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.

Meet your new BFF wedding vendor

Trending with our readers

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

  1. Your story reminds me of my Mum’s. Back in the day when they got married, there wasn’t an option of each partner keeping their last name in Germany, instead you had to choose a “family name”. I’d like to think it could’ve been my Mum’s if they’d wanted, but I’m not sure… it was the early 80s after all (man, even just thinking about all this, the lack of choice for women seems so incredibly antiquated!). Hyphenating was an option though, so a lot of feminists did that: the man would keep his last name and the woman would add her husband’s onto her maiden name.
    My Mum fully planned to take my Dad’s last name, until at the very registrar’s office while they were signing their papers she suddenly realised she didn’t want to give up that part of her identity! So she ended up hyphenating completely spontaneously. Come to think of it, I need to ask my Dad if that sudden change of heart shocked him 😉 – and my Mum if it ever bothered her that most people referred to her as Mrs Dad’s-Last-Name anyway. I know she’s known by the hyphenated version at work (or was, before retiring), but not everywhere, especially in situations where my parents appeared as a couple.

    • I think it’s great that your mother followed her gut instinct! I kept trying to shove my gut instinct away and it wasn’t until filling out the SS card form that it finally all boiled over and I gave in to what I was really feeling.

      • I agree, I think it was super brave of her to go through with it on a sudden gut feeling! I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to do that if I’d made up my mind differently before.

        • The night before we went to apply for our license was the first time I started to have doubts about whether or not I wanted to change mine. I didn’t say anything to my husband about it and when we were in front of the clerk and she asked if either of us were going to change our names I just automatically said “I am” and then in my head was going “Wait, am I? Why did I say that? Do I really want to? … ahhh!”

  2. My fiancé and I didn’t even need to have a conversation about this – long before we were engaged I drunkenly teased him that I would not be changing my name and he laughed and said, “Oh, I already assumed that!” He knows me well. 🙂

    Maybe I’m being petty, but I just don’t see how it is fair for me to give up my identity and family lineage (only on paper, granted) to take on his. If we were to create a brand new family name, that might be different, but that sits almost equally as unwell with me and I know he would not be interested. Isn’t that funny though, that no one will ever admonish him for not wanting to change his name? But I’m sure I have many fun conversations ahead of me as this comes out, and they will all point to me. I don’t see why last names matter anyway – I’m his partner and we are a unit, regardless.

    • It is grossly unfair that women are so much more likely to get negative reactions about not changing their name than men are. Societal expectations and norms always take time to change though and I think this issue is definitely more of a “thing” in some areas than others. My father has a cousin who did not take her husband’s last name but she’s from a liberal area where it’s actually more common for a woman to keep her name than not. In my situation we live in a predominantly middle-class Irish/Italian Catholic area that is really steeped in tradition. In some ways that’s great and there’s a lot of great cultural events that go on here but in the attitude and assumptions about marriage are quite old fashioned.

  3. My boyfriend and I are really radical in this. I’m keeping my name and he’s keeping his. It’s a lot easier for us as teachers to just keep the same name, and cheaper since we’d have to fill out an atrocious amount of paperwork, and all of that’s in addition to the feminist perspective we both had growing up.

    However, we’re taking thinks a step further. Any male children we have will have his last name and any female children will have my last name. If they change genders later on, they can change their name or keep it the same. This is a very popular decision in my family, but some of my friends are FREAKED OUT by this choice, because they’re so ingrained that the child always takes the father’s last name. This is even the case for a friend whose children have different last names because they have different fathers.

    • I think that’s really cool! We’re choosing to remain child-free so it’s not an issue for us but it would have been interesting to see what we would have done in that situation. Especially considering I am my grandfather’s only grandchild who shares his name. I’m basically “the last Powell”
      (dramatic music). It really sort of doesn’t seem fair that kids should automatically have their father’s name considering it takes two sets of genes to create a new life.

    • i am so interested in this bc i too will be keeping my name and was curious what i would name my future children… my first instinct was to do what u mentioned, however what if you have all boys, haha. or all girls. then you may end up being the only one in the family with a diff. last name? it would be perfect if it worked out balanced but theres no way to predict that outcome… these are all questions ive asked myself, haha. 🙂

      • Instead of doing it along gender lines what if the first child got one name, the second got the other name, and so forth? I guess that would mean you’d have to have an even number of children to make it “even” though.

    • When we decided to hyphenate our last names for our children a few friends were surprised that my husband would be ok with my name being last. According to them most guys want to have their name last (where we live it is common to hyphenate and I have not noticed this). To me it wasn’t a prestige thing, my name last name is a homophone for a English adjective which has negative connotations so it doesn’t sound good if it is before my husbands last name.

      Also I know people who have children gave some of their children the husband’s last name and other children the wife’s last name. And I know other couples who gave all their children the mother’s last name.

      • Yeah, well. my boyfriend and I will be super weird in the town where we’ll be living because I didn’t change my last name, and all of our children don’t have the same last name. The usual way to have children with different last names where I come from is by having children with multiple fathers, and if my children have one father, this will confuse them.

    • Is that legal where you live? I’m Belgian and here, while we can choose to give our children either parent’s last name or a double one, all (full) siblings need to have the same last name.

  4. I always planned on keeping my birth name, and never questioned it for a second. I think much of this certainty came from the fact that my Mum kept her maiden name, so I know from personal experience that it’s not the end of the world if two married partners have different surnames!

    Further to this, my husband is keen for our kids to also take my surname. I feel very close to my father’s family, whereas my husband’s paternal surname comes from a remarriage in his grandparent’s generation, so doesn’t have that blood-tie connection for him. And again, from my own experience, I know that having a parent who doesn’t share your surname isn’t actually confusing for a child, nor does it make them any less your parent!

    We also don’t openly wear our wedding rings (I lost mine a year ago, and he wears his on a chain around his neck). The marriage is not a ring, or a changed name, but the work you put into it every day. I do not care if I am not encumbered by what society considers the trappings of marriage, because for me this union is so much deeper than that.

    • Well stated! I grew up with parents who did share a surname, and it’s my father’s. When we’ve talked about it my mother said she didn’t think anything of it when they got married and is perfectly happy being Mrs.
      Powell. At this point that’s been her name for longer than she’s been alive. That works for her but it just doesn’t work for me, and I think that’s what I wish people who are so staunchly traditional about it need to realize. That everyone needs to find what works for them and their family.

  5. I’ve been surprised to find that this has become a much more emotive issue for me over the last year or so. I have always known I would want to keep my own name if I get married, but felt pretty unbothered by what other people chose to do. The last couple of friends of mine to get married though, have taken their husband’s names and I’ve found it strangely upsetting. I think it’s a response to the way it’s shown up the cultural pressure to do it, rather than to do with their decision per se, but it’s made me realise that I’d be really upset if I married and people just assumed. I already know that most people on my partner’s side of the family would assume and we would definitely get wedding cards and greetings referring to me as ‘Mrs X’, and I think I would hate that (especially as I wouldn’t be changing my title either since I am Dr. Zooey). I’d love to hear how people have handled the ‘pre-information’ to discourage people from doing that.

    As children have become something which is also more on my radar, I’ve found my feelings shifting on that too – I used to think I would be fine for any children to take their father’s name, but increasingly I feel like I would be very not cool with that.

    Unexpected feelings! They are confusing!

    • Are you worried about your partner’s family assuming or are you worried that they will be judgmental about your decision? I felt fairly lucky that several of my husband’s aunts decided to keep their name when they got married, so it wasn’t such a weird concept to family. Or at least no one seemed like they were offended that I “didn’t want their name.” Because I feel sometimes like grooms’ families view that decision as an insult against them, even if it’s not meant to be. If you’re worried about the assumption, I might suggest speaking with his parents before the wedding and telling them that this is an important decision and asking if they could help you spread the word to their respective families. They should know how best to deal with the varying personalities, I’d think.

      • I think his immediate family would be cool with it but would still want to refer to me as ‘Mrs LastName’ on the day of the wedding and his extended family would find it weird and do a lot of assuming but not be actively hostile. So it’s not that I’m anticipating anyone being horrible, just realising that when some people do the inevitable assuming and/or wilful ‘forgetting’ it will probably bother me a lot more than I had assumed until recently. I think the enlisting his parents is a good idea though as it would at least ensure that they knew it was a thing I had feelings about.

        Plenty of time to think about it – we’re not actually formally engaged right now but in that phase where we both agree marriage is on the cards for us at some slightly more convenient moment. But this is why it’s been even stranger to suddenly start having irrational feelings about other people’s choices flag up that maybe I am not as chill on this point as I assumed!

    • Unexpected feelings are truly confusing and potentially distressing!
      Having gone through a massive change of mind I learned that in some situations you just can’t anticipate how you’ll feel until you’re in the situation. I anticipating being totally fine with taking my husband’s name and it turns out I wasn’t. With the kids thing I’d say don’t worry about it until it happens because you may feel totally different than you think you will!

      You will definitely get wedding cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs.
      HisLastName. Even though in your situation I believe the proper etiquette would be Dr. and Mr. HisLastName. If guests choose to give you checks you also will probably receive some with the wrong names too. I think pre-information is a good thing to consider. Are you having a wedding website? You could put something in your FAQ section. I’ve seen this done where it’s worded like “Will names be changing post wedding?” “No, we will both be retaining our given names.”

      I can relate to your feelings about your friends. I was very surprised when a co-worker of mine who is a Dr. got married and immediately changed her name to her husband’s. She was like a militant fiend about it and by the end of her first day back at work everything (her e-mail, letterhead, etc) had been changed. I was surprised to feel myself feeling sad about it? Like, why should I care? But I guess I was just surprised that she was so easily able to shed the name she achieved her doctorate under because I couldn’t even shed mine and I’m certainly no doctor!

    • It’s funny, I also feel upset when friends change their names. I almost feel offended by it. It’s bizarre. In theory I totally respect that everyone needs to figure out what works for them and if they are happy changing their names then it’s perfect. But in practice it bothers me. The first time it came up I may have made a slightly rude comment about it (totally inappropriate I know! It came out before I could think about it, but that’s no excuse) but luckily now I know what my gut feeling will be and can keep it in check. It still makes me feel weird but the important thing is to not let that feeling affect me and respect everyone’s decisions.

      • I think it’s always hard to control gut reactions, especially when you feel strongly about the issue. Even though we all logically know that what we choose isn’t right for everyone I think seeing someone make the opposite decision might grate on us because it calls our choice into question … if that makes any sense? It’s like a defense mechanism. Someone taking their husbands name might bring out insecurities about me not taking my husband’s name which leads me to have an oddly negative reaction to their choice. Oh human psychology! We are odd creatures.

    • I openly broached it in my wedding speech (yep, I made the speech, not the groom!). I was fortunate that I could make light of it, as his surname is Payne and I’m called Isa, so my name would literally be “Is A Pain”. Everyone had a laugh, and I made my point. No-one was any the worse, and no-one ever addresses us as Mr and Mrs Payne. Except his Grandma, who does the Mr and Mrs HisName LastName thing, but whatever, she’s of a different generation.

  6. I’m already a hyphenated name and my fiance and I have been debating a lot about this. I really don’t mind if in my personal life (or even partially my professional life) if people use his last name, but I don’t really want to change my last name. And I want our kids to have both our names. But 3 hyphenations seems crazy long. Only problem is, if my brother doesn’t have kids, we lose BOTH of our parents’ last names. All of my aunts & uncles only had girls, who are all married & took their partners’ names. Just think it’d be sad for two families (my dad & mum’s) name lineages to come to an end. However, fiance doesn’t seem to be too keen on the idea that I keep my name entirely. But I also have two citizenships & live in a different country than my citizenships! So that’d be 3 countries’ paperwork + residence cards & everything else. No thank you!

    Any suggestions for what to do with kids when one of you already has a double barrel last name?

    • I also have that issue. I am definitely not changing my name, but I’m not sure what to do about kids’ names. I like the idea mentioned above of alternating names – one kid has my name, the next has my partner’s – I knew some people in high school who did that. I feel weird giving one child a hyphenated name and one child a single name though, especially with how much people criticize hyphenated names. (I loved my hyphenated name but I know that not everyone feels that way.) Otherwise I’m not opposed to taking one part of my last name and passing it on along with my partner’s name. But then the kids’ names won’t match either of our names, which is unusual.

      My partner and I are pretty tempted to just make up a new name…

  7. My fiancé and I had this conversation early. I was born in Puerto Rico so my birth certificate reads firstname middle fatherslast motherslast. But growing up in the states I had only my father’s last name in documents as long as I can remember. Then when I went to get a passport they asked if I wanted to add my mother’s last name to the document. Having struggled with “not looking Hispanic enough” all my life, it felt like I was given a chance to identify my lineage in a way I couldn’t before. I’m not giving that up and luckily my fiancé totally understands this.

    • I love this. I’m biracial who grew up constantly being asked “what are you?” (not white enough, apparently) and then becoming an adult who most people assume is white (wait a minute, not Asian enough, apparently). I often wonder how my life would be different if I had my mother’s Filipino maiden name rather than my dad’s white name. I’m glad you were able to align your lineage through that passport issue. 🙂

  8. My fiance and I are considering changing his last name- the idea actually really made me happy when he suggested it, though I was ok with no change as well.

    We knew he didn’t want me to change my name, knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. And honestly, his family has been emotionally abusive and awful to him ever since he got old enough to make his own decisions and started thinking for himself about things. He wants a relationship with them, but it has to be at arm’s length or more. They also have been openly hostile to him over the engagement, though generally they play nice to my face about it. On the other hand, my family loves him and they are so happy over the engagement, and are showing him what a healthy relationship with family can look like. So if one name were our decision, it would probably be mine. We only worry that his family would see it as one more rejection, when they already see pretty much all his choices lately that way including the marriage itself- I don’t think it actually would be, but they would see it that way. So we’re also considering no change, or taking each other’s names as middle names like many women do with their maiden names. So many feels around the whole thing, that’s for sure.

    I prefer the hispanic tradition in general, where no one changes names at marriage and children have their mother’s and father’s names (though I dislike that the name passed to children is still paternal- it’s the fathers name from each parent). Problem is, the hispanic tradition isn’t mine and usually confuses people in the US. Just wanted to share where my decision-making process has taken me so far on the same issue- and chime in as someone whose husband might take her name, as that is so much less common.

    TLDR- Fiance might take my name, but it’s complicated. Mostly, I’m really glad we’re both talking about this as a decision “we” are making about “our” names, not just “will the woman change it?” It’s understood that this is a discussion with equal weight on both sides.

  9. I spent the entire year of my engagement debating whether or not to change my name. It was never about equality or feminism or any of that. I’m a female engineer and I’m the higher income earner and we have a really good relationship where we take on roles that we’re better at (he’s better at cleaning, ironing, building fires, and multi-tasking and I’m better at cooking, gardening, car things, and being on a single task at a time) and we’re both on the exact same page when it comes to finance. I most definitely never thought that I by changing my surname that I’d some how bow down to some ancient patriarchal female squelching thing. For me, it was about being totally, utterly lazy. LAZY! I am a dual citizen, so 2 passports, 2 driving licenses, bank accounts in 2 countries, different government ID numbers, etc, etc, etc… I just couldn’t bare the thought of changing any of that stuff. I loved his last lame and I loved my maiden name. I personally for me, didn’t like the way my name sounded hyphenated, but didn’t want to lose my name. He never wanted to change to my surname, or make a combination name which would have been fun. He never cared if I changed it or not. I debated right until that moment we had the ceremony. And I just kind of went “fuck it”, it will be fun to have the same name as my husband. Nothing swung me this way from what I can tell and I decided to keep my old last name as a second middle name. I like it. I’m totally confusing everyone with my new name and whilst I still have yet to change any official IDs, can’t sign my name properly and I still stumble when introducing myself, (it has only been 3.5 weeks), I somehow think that for me, it was the best choice. It’s not made a new me or identity and I’ve not lost any part of me at all and well, really, married life feels absolutely no different to non-married life. I know people say its supposed to feel deeper, stronger, they try harder, whatever, but we feel no different. We feel the same that we did when we got through lots and lots of life’s hurdles when we almost ended, but didn’t. Soul searching somehow got us through (but not necessarily intact), but somehow, once we made it through that dark period, we moved into a giggly, head over heels, yucky romantic, people puke at our PDA phase, which is going on 2 years strong now… Maybe that was our pivotal moment instead of our wedding ceremony. Not that I didn’t think for a moment that my wedding wasn’t perfect, because all of it was, pouring rain-strong wind -flooding and all. But maybe this is why I wanted to change to his name. Realising that we, were almost not and that together we’re stronger than apart. Yeah, just typing it, I think that’s maybe why I did it. Hmm….

  10. We got wedding cards that addressed us as Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast even though we made it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that no one was changing their name. We had to have a few conversations with people, some more than a few times, but we actually were successful enough that we did not get a single mis-addressed holiday card this year. I was pleasantly surprised.

    Interestingly, I have since been addressed as Mrs. MyName, to which I tell people, “No, dear, I am not married to my father.” (My mother added my father’s name to hers so she is FirstName MiddleName HerLast HisLast, but mostly uses HisLast.)

    Anyway, what I always tell people is that while the choice of whether to change your name is personal, socially speaking, it is more acceptable if the woman changes her name upon marriage. Acquiring the male partner’s name is rooted in marriage as a transfer of property from one man (the woman’s father) to another man (her husband). The name was essentially a label so that people would know to whom the woman quite literally belonged. This is what our society is rooted in, and the name change for women isn’t the only holdover from an era when women were property. Those holdovers are why people react so negatively to women who choose not to change their names– it’s why there are comments that those women are “not as committed to their marriage.”

    So yes, changing your name is a personal choice (it’s your name after all), but remember that no one exists in a vacuum. Choosing to change one’s name to one’s husband’s name falls in line with established traditions of patriarchy, regardless of the reason for the name change (I’ve heard women say they want nothing to do with their father’s name, for example). It does not advance the position of women within society; it does not help make it more acceptable to keep one’s name, or to select an entirely new name. As such, it is not a feminist action (if we define feminism as actions that advance or help maintain equality). That doesn’t mean it’s “bad” if a person takes their husband’s name; it just means that the person has other priorities, or may choose to advance equality in other ways.

    • It was amazing to me during wedding planning how many traditions I found that had somewhat “icky” origins. The name change is one of them. But, those origins are only “icky” by today’s standards. 50, 100, 500 years from now there will probably be societal traditions that we find totally normal that people of the future will balk at and change. It’s all just part of the evolution of societies and cultures. There are plenty of good reasons for a woman to change her name just as there are plenty of good reasons for a woman to not change her name. Like you said, it all comes down to personal choice, but it would be nice if the reaction was no reaction at all! Rather than potentially having to explain or justify to those who don’t like when tradition is changed.

    • Omg, I love the “I’m not married to my father” comment. Pretty much everyone in my life knows I didn’t change my last name, but many are still pretty damn confused about how to address mail to me. I get a lot of Mrs. MyName-HisName, even though I didn’t hyphenate and some Mrs. MyName as well. I like when they get the name right, but I really prefer Ms. And as a PhD student, pretty soon it will be Dr. MyName anyway!

Read more comments

Comments are closed.