Did You Change Your Name When You Got Married?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Official notice of name change (flickr: PunkJr)

This week, when Portia de Rossi filed a petition to change her name to Portia DeGeneres, it got all of us talking about name changes around marriages. Who changes their name when they get married, anyway? A lot of us do, it turns out – 77 to 95 percent of women, at least. But a recent study found that women who change their names are perceived to be worth lower salaries than women who don’t.

If you're married, did you keep your name, take your partner's or take a new name altogether?

Ylonda Gault Caviness (who uses her hyphenated, married, and maiden names in equal measure) talks all about who changes their names, why, and what it all means. Wendy Rabas also joins us. She’s about to get married and plans to keep her maiden name to the chagrin of her fiancé.


Ylonda Gault Caviness and Wendy Rabas

Comments [32]

Jane from Brisbane

My son and his financee have had a son on their own. They have given him the mothers surname, I think because she wants all her children to have the same surname. Considering that my son is providing the family's only income, and supporting 5 other children besides his own, I feel that it is disrespectful to make my sons child take on her surname. It feels like he has to give everything and she will take. signed...A not happy grandmother.

Jan. 25 2011 01:02 AM
Leah Christensen from Ontario Canada

I kept my name when I got married, and my husband kept his name. I still use Ms. Our address labels say "Christensen & Bennett." There was no room for our first names, or an initial, so we just put our last names. He told me to make damn sure to put my name first, to show the rest of the world that society won't crumble if the man doesn't "lead." Actually, no one really "leads" in our marriage, but someone's name has to come first on a label. We prefer to be untraditional.

Nov. 07 2010 11:46 PM

I think Kelly said it all back at the start: "I have a name." ;)

And I, too, have never, since I was a girl many many years ago, understood why any woman's name was so in need of changing to someone else's name. That's his name. You, we, have our own names. What makes his better? The answer, of course, is: nothing.

Yes, in our patrilinear societies, our surnames come from men: my father, his father, etc. In many cases, though (and if you do some genealogical research, you'll be surprised how many), a person's surname is actually their mother's, i.e. their maternal grandfather's (or great-grandfather's) surname, through their (unmarried) mother (and sometimes grandmother); the person's father's surname is simply unknown. The name came indirectly from a man, but isn't the father's.

There's no way around the fact that our surnames all come from some "original" man many generations ago when surnames were originated, from occupations or place names or fathers' names, in the English naming style, for example. But the simple fact is that they are the names we start life with and the names we live our lives as, unless and until we find some reason to change them. Why marriage would be a reason is still beyond me!

Aug. 23 2010 07:29 PM
Katie Sopoci Drake from Hollywood, FL

I got married at 30 to a fabulous man who agreed that either we should keep our own last names or combine them. We are both adults and it just seemed lopsided to do otherwise. We finally settled on changing our names to include both of our last names. It just seemed to make sense. AND, when he went through the process of changing his name, the women at the DMV and Social Security offices practically swooned when they realized what he was doing. So, now he feels rather proud about it.

Aug. 23 2010 02:57 PM

Carol from Warwick: Just about every time I see a child of unmarried parents, the child has the father's last name. I can't recall if I've ever seen one with the mother's last name...though I can't fathom why, especially if the parents do not live together and the child lives with the mother. There's proof of the patriarchy behind the last name thing right there.

To clarify for Emili: in Latin American traditions, the mother's last name is not a middle name; it is a second last name and the child still has a middle name. For example, a child may have the name Ana Elena Rodriguez Perez...Ana is her first name, Elena is her middle name, Rodriguez is her mother's maiden name, and Perez is her father's last name. So her signature might say "Ana Rodriguez Perez." But the "Rodriguez" is always used, not only trotted out on rare occasions like a middle name would be.

Aug. 17 2010 10:42 AM

I would consider not changing my last name if I got married...except that I hate my last name (it's not complicated but for some reason no one can spell or pronounce it, and I just don't like the sound) and from the time I was a little kid looked forward to getting married so I could get rid of it! I considered just changing my last name to my mother's much-simpler maiden name (especially since I'm closer to that side of the family anyway) but realized that people would probably read too much into it and assume I did it because I had something against my dad or that side of the family, rather than just something against the last name itself. If I had a name I liked, or the man I wanted to marry had a name that was just awful, I'd definitely keep mine without a second thought.

I've always wondered, for those of you who didn't change your name--what prefix do you use? (I'm personally a proponent of "Ms." for myself as it's nobody's business to know whether I'm married or not unless I choose to tell them, just like it is with men, [plus being unmarried means I'd be a "Miss," which would make me feel about ten years old], but that's not for everyone). Do you go with "Mrs. [Yourlastname]" or do you use Ms.? I'm never sure if "Mrs." should only be used in conjunction with a husband's last name or not.

If you want to hyphenate, go ahead...just please standardize it. Celeste's admission to changing it around is exactly why people hate hyphenation--if you want to call yourself Smith-Jones, then call yourself Smith-Jones. No one should have to try to guess whether your last name is really Smith, Jones, or Smith-Jones because you tend to use all three, or wonder if there's a reason why you dropped one on this particular day and if it would be offensive to use that name, or will you be offended if they don't use both as if you're "denying" whatever is behind one of the names that is important to them, etc. Pick one and stick with it, and if you feel it's too clunky to use hyphenation all the time, then you probably shouldn't use it at all.

My partner's cousin and his wife found an interesting solution: she kept her last name, and they combined their last names for their kids. So if her last name iwas Johnson and his was Burnside, the kids' last name was Johnside. I'd do not know if this will get confusing though too, when a teacher or someone asks for Mrs. or Mr. Johnside and NEITHER parent has the same last name as the child!

His sister, on the other hand, had a hyphenation error. She meant to hyphenate her maiden name to her new married name. Somehow something got messed up when she was having it changed, though, and she ended up hyphenating her middle name instead and says she didn't notice they mis-typed it...so instead of being, say, Rachel Amanda Smith-Jones, she ended up Rachel Amanda-Smith Jones. And she insists she can't have them correct it without going to court.

Aug. 17 2010 10:41 AM
kim from Boston

I have never understood why a woman should be asked to change her name. At the age of 5 I determined I would never change my name to that of my husband. I was born with a name I like and lived with for many years before I was married. I never understood when woman were referred to as Mrs. John Smith. Their name wasn't John. The idea of keeping your birth name was started by Lucy Stoner. I don't see any reference to her historic actions. Indeed it is up to a woman if she want to keep her name or take her husband's. The whole idea of hypenation is confusing and wishy washy. If you don't have the guts to just keep your name why make some feeble attempt to keep a part of it and make everyone's life miserable.

Aug. 17 2010 08:19 AM
mike broscius

Woman do not really have last names. All last names are men's names. Traditionally, when a woman married, she changed her last name from her father's last name to her husband's last name.

Aug. 16 2010 10:49 AM
Jenelle from New York

It's fine for a family to share one last name, but assuming it must be the man's name by default is a sexist tradition. Assuming the children must share the father's name, even if the mother doesn't, is similarly sexist.

Hyphenated names are an unsustainable solution, as over a few generations, names will become completely unwieldy.

The solution I've come up with is to have each marriage partner keep their last name. Then, all female children can take the mother's name, while all male children take the father's name. The "family" name can be hyphenated if you prefer, but each child only has one last name. This would start a wonderful tradition, where you could trace your ancestry back not only by the males in the family, but by the paternal and maternal lines.

It's the only solution I see that (1) treats men and women with equal respect while (2) keeping a tradition of family names that is traceable through generations.

On a side note, this correlates in a nice way with genetic science, where the male line passes down the same Y chromosome through generations, the female line passes down the same mitochondrial DNA through generations.

Aug. 16 2010 10:13 AM
Becks from SC

I am getting married in the the fall. I am planning to take my husband's name. I have a very tortured past with my father and feel so lucky to have connected with his family. But, as I'm an attorney, I'm very torn about how to approach the name change professionally. I've been in practice for several years. Not sure that its long enough for my name recognition to negatively effect my business. What do you think Celeste?

Aug. 16 2010 10:02 AM
Becks from SC

I am getting married in the the fall. I am planning to take my husband's name. I have a very tortured past with my father and feel so lucky to have connected with his family. But, as I'm an attorney, I'm very torn about how to approach the name change professionally. I've been in practice for several years. Not sure that its long enough for my name recognition to negatively effect my business. What do you think Celeste?

Aug. 16 2010 10:01 AM

For those who strongly believe that a couple (and their subsequent children) should have but one last name, would they consider that name being the wife's birth name instead of the husband's? And if not, why not?

Aug. 16 2010 09:07 AM
J.L. from Detroit

I'm always surprised how many women cite ease of use as the reason for changing their name. If it was only about ease and family unity, today's men would consider taking their wives' names. It's a reflection of the fact that women are still viewed as second-class citizens. Sadly, women themselves continue to further that viewpoint. We need some new naming traditions!

As a feminist, I kept my name. Also, my husband agreed and would have found it strange for me to take his name. I thought it would also make a strong example for my future children.

Now, my newborn daughter has my last name as her middle name and my husband's as her last. Our names sounded unwieldy hyphenated, so we chose this route of turning one into her middle name. Choosing which one was a challenge, but we went with what went best with her first name. Also, probably, more people assume that a woman kept her name when she has a different name from her child. It seems like a man with a different name from his child is assumed to be the stepdad. So, we perhaps bowed to culture on that point.

Aug. 16 2010 09:03 AM
Alvena from Western KY

When I married my 3rd husband I took his name, because my name was my ex's name at the time, and I felt like I should show my commitment to our marriage. I have never felt a particular attachment to my maiden name. My self-esteem is quite adequate for whatever name I have. My identity is much more than my name.

Aug. 16 2010 09:01 AM
Hope from Hastings on Hudson, NY

I've been married for 30 years, and never used my husband's name. I just thought it was stupid to change one's name in the middle of one's life. On the other hand, it recently occurred to me that it might be more meaningful to share a name with my husband, rather than my father.

Aug. 16 2010 08:55 AM
Patricia from Forest Hill

In my parents native country, Colombia, the children have both father's and mother's last name.

Aug. 16 2010 08:52 AM
Twice_Fooled from Pennsylvania

Twice I've been married and and changed my Name, and twice I've ended up Divorced and having to change my Name, AND Self-Identity all over again.

The ISSUE here ISN'T JUST the Name Change; it's more so, the Complete SELF-Identity that also changes. Upon each Divorce, I'd LOST the WHO I AM; my Self-Identity was Gone; my Tastes in Everything had been Changed to ACCOMMODATE HIS, rather than HIS Tastes ACCOMMODATING MINE. I 've even had trouble Regaining the Comfortable Ability of quickly and Instinctively being able to SAY my Name, to Others, as I'd repeatedlly had to Stop myself from accidentally spitting out my Married Surname, rather than my Real Name - which in this day and age, makes you sound as if you're trying to "conceal something about yourself," when hesitating to say your OWN Name. To ME, at least, this problem persisted well over 1.5 years, following the Divorce, until my EASE of Signing and Saying my Full Name Returned, and "Sounded" Normal to me, (my last Marriage was 12 years).

Other than the above, AND the huge Cost of Changing Documents, which many of us may not be able to afford, (esp. Passports, which for some of us is our ONLY portable Proof of Citizenship, which mustn't be kept in a Bank's Safety Deposit Box, due to its Legal Irreplaceability), there's also the Issue of our Male Offspring. I've two (2) Sons, from my first Marriage. Upon contemplating what Name to Return to, (Maiden, vs. 1st. Marriage's), we all got our Minds together, and the Consensus was Rather than resuming my Maiden Name, I it'd be Better for me to resume my 1st. Ex-Husband's Last Name so my Sons and I would have the same Surname, (this was even more Important to me, since I hadn't been financially able to Raise them myself, and it had taken me over a Decade of Legal wrangling, to enforce my Visitation Rights. My Resuming their Last Name was a Symbolic Gesture on my Part, of my LOVE FOR THEM, (not my Ex, of course).

The Cost of changing One's Name back is nearly Prohibitive, to some of us, (it was for me), and I believe upon Divorce those Costs, the Time involved, even the Carbon Footprint Costs, perhaps, should be a Non-Negotiable Requirement in the Divorce, as Compensation, by the Husband to his Ex.

My last Thought on this is, I'm Happy to say, has already been said elsewhere, (and I hadn't even KNOWN other Women had come to the Same Conclusion: I'll NEVER again, change my Name!

IF! And that's a BIG IF, I ever do marry again, it'll be HIM, NOT ME, Who'll be asked by me, to CHANGE HIS NAME, His DL, His Passport, His Social Security Card, His..._______(fill in the Blank).

Lets see How THEY Feel about THAT! ;)

BTW, Hyphenating a Last Name doesn't work! I did that, and and ended up having all types of Problems with HOW my Name was Filed.

Aug. 16 2010 08:51 AM
Shannon McNamara from Brooklyn, CT

I chose to keep my own name, which my husband was ok with. I wanted to get married and share a life with my husband but at the same time retain my own identity. no one ever asks a man to change his name, so why should I change mine? Our children will have his last name, but I've always been and always will forever be shannon-mac :)

Aug. 16 2010 08:51 AM

I changed my name and then changed it back again and swore I'd never change it again. Too complicated and compromised my professional identity. However, my daughters both changed their names when they married; now all 4 members of my immediate family have 4 different last names- now THAT's individuality!

Aug. 16 2010 07:28 AM
carol from warwick ri

You forgot something!

An element of the conversation has to do with kids and their names.

Millions of women here and globally don't marry and their kids are named by them.

This is obviously another discussion however the aspect of kids and their father's name just doesn't exist for many of them.

So although people who marry may have this dilemma, there are millions of kids out there whose name has nothing to do with their fathers!
Your interesting article seems to forget an enormous population who don't do marriage at all!

Incidentally I am one of those women who didn't change my name with marriage - ethnicity, age some of the reasons and my son carries his father's name! Really was never an issue even in 1988!

Aug. 16 2010 07:26 AM
Robin Gibson from Oklahoma

My husband and I married 9 years ago, when I was 27 and her was 38. First marriage for us both. Although I was older establishing my career, and we both had fairly common & easy to pronounce/spell last names, I took his because I was starting a new life with a new piece of my identity as his wife. It's about the only traditional thing we've done, and I'm so glad I did it.

Aug. 16 2010 07:18 AM

Married 2 times - never changed my name. I got to HAVE my child so he got his dad's last name. Since we have children from both marriages - to avoid confusion with their other mom and dad - we have our children call us by our real names - I have always been Peg to our children. Everyone is happy. Also, I'd be glad to switch to a Civil Union rather than call our partnership Marriage. 'Marriage' comes with a lot of 'historical baggage', is unfair to 'non-hetero' couples and does not reflect our values. But at present, it's to only way to convey 'benefits' in our union.

Aug. 16 2010 07:16 AM
Camille from Slovenia

I've been married two years and frankly I didn't change my name because I simply don't like my husband's last name (it looks even worse hyphenated with my name!) . He has no problem with it, but his mother is a little perturbed.

However, in the country where we live people have a hard time spelling my "foreign" last name, so if I go order something (like a pizza or whatever) I will sometimes use his last name just for speed and convenience.

Aug. 16 2010 06:52 AM
patrick from boston

In the province of Quebec the law requires all women to use their maiden name for legal documents. In the predominantly catholic province, many women do not change their name.

Aug. 16 2010 06:37 AM
Anne Lederhos from Amherst, NH

I married 20 years ago and kept my name. I never considered taking my husband's name. We have two daughters. One has his last name and the other has mine. I wanted my daughters to know that my name is as important as my husbands. There is no confusion at all. If anyone ask why, I happily explain. Breaking with tradition can send a powerful message and I have never regretted this decision. To Malini from NYC, I say don't let society dictate your children's last name.

Aug. 15 2010 01:43 PM
christine Lavin from Geneva, NY

When my niece Holly was 7 years old she asked me why some women are called "Mrs." when they get married, and some women aren't? I explained to her that when you get married you have a lot of choices today. I said, "Let's say you are marrying a man named Joe Smith. After you get married you could keep your name the same as it is now, or call yourself 'Mrs. Holly Smith' or 'Miss Holly Smith' or 'Ms. Holly Smith' or 'Mrs. Joe Smith' or even hyphenate your last name, combining YOUR last name with HIS with a dash between them."

Holly was listening intently. When I was through I asked her that when the time comes would she like to keep her last name or take her husband's name?

"I would like to change it," she said with great certainty. "I would change my name to Claire."

Aug. 14 2010 02:50 PM
emili from Planet Earth

My first marriage I changed my name. I thought I should follow tradition. I didnt question doing it and it took me another 10 years to 1) grow up
and realize I really love my last name (my first name is unique - so together it felt right to keep it) and as Kathryn said it is part of my identity.

For my second marriage at 37, my ex and I discussed this. At that time he had some IRS problems and his attorney suggested I not change it - the reason being I owned property and assets that could potentially be 'acquired' if my last name was changed to my ex.

After 5 years of marriage he tells me he's still angry I did not change my name! I thought it had been settled. Obviously he had not! As Malini mentioned in Spanish tradition I believe the children will take their mother's name as the middlename. That would be my choice now if I had children.

Aug. 14 2010 09:07 AM

When I got married, I considered keeping my name or hyphenating it. My husband was not on board with that, so I ended up changing my name. We have daughters and my husband encourages them to keep their names. Times and attitudes change...

Aug. 13 2010 03:14 PM
Malini from NYC

I kept my name, and though I do believe women should be free to do what they want, I'm continually surprised that most still change theirs. I never considered changing my name, and I'm reasonably confident that most men never consider the prospect, either. I'm also surprised at the range of women who change their names as a nod to tradition -- women who break with tradition in so many other ways, but not for this aspect of life that's perhaps superficial on one level, yet still fundamentally part of our identities.

My generally darling husband had a one-day episode just before we were engaged in which he tried to convince me to take his name. His reasons: 1) it's tradition, 2) he always imagined his wife having the same name, and 3) his name has a long, proud history. My rebuttal: 1) traditions change -- e.g., we married after 7 years of dating and come from a culture where arranged marriage is still the norm, plus we belong to different religions; 2) with some probing, he admitted to spending very little time every actually imagining what his future wife's name would be; and 3) if his last name was so noble that I should be honored to take it, wouldn't his sister then keep hers for the same reason? (The answer: decidedly no -- she'd long proclaimed her eagerness to take her husband's name). This one-day argument culminated in me telling him that I wasn't going to be convinced (any more than he was to take my name), and that if this was really an issue for him, he wasn't the kind of man I thought he was and we shouldn't get married. That settled it.

The issue of our future children's last names took more time to sort through. Our society is set up such that one can only have, well, one last name. Hyphenation and devising a brand-new name didn't work for either of us. Ultimately, this was our compromise: the children will take his last name, take mine as a middle name, and I get full say on the first names.

We've been married for over three years now, and having different names has never been an issue. While we don't yet have kids, I have many friends whose last names differ from their children's, and each says it has never once presented an issue for schools, hospitals, air travel, etc., etc.

Aug. 13 2010 01:35 PM
Adele from Brooklyn

I am getting married next spring, and we are going to hybrid-ize our last names. We both believe that combining our last names into a unified, NEW last name most accurately represents what really happens in marriage. I wish more couples would choose this option!

Aug. 13 2010 01:04 PM
Kelly from new york

I have a name. This is the name that was given to me when I was born and could never understand why women still follow this ancient tradition which was based on the idea that women were considered as their husband "property" when they got married. Men still gets the better the deal since their children will take on their name. No need for their wife to change theirs too at mid-life!!!

Aug. 13 2010 11:47 AM

I kept my name. I was married at age 37 and maybe my age had something to do with it. My name was and is part of my identity, so I never considered changing it.
I will say that it gets a little confusing when there are children involved but I am who I am.

Aug. 13 2010 11:01 AM

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