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. I’m not taking my partner’s last name. I honestly don’t like it any better than I like my last name (which I hate because I’ve never had a good relationship with my father). I’ll be two weeks shy of my 45th birthday when we get married. I’ve built my career and life using the name I have. I don’t feel inclined to change it…unless I do something radical and change my last name to the one I really want– my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

  2. Ive never really thought about it tbh, but as i’m reading your article i’m agreeing with everything you are saying. I think about how, if i changed my name then i would be a part of his family, which is lovely, but then i would lose something that connects me to my own. I was this name when i was teased at school for being a teacher’s daughter and i was this name when i was called up to graduate with a 1st class degree. It’s a slate i wouldn’t want to wipe clean; these memories belong to me, to that name.

    Then again i think ‘my partner’s name is cooler, i’ve never really liked mine’
    And i got to the bottom of the article and see you have the exact same surname as me.

    You definitely have me thinking.

  3. Not to offend or otherwise bother anyone, but just a thought on the side: it’s funny how some issues are considered ‘offbeat’ on this website, apparently only because the USA seems very traditional when it comes to weddings, marriage, and potentially a whole lot of other things in life. I’m Belgian, and almost no one here changes their name after their wedding. Some women might use a hyphenated last name on e.g. Facebook, but legally they just keep their own name. Also, many people don’t even get married here, and have children while not married (I know, *gasp* :-p ). I feel that in many of there issues, the USA seems to run about a generation (or 2) behind on Europe. I guess we’re lucky, as many of my own choices and decisions might be considered very offbeat and potentially even shocking in a more traditional environment, but here no one even blinks an eye at us getting married while already having 2 children, not getting married in church, inviting exactly and only the people we want, and after a relationship of almost 15 years (I’m 30). Any thoughts or replies?

  4. I have been married for a year and kept my last name. Neither myself or my husband wanted his father’s surname – so he has officially taken his mother’s surname now, while I still have my own. This was always fine with me until very recently – we are expecting our first child together in 3 weeks and agreed a long time ago she would also share his mother’s surname. This is pushing me towards changing my name to share our daughters. The reason he took his mother’s surname was because it represents family to him – he in no way expects me to take his surname(old or new). I have always felt (for possibly 15 years or so before I even knew I would ever want to marry) that I would prefer to keep my last name. But the thought of not having the same surname as my daughter who I have carried for the last 9 months is tearing me apart.

    • Hi Jess,
      I understand how you’re feeling, but it might be reassuring that part of how you feel might be due to all those pregnancy hormones that make you do and feel all kinds of possibly unusual stuff. I have two children who share their dad’s surname. It sometimes feels unfair that I’m the only one in our little family with a different surname, but most of the time it doesn’t bother me anymore. You haven’t physically seen and touched your child yet, and that can make you overestimate more symbolic things like a name. Once born, your child will acknowledge you as her mother in much more than just her name ever could, and it will be obvious to anyone that you are her mother regardless of names or other symbols. A more experienced mother might also note that it’s much more fun to be able to blame your husband when the children are annoying or naughty, as they share his name and not yours, but you might not see the advantage in that… yet 😉 Don’t worry, in a year’s time many of your current worries will seem silly, and for the others you will have found a good solution!

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