Changing one's name at marriage

May 12 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I have always been mystified why hetero-women want to change their name to their husband's when they get married. Within lesbian communities this has historically been less of a problem, if for no other reason than historically lesbians couldn't get married.

I had a hetero-friend in grad school (actually had more than one friend in grad school, and most were hetero, but that's another story), who had married right after college, and published her first papers then. She got divorced (ugly) during grad school, and published another few. Then after grad school got married again, and didn't change her name, despite being rather conservative about such things.  "Two different names on my CV is sufficient, I don't need a third. No one needs to know my whole marital history".

I know when anyone gets married (or anyone I know, which is indeed, a limited set), it is forever. Margaret Mead thought so, each of the four times she got married. I understand forever. Or the hope of forever. Been there, done that, wore out the t-shirt. I wish everyone to have forever. and ever. It's foolish to talk about statistics, because you and me and our friends are not those numbers. We are, of course, different.

Many of my friends from college/grad school didn't change their names. At least the ones who got married. I had a bunch of friends who didn't get married, and some of those changed their entire names, but that is also a different story. But I noticed that after a while more students I had seemed to be changing their names at marriage. Some of those marriages lasted (and have wonderful children who are getting married, and changing their names). Some didn't. I still believe in forever.

But apropos a discussion on the twits this morning about being called Dr. or Ms. or Mr. or Mrs.:

  Changing your name, similar to being Mrs. or Ms. or Miss, is a particular problem to women.  Everyone has the right to determine what they are called, name and title. But no matter what you do choose, you are making a statement about something.

8 responses so far

  • Constance Reader says:

    They change their names because many institutions will not accept claims of marriage or parenthood/legal guardianship if the spouses have different last names. If you have the same last name, you get waved through. My ex and I can still take care of each other's business (we are best friends and I travel a lot professionally) because I kept his surname and added my maiden name back. We've been divorced for 14 years but because the names match, nobody questions it.

  • potnia theron says:

    This is not the experience of my (American) friends, who had families with many combinations of names.

  • gmp says:

    The older I am, the more against name changing I am. I didn't change my name when I got married in my mid-20's, when I was young and amenable to it, mostly because of the hassle (married in the US but from another country, would have to move heaven and earth to register marriage in old country to get new passport and all documents...). Today, I am sometimes sorry I don't have the same last name as my kids, but I don't care to have the same last name as my husband at all. I like mine much better. I think the patriarchy is plenty in my husband's favor in that the kids are automatically assumed to have the father's name (which also pisses me off -- I went through 27 months of gestating them and years of breastfeeding and they bear his name?! That seems really unfair.)

    I would be all for people changing their names into a family name if people were to routinely pick some blended names or if the dudes were to change their names on occasion. But they rarely do because the traditional way suits them. (I got really pissed over a radio talk show advocating for a family name and how much it means to dudes... It was about a guy wanting to cancel a wedding because the woman didn't want to change her name. Of course, women are supposed to do everything to make the husband feel happy. Who cares if the woman is happy.)

    I too have a colleague who got divorced young and has not changed the name at second marriage. I also have a colleague who I only knew by her married name, who divorced and kept it, but then remarried relatively quickly and took the other dude's name. I think that's kind of sad, actually.

    So yeah. "Let's all have the same family name" is bullshit, because it's nearly always the dude's last name. As the oven who baked all the buns, I deeply object.

    But you are right. I too see this wave of conservativism, with women cheerfully taking on their traditional roles and husband's names. And I am disappointed. I also don't understand women ready to give up careers and economic independence in the name of marriage. But then again I never believed in forever as most people do; my motto is hope for forever, plan for... not forever.

  • DJMH says:

    I went through 27 months of gestating them and years of breastfeeding and they bear his name?! That seems really unfair.

    Another way to think about it is, Do you want this guy to contribute resources to bringing up these tykes who may or may not be his? One subtle way to reassure him about paternity is for the kids to bear his last name.

    I think the whole point of feminism should be that women can choose to take, or not take, the partner's name without anyone giving them crap about it. It's great that we're at a point where women can choose to do either. I don't think it's valuable to belittle women who do choose to take a family name, any more than it's fair to belittle women who don't.

    Personally I split the difference, with my maiden name as my professional name and my married name as my legal/personal name. I like this solution just fine FOR ME, but I don't go around telling women who choose differently from me that they've screwed it up.

  • M says:

    I didn't take my husband's name. I don't feel SUPER strongly about it, and probably could have gone both ways. One benefit, is that -- since we work together (both academics, and probably eventually business partners in various capacities) -- it's not immediately obvious that we're married and therefore I can avoid people assuming things about me as "the wife." This way they only find out later that we're married, after we've interacted and I've established myself as a capable unique person, etc, and probably after they had suspicions about my husband and I's relationship (I get a low of "oooohhhh, that makes sense.")

    My daughter does not have my last name, and after debating for some time, we ended up giving her my last name as a middle name, so her name goes "First name" "Traditional middle name" "Non traditional middle name - mother's maiden name" "Father's surname." This way she doesn't have to have a hyphenated last name, she still has a pretty middle name and doesn't even have to use the second middle name in whatever instances you might want to use your middle name, but she still has my last name on official documents.

  • thecellularscale says:

    I completely support any woman not taking a spouse's name if she doesn't want to, but I changed mine when I got married. The main reason was that I wanted to have the same last name as my future children. Also, I had not published yet, and I didn't feel like I was sacrificing much/anything in changing my name.
    That said, I hate when a 'formal letter' arrives addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. HIS FIRST NAME." Seriously, where are my letters addressed to "Dr. and Mr. Lastname" ?

  • Crystaldoc says:

    I am with DJMH in that I would prefer to see less judging of women based on their decisions in this regard, whatever they may be.

    I did take my husband's name, and not for any particularly good reason that I can point to now, but that is true of many decisions that one makes at age 19. 27 years later I am perhaps unusual, lucky enough to still be married to the same guy. Note I say lucky, not that I had a lot of brilliant foresight at that young age. There are pluses and minuses of the family name; it is convenient when visiting the elementary school, and less convenient on joint grant applications where I am sometimes concerned whether reviewers will fairly evaluate the unique expertise we each bring to the proposal as independent collaborators, for example. If I had married a little later in life I probably would have made a different decision, but as it stands I have no regrets. I acknowledge that I could have had a lot of regrets, if my marriage had not lasted.

  • Carly says:

    I changed my name mainly due to my then-fiancé expressing that he would find it hurtful if I kept my original last name. I think I might have pressed harder for an alternative (hyphenation or whatever) if I'd been more established in my career. Most of my friends change their names at marriage and I certainly don't judge them for doing so, but I may have chosen differently if it'd been an option. I do miss the identifying connection to my parents and remembering the extra paperwork when getting driver's licenses is a bit annoying, but the thing that makes me most upset is just that I didn't have a choice to NOT do it without hurting someone I love due to the cultural expectations that had convinced him that me keeping my unmarried name would somehow lessen the connection formed by our marriage.

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