Advice for dudes changing their last names

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In the comments to this post about men changing their last names, I got this question:

I don't want to change my last name, and my fiance is pretty open to changing his. But he's got 10 years of work under his belt with his name, and he'll be the first to admit – he works with a bunch of macho types who will probably not be so supportive. So he says, “Show me another man that has done this – let me talk to him, let me learn how he navigated these challenges.” … But I can't find him a single one, except anecdotally. So where are the men who have taken their wives' names? And how do I find them?!

I know a couple men who've taken their wives' last names in two different ways (one got rid of his last name, the other hyphenated), so I pestered them for some answers:

The dude: Will Merydith, CTO of software startup

His maiden name: Will Anderson
Macho cred: Former competitive snowboarder, watches COPS.
Why did you decide to change your name? When we got married, we decided to keep our own last names. It wasn't until Dawn got pregnant that we decided a unified last name was important. We decided to take Dawn's last name for three reasons:

  1. Dawn's father died at an early age, when she was in college. His last name carried extra significance for her.
  2. My father has been estranged from his first family for over fifteen years. His name carried little importance to me.
  3. Hyphenated names are great symbols of unity and compromise, but silly.

[related-post]What responses have you gotten? It's been weird. I think Dawn's friends see it as nothing surprising because they know her feminist past. My friends really never knew what to say. They responded with puzzled looks or statements indicating they would never do such a thing. Taking Dawn's last name ended up revealing that a lot of my male friends are more macho and conservative than I would have suspected.

What advice would you give to men considering changing their names? Don't make the decision lightly. It's been a complete bureaucratic pain in the ass. Government agencies, my work, my insurance company, my credit card company, banks, the car loan agency, anything requiring a credit check … they are not accustomed to men changing their last names. It's been five years now and I still have a stack of photocopied documentation of my name change, ready to send in order to prove, yet again, that I am who I am.

The dude: Rob Rummel-Hudson, Author

His maiden name: Rob Hudson
Macho cred: Known for cave-mannish confrontational outbursts, watches COPS.
Why did you decide to change your name? When we were talking about getting married, Julie expressed hesitation to change her name, and I agreed that really, there was no reason for her to let go of the identity she'd had all her life just because of tradition, particularly one with perhaps some misogynistic origins. At the same time, we wanted to acknowledge our new family with our names, so it just sort of grew out of that, a desire to illustrate our new reality without either of us letting go of the identities that we'd grown up with. (Also, my student loan people lost me for about three years. Woo! Maybe I should change it to Hudson-Rummel and see if they lose me again.)

What responses have you gotten? Responses have been mixed, largely depending on where we are. When we lived in Connecticut, it was less of a big deal than it has been in Texas, but even here, it seems to be less of a big deal than I thought it might be. Our families are both pretty conservative (surprisingly, since we're both such liberal heathens), and my family in particular isn't in love with it (my brother is like, “I guess it's up to me to keep the family name going now”), but honestly, I don't think either of us care much.

What advice would you give to men considering changing their names? Balance out how you feel about the traditions that seem to suggest you should keep your name and leave the changing to her. Do you value those traditions? If they don't resonate with you, then really, they're not so much traditions as arbitrary rules without reason. Keep in mind that you're sending a message to the world, and while some people may react negatively to that message, I suspect that if you're considering it in the first place, you probably don't give much stock to those kinds of opinions. In the end, it's about how you identify yourself, in the context of your marriage and your new family.

I'd love to hear from more men who changed their last names! Feel free to share your story in the comments.

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Comments on Advice for dudes changing their last names

  1. This whole issue is so strange to me. I’m Puerto Rican, and the only woman I know who had to take her husband’s last name is my grandmother; my grandpa was in the army and the US military pretty much forced her to do it.
    Of course, we’re all used to having 2 last names to begin with, and for families to share the kid’s last names: The “Father’s First Last Name”-“Mother’s First Last Name” Family. Is this really sucha big cultural/legal issue in the States? Will I have to change my name when I move back there?

    • It's not really a big deal for women, here in the states. You will absolutely not have to change your last name. The issues come for the men. It is not as culturally acceptable for men to change their name as it is for women. Men will just have to prove a lot more often that they are who they say they are when women do not.. This is just because men change their last name when they get married far less often when women do.

  2. This is also a hot topic at my house… My future husband refuses to keep his last name. He said he either wants to take mine, or change his name to his mother’s maiden name and I can take that. Under no circumstances does he want to carry on his father’s name. (Insert years of pain and abuse here) In conversations we came up with a hybrid version of our names, since they are both Italian we can take the “Di” prefix in his name and add it to mine. This way we each get a change. We have gotten such mixed feelings from friends and family, from “that’s dumb”, “what happened to tradition?” to “that’s awesome he wants your last name.” I think we are pretty settled on it, but given my parents are in their 70’s explaining this does not come without issues. Not to mention I started researching males changing their names and I can’t believe the red tape you have to go through! Grrrr… Thanks for sharing the above stories it is nice to have some reassurance that you are not crazy!

  3. Thanks for your continued attention to this issue. My fiancé is considering changing his name to mine, and luckily California is now an equal name change state, so it’s easier than it could be!

    Our concern is that it seems like virtually every man who changes his name says something like, “and I had a poor relationship with my father/family anyway.” my fiancé has a strong attachment to his family and is a little weirded out by this. From my perspective, I find it odd that no one expects women who change their name to have trouble with *their* family of origin! I wish we could talk to some men who changed for other reasons, like aesthetics or somesuch.

    • Thanks for this comment! I am changing my name to my fiance's when we get married in September. Forst of all, it was my idea, not hers, and secondly, I have a pretty good relationship with my dad. Here are my reasons:

      1) Why should I need a reason? I've heard tradition cited, but "TRADITION" is the same BS argument that CA has been using to keep same-sex couples from marrying, so screw that. I have also heard that I would be insulting my family, but why wouldn't she be doing the same if she changed hers? For the record, I told my Dad far in advance, told him my reasons, and he is (at least I think) not insulted.

      2) She is an only child with no male cousins. If she drops her last name, it's gone forever (and it's a beautiful name too: Farren), I on the other hand, have 4 brothers, and our last name is Johnson. Is our name really in danger of going extinct? Please.

      3) I'm tired of having a generic name. When someone has to look up my account by name, I'm usually one of 40 billion "Greg Johnsons" in the system. Her last name is cool. I like it.

      The only thing that pulls on the strings of my masculinity at all is the phrase "maiden name." But if enough people like me say "screw it" to tradition, maybe that word will become archaic.

      • Just start using the term “birth name” or something like that. “Maiden name” isn’t even an accurate term for most women, anyway. 😉

      • You should ask your father again how he feels.My son just did the same yesterday on his wedding.I feel he did this due to the fact his mother and I divorced when he was young and never really accepted it.
        It ripped my heart out.

        • Do you mind if I ask why? Did he tell you that was his reason? Do you and he have a bad relationship otherwise? There are so many step-people and fostering/adoption in my family that I’ve never really considered a name a connection to my family. If your relationship is otherwise good, what is it about his changing his name that hurts you?

    • My Fiancé has a very strong relationship with his family, but always wanted to change his name. He just didn’t like the fact that he has a long last name that most people cant spell or pronounce. Where as I have a very easy very short last name.

  4. (To clarify: not that these other dudes who changed names didn’t have many other primary reasons! We just wish we could hear from guys who changed their names entirely for whom family history was not a huge factor. I just don’t understand this fixation on Your Relationship With Your Father!)

  5. Jess, I think it’s less of an “I hate my dad!” thing and more of a way to reason through the issue. If the name is passed down through patrilineal channels, it makes sense to consider your father when considering his name.

    I totally agree that it’s a weird double standard that women don’t typically think about these things, but I don’t think it’s odd that when men consider taking on a new name, part of what they think about is their relationship to their existing name … that they got from their father.

  6. My fiance hates his last name and wants to change his to mine. At first I was into it, but as silly as it sounds, I was always looking forward to changing my name when I got married, and being a Mrs. So and so. Antiquated, sure fine whatever, but I wanted it However, I hate his last name too. It has the word “cock” in it. And not like totally ridiculous like Woodcock, just kinda lame. So, I’m not going to do that. Plus, after all the teasing and crap he says he had to put up with, if we have kids, I don’t want to subject them to that. I thought about hyphenating, but I come from a french-canadian background where all the kids had hyphenated names, and then what happens when 2 kids with 4 names get together? Too complicated. He’s going to change it, but I don’t think he’ll be able to stick to it because that means that he will hae to tell all his old buddies who call him by his last name that he’s now “so and so” instead of “blah di blah” and since he’s still sensitive to teasing, I just don’t see it. Women in our society have been somewhat conditioned to accept the name change, but men are totally foreign to it. I don’t think he understands that he’s not just changing his name, he is erasing his old name. As in he will have to change his signature, all his documents, what he responds to. It’s quite the paradigm shift. I suggested we wait until we had kids and changed it then so it’s more like a family name, but he wants to change it after the wedding. My last name is actually my mother’s maiden name because she was a single parent, so it’s I guess sort of keeping with the tradition to continue to pass this name on matriliarily. which, I must admit is pretty cool since we are the bearers of life, so why shouldn’t we pass our name on. But, it’s not really my beliefs or those of my family and friends that worries me. It’s this stupid soceity that feels it haas to judge and destroy anyone who does anything differently. I love my fiance so much, and I just don’t want to see him teased by a bunch of sexists both male and female. I wish people would just mind their own damn business!

    • Amen to the last two sentences.

      So far I'm mixed. I Like my last name a lot more than my fiancée's, but I wouldn't mind hyphenating it just to stick it to the man.

      Incidentally, I have my mother's maiden name, which wasn't even her birth name in the first place.

    • Amen to the last two sentences.

      So far I'm mixed. I Like my last name a lot more than my fiancée's, but I wouldn't mind hyphenating it just to stick it to the man.

      Incidentally, I have my mother's maiden name, which wasn't even her birth name in the first place.

  7. P.s Why do people feel it is their duty to tell you things like: If you don’t do…(usually a big traditional wedding, or grade 12 math) that you’ll “regret it for the rest of your life” and stuff like that? Who decided what and if I’ll regret something. I’m a little “offbeat”, and I’ve been hearing crap like this my whole life, and so far the only thing I regret is ever listning.

    • HAHAHA!!!! Very true, but I just loved the way you said something I've thought for sooo long. 🙂

  8. This is the first time I’ve seen first person male responses to this issue. It’s a great post.

    My husband would definitely hyphenate if I asked him. He did for his last marriage. 🙂

    But I couldn’t bring myself to change my name, so it was moot.

  9. Ariel your research has shown something extremely interesting – the relationship between watching COPs and taking your wife’s name is clear.

    Jess –
    I’ve asked myself the question, “would I have taken my wife’s last name had I been close to my father?” And that’s an impossible question to answer obviously but I’ve tried. On one hand I’d like to think I’d have had the kind of relationship with my father to still make the decision to take my wife’s name. On the other hand taking your wife’s name is a rebellion the existing instituion of marriage and I would argue to your father (in this paternal system).

    I too would love to hear of someone who took their wife’s name AND has a great relationship with their father. But not finding that individual shouldn’t be of “concern” imo.

    Ultimately men taking their wife’s name is an act of rebellion to the paternal component of marriage. Having a crappy relationship with your father makes that act of rebellion easier. But a man who takes his wife’s name AND who has a good relationship with his father is most likely going to choose this path out of protest to the system or cultural circumstances.

    I could be wrong, but I think it’s pretty early for the process of men taking their wive’s names to be a choice that doesn’t have any of this other baggage or offbeat cred around it.

    One last point of history on my situation:

    My wife and I weren’t even going to get married – out of protest to the instituation of marriage itself. In part because our gay couple friends couldn’t get married and reap the benefits of that contract. I worked at Disney at the time, which offered insurance to domestic partners. When I went to sign Dawn up, it turns out that Disney offers insurance to a) married couples and b) SAME SEX domestic partners. Disney’s attitude is apparently that if you’re living together you either needed to be gay or married.

    • My partner has a relatively good relationship with his father, they’re not super close but they can hang out OK and keep in touch. We’re considering hyphenating our names because I’m not willing to let go of mine and I don’t think his desire to change his second name has anything to do with not wanting to carry on the family name.

      Whereas if I change my name (I already did it once before, to my mother’s maiden name) then it will die out. I’m the last X other than my grandparents and I don’t want my family’s name to disappear in that way.

  10. My parents have friends who did this in the seventies. They hyphenated, one long name one short name. It works out well for them. I think it was mostly professional reasoning behind it- he needed a more “authentic” last name for the museum he curates.

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