On Why I Kept My Last Name

When I got married, I thought long and hard about what to do with my last name. Keep it, change it hyphenate it. Long drives, showers, drinking coffee. I thought a lot. And even though keeping it might not have been the popular choice, it’s the one I went with. Since this option is the less common one, I wanted to write a little about why I decided to hang onto it.

For one thing, it’s my name. When you get down to it, I would no sooner change my first name for some cultural rite of passage. So why my last name? I also couldn’t understand why no one expects men to change their names. The only real response I’ve ever gotten from this question is that men are…men. So they’re excempt.

There lied the problem of why I wanted to keep it. The tradition stems from when women were treated as property, and the name changed because we were transferred. No thank you. I wanted my marriage to be a joint partnership, with no ball and chain, and definitely no dowry. Sometimes the argument is made to me that I’m just keeping my dads name. But again, it’s mine once it was given to me, and passing on that tradition doesn’t change that issue.

When I announced this to people, it got a surprising amount of resistance. Mostly from family, from some friends. People didn’t get it. They asked questions, told me it was my role, and used the ever popular “what about the children?!”. The children actually really got me thinking. And is what makes me want to share my story – so other people can read it. And maybe it will get them thinking.

One thing I don’t want to tell my kid (should I choose to procreate) is that I was pressured into making a choice because it’s what people told me I should do. I’d much rather be able to say that I made a choice that might be unpopular, but it’s exactly what I needed to do for myself.

That realization – that I was standing up for something I believed in, even though it is so not popular – was really a major moment for me. It went from a small decision I was making, to a mindset. I believe that women changing their name should not be the default. I hope one day to see a whole mix of things – women changing their last, men changing their last name, both couples hyphenating, whatever. But we have to start the conversation, and ask why.

It’s been two and a half years now. Sometimes people who know better, still call me by Gabe’s last name. But I’ve never regretted it, and I haven’t found a single thing that seems to be more difficult. It doesn’t make us feel any less married, or any less like a “unit” (a common reason people give for changing it). Being a unit makes me feel like a unit.


As a note, this isn’t meant to knock whatever choice you’ve made. It’s to talk about my choice, and all the pros and cons.


11 thoughts on “On Why I Kept My Last Name

  1. I grew up with a mother and aunts who kept their names, so it always seemed a given I’d keep my name too. My mother once said she thought she’d be in the majority but was surprised so many of her peers did the name change thing. Now I’m the one who’s always surprised at how many of my friends change their names, and how it’s so immediate and automatic, like they never even considered keeping their names.

    The Mrs. Husband’s Full Name thing has always made me cringe. That doesn’t tell me what her name is; it’s just her husband’s name with the title Mrs. in front! I worked at a newspaper for almost five years, and one of my duties was filing articles that included pictures. Since the paper got started in ’65, I was always seeing a lot of the really old file cards identifying women as “Mrs. John Smith.” I just can’t get myself to understand how this was ever NOT considered passive identification and demeaning to so many women.

  2. Thank you for writing this.
    I recently broke up with my boyfriend of two-and-a-half years for a slew of reasons but one of the main reasons was the name issue. He was raised in Polk county, Florida, a backward kind of place where confederate flags hang on porch fronts and souped up 80s pick-ups don bumper stickers that read “no fat chicks.” I live there now but I was raised in Ohio and do my best to tune-out the culture here. When I met my ex-boyfriend, I saw his Southern charm as just that – charming. Little did I know.
    I think that every woman should have the choice to do whatever it is she wants with her name when she gets married – whether it’s keeping it, changing it, hyphenating it, what have you. But I never wanted to change mine, even before I met my ex-boyfriend. My mom didn’t change hers. Also, I’m a professional writer so my name literally is my livelihood. My ex-boyfriend viewed this decision in a way I had never seen it. He thought I thought I was better than him – that I was too good to take anyone’s name. He told me “I don’t know why you’re into all this woman-power crap. You’re not a senator.”
    I broke up with him and he didn’t take it well. No matter how many times I explained to him why my name was important to me, he couldn’t accept it. He told me he believed his future wife should take his name. I told him I believed he was a full-fledged sexist.
    Quite a few of my friends look at me puzzled when I whip out my non-negotiable – keeping my name.
    “I don’t know many guys that would like that, Kate,” one of my closest girls has told me.
    It scares me that in 2012 a woman keeping her name is taboo and strange – especially to other women.

  3. Hi, I a saw a link to your post at shakesville. I also kept my name. One reason, though not the only, was that my husband’s personality and lifestyle fit in with my family much more than his own. It felt especially artificial, then, to take the name of a family that neither of us reflected. I don’t understand the “think of the kids” argument. Think what? I’m pretty sure my son knows who I am without checking my name tag 🙂

    1. I think this is such an interesting approach! How did you decide on the new name. Did you guys combine your former names or just pick something totally new?

  4. I didn’t change my name either, but most of my friends did (with a couple key exceptions, like my best friend). I didn’t think about it a lot, though. My mom didn’t change her name (she said she wasn’t anyone’s property and wasn’t going to participate in a tradition based around that assumption), so I grew up assuming I would keep mine too. Like you said, it’s my name. Why should I change it? No one asked my husband if he was going to change his.

    Luckily, I didn’t get a lot of pushback over it. My family treated the whole thing as normal and his family never said anything about it, probably because my husband made it clear that he thought it was my business and no one else’s. I asked him if he minded, but that was more of a litmus test, and I was very pleased with his answer, which was incredulity that he should even have an opinion.

    I know I’m lucky, though. My sister changed her name when she got married this summer. She says it’s because the name thing didn’t really matter to her, so she might as well just change it. I’m sure that’s part of it, but I have to wonder…I get the impression that her husband and his family would care and would have given her crap over a different decision. So maybe it’s just as well that she was ok with it.

    As for the “think of the children” thing – seriously? In this day and age we’re supposed to treat it as some weird thing when kid’s parents have different last names? I got asked about it once in 13 years of schooling. My mom never had any trouble with people thinking she couldn’t be our mother because our names weren’t the same. It’s just the usual pressure BS that people trot out when they don’t like your decision. Six years in, I don’t regret my decision, and 31 years in, my mom doesn’t regret hers either. Rock on, Roxanne!

  5. Hey, I came here via Shakesville. Loved this post to itty bitty pieces. Though I’m nowhere near the point of marrying, I think I’d like to someday. And this issues weighs heavily on my mind quite a bit.

    Because I don’t want to change my name. I don’t care what other people do–and many young women of my age group, including several close friends/relatives, have collectively changed their names as a matter of course–but it doesn’t feel right for me.

    I’m afraid that the man I eventually fall in love with will not understand or accept. I know myself; whatever his reasons, I will hate him for it. In the same way that I hate *everyone* who tries to guilt, coerce, or pressure me into doing something I don’t want to do.

    I am trying to build myself up now, so that when the times comes, I can stand by my convictions and do what feels right for me.

    1. Hopefully you will find a partner that is supportive in your choices! And I won’t lie, it took a little while for mine to come around, even though his sister had kept her last name when she married. During a lot of the long thinking process I was talking about, we talked it over, and I told him where I was coming from. He is 100% on board now.

  6. I changed my name when I got married because I wanted to shed my old identity. My father was an abusive asshole and I didn’t want people to know me as his daughter any more. My former last name was very uncommon and my father was well known in our community so it meant that random people like the grocery store clerk would know who I was based on my last name. I’ve never regretted changing, although a lot of mainstream feminists probably look down on me for changing and a lot of people probably assume I’m more traditional because of it..
    That being said, I resent getting mail to Mrs. Last Name or to Mrs. Husband’s First Name Husband’s Last Name. Pretty sure the former is my mother-in-law and the latter doesn’t exist. I’m just weird like that.

  7. (Also here via Shakesville.)

    I’m getting married later this year, and I’m already conflicted about the social baggage surrounding that. (The historical context of marriage — as evidenced by the fact that my area has some pretty regressive communal property laws involving marriage. But also, my area has some pretty regressive norms for things like medical power of attorney for an unmarried adult.)

    I think, for all the reasons you listed here, if I was facing pressure to change my name as well — that would be one more thing I just did *not* need.

  8. I kept my name!!! When I was 19 I took my mother’s Danish birth name, because I already live in my father’s homeland and speak his Native language. I wanted to buck what I thought to be a sexist tradition, and reclaim some of my Danish heritage that was stripped away from me because “we’re in Canada! We don’t need to raise the kids half Danish!” I don’t know why the F she agreed with him on that one!!! She came to regret it later, and I came to resent them BOTH for ripping it away from me!

    My initials now are LC but if I were to take my husband’s name, they would have been LB. He agreed with me for all the reasons why I wanted to keep my name, and added another great one. He joked that it would be kinda creepy if I shared my initials with Lorena Bobbitt! LOL When guys get on his case about my name, that’s what he tells them, and they getthe point and back off. 🙂

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