One groom's perspective on taking his wife's last name

July 27 2009 | arielmstallings
groom took wife's name
Photo by J.K. Califf used by CC license

Recommended reading from the Globe & Mail today: I took my wife's last name by Josiah Neufeld:

It was my idea; Mona never suggested it.

The official at the drivers' licence office squinted at me suspiciously, examined for a second time my birth certificate and marriage licence, and repeated, "You want to change your last name to your wife's?"

"That's correct."

"Usually it's the other way around."

"Usually it is."

He consulted the form on his screen and said slowly, as much to himself as to anyone, "Yes … you can do that."

Of all the independences one sacrifices at the altar, a name might seem like a small one. Women have been leaving theirs there for centuries.

But I agonized over my decision to take my wife's last name when we married two years ago. I told my family what I was considering; my mother laughed doubtfully. "We'll have to have a family discussion about that," she said.

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She's a strong woman who would never call herself a feminist. I think she finds the word angry, abrasive. She wanted my marriage to be as happy and life-giving as hers. She willingly took my father's surname, Thiessen, on their wedding day. But giving up mine, she feared, would herald an unbalanced union. And how would she explain it to people? It just wasn't done. She cried when I told her I'd made up my mind.

"I don't believe you did it," a relative said to me recently, "and I don't even want to know why." We left it at that.

People often ask me why I did it, with curious or wary glances. It's a good question with many answers.

I did it because I love Mona – because I wanted her to know that I didn't expect her to become anyone other than herself. It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up. And a combination name like Neufeld-Thiessen would only solve the dilemma temporarily. Eventually a child of ours would bring this unwieldy last name to his or her own marriage – most likely to another hyphenee.

Mona told me afterward my choice made her feel loved.

When the topic came up before our wedding, Mona said she would find it hard to relinquish her name. She also told me in her gentle, gracious way how she came to accept herself as a woman, first as a Canadian girl growing up in Sudan and later as an adult woman living in Canada, a country to which she belonged but had never called "home."

When Sudanese acquaintances congratulated her father on his three sons, he told them his daughter was as valuable to him as any of her younger brothers.

When Canadians told her God was male, she prayed to Our Mother in heaven.

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These were novel notions for me before meeting Mona. I never suspected that as a man I had been given an extra portion of power in the global allotment.

I did it because any form of power comes with duties. I'm obliged to take responsibility for my power, to learn its effects – even unintentional ones – to see what it does to others when I'm not watching, to use it in the best way possible. Sometimes to relinquish it.

So far the name change hasn't cost me more than a few hours of paperwork, some explanations to public officials and a few strained conversations with brittle relatives who think I've joined a matrilineal cult. I still feel like myself. My identity remains intact. Marriage will demand larger sacrifices than this, I expect.

I wear my new name as proudly as I wear the tiny woman with braided hair I carved from a piece of antler and hung around my neck as a wedding ring. Mona wears a miniature man. Both come from the same bone. I can't remember which I carved first, but I think the woman is the more beautiful of the two. Mona might disagree.

Perhaps I'm not noble, just a contrarian. Either way, I need a good title for my maiden name: "former name" is boring; "ex-name" sounds like a cast-off lover; "birth name" implies I was adopted; "unmarried name" evokes a monastic twin who hasn't called since moving to Tibet.

I'd prefer to keep in touch with my inner Thiessen. We lived together for 26 years and parted on good terms. If he's still nursing wounds, I think I've given him a fair chance to speak up. Maybe he'll surface with a midlife identity crisis when I'm 40.

Thiessen is a name I'm glad to have worn. If, after years of putting up with the newfangled Neufeld in their midst, my long-suffering family chips "Thiessen" into my tombstone I promise not to raise a fuss.

For now, I'm content that Mona feels loved, because whether or not anyone else understands, my new name is a declaration of love. And it's a choice I made because I'd rather learn to give my power away than wield it, oblivious, until it's too late.

Read the full article, and thanks to Michelle for passing this my way.

  1. We took parts of each of our old last names & made them into a new last name. We were Peters & Carr, and are now Carter. It was important to us to have the same last name, and I love that we did it this way!

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    • I totally wanted to do this, and suggested to Andreas that we mash Fetz & Stallings into one name (Fellings) but Dre wasn't into the idea. That said: I love the mashup names!

  2. this is the most beautiful article i've seen! unfortunately, on the website it was posted, there were a few ppl with, well, different opinions than that of the author. i got upset and left the website… either way! i love this and wish my husband was more supportive of my name change. he is the only boy on his father's side among cousins and everything – so the only one to carry on the family name. unfortunately – i cannot even begin to ask him to consider a meshed name. mines krohn and his is krueger, so i guess there isn't much to change…except like kroger, or kruehn. i think ill stick with his. thanks for the inspiration with this post, either way 🙂

  3. My husband and I both hyphenated, and he refers to his "maiden name" (which he still uses professionally). 🙂 We get a lot of comments – all positive, at least to our faces. As far as "what will your children do when they get married?" I assume they'll be smart enough to figure something out. I'm certainly not going to dictate a solution.

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  4. What a great idea! I took my husband's name (He's an only child, and Kwake is a cool name anyway) but if somehting had happened to my brother before he had a kid, I think I would have asked him how he felt about taking my name, or hyphenating. Our names aren't really mashable. Romig and Kwake… Romake? Kwamig? Bluh, no thanks.

  5. I just had a long talk with one of my bridesmaids about whether or not I was going to take my FH's last name when we get married. She was surprised that I would take his name as I've always been this super-independent woman. But I chose to change my name to have a common family name. Not only that but his identity is much more tied with his name (career, family heritage, etc) whereas mine is mostly a source of mispronunciation and poor family ties with my father's side. But the biggest issue for us was that when this topic is discussed it's always "will the bride change her name?" not "will the bride or the groom change their name or will they both keep their original last names?". It's nice to see someone who thinks that it's not so black & white.

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  6. I took my bride's last name when we wed 15 years ago. She had 2 kids from her first marriage & her ex wasn't letting us change their last name, so for their sake I changed mine. Yes, I was ridiculed, teased, etc. at first for taking her first husband's name but it didn't go on forever. We had 2 kids also, which also have her/his last name so our whole family would have the same last name. We remained married for 10 years when we then divorced & she re-married her first husband. All 4 kids have been able to have the same last name as their mom & dad their entire life, which is good. I have had my ex's husband's last name for 5 divorcee years now which is kind of humiliating, but good for my 2 kids. I have been thinking of changing back to my bachelor name but not sure. I empathise with brides & mothers out there & over the years.

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  7. I want to be in a female lead relationship. I had 15 years in a traditional marriage and it failed because I couldn't handle it. The next time around I will take her last name and I will let her make all of the decesions. I here that this is becoming more and more common. Any thoughts? Also, where do i meet women who want to be head of household?

  8. (Divorced here)…in a long term relationship with another divorcee. She's in the process of getting her maiden name back. We've talked marriage and the subject of the last name came up. She's adamant that she's keeping hers. Which is perfect because I want- if I get married again- to take the woman's name. (…for a number of reasons). She (…like every woman who did take the husband's name) had to go thru a lot headache inducing paperwork to change her name…and now to get her's back. We both agree that it's a pain. But we both want her name to be our family name. So here's our plan/compromise: Legally I keep my last name. That way work/payroll/government/taxes things stay the same…but "socially" I use her name.

    We like that plan. What do you guys think?

    2 agree

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