My name isn’t “Mrs”: On changing my mind about changing my last name

Guest post by Brink Powell
MRS balloon and tassel kit by Etsy seller PaperboyParty
MRS balloon and tassel kit by Etsy seller PaperboyParty

I've always been for equal rights for women. I feel fortunate to perform on stage, drive a car, vote, hold a good job, and have so many other freedoms that women were denied for so long and in some places are still denied. But I admit that whenever I heard about a woman keeping her maiden name, hyphenating, combining, or taking any other route than simply adopting her husband's name I thought it was weird. I even commented on an Offbeat Bride article about the name change decision, saying:

“I am the last person in my family lineage to have my last name. Were we living in medieval times this would be a catastrophic event… but since we're not living in medieval times it's not such a big deal. I think a lot of women fear that taking their husband's name will somehow erase their identity. I don't look at taking my husband'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 be Brink M. longer than I was ever Brink P.”

For our fourteen-month-long engagement I planned to take my husband's last name, and didn't really give it a second thought. But in the days and weeks following our wedding IT started to happen to me. I felt like I was being erased as an individual.

As early as our wedding day people started calling me “Mrs. HisLastName” and I didn't like it. It was as though I had ceased to exist. It felt like my first name was “Mrs,” my last name was “HisLastName,” and no identifier of who I was previous to getting married was left. My co-workers were calling me “Mrs. HisLastName” in a friendly celebratory way and finally I just said “Please stop calling me that. My name is Brink.”

It made me especially angry when we would receive something addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName” as though I was not even worthy of a first name anymore. As though I am just a wife. I love being his wife, I love that we're married, but I want to define my marriage. I don't want my marital status to define me.

I was truly dismayed to discover that on top of feeling like I was losing my identity I really disliked how my “new” name looked and sounded. I never really considered how aesthetically pleasing or harmonious my given name is, but once I realized that it made it even harder to give up.

Because I had intended to take his name all along I shoved these initial misgivings under the rug. I thought perhaps I was going through an adjustment period, like getting a new job, or apartment, or pet. I started using it at work following the wedding and I didn't get used to it. It looked wrong, it sounded wrong, and above all it felt wrong. It didn't feel like me.

But, I felt really awful about it feeling wrong so I tried to get myself excited about it. I tried to take solace in the fact that my last name could become my first ever middle name but that turned out to be not much comfort, because how often does one really use their middle name? Most forms or accounts only ask for and display a middle initial at best.

The turning point for me was when I attempted to fill out the form to legally change my name on my Social Security card. I sat down to fill it out and got hit with a totally unexpected wave of violent emotion. It sounds so dramatic and if it hadn't happened to me I'd accuse myself of exaggeration but my hands were shaking, tears were blotting the page, it just felt SO 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 believe that marriage is a union of equals. After thinking it over it seemed unequal and unfair that I, as the woman, was expected to give up something that's been part of me for my whole life simply because we made the decision to get married. I found out that my name means a whole lot more to me and is a bigger part of my identity than I previously thought. It's a part of me and it's not a part I can give up.

Changing my mind about changing my last name was undoubtedly really confusing for my husband, because I had clearly stated my intention to take his name once we were married. Since he didn't have to experience being called something else post-wedding I'm not sure that he can ever fully understand. But a driving force of our relationship is acceptance and not attempting to change the other person. My husband accepted my change of mind with a calm good grace that greatly increased my respect and love for him, a feat that I previously thought impossible.

In our still stubbornly patriarchal society it is still the norm for a woman to take her husband's name upon marriage. I think there's a misconception that women who choose a different path aren't as committed to their marriage as those who do. My feelings about my name are in no way connected to my feelings towards my husband or my marriage. Whether we share a name or not, I am his wife.

As strongly as I feel about keeping my own name I also don't think that it's wrong if person wants to change their name after getting married. What it comes down to is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer and no one should feel uncomfortable about making the choice that is right for them.

Comments on My name isn’t “Mrs”: On changing my mind about changing my last name

  1. I never planned on changing my name, and sort of had to gently break it to my fiance. I don’t think it had really occurred to him before that I might keep my name, but after I brought it up a couple of times he asked if I was OK if people mistakenly called me Mrs. A. (I expect this, frankly), and said he was fine with it. I’ve also considered that I can always decide to change my mind and change my name down the road, and that it would be less awkward than if I realized months or years later that I made a mistake and wanted to change my name back.

  2. In most Hispanic societies, women keep their maiden name always. Only my relatives raised and/or born in the United States have changed their names upon marriage. I think its cool either way you prefer it.

  3. I wasn’t sure whether I would change my name or not. Part of me felt like it would be nice to have the same last name as my husband because that might make us more like two parts of a unit. But it didn’t seem fair that I’d go through the hassle of changing my name while he wouldn’t. I asked him once if he’d consider changing his and he said, “The feminist in me says yes, but the lazy man in me says no.” That’s what sealed the deal for me.

    I think most of our friends and family seem to understand it, but I still got a bunch of Christmas cards addressed to “Mr and Mrs HisLastName” and I wanted to scream. Even if it said My First Name and His First and last Name, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but the idea that I suddenly became a Mrs. Him was really upsetting. I am so much more than just his wife, and I don’t want to be reduced to just a woman who got married.

    • Oh the Christmas card thing. I know exactly how you felt. I got a little stab of annoyance every time one would arrive to Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. But, I did try to temper with “well, I brought this on myself because I DID plan on taking his name and everyone knew it.” But that never made the complete absence of my first name sting any less!
      I also completely agree with “I am so much more than just his wife.” I am a complex individual with many sides to my personality and it bothers me that getting married reduced me, at least on paper, to simply “a wife.” That didn’t happen to my husband and I don’t want it to happen to me either!

      • I guess I can kind of understand calling me Jessica HisName, just because that’s still considered the norm. But using iterations that completely erase me as an individual is what really gets me. Even if I had changed my name, I wouldn’t want to be “Mrs. HisFirstname HisLastName.” I’m not Mrs Him, I’m Mrs Me!!

      • The Mr & Mrs HisFirst HisLast annoys those of us who changed our names to our husbands’ names also. It’s so archaic, it’s like, where did the woman go?

        • Right!? One of my friends who did change her name said she’s super annoyed by that as well. It just seems so demeaning. Even as we were opening our cards the night of the wedding, when I still thought I’d change my name, the ones addressed that way annoyed me. Every time I saw it I was just thinking “um … I’m still a person. Why does his first name get a mention and not mine?”

          • It’s demanding to change your name for someone, period, who simply won’t and refuses to do it for you.

            If someone does change their last name, I assume their “identity” just doesn’t mean much anyway – but their husbands sure does. I keep my last name and he keeps his because neither one of us are property.

          • I don’t necessarily think that if someone changes their name their identity doesn’t mean as much to them. They might be excited to take on a new identity. I have a friend who wavered about changing her name but did in the end because she wanted her name to reflect her identity as a wife and mother and wanted her whole family to have the same name. I respect that even if it’s not the path I would choose.

        • I totally agree with you, Kat. Luckily, I’ve been married for 8 months now and I have not come across anything addressed this way. I’ve had a few cards addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName” only, but I actually like that because it feels like we’re being called one unit. I think it works just fine when it’s just the last name and no first names involved. I do respect the fact that others may have different feelings about it, but I think that way still feels a bit more equal than “Mr. & Mrs. Him Him.”

          • Agreed! Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName does not bother me nearly as much as Mr.
            and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. I just feel like if a person is going to take the time to write out his first name it’s not fair to not do the same for me.

        • But what did you expect…when you took someone’s last name?! That they’d have the nuance to decipher what part of you were easing into a culture of ownership?

    • I sent all my wedding invites the traditional way: “Mr & Mrs A Smith & family”. You traditionally (apparently) become not only a “Mrs Smith” but a Mrs Adam Smith during formal invites. Who knew? I was just copying out the address book my future mother-in-law gave me. Adult sons and daughters (separate guests on my RSVP list) were reduced to ‘and family’, how’s that for being ignored?

      I’ve actually discovered the start of this when we were booking events for our mini-moon. He’d booked us in, I caught the names and I was a bit surprised to see “Mr A Surname” and “Mrs B Surname”. I asked him, and he said he was excited to use my married name (as at that point I’ll have signed the register and done it all). I did feel like saying “But I’m not a Surname yet, I’m still a Maidenname”, then remembered how I’d made a bit of a thing about how I didn’t care for my maiden name anyway and it only really had connections to the family I don’t speak to. Plus it means he’s excited to be married, so that’s lovely.

      Don’t scream if you get “Mrs Surname”, even if you are changing back – it just seems the way of it that by doing the whole marriage bit, that’s been the way of it for so long no-0ne knows any different and they’re not trying to ‘erase’ anyone.

  4. It was something (now) Hubby and I talked about before formally getting engaged. I wanted to keep my name.
    He was cool with it so long as any children were brought into our lives took his name. Fine by me!

    I actually have no problems with people calling me “Mrs. HisLastName” because it’s currently a societal norm I know what my own name is (so there!). Though Hubby is just as liable to be called “Mr. MyLastName” because I’m usually the one to fill out joint forms and such since my handwriting is better than his (also all our utilities are in my name because I bought the house before we were married).

    Though I had mentioned on the wedding website that I wouldn’t be taking his name, it was obvious how many people didn’t read it based on the Christmas cards we get addressed to Mr. & Mrs. HisFirstAnd Last Name.
    The even more humorous thing is my family (traditional Protestants and Catholics) are the biggest “offenders”. I never hide the fact that I didn’t take his name, but I also don’t militantly declare I’ve kept my name.
    Since all of Hubby’s maternal uncles are gay, his family was far more open-minded and curious as to what I was going to do with my name. Therefore all their cards are carefully addressed to both Hubby and myself 😉

    • I actually e-mailed my family prior to Christmas to let them know about my decision. Just a friendly “hey, so keep addressing things the way you always have because we still have different last names.” It was amusing to see how many different ways they chose to do it. Some put his name first then mine, some did my name first then his. Some did our first names and last initials, while some did the reverse and put our first initials and last names. Just more proof that there are a million different ways to do everything!

  5. It’s funny – I got invited to a wedding about a month after I got married, and that invite was addressed to Mr and Mrs HisFirst His Last, and admittedly I was pretty offended at that. Then again, the same couple had me listed as Mrs HisFirst His Last for place settings at the wedding. 🙁

    I ended up hyphenating my last name with my husband’s last name, and about 18 months post wedding, I wish I hadn’t changed it at all. Primarily because my new last name is 20 letters long, no one can pronounce it, and my full name no longer fits on almost any legal form.

    • Have you considered changing it back? I have no idea what the legal process is on that or how much of a pain it would be but if you’re unhappy with it now looking into wouldn’t hurt.

      • I’ve thought about it briefly, and I may actually look into it further when I have some extra time. 🙂 I don’t know anything about how difficult it is, either.

    • It seriously just sounds like a traditional way to address a woman during a formal occasion – I highly doubt it was meant to offend.

      Sounds like hyphenating was a good compromise, long name or not 🙂

  6. I spent my twenties assuming I was going to live my life happily single, and by the time I met my fiance, I had become an adult, started a career, gone on adventures, all using my maiden name. I had no intention of giving that up if I ever married, and I was clear about that while dating my fiance. He couldn’t care less, as long as we got to be married to each other.

    But something happened after we got engaged. I started to feel a little sad that weren’t going to be joined together by name. I lamented to him about never being able to buy one of those signs to hang in our front hall that says something like, “Welcome to the LastName Home”. He very reasonably said we could buy a sign that had both our last names, that we would be the MyLastName-HisLastName Family.

    I was surprised that I got upset about this seemingly lost layer of connection I was choosing to forgo. But I’m still not changing my name. A lot of it has to do with my identity, but there’s a pretty equal part that just doesn’t want to go through the trouble of filling out all that paperwork.

    • Right there with you. I don’t have a problem being Mrs. Hisname in our personal lives, but I’m staying Mrs. Myname in my professional life. I don’t want a permanently hyphenated email address, diplomas that don’t match my name, having to get new ID’s, etc. The way I see it, I’ll have another layer of separation between home life and work life.

      • I’m sticking with my name in personal and professional life, but I don’t think I’ll be upset if someone who isn’t aware I kept my name addresses me by his last name.

    • Having worked as an administrative professional since I was about sixteen I am on top of that shit and weirdly enjoy filling out forms. The hassle of the paperwork aspect never bothered me when I thought about changing my last name. But, since I’ve decided not to so many situations have come up where I think “damn, that would’ve been a pain in my ass if I had changed my name.” For example, I got my new AAA card in the mail the other day. I would never in a million years have remembered to call them and change my name. So while it wasn’t a deciding factor for me, avoiding the paperwork hassle has been a nice perk!

      • Yup, it’s all the major paperwork on top of all the things I’d forget to change that make it especially daunting. I’d probably just suck it up and do it if I didn’t care either way about my last name.

  7. I like my surname, I always have. It’s a pretty rare name and there isn’t many of us left, most of us are even in the same area of the same country! (We’re like hobbits! lol)

    With this in mind both my children have hyphenated surnames, it was my plan all along that they would keep my name even if it was hyphenated. And now we’re getting married ill be hyphenated too.
    I don’t want to be Mrs. D, that’s his Grandmother, (and a million other women as his names is pretty common) I am quite content being Mrs. C-D though. Plus my first name sounds nice with my surname because they start with the same letter, there is just something off about just his surname with my name.

    • “there is just something off about just his surname with my name.”
      This was a big part of my issue. His last name and my first name just do not flow well together. His last name is a Mc so putting it after Brink sounds harsh with the “k” sounds right in a row. At least, it did to me. Plenty of people told me it sounded nice but … I didn’t think so.

  8. I hadn’t really thought about whether I’d change my name until FH asked me about it roughly a year before we got engaged. I decided to keep mine because I like my name. A friend of mine with a hyphenated last name since childhood warned me that hyphenated names are nearly impossible for databases to handle correctly. Also, if I hyphenated I’d have three ways of pronouncing ‘ch’ in my name. That’s just setting people up for pronunciation failure. Lol

  9. What’s really amusing is when your husband changes his last name to yours, and you still get letters addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast (which is really your last, but they don’t know that).

  10. I’m definitely going to change my name when we get married, but I am NOT looking forward to the paperwork at all…I know there are services but it seems like a giant PITA. Plus my state is one of the few where you cannot change your given middle name to your maiden without doing another name change.

    Even though I’m fine with, and look forward to being called ‘Mrs. HisLast’ I do NOT want to be called Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. But I do think, depending on the nature of the invite, or piece of mail or whatever, you have to consider that some people just aren’t going to put in the effort to figure out if you are the one married woman on their list that doesn’t share a name with her husband. We aren’t always that important to other people.

    I’m not that upset by it because I guess I understand their reasoning but…..right now my boyfriend and I are expecting a little one soon. We’ve decided to give him his dad’s last name since we do plan to get married in the next year or so, but SO MANY people assume that the baby will have his last name. Even people whose children were born under similar circumstances and have their fathers’ last name. It’s more confusing than angering, though.

    • If you are important enough that they’re sending you snail mail, you’re important enough for them to know your name. It’s an incredibly basic piece of etiquette to call someone what they want to be called. I have every right to expect that someone who is sending me mail knows what my name is.

      • I agree. The Christmas cards were my own fault because I had spread it around that I would be taking his name. But we made sure to order return address labels that say both of our names for the thank you cards. Once they go out I expect any mail we receive in the future to be addressed properly and I’ll be disappointed if people don’t respect my wish just because it’s easier to write Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName.

      • Totally agree with you. Especially since it’s becoming so much more common to not change, or hyphenate or for both parties to change names, and because it’s generally pretty easy to look up on Facebook or via email for most of us. In a lot of instances, it’s just lazy to not check.

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