should judge you on it. Embrace all your decisions. Just make sure they won’t be ones you regret later.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this a lot longer than I’ve been engaged, but it’s because I’m a writer/hopeful editor, and in the publishing industry, names matter.
    I eventually decided to keep my name as my legal name so my writer name and editor name are the same, but my real-life name (on Facebook and so-forth) will be his last name. It keeps my writing/editing life separate, cuts down the stalker potential should I somehow become rich and famous, and gives my private life privacy.
    Also, Stephen King’s wife is also a writer, and she publishes as Tabitha King, and comes after him in the alphabetical shelving. Which is just not fair. (My fiance is also a writer, and I want to be another letter in the alphabet from him).

    ETA: He also happens to have the same first name as my brother, so there is just no way he’s changing his name. It’s complicated enough in my family already.

  5. For myself, I first intended to only take my husbands last name, but I didn’t want to give up my last name for one major reason: My stepdad adopted me when I was 11. He has been the person I have always seen as dad and was there for me since he met me when I was 5. He never once treated me like I wasn’t completely his. I was proud to be his daughter. So for me, I didn’t give up his name. And I didn’t give up my husbands either. I just joined two names that I can’t imagine living without.

  6. My fiancé and I started having these conversations before we were engaged. He definitely wanted to keep his name as it is and I was happy to change mine to something new for both of us but not to his current surname. I’m not sure it’s completely rational but the idea of dropping my family name to take his made me feel weird, but a totally new name that would have been just for our new family would have been fine.
    So the final result is that we will both being keeping our names (and titles, I’ll still be Ms) and our kids will be hislastname-mylastname, making that our family name.
    Generally we haven’t had a problem from anyone in our lives. My Dad was surprised because he didn’t think of me particularly as a feminist (which sparked a whole new conversation) and weirdly one of my friends was stressed about what she would call us as we left the church (our names?!?) but I think that was just a knee jerk reaction.
    However one of my friends told me that when she was trying to decide, someone said to her “Aren’t you worried that your husband will think you’re not fully committed to your marriage if you don’t change your name?”. Yep.

  7. I think on this issue everyone just has to stick to her guns. As you can see in the comments, you’ll get insensitive eye-rolls and assumptions no matter what your path.

    The first thing my mother-in-law said when my husband and I told her we were going to get married was, “You’ll be Mrs. Jones!”. Well, no. Actually, I am Ms. Smith-Jones. But she didn’t think to ask. Now, when I know someone who’s getting married, I just wait for his/her cues as to the name thing. I make sure to spell it right and say it right 🙂 And I try to respect everyone’s choices, though I have to say the Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname thing is still pretty foreign to me (probably generational).

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