Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Q & A: To Change Your Name or Not to Change Your Name, That Is the Question

Another excellent question. Hooray Readers!

From Erin: "What are your thoughts on the bride taking the groom's last name? I have mixed feelings...I feel like getting married makes two people become a family, and sharing a surname reinforces that connection. But with my advanced bridal age (29), I've grown somewhat attached to my own name and that's how everyone knows me."

As far as I can tell, there is no good answer to this question.

I wholeheartedly agree that marriage is about forging a new family and sharing a common last name helps solidify that family, especially to the external world. Growing up, my last name was often different from my mom's (due to divorces and remarriages), and that was hard on me. Names do signify connection and family, and it makes sense to share a common last name with your family.

But I cannot bring myself to conform to the patriarchal system that forces women to give up their names. It stems from a history of men being in charge of the family. As an American studies major and women and gender studies minor in college, I knew I wasn't going to take my partner's name because I couldn't support and perpetuate a sexist tradition. I had a vague idea that we could both take a new name. We would be Bradford + Cotner = Bradner or Cotner + Bradford = Cotford. Or we would take a completely new name based on an author we like or a place we've visited.

But then I got married when I was 30. For thirty years I have been Sara Cotner. Even when I call my mom, I sometimes say, "This is Sara Cotner." I love my name. I can't imagine being anything but Sara Cotner. Plus, with the internet being what it is, I want people from my past to be able to search for Sara Cotner.

One other possibility is the hyphenation route. I think it makes sense in theory, but it loses points in the implementation stage. Names become too long and cumbersome. They are difficult to alphabetize. It takes vigilance to get people to use both of them. Plus, hyphenated names seem like a short-term solution. Either one of the names gets dropped after a while because it's too difficult to use, or you use it steadfastly but then one of the names gets dropped when your kids marry and hyphenate their names.

So I have kept my name. And Matt has kept his. I realize we will bring new difficulties upon ourselves by going this route. Just yesterday, I had to pick up a package from UPS. It was a wedding present that was addressed to: Matt and Sara Bradford. At the counter, the woman asked for my ID. I showed it to her and she said, "The name doesn't match." I explained that I had just gotten married and that I was keeping my last name. "But it doesn't match and the addresses don't match."

In a last-ditch effort to make my trek out to UPS fruitful, I explained that the addresses on the package didn't match the address on my ID because we just moved. I then saved the day by pulling out a piece of mail that showed my name with the correct address.

I imagine I could start a whole blog just to document the trials and tribulations of keeping my last name!

I'm really not sure what the long-term solution is. If anything, names should be passed along matrimonial lines, since that's where the birthing occurs. That makes more sense to me anyway.

In the meantime, I'm happy with my decision. It's the principle that counts. And it's worth it to us.

We just haven't figured out what to do when the babies start coming.

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Unknown said...

I think "trials and tribulations" is overstating it. When we married, Marsha kept her name (I wouldn't willingly ask anyone with an easily-spelled, one-syllable name to change to mine). The biggest stumbling block we've encountered is that many charities have a "Mr. and Mrs. X" box on their web page, but not a "Mr. X and Ms. Y" box. Apart from that, she sometimes gets called my name, or I get called hers, by telemarketers or business folks; it's generally not a big deal.

Cate Subrosa said...

Excellent post. (I came via a practical wedding.)

I agree, there is no good solution to this conundrum. I'm going to take my fiancé's name, but continue using my maiden name at work. I imagine once I move on I'll drop my maiden name, so this is kind of a transitional period for me.

I'm 24. I completely agree if I were older and had been attached to my name for longer, I might not change it.

Actually I agree with everything you wrote in this post!

brownbrown said...

thanks so much for talking through this topic! our wedding is in october and i'm still struggling with whether or not to keep my name. here's an interesting perspective that i hadn't thought of until recently when someone brought it to my attention: even when keeping your maiden name, you're still only carrying on your father's family's name. the more i think about it, the more i realize that it must be a completely individual decision - but as women, especially, we must respect the choices that others make in regards to their names. it is a highly personal matter and there is no right answer that works for everyone.

kerstin said...

*I'm getting married in September and I have the same problem! What a situation. You described the conversation I've been having with myself over the past 6 months perfectly... follow patriarchal tradition? become a family identifiable by one last name? I tried convincing my to-be-husband to change his name, but he isn't biting... the mental conversation continues... thanks for your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

My fiance and I are getting married in November. I am not changing my name. As far as the baby thing goes, I figure once we have kids asking why they have a different name than me, I'll just explain to them that I have my dad's last name & they have thier dad's last name. Hopefully it'll be as easy as that.

Alison said...

Hey, I just came across your blog and am loving it so far! I'm getting married in June and have been going back and forth on the name change business. My last name isn't stellar, but my fiance's is actually worse! (Let's just say our kids middle school years will be rough either way)

Anyway, we are living in South Korea right now where, just as in many Asian countries, the women never take their husband's last name, your family name is your family name for life. Although it isn't any less patriarichal as it's always the father's name that is handed down, it's interesting to note what a traditionally western idea the name change actually is.

jen said...

I also love my name. My whole name. But I think it's darn romantic to take his. Nonetheless, my new husband informed me that I could not take his name because I am so well known by mine. So I added his last name to my middle name. So now I have 2 middle names, and technically we are Mr. & Mrs. Prince, but I'm still all me. It avoided hyphenating, I still have my identity and am searchable, and people are less confused. Only a little though. :)

Jen and Eric said...

Since I'm really interested in my family heritage, I love the idea of taking his last name to keep the family tree consistent (as if family trees weren't already confusing enough!) However, I have some friends who each kept their own last names & when the children came along they blended the last names into an absolutely beautiful and even musical new last name for their babies! It's not something I plan to do, but its seems like such a lovely idea just the same. What a treasure to hand down a personally hand-crafted last name to one's children!!

Unknown said...

I know this is an old post, but I find it very interesting.

On one hand, I think of changing my name next June as prescribing to patriarchal blah, blah, blah...but then I wonder if that's really what I am doing.

I feel like choosing to take his name is really an exercise in taking part in his history and in him sharing a piece of himself with me.

Then again, I'd feel honored to do the same for him if he wanted to take my name...and I wouldn't feel like I was being matriarchal.

The world looks interesting from atop the fence post.

Anonymous said...

I really wish we had a system where couples marry and hyphenate (Susan Smith and Jon Jones because Susam Smith-Jones and Jon Jones-Smith) and then the children take the surname of the appropriate parent, so girl children stay Smiths and boy children stay Jones'...that way you have a matrilineal line of descent and a patrilineal line of descent.
If everyone was doing it, it wouldn't be confusing!
However, I think I will probably change my name - my mum didn't change her name and said she really regretted not having the same name as her children.

SeaMama said...

My future husband and I have no attachment whatsoever to our names so we are choosing one from his family long ago that we both feel affinity for---Knott. We are forming a new identity together and it seems right. Neither of us has an attachment to our individual names. And so it is not big thing to shed them.

SeaMama said...

As for the reasoning behind patriarchal lineage, it is precisely because the woman gives birth that the man's name is given. Otherwise there would be no real attachment or responsibility.

Tori said...

I've decided to take my fiance's last name, but our children will carry both, as is the tradition in most Latino cultures. (My future husband is Colombian and has two last names: his mother's and his father's) As was previously mentioned, it's only confusing in this country because we don't do it. In Colombia, everybody knows that you have a maternal and paternal last name.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on this dilemma are complicated by the reality that if I take my fiance's last name, I will then have the same full name as a serial killer in Australia (a woman who deliberately and painfully poisoned her step-children over a period of years). I believe, a bit superstitiously, in the power of names, and I simply do not want to share a name with this historical figure. I suppose my options are keep my name or create a new last name--both of which will raise eyebrows in our traditional families.

Moxie said...

I have some of the same dilemmas about names (my own and my future children's) as you and your other readers. I don't foresee me changing my name when I get married, but I could see arguments, however minor, about which names the kids would get.

At least I don't think I'll have to worry about the kids' names for several more years. Hopefully we'll have come to an agreement before an answer is actually needed.

megan said...

flip a coin?

in all seriousness, that's how my nephew got his first name in the delivery room.

Anonymous said...

how is taking your husbands name any more patriarchial than taking your fathers name at birth?

Carly Allisa said...

I have a hyphenated name because my mom kept her last name when she married my dad, and while over the last 27 years of my life there have been confusions because hyphens seem to confuse some people I have enjoyed having both my moms and my dads name. I'm getting married this summer and we've decided to take a completely new name, so the problem of continuing the tradition was easy for me. I just want to reassure you that hyphens are not too bad for kids, and they may find a new way to reject traditional patriarchal rules.

mileawriting said...

Carly, you rock! My husband and I decided to hyphenate. It's difficult, sure, but worth it because of how much it means to both of us. Whenever people point out that our children will probably have to drop at least part if not all of the hyphenated name if they get married, we think to ourselves "Did you miss the part where we don't care about maintaining a patriarchal naming tradition? Our kids will understand that they are free to do whatever they want with their names if they marry and we, their parents, will have no problem with that."

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