When a woman is getting married, she has several options:
- She can go the traditional route and take her husband's last name.
- She can go the independent route and retain her own last name (generally her father's).
- She can hyphenate the two last names, with her husband either retaining his own name or also hyphenating.
- She and her husband can jointly decide to choose an entirely different last name.
- She can opt to use her own last name legally and professionally and her husband's last name socially.
First of all, changing your name is never easy (I know, I've done it, but that's another story). You have to get a new passport, driver's license, school ID, credit cards, etc. Then slowly you change over your subscriptions, frequent flier cards, your friends' address books.... This isn't even mentioning how long it takes you to mentally and psychologically accept your new last name as being your true identity.
If I had chosen to take my husband's last name, by now, life in terms of airline travel, my in-laws, mass-marketers etc. would have been simple. And because we got married at the beginning of my Ph.D., I wouldn't have had to worry about multiple names appearing on publications, etc. It also would have been a strong symbol that my husband and I were now a family unit, and it would have been a cinch to decide what to name our children. But I would have been relinquishing my name's claim to my family heritage. And I, at least, felt that I would be letting go of the identity that I had forged as an independent adult. And, statistically speaking, since almost half of all marriages end in divorce, that would have left me with a good probability that later in life I would have had a last name that reflected a marriage of which I was no longer part. Then what would I have done?
So, maybe I could have hyphenated. I think to many women it seems the best of both worlds. But I used a hyphenated last name for years and had long since decided I would never hyphenate again. First, it's long and awkward. Second, what happens when two people with hyphenated last names decide to get married? If Jane Hyphen-Dash marries John Line-Runon, do they become Mr and Mrs Hyphen-Dash-Line-Runon? It has always seemed like a one generational solution to me and not one that I'd ever want to pass on to my children.
We could have picked an entirely new last name. In fact, even though my husband's name is very important to him (he's actually Business Man II, and he likes it that way), we almost did this one. We picked the last name Thomas, because it was easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and worked well with our first names. It would have been jointly deciding to relinquish our single identities and forge a new family identity. So we broached the subject the subject to our parents. I think it's the one thing they have ever all agreed upon. NO. Phrases like stupid, idiotic, destroying our heritage, etc. were used. So we caved.
OK, so how about using one name professionally and the other name socially. That's the option I initially chose. On our wedding announcement we listed Mr and Mrs Man will be residing at ____ address. Our address labels say Business and Science Man, etc. But I never changed my name. I figured that this would allow me to be unoffended by unwitting cashiers and the teachers of my future children referring to me as Mrs. Man. And I told my husband that if at some point in the future, my whole identity was wrapped up in marriage and children with his last name, I would happily change my name legally at the point.
Of course, what we neglected to realize is that we were moving to a new state to start my Ph.D. immediately after getting married. And that means that almost everyone we know in this town knows me by my professional name rather than my so-called social name. In fact, I'd wager that more people in town know my husband as Mr. Woman than know me as Mrs. Man. And it's been unwieldy with the extended family as well. Because of the wedding announcement, my side of the family all thought I had changed my name, while my husband's side of the family learned quickly that I hadn't (I was the first female not to take her husband's name.). And I've learned from others that the whole prof. vs. social names are often abandoned within a few years.
So in the end, I remain Science Woman married to a wonderful Business Man. And in my mind, that's the proper name for this woman.
Coming, someday: Part III: Ms, Mrs, Dr, other? and Part IV: But what about the kids?