Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Proper Name for a Woman (Part II)

I figured I'd hit a sweet spot with that last post. Here's more in the same genre.

When a woman is getting married, she has several options:
  1. She can go the traditional route and take her husband's last name.
  2. She can go the independent route and retain her own last name (generally her father's).
  3. She can hyphenate the two last names, with her husband either retaining his own name or also hyphenating.
  4. She and her husband can jointly decide to choose an entirely different last name.
  5. She can opt to use her own last name legally and professionally and her husband's last name socially.
IMHO, none of these options are without significant drawbacks. And I'd argue that these drawbacks become even more pronounced if the woman has either a professional career or children or both (i.e., most women are screwed).

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?


Jocelyn said...

I'm getting married in June and keeping my name as is. We tossed around the idea of taking each other's last names as middle names but it didn't seem worth the work. My fiance and I also decided we'd name our kids with both last names in alternating order. Which last name the first kid gets will depend on gender -- we've picked out a boy set of names and a girl set of names already. (Yes, I am obsessed with symmetry...)

yami mcmoots said...

I'm pushing for a new social norm of Jane Hyphen-Dash + John Line-Runon = Junior Hyphen-Runon, myself. Spanish-style, where one name is (with appropriate exceptions for same-sex parents) matrilineal and the other patrilineal.

Dr J. said...

Hell would freeze over before I would submit to changing my name. That´s how strongly I feel about it. That my mother existed only as a pronoun was completely unacceptable to me, even as a 12 yr-old. In fact I must admit to a certain bafflement with women who do happily change their names.

In Germany there are a couple of rules. First is that the woman can do whatever she wants - keep, change, hyphenate, new one. However the children cannot have hyphenated names (this law was made about 5 years ago because of the whole 4 surname problem). So one name must be chosen and every child from this relationship must have the same last name (so Jocelyn´s solution wouldn´t work). Australia has also brought in the neat-o rule that if you marry overseas the Australian government wouldn´t recognise the name change if you did take on your husbands name. So my best friend can only get a passport in her maiden name until she changes it by deed poll, even though her bank accounts, drivers license etc etc are with her married name.

It does cause a number of problems having two seperate names but I am more than willing to deal with them until it becomes common practice and doesn´t suprise anyone anymore. One day the standard form will have space for the partners FULL name.

Dr J. said...

Yami- but this is also a one generation solution isn´t it? Junior Hyphen-Runon will marry Junioress Something-Else and the kids would be Kiddie Something-Runon. So in a generation the matrilineal line does disappear.

Obviously without going into the 2, 4, 8, 16 surname solution, one of the names must disappear. I´m just not happy letting it be mine, especially in a situation where my kids are probably going to be a completely different nationality to me and have very little of my family/culture in their upbringing.

phd me said...

I'm really enjoying your thoughts on this subject, ScienceWoman. Keep 'em coming!

K said...

What I have run into so far in academia specifically is people VERY surprised that I would change my name (which I did). One male profesor actually told me, "You'll be sorry!" Well, I haven't been sorry yet.

B said...

I've decided that for me keeping my name is for me, even it if it will cause confusion. I haven't even approached this subject w/ my to be in-laws yet -yikes! But socially I'm willing to be Mrs. his name hopefully that will appease them, if not oh well! I'm the one earning the PhD why should his family name get the credit? Maybe with time it will get easier, families aren't really made by a name anyhow.
Thanks for writing Sciencewoman!

volcano girl said...

I'm not married yet, but have been with my life partner (I like that better than boyfriend or fiancee) for over 6 years. I don't intend to ever change my name. The only trouble we've had so far has been at our vet's office, where our pets are Cat Girl and Dog Man. I'm sure it will be more confusing once we have children!

Jocelyn said...

dr. j - Not quite, because I assume the pre-hyphen name is matrilineal and the post-hyphen name is patrilineal. So grandkids get one of each - their mother's mother and their father's father. Preservation of all names, if each family has at least one child of each sex. You can do a similar thing with my two uhyphenated last names plan.

If we lived in Germany, we'd probably end up merging our names to create a new last name for the kids. (We actually discussed this option seriously)

ScienceGeek said...

Legally I still go by my maiden name. I haven't changed my name yet and if I do at some point I'm just going to tack on hubby's last name so I'll then have two last names (no hyphen). That way hopefully I can go by either socially.

My mother in-law's reaction when she found out I wasn't changing my name was, "what does that mean?". Umm... that means I'm not changing my name. She didn't get it.

As for the kids (whenever they may be) I was thinking of giving them my maiden name as a middle name and then they would have hubby's last name. So either all kids would have the same middle name or they would have two - one unique to them and then my maiden name. Although thinking about it now that does seem like a lot of names.

Interesting side note (being that I'm from Canada), in Quebec women can't assume a husband's last name. So if they want to change their name they have to go all the way back to their birth certificate and legally change it on there and on everything else which apparently is very difficult to do. Hence, most women in Quebec don't change their last name.

ScienceGeek said...

Legally I still go by my maiden name. I haven't changed my name yet and if I do at some point I'm just going to tack on hubby's last name so I'll then have two last names (no hyphen). That way hopefully I can go by either socially.

My mother in-law's reaction when she found out I wasn't changing my name was, "what does that mean?". Umm... that means I'm not changing my name. She didn't get it.

As for the kids (whenever they may be) I was thinking of giving them my maiden name as a middle name and then they would have hubby's last name. So either all kids would have the same middle name or they would have two - one unique to them and then my maiden name. Although thinking about it now that does seem like a lot of names.

Interesting side note (being that I'm from Canada), in Quebec women can't assume a husband's last name. So if they want to change their name they have to go all the way back to their birth certificate and legally change it on there and on everything else which apparently is very difficult to do. Hence, most women in Quebec don't change their last name.

Prof. Me said...

Interesting discussion, and I really was shocked by your experiences at the airport in the previous post. Ugh.

Here's what I decided to do: I was Mary Jane Smith. My husband is John Johnson. When we married, I dropped my middle name, took his last name, and become Mary Smith Johnson. No hyphen. Socially, people know me as Mary Johnson. On all of my academic records, papers, degrees, etc. I am listed as Mary Smith Johnson.

I didn't want to let go of my maiden name, but I didn't want people to be confused about my last name, whether I was married, which kids were mine, etc. I figured this was a nice way around it, and even though I prefer the way my maiden name sounded with my first name, I confess that I really like that our family (especially now that we have a son) has the same last name.

Annie said...

I'm with Professor Me here - I switched my maiden to my middle, and it was an easy road. People make the connection and I don't have to explain old records with old names; maybe I didn't change my name to simplify life for those folks, but it's an added bonus.

I like it that Norah has her daddy's last name, if for no other reason than I adore them both and I was glad to make that part of him a part of her. She gets (probably too much!) exposure to my family and our history, and I'm trying to make sure she understands who her mama is and from whence she came, as they say. Whatever any of us decides about the name debate, I'm sure that's our mutual end goal: to remain who we are regardless of what we're labeled on our income taxes.

gene-ie said...

Interesting post, SW. I'm sorry you had such a rough time with the airline - that's another problem with people; they tend not to LISTEN.

I particularly like your closing sentence, and think the message is something that is easy to forget: do what is best for YOUR situation. For every one of the options you list, I know at least one person/couple who've done it. And for the most part they've all worked, because it's the right choice for them.

When I was making this decision prior to marriage, my hubby and I talked about it and I also talked about it with my family. They were actually quite supportive of the idea of a new last name (which I was leaning toward). Unfortunately, we only wanted to do that if the new name contained elements of both prior names, and nothing sounded right. In the end, I decided to take his name. It went relatively smoothly, given that I was in grad school at the time, and I haven't really run into the problem of losing my first name (mostly because I'm the "spokesperson" for our family). And to be honest, while I liked my original name, the new name is easier. My original name was long, distinct, and surprisingly easily butchered (hence, hyphanating was NOT an option). The married name is short, easy, and not too common (ie, not Smith). Of course, this is made easier by my first name also being unique - my first name is what seems to stand out in people's minds, so it doesn't seem to matter what my last name is.

In general, though, I feel like it's far more common now for women to keep their own names. I'd say in about half the couples I know who've married in the past 6 years, the woman has kept her name or they've both changed (either hyphenating or new naming). Personally, I like the matrilineal/patrilineal naming traditions of some other cultures.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to your future installments!

Dr. Mon said...

I wrote a nice comment for you but I seem to have lost it. As someone with her mother's last name and an only child, I am hesistant to change my name. But I want to connect my future husband's family to my own through renaming of some sort. Race/gender bind always creates an interesting dynamic for me. As a woman I don't want to lose my last name since it is my mother's and she has no sons--but as a Black woman I am very aware of how my last name isn't really my family's name anyways. It's all rather confused in my brain.

Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

PhD Mom said...

I changed my name. I got married 6 months before grad school so there were no professional difficulties. Also, I had a really horrible last name (supercalifragilistic) and went to something really simple (not Smith, but might as well have been).

I don't feel like I lost my identity because of this, or that I am less than I was before. The truth is that someone will have to give their name up, and since my name was pretty lousy. It was me. My advisor on the otherhand made her husband take her name when they married since she had already established her academic career and he was in industry. This made sense for them. [Incidently, her husband is now a stay-at-home Dad. Lucky dog!]

JTN said...

I did the same thing as professor me. My legal name is now my "first,maiden,married" because I wanted to professionally stay as my maiden name and I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. jeez... the university I work for now can't get it's head around the idea of a professional name and a legal one... so, I have to go by both... usually my husband's name (sigh) is on all my classes in the system and on all the paperwork.

I have tried to politely explain numerous times about my professional name, but all administration cares about is what's on my social security card.

Sometimes I wish I hadn't changed it, but there was alot of family pressure. My mother couldn't get her head around the idea of me not wanting the same name as my husband.

Engineer chickie said...

I'm all in favor of the First Maiden Last approach. My grandfather didn't even give my mom a middle name, so she was just 'Diane Jones', until she became 'Diane Jones Graham'. I've never had a problem about considering a name change when I get married, because my last name isn't mine, it's my father's anyway. It is interesting to think that in the US, you have to go to court to change your first name, but you just have to call SS and the DMV when you get married.

Joy said...

I get irritated with the argument that "it isn't my name, it is my father's". The same thing is true for a husband, isn't it? And yet you never hear that argument in favor of the man changing his name. If you have been going by your name since birth, it is your name.

Given the number of blended families that don't all have one shared name, I'm not too concerned about people having to juggle the multiple names in my family (no kids yet, but my partner and I didn't change our names after our civil union, although we know quite a few gay couples who did in order to explicitly make a point). I have published under my name, so that could have been a consideration, but mainly I couldn't imagine changing the name I've been using for 37 years.

Zuska said...

Oh, the name game. When I got married the FIRST time, I changed my name. I had been Zuska Middle Maiden and changed it to Zuska Maiden HisLastName. I switched between undergrad and grad, and a woman in the registrar's office at MIT tried really hard to get me not to change. She said, "the name you have now will be on all your degrees." Wish I had paid attention. When I finally divorced HisLastName, I really didn't want his last name anymore. But let me tell you, going back to your maiden name after divorce is not nearly as easy as changing it for marriage. For marriage, all I had to do was call up various places and tell them I'd changed my name. After divorce, my lawyer had to file a special "notice to retake former name" petition to the court. This cost me extra, of course. 12 years later, some of the credit reporting agencies still have me listed as Zuska HisLastName. I just moved back to an area I lived in during the time of the divorce/name change. The local utility company would not allow me to establish service in the name Zuska Middle Maiden because, in their records, my SS# belonged to Zuska Maiden HisLastName. Even though it does not say that on my SS card. Even though it is 12 years later. And of course, there is all the explaining to do with a c.v. that has HisLastName and Maiden intermingled on it.

One of the options that was NOT listed is for HIM to take YOUR last name. That's a significant omission. Why is it that it's never easier, never "makes sense", even if his last name is ZQLPITI, for him to change to her name? Yeah. Because it's a partriarchal society and men don't give up their names.

Keep your own name. It's easier to deal with professionally and legally. Socially, people will just have to deal. And this way, you'll never find yourself loathing the last name you are known by.

trillwing said...

I had a major quandary with this, as I very much wanted to keep my name intact (for the simple reason that it had always been my name), and I wanted to hyphenate only if both of us did. I was raised by hippie-generation parents who were fine with this, and of course pleased as punch that I was going to preserve their name. Hubby, however, was raised by WWII-generation parents, and so he believed firmly that I should take his name, as did his family. So I held out for awhile, legally keeping only my maiden name. Then, about 8 months after we married, in a grand romantic gesture, I hyphenated my name, enclosing my new driver's license in a greeting card. Hubby was so touched he cried. I still want him to hyphenate, but now that we have a baby with his last name, it's probably going to be tough to persuade him to change.

I let the baby have his name without a fight, as to me the baby isn't property to be branded as mine or his, but rather a human being with his own name. The first name was far more important to me.

I do see the other side of the coin, however. My sister took her husband's name, but then initiated a divorce within a few months of marrying--pretty much right after her name change had finally made it onto all documents. Now she's in the process of changing it back, and she swears she'll never change it again.

It's a sticky wicket. Many people consider this a big feminist issue, and I saw it that way for most of my life. But once I actually married (and even more so now that I have kids), the name game became far less important to me than other feminist issues. Strange but true--maybe I've become complacent.

Writer Chica said...

Maybe it is because I met my future husband at 18 and was married at 22 that I just can't get too worked up about changing my last name. We talked about my husband changing his last name to mine, but then he would have had the same name as my father and I just couldn't have that! I didn't want to ditch my middle name for my maiden name. I feel a stronger connection to my husband and to my first and middle name than to my former last name. I think if people are really concerned about preserving heritage, merely keeping a last name is not going to do it. There needs to be stories and geneology passed on-something that seems tragically rare in the US. Anyway, I am more than my name.

Writer Chica said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Writer Chica said...

Oh, I forgot to add that my kids' names use my first initial. I like that.

jacie said...

This is a fascinating discussion, all the more so for me, since I come at this from a perspective I've not seen mentioned a lot. I don't plan to get married, yet I still want to change my name.

A little background: my Mom took my Dad's name when she married him and took back her maiden name when they divorced about five years later. She published professionally under that maiden name, so when she got married again, she kept it, thus saving herself the bother of changing it back again with the second divorce.

Joy said, way up there: If you have been going by your name since birth, it is your name.
Well, except when it isn't. See, my father hasn't been a real prescence in my life since I was about three. Other than the check (which came like clockwork every month, with one $50 increase over 15 years) and every other Christmas with his parents, he was pretty much a non-entity in my world.

My Mom raised me, almost entirely on her own. She was the one who doctored my boo-boos, the one whose lap I cried in, the one I shared my daily triumphs and tragedies with. It's always annoyed me that my identity (as presented in my name) is automatically associated with him, while she is nowhere to be seen.

There's also the aesthetic angle. I like the sound of my name better with my Mom's last name than with my Dad's.

Now, I've pretty much decided at this point (I'm 36, fwiw.) that even if I do find someone with whom to share the rest of my life, marriage isn't in the picture. So, my one opportunity to get out from under the thumb of my father's name (without spending more time & money than I care to use atm) is down a path I've closed off for other reasons. Aggravating.

Joy said...

Jacie, I understand that people can be more or less attached to their names. My partner has her biological father's last name, and not her stepfather's/mother's, and sometimes wishes hers had been changed when her mother got remarried. What gets me isn't so much that women may change their names especially in cases where the name they have been using for X number of years isn't particularly meaningful, or doesn't sound nice, or whatever other reason they have. It is that you almost never hear of men using any of these reasons to change their name. So they are reasons, but I think they are ones that are particularly easy to use when conforming to the traditional naming patterns.

ACM said...

for what it's worth, Zuska, I do know men who have changed their names, either because they hated CXYJBD, because Her Name Had Professional Meaning, or just because It Worked For Them. I and my spouse have kept our last names (in part because we were in our late 30s and had pretty strong identities, in part because we liked the names we'd gotten to know each other under), and the only people who regularly flunk the envelope-addressing test are our parents (and even then, only intermittantly). if/when kids come into the picture, there will be more discussion, but it's more likely that we'd pick a third last name than that either one of us would change now.

seems like everybody's way of deciding should be individualized, by name-attachment, ease of spelling, family significance, or whatever. just no default. but I'm not holding my breath. it's all wrapped up in women's obligation to look after the emotional health and sense of unity of the family, single-handedly, starting on day one.

another penny for the pond.

Emily said...

The name thing is a Big Issue for me. I am from Puerto Rico, where everyone has two last names: the first one is your father's first last name, and the second one is your mother's first last name. Some people have middle names and some people don't. I am one of the people who don't have middle names -- thus, my name is Emily LastName1 LastName2. Usually people use both last names when doing "official business"-type things, and socially you go just by your first last name.

Before I moved to the States to go to grad school, one of my undergrad professors suggested that I insert a hyphen between my two last names if I wanted to keep them both because Americans would assume that my first last name is a middle name. And so I put that hyphen in there. Hyphen on some things and no-hyphen on others brought me a lot of confusion from many places (e.g., my driver's licence didn't match my birth certificate), but eventually I managed to get all relevant paperwork to have the hyphen. And I've tried my best to explain to everyone that the entire thing, "LastName1-LastName2" is my last name. But I've had way too many situations in which LastName1 becomes a middle initial and people call me Emily LastName2 -- which would be a completely different person. And I have had situations in which I've been asked which one of those is my husband's last name, but I'm not married.

My boyfriend understands that my name is important to me and that if one day we get married I will not be taking his last name, and he's fine with it. I also abhor the thought of being called "Mrs", so I'm very glad that I'll be finishing my PhD in about two years -- call me Dr. LastName1-LastName2 after that :-) I've given some thought to the idea of the boyfriend and I having kids and what the kids' last names would be, and this is the one area in which I still don't know what to do. The easiest thing would be to just give them the boyfriend's last name, but I don't really like the idea of not giving them my LastName1. Maybe hyphenating LastName1 and boyfriend's last name? But that will probably bring them the endless troubles I've been having with my hyphenation of the last names here in the States. If we moved back to Puerto Rico we'd have no problems at all with the last names, but this is very unlikely... Or we just won't have any kids -- after all, we don't want kids for at least five more years anyway, so that gives us quite some time to think about what to do...

Joida said...

Why isn't there the option for the woman to have her husband take her name? I personally wouldn't mind this arrangement.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much for this discussion - I'm getting married in 3 weeks and it's really timely to read different perspectives on the issue.
After almost mourning the loss of my family name in lieu of my partner's, I did decide to take his name because of ease. Also, I think there's a lot of symbolism in sharing the same name/united team etc. Legally in Aus it's easier for me to take his than him to take mine. However it hasn't been quite that easy.
My partner was married in his youth and, although divorced long ago, his ex decided to keep the name. For me this feels like a punch in the stomach - that someone else is running around bearing the name. I know it seems superfluous; again the poet in me sees "the name" as symbolic and important. Because he has a son and daughter, us both changing our name would mean that his children have different names.
It's a really tricky situation and I respect all sides of the coin - after reading your comments I am now considering changing my name official channels to using my maiden name as my middle name (it's too long to hyphonate).
Thanks for the communal validation of concerns and wisdom offered on this site.

cleminmo said...

I am married and finished my Psy.D. a year ago. I changed my name when I got married because I was always told that even if I changed my name to my husband's, I could still use my maiden name professionally. Well now that I am in the process of getting licensed, I found out that in order to use my maiden name professionally, I have to change it back, since they'll only issue a license to the name that's on my social security card. The problem is, I want the unification and simplicity of sharing a name with my husband for family and social purposes, but definitely want to maintain my independent identity professionally. Is there a way to legally obtain two names?

arthur said...

My wife is Chinese, here in Australia. She's from mainland China, she's a Chinese national. Just recently she decided to use my name and asked if she could. As far as I know, she can. But I did some looking around the web and somewhere or other, I don't know where now, I saw a suggestion that Australia has recently (I don't just how recent that is) passed some law saying that she can't. It says something like if you got married overseas you can't. But it's not clear which of the two is the Australian.

Anyone here have any light to throw on the subject?



arthur said...


Please email me if you've a comment, information, even if only to say there's a comment on the blog - else I might not get back to the thing. I doesn't seem to matter how much I bookmark things and make notepad notes for myself I always lose track of everything... I prefer forums that automatically email you when there's a post to your thread for that reason... I don't think such a feature is available from blogs, is it?

Anonymous said...

My husband and I didn’t know what to do about the name issue even on our wedding day. Neither one of us ever wanted to have a hyphenated last name, but we didn’t want to give up our own last names either. We also wanted to have the same family last name. So what to do?!? Some of our friends had taken each other’s last name with no hyphen. For example John Smith and Jane Parker become John and Jane Smith Parker. So, this is what we did. I love the fact that he was just as willing and I to take on each other’s name. It’s been a year since we’ve been married. We’ve gone thru the whole official name change on passports and ss card etc. Initially, I loved our new 2 last names decision. But, I quickly realized that it’s very confusing to people to have 2 last names without the hyphen. I like the idea of it, but in reality, I think people think my middle name is Smith and last name Parker. I used to get bothered by it but have been trying to accept that it’s going to be messed up by most people forever. Lately, I’ve been wishing I’d just throw a damn hyphen in there and am considering doing this for a future child and us too when a child is born(to make is easier for him/her). But, then I’d have to go back and tell everyone we are now using a hyphen. Should I stick with my ideal name choice of Smith Parker and just accept that b/c I went unconventional I now have to deal. Or, should I throw in the hyphen in the near future?

twf said...

For all of you asking why men don't take their wives names: They do. Mine did. It's rare, but it happens. We had good reasons.

Anonymous said...

When I was in the third grade, a friend of me showed me a page of her notebook at recess. She had written her first name with the last name of every boy in the class. She thought it was fun to look at all of the different names she might have as a grownup depending on who she married. I, on the other hand, was horrified at the thought of not knowing what my name would be when I grew up. I decided then and there that I never wanted to change my name.

I also grew up with a mother who was extremely dedicated to her husband and her family - which is of course a good thing - but to the point where I always felt that her identity was overshadowed by being my dad's wife due to his career and position in the community. She always uses First Maiden Last and I have always wished she had just kept her own last name and perhaps more of her own identity. That's another issue but a side note and a contributing factor to me not wanting to change my name.

Later as an adult, when dating I would always bring up fairly early on that I wasn't going to change my name when I married. It's surprising how many guys told me that was unacceptable to them for whatever reason (the kids would be traumatized, it would be confusing, it makes me sound like a feminist - how terrible!). To me that was a clear sign that this guy wasn't worth seeing again, for many reasons. For one thing, it signalled to me that he was more concerned with looking for a wife who would take his name than interested in me in particular. After all, if he really wanted me, he wouldn't care what my name was! For another thing, the idea that he thought he could dictate to me what my name - such a personal thing - would be after we married made me wonder what else he thought that he could dictate to me. Furthermore, I figured that if I said something was really important to me and he didn't respect that, that wasn't the guy I wanted to keep dating.

This is not to say that I don't think the whole name change discussion is important - but it should be a discussion, not just "I insist that my wife takes my last name" and that's the end of it, with no regard for her thoughts or feelings.

Obviously this was not my only criteria in evaluating guys I dated, but I did find it to be a handy tool!

Eventually I met a man that I felt really differently about, and I thought that he could be the one... but what would he think of me not wanting to change my name? When it came up in conversation early on I told him that I wouldn't change my name when I got married (all theoretical at this point of course) and he said "that's fine, I don't want to change mine either." A little joke perhaps but he was serious. After we got engaged I asked him to tell me what he really thought (we had never discussed it after that initial joke) and he said that he thought that he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me, no matter what my name was. That was exactly what I had wanted to hear! He also told me that names are personal, and he didn't think he was entitled to have an opinion on what mine was. This was beyond what I had ever told him, because it sounded pretty harsh, but was pretty much exactly what I honestly felt!

We are now happily married. A few people have been judgemental about me keeping my name but I don't let it bother me. It is far more important to me that I be comfortable with myself and my identity and my name than please the few people who turn up their noses at my decision. I also don't make a big deal about correcting people when they use my husband's name for me socially - it doesn't offend me, and I figure that eventually they will realize that I still use my own name. If people ask why I didn't change my name - expecting the answer to be something like that I have a thesis published under my maiden name - I just say the truth: I already had a name and I didn't see any need to change it. That's the end of it, no excuses.

A little twist to this story is - remember the list my friend made up in the third grade? The list that terrified me with the thought of not having a clue what name I would have as a grownup? One of the last names on it was that of my future husband - we were classmates and friends throughout childhood and met again at a mutual friends' wedding at age 25! So the list that terrified me into deciding at age 8 to never change my name was not so far-fetched after all! Third grade classmates do marry! I always smile to myself when I think about that list and that I DID end up marrying one one of the boys on it, but not taking his last name.

Myself from birth to death!

Anonymous said...

Hey there! I really liked your article about name change, and reading about everyone else's thoughts. I've been trying to find out information about name change, and this is one site that is very helpful. I just had a baby boy 7 mos ago. We gave him an English name so it'd be easier for people to pronounce. But, I'm Chinese and my husband's Philippino. My last name means a lot to me, because I had a rough childhood, and I owe my parents everything. I have only my father's last name, not my mother's. So when me and my husband were deciding names, I sort of assumed to give my baby his last name, to honor him and his family, even though I really just wanted my son to have only my last name. Because my husband's name sounds Spanish. But one of his family members kept pressing me to add his first name as my baby's middle name too. So I did, and my baby has the father's first and last name, with his own unique first name. But since he was born, it bothered me so much that my own baby which I carried for 9 months, had to delay my schoolwork/goals, and even had a C section. So I've been thinking about giving him two last name, so we're both happy. My last name and His last name to my son. I am worried that it will be confusing...especially because I also want to add my son's Chinese name as his middle name instead of the father's middle name. But I'm the one who's fluent in chinese so my son will know chinese and should have a chinese name, and my husband's can't really speak philippino. And I babysit him 7 days a week, and take few hrs of school on weekends. I mean yeah, he's earning money, but I'm the one doing almost everything for him, even I'm just in the early 20's. I love my chinese heritage and my family, and so I feel like it will mean a lot to me when my son's name has chinese heritage. The question about me changing my last name to my husband's, well it's just awkward, because I have so many things under my name. But I might hyphenate it. I guess it would have worked out better if my husband's chinese too. so anyway, i'm much closer to my son now because i'm the one with him all the time, and he's with him just few hrs each day. I guess I never thought I would have a son so early in my life, and so I feel he's especially important to me.

Alright, hope to hear some opinions/ thoughts


Kristin said...

I was in the middle of getting my Masters in Engineering, when I got married. I thought about changing my name, but I already had some publications and had some in the works. Not to mention the long thesis I had been working on, that had to have the name I've worked so hard at creating for myself. Not that I'm famous, just that I worked hard and that's my name, that's who I was. And I like my name, it's been my name longer than he's been my boyfriend/husband. He didn't care if I kept my name, either, so I did.

Anyway, a couple of years later we both got jobs and bought a house together. Since I got there first I set up the house/car insurance, cable, etc, all under my name. And all my work log-ins, badges, etc. No one seems to care that we have different names and it hasn't given us any problems so far. In fact the husband&wife we bought the house from had different names also. So, changing my name would be an incredible feat if i tried right now, not only with the normal SSN card, pass port but also the work and bills info too.

We were thinking of trying to have kids soon, so I was worried about how the kids would grow up with parents with 2 last names. What the kids thought about family unity and then there's school and sports forms with parent signatures, etc. Now that I've read a bunch of these comments though, it doesn't seem that unusual. And as far as I can remember my parents names were Mom and Dad for a very long time before I even thought about their actual names. So, I think the kids and schools can handle it.

-Mrs Engineer

Anonymous said...

Allow me to throw another wrench into the works. I married before I went on to graduate school and took on my husband's last name. I have no positive feelings toward my maiden name and was happy to divest myself of it. Becoming Dr. N was a very positive experience for me. Unfortunately, Mr. N decided in the last year of my PhD that married life (particularly to a PhD who would have to leave the city he is so unnaturally attached to) was no longer of interest to him and left me.

Fortunately, I moved on, found a tenure-track position fresh out of grad school and have, in recent years, met a wonderful man who makes be believe in marriage once again.

The problem: We are getting married this summer and I don't know what to do about my name.

Issue 1) I DO NOT want my maiden name back.
Issue 2) I am known professionally as Dr. N (it's the name on my degree but I've only published one paper and two chapters so far though by the time of the wedding will have several under review). Issue 3) We plan to have children (didn't have any with the ex) and I would like to have a common "family name".
Issue 4) Hyphenating (Dr. N-M) or using my current last name as a middle name would feel awkward and just a touch weird (a bit too Liz Taylor keeping the ex's name in the picture). What to do?

Any suggestions?


rowie said...

I'm from the Philippines, and the norm here is somewhere in between the Latin American norm and the US norm. Here, everyone (man or woman) gets to keep their mother's original surname as a middle name when they are born, and when women get married, "first, maiden, married" is the norm.

First of all, a person's "first name" is usually made of two or more names, for example, Ana Teresa (Teresa is NOT considered a "middle name").

When you are born, you get both parents' surnames: Mother'sFamilyName becomes your middle name, and Father'sSurname becomes your surname. So if Ana Teresa's mother's maiden name is Gomez and her father's surname is Rodriguez, her full name is Ana Teresa (first name) Gomez (middle name) Rodriguez (surname). (The same rule applies to men.)

When a woman gets married, the traditional custom is to simply add your husband's surname to the end of your name. Upon marrying Richard James Angeles Claudio, for example, Ana Teresa's name becomes Ana Teresa Gomez Rodriguez Claudio, where Rodriguez becomes what's called her "maiden name" (but functions as a middle name), and Claudio is her new surname. A lot of women find it unwieldy, however, and simply drop their mother's maiden name, as in: Ana Teresa Rodriguez (her own maiden name) Claudio (husband's surname). That makes it easier to fill in forms, too, because some forms don't have separate spaces for "middle names" and "maiden names."

Ana's and Richard's kids, of course, will have the same last two names as their mother: John Joseph Rodriguez Claudio and Maria Carissa Rodriguez Claudio.

After marriage, men customarily still keep their original name: Richard is still Richard James Angeles Claudio.

That being said, by law women also have the option to keep their unmarried name, or to hyphenate. It's a bit of a hassle to follow either of these non-traditional routes, however; there's more paperwork. Nonetheless, even when women go to the traditional route, they don't feel that their "extinguishing" their identity nor their connection to their family of origin.


As for me: I hyphenate socially and in academic publications. In legal documents, I use my husband's surname (I wanted to hypenate there, too, but the amount of paperwork required put me off). I haven't gotten a new degree since getting married, but when the time comes, I'm going to ask whether I can have my hyphenated surname on my diploma.

My hyphenated surname is really long, however, so some people just call me by my maiden name, and others just call me by my husband's name.

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Spacelover17 said...

All these comments really have me thinking, especially about why women change their last names and why these thoughts never seem to cross mens' minds. I'm a young woman considering academia, and for a variety of reasons (official hassles in academia, seeming less dedicated given biased against women - especially those with careers - and just liking my own last name better than his) I told him I wouldn't take his last name after marriage. He told me he wouldn't marry a woman who didn't do so, and we essentially split up over this issue. It makes me bitter about this tradition, which DOES have patriarchal roots, and it makes me quite curious about some of the reasons women cite (like "feeling connected to their husband, feeling changed", etc. Doesn't that imply that by not changing his name the implication is that the husband doesn't feel the same? Isn't changing names legally (and professionally) a hassle that women disproportionately are expected to go through, and why is it worth it for a woman if not for a man?