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

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Rejecting the Name Change

By Nina B. of So Glad That You Exist

When I was young/younger, I was positive that I would change my last name when I got married. It's not that I wasn't a feminist when I was younger, it's just that, well, I guess I never really considered the alternatives. Taking your husband's last name is just what you did. Didn't all married women have a married name AND a maiden name (especially for password protection services)? Plus, I was admittedly confused by my friends with hyphenated last names-- just who did they think they were? Prize-winning authors? Child stars?

In college, I took a course on interpersonal communication (which later became the focus of my degree), and the topic of women keeping or changing their name when they marry came up during a class discussion. My very assertive, independent professor explained that she's not a Hislastname-- she's a Herlastname, and always will be. I remember being oddly struck-- and insulted-- by her statement. "But when you get married, you become a new family, and you need a new name to identify it," I thought.

But then, over the years, I thought about it some more. Questions came up, ranging from superficial to pretty darn deep (if I do say so myself), but all were valid:
  • What if my future husband has a lame last name? (Or it rhymes with my first name, like Julia Gulia?)
  • Why do I have to change MY last name? Why can't he change his?
  • Why can't we both change our last names? Maybe to a hybrid of both of ours? (Like mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa.)
  • Does a family unit really need a common name?
  • What about gay marriages?
In 2008, it seemed like everyone I knew got married. In the months approaching each wedding, I listened to almost every bride discuss the pros and cons of keeping/changing/hyphenating. Most took his last name, while two hyphenated (one's husband also hyphenated).

And all of those decisions were right. For them. But what was going to be right for me?

My husband's parents are awesome. Truly. And I'm so thrilled to have officially joined their family. And while I can't articulate my reasons for keeping my last name (at this point, at least), I can say that it feels a lot like what my college professor said: I'm not a K. I'm a B.

When I made my decision, I said, "I'm keeping my last name, but I won't get angry if someone calls me Mrs. K. or Nina K. We've come a long way, but people still make certain assumptions." Turns out, I was wrong. Not getting upset when someone calls me Mrs. K. is going to take A LOT of getting used to.

On the flip side, though, others are going to have to get used to the fact that I am still Nina B., that it's a respectable decision, and it by no means indicates that I'm not committed to my marriage. My in-laws threw us a reception recently (we eloped). When addressing envelopes and making escort cards, my mother-in-law kept calling my aunt (by marriage) my uncle's girlfriend, because they didn't share a last name. And my husband was asked to confirm (several times) that my escort card should read Nina B. instead of Nina K. He said, "Well yeah, that's her name!"

Sometimes I feel like when people call me Nina B. they're just humoring me, privately rolling their eyes at my defiance. Or maybe I'm being overly sensitive because once upon a time, I didn't understand that a woman could keep her last name, either.

Nina B. dreamed of a big, elaborate wedding her whole life...until she started planning it. After six months of an exorbitant amount of stress (even by today's wedding planning standards), she and her partner decided to elope. They both work in clinical research and live happily with their cat Percy and dog Lucille in a small town outside of Philadelphia.

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Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic post, thank you for sharing.

I am actually experiencing the mirror opposite of the situation. My mom didn't change her name (and I actually have her name and not my dad's -- which always makes that security question kind of silly), several of my friends growing up had hyphenated names, all of my friends from college (a women's college known for feminism) have kept their last names as is. My sister hyphenated. I always assumed I would keep my name as is.

But I am thinking about changing my name. Well, "adding" his name to my last name (I'd keep my name as my middle name and use both when it suited me professionally). I am expecting some push back from my family and friends (even my dad who is adamant that women should keep their names or hyphenate).

I see getting married as starting a new family between the two of us and want our names to reflect that. (I know that we would be just as much a family if I kept my name, but I'd like it to be the same. It is a gut feeling I wasn't expecting to have).

It has helped that my fiance is fine with my decision either way, and from the beginning has said it makes more sense for me to keep my name. And his mom has indicated that she will respect whatever decision I make (although she keeps telling me about people who keep their names legally and professionally but socially go by "Mrs. Hislastname."

I do want to go by Ms. C rather than Mrs. (Mrs. C. is his mom.) I can do that right? That was the original point of the Ms. -- to get rid of the married/unmarried connotations of Mrs/Miss. It just didn't catch on to replace the Mrs. And I will blow my top when I get addressed as Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname. Because I am not changing my first name, and I am not morphing into him. But I know I will get addressed like that sometimes, whether I change my name or not, and I will try very hard to let it go.

While it is alarming that in your post, Nina, your mother in law doesn't recognize the relationship of women who have kept their names (uh, hello, it's 2011), there are some of us who the opposite are true, and keeping their names are expected and the changing will cause raised eyebrows and rumors of defiance.

Randa said...

Thanks for sharing this post! It's so awesome to hear others' perspective.

Like the pp, I have the opposite experience - all my life, I was sure that I was going to either keep my last name or hyphen it but I was definitely not going to change it. I love my last name and the connection it has with my family.

But now that I'm getting married, I am starting to seriously consider changing my name. My thought about it is that I love my maiden name because it connects me with my entire family. We're all the mylastnames! Apart of me wants my child/children to have that same sense of unity - we're all the insertnewlastnames! Either way, someone is a family - a last name doesn't change that - but I just like the cohesiveness that comes with having a unified last name.

I thought about combining mine and my future husband's last name but they don't mesh very well and taking on a whole new last name doesn't fit with my cohesive family name ideals when connecting the older generations. So I will most likely take his name, unless I have another change of heart. :0]

Thanks for sharing your journey with name changes! It was definitely an insight to how it works for others!

Kristen (kristenwalker.com) said...

Thanks so much for sharing this - I related to it SO MUCH because I am going through the same dilemma right now. I think a part of me deep down inside always thought I would change my last name when I got married, but now that it's happening, the thought of changing my name makes me sick inside - not because I don't love him or love him or his last name, it just feels like giving away a huge part of who I am. It's MY NAME! I never thought I would feel this way, and I have sort of avoided talking too much about it. My fiance is fine with whatever I choose, but I know he kind of would like it if I changed my name. I've been pretty torn by this decision until I talked to a friend who got married recently and told me that she didn't change her last name legally, but uses his when it is convenient, like when they book hotel rooms together, etc. There was something about that that sounded kind of sexy (I don't know why!). The other thing that has made me feel easier about the whole thing is realizing that I can change my name whenever I want to. If after a year of marriage, it feels right to become a "Hislastname", there's nothing that says I can't do it at that point. Or if we have children later down the line and it feels better to just all be one name, I can do it then. I feel so relieved to be able to keep my name though and do what feels right.

I am nervous about what his mom is going to think, though. I was planning on just not bringing it up until it comes up in conversation and then try to keep it light, short, and sweet. I think it is going to be a little bit of a shocker to a few, but I feel like it is a pretty personal decision and don't need to run it by everyone or announce that I am keeping my name

Anyway, thanks so much for this post. It helped me process my own ideas and feelings about this dilemma and it's so nice to know I am not alone in my thoughts about this!


MinnaBrynn said...

I haven't changed my name yet - and I probably won't. The first time someone called me Mrs. C I felt a total disconnect. Everyone assured me that I'd get used to it, but I spent years learning to own my name. I don't want to start over.

I haven't met with a lot of support for keeping my last name. One friend introduces me as Mrs.C and just laughs when I correct her. My husband's siblings & their spouses feel like I'm rejecting being part of the family by putting off the change (it's been 8 months). My MIL has started to address things to us as husbandfirst husbandlast and myfirst mylast, but my FIL addresses us as husbandfirst husbandlast and myfirst. Other relatives refuse to do anything but Mrs. and Mr. Husbandlast.

The more opposition I meet, the more I want to keep my name. It is my choice and people should respect that even if they disagree with my decision. What I don't want is to make this choice just to upset people who are a little too stuck in the mud. That's as bad as making it because they think I should. I want to make sure, whatever I choose, I do it because it is right for me.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nina!

It's such a personal choice and so hard to understand why you get there.

Kayla said...

We still plan on going the completely wacky route of picking a new name altogether - not an agglomeration of our names, but something completely different. Our top choice is something a few rungs up my family tree - my doubly maternal great-grandfather's last name, before he changed it to sound more American. (He didn't want to get stuck with a cooking or cleaning job in the navy.)

I've always loved the name, and it's easier to spell/pronounce than my current one or my fiancé's.

Although honestly, I always expected - wanted - to take my future spouses's name. But then I fell in love with something who came pre-hyphenated and that was just a no-go for me.

He doesn't care either way, so it's all good.

Nina B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nina B. said...

I'm so glad you ladies found my post helpful/insightful/interesting!

I think the name change thing is something that a lot of us think about casually as we're growing up, but when it comes to choosing what to do for ourselves, we kind of have to listen to and trust our gut reactions (even if they're the opposite of what we thought we'd want or what other people pressure or expect us to do).

Just the other day, I was practicing signing my name with his last name instead (like a schoolgirl), and it was REALLY hard-- and not just because I didn't have the muscle memory. It didn't feel good emotionally, either.

A name is so personal and the decision to keep it or change is even more so. And it's important not to assume that someone came to their decision without putting much thought into it.

Misha said...

I agree that any choice a woman (or man) makes regarding their last name is right if it's right for them.

On the 'What about gay marriage?" note: I'm a queer female marrying (er, domestic partnershiping) a female. Having a family name is actually very important for people in our situation. Having the same last name, unfortunately, shows intent for those of us who can't sign a piece of paper, should anything ever get to a level that involves the law/courts (such as adoption, hospital visitation, etc.).

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