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.

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

  1. This reminds me of my grandmother’s medical records. My grandmother passed away when my mom was a teenager. When I was a teenager my mom requested my grandmother’s medical records because my mom (youngest of four) and her siblings did not know much about their mothers illness other than she died of cancer. My mom was very shocked and even pointed out to me that my grandmother was always referred to as ‘Mrs [grandfather’s first] [grandfather’s last]’. This was in the early 1970s. My mom felt like the record erased part of her mom. My mom also passed away when I was a teenager, and one of the reasons I kept my last name was because it was her last name (even if that’s because she took my dad’s last name).

  2. women keeping your names ( i will be one of them too when i get married this summer..) what are you going to do if you have children? i’ve heard so many options- give the sons his last name, give the daughters hers…. create a new last name for just the kids… neither seem really great to me? i guess hyphenating the kids is probably the most desirable for me personally? just looking for advice. thanks 🙂

    • We have a daughter, born last summer, and we hyphenated HisLast-mylast for her. We have being using the hyphenated name as our ‘family’ name since about six months after we got married after my husband’s parents called us the ‘The HisLasts’ even though I kept my name. We have been criticized that her last name is a mouthful but it’s the same length as my sisters last name (she took her husband’s last name and its 12 letters).

    • For us it’s a moot point because we’ve decided to remain child-free. But if that weren’t the case I would definitely want my name to be a part of theirs somehow. I’m the last of my father’s family to have my last name and it would be important to me to keep the name going. I think the easiest solution would be to hyphenate but I think I would also be okay with using one name as a middle name and one as a last name. I am sort of glad though that I won’t have to deal with this issue because if deciding what to do with my name caused me so many feels I really can’t fathom how I’d deal with choosing someone else’s!

    • You might consider choosing an entirely new family name, so that everyone’s name changes. That way, you are signifying your unity via name (which sounds like it is important to you), as well as not bowing to tradition.

      That being said, my husband and I will never have biological children. We may eventually adopt if (and only if) we feel it is the right choice, but that won’t be for many years. If that happens, we may actually leave our adopted child’s name as-is, so we all have different names. In my opinion, a name doesn’t make a family– the people and their relationship to each other make a family. So while having one name may be important for some, it’s not important to me or my husband– our family is no less legitimate than anyone else’s.

  3. It’s all such a minefield!
    I love the idea of having a family name, but hate the idea of having to change my name and him not having to change his just because that’s how it’s **supposed** to be. I am totally down for hyphenating, or for combining our names, or just coming up with a completely new name for our new family, but the paperwork involved is substantial (in BC for any of those options you actually have to change the name on your birth certificate, which seems so drastic to me- like erasing the past). The path of least resistance seems to be just keep our own names, but he doesn’t really want our eventual kids to have hyphenated names. Our names combine really well, and while it’s a bit silly, I love it. My family will think it’s odd and rather wrong, but they also know me and know I’m just gonna do what I want to do. *His* family, though… I worry that they’ll think I forced this on him…

    At this point we may keep our own names and wait until we have kids to decide, though that feels a bit like admitting defeat…

    • I think it’s interesting how a common theme seems to be fears about how the husband’s family will react rather than the wife’s. I worried about this as well but as yet haven’t gotten a reaction one way or another. I’m actually not sure if my husband even told my in-laws about my decision!
      Apparently, my grandfather was very pleased that I’d chosen to keep my name which makes sense because it’s his! However, I think it would be interesting to see how he would’ve reacted if I were a man and my wife had decided not to take our family name because I don’t think it would have been so positive. I think for some in-laws it might feel like the new wife doesn’t really want to be a part of their family if she doesn’t choose to take their family name. That’s not the case with us because my mother-in-law is remarried so my in-laws have a different last name than my husband. Like you said it’s all just a minefield and any decision can have so many different outcomes based on the personalities of all involved. In any case, I think as long in the couple in question is happy with whatever choice is made then it’s really none of either set of in-laws business!

      • We did not discuss me not changing my name with my in-laws before we got married. I am the first married woman on either side to keep her name (I do have a step-sis that uses her maiden name professionally). We live in a city where it is common for women to keep their name and relatively common to hyphenate last names for children. Both of our families are from small towns and my in-laws are very conservative. My MIL asked me what my last name was at our wedding reception after both of us had a few glasses of wine (it went over better than I expected, well until months later when they still insisted in calling us ‘The HisLasts’ which upset my husband more than it did me). My husband told me that if it was important to me that we have the same name then he would change his last name to mine. We knew that would not go over well with my in-laws. My MIL really wants a grandson to carry on my FIL’s last name (through his line – a male cousin with the same last name has a son). My BIL/SIL have three daughters and don’t plan on having anymore. We have a daughter, which was probably good considering we hyphenated for her; if we have a boy in the future my MIL is not going to be happy that he’ll also have a hyphenated last name but there will be precedence (and my kids aren’t going to have different last names).

        I think some people did wonder how committed I was to the family. I think if my SIL did not take my BIL’s last name then they would have said she was not committed to the family (the family thought she was a gold digger). I think they have seen from my behaviour that I am committed, I just like to do things my way.

        • I’m glad it went over better with your MIL than you expected. I’m only the second woman in my family to keep my last name. The first was my father’s cousin who lives on the opposite side of the country so for all intents and purposes I’m actually the first one. I’m positive I’m the first in my husband’s family to do so and I’m still not even sure if they know that I did. No matter what their reaction is though as long as my husband is good with my decision and understands that’s all I really care about. Since we’re remaining child-free at least we don’t have to deal with that part of it in the future. I feel like it would be really important to his family that he pass on his name since he’s his father’s only son and all that.

  4. Add it to the FAQs on the wedding website! And not just under “Are you changing your names?”, but also under “I want to send you a gift or a card, what is your address?” And then add your address and exactly how you would like your names written. Obviously, some people won’t read the FAQs, but it might be helpful to put this information in a practical, copy and paste version.

  5. Funnily enough, my fiancé’s surname is also Powell. Before I ever got into a long-term relationship, I knew I wanted to change my name at marriage because I’ve had to spell mine out all my life (Twyman) and I get people pronouncing it Tyman or Tweeman or Twynan or something, which gets boring really fast. I’ve thought about it from a feminist viewpoint and if I had a surname people didn’t mess up so easily, I’d keep it; but my surname is a chore to me. I’ll miss the swoopy ‘y’ I do in my signature though :/

    • I can definitely see how having an annoying original surname would prompt you to want to change it! Since your last name is going to be Powell I suggest doing some nice loopy flourishes with the two L’s at the end.
      Might make you miss your swoopy y a little less 🙂

  6. Friendly greetings! I’m an American who married an Italian in Italy 2 years ago. We now live in California. When I got married, I didn’t change my last name but now, 2 yrs later, I want to change it to his last name. I don’t know where to start. Who do I contact? US Embassy? Our marriage license was originally made in Italy. Any Help is Greatly appreciated. Happy New Year Every One 🙂

  7. Happy New Year! If I were you I would start with the social security office since you’re American and that’s generally the first thing you change your name on. Just a warning that you may find there’s a bit more paperwork since it’s been two years since your marriage. I seem to remember during my planning a friend who works for SS told me that after two years the process changes. Good luck!

  8. I also did not opt to change my name upon getting married this year (though I had never intended to in the first place). It is so frustrating the number of people who have assumed that my name would change upon marriage and have taken the liberty of addressing me by my “new” name. Even one of the stores we registered at sent me an email with the subject line “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast!” While I realize it is the norm for marrying women to take their husband’s name, it is certainly not unheard of for that not to be the case. And fewer women are doing so. It is very presumptive to call a woman by a different name than what she’s introduced herself as.

  9. I’m really struggling with this one, because MyLast + HisLast = an adjective you’d rather not apply to yourself, which some friends think is hilarious. Feminism wise, I’d be keen to keep my name, especially as we both get on better with my family than his, and I have several degrees under my own name! But having the two names present just invites the joke, which we really want to avoid. I like the romance of being Mr and Mrs SameName, but I get worried about it feeling like I’ve given up part of my identity 🙁

  10. I’m not sure my husband really understood my decision to keep my name until our honeymoon. I booked our room under my credit card, and the very fancy hotel assumed we were Mr. and Mrs. MyLastName. So for 3 days, he kept getting called Mr. MyLastName. By the end, he was like “ok, I get it now…”

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