“what’s happening with your and Trey’s names?”

It was a very simple question asked by my sister on gchat Wednesday, and it turned into a long but great conversation about names, feminism and personal choice.

Of course this topic has been written about thousand of times in numerous blogs all across the vast, wide internet by amazingly smart women, and I think we should read and listen to all the different, individual stories out there about name change.

In recent years, I’ve subscribed more to the “feminism as personal choice” philosophy when it comes to things like name changing.   However, in the past, I never really thought I would change my name.

My opinions started to shift since meeting Trey.  When he turned 21, he was legally adopted by his dad and changed his full name- first, middle and last– to the name he has today.  I asked him about it and it seemed so common sense to him that it made me wonder if I was over-thinking the name issue.  It is, after all, just a name, and it’s only my identity if I make it that way.  Not like I’d be changing my first name.  And my birth name is the most common last name in the United States so I don’t feel that strongly aligned to it.

For these and other reasons it started to make sense to me to change my name.  However, when I am faced with the assumption that I will change my name, even though that’s my plan, I get so, so angry at the presumption that I will and should change my name!

My friend Kate had a great point on twitter the other day: she kept her name and feels like she has to constantly defend that choice.  As I lean towards changing my name, I feel like I should have to stand up for my choice as well.  I’d love to see a world where it’s not just presumed that a woman will change her name when she marries.  I certainly don’t mind people asking me why I plan to change my name, because it is a choice I’m arriving at after much thought and I’m happy to discuss what is a personal choice for me.

I would rather not see one choice favored over another.  I don’t want to see changing one’s name treated as the status quo, just as I don’t want to see keeping one’s birth name treated as the one, true feminist choice to make.  I would love for everyone to have the luxury to think this through and make whatever choice works for them.

Or, in the words of my sister,

A main tenant of feminism is this capability to make choices and not be judged by that alone…. It’s like, “yay, we can wear pants,” but sometimes a woman wants to wear a dress.  And that doesn’t lessen what she chooses.

What choice did you arrive at, and what brought you there?


39 responses to ““what’s happening with your and Trey’s names?”

  1. I subscribe totally to the feminist theory that it is all about choice. I think your sister’s dress analogy is spot on. Simply because I CAN do something does not mean I want to, or choose to; ie wearing pants.

    I think if I ever get married it would depend heavily on where I was in my life and career. If say, I was a practicing attorney under my last name I would likely not change it. Also, what if the guy has a suck last name? I might not want it.

    The big question for me comes in when you think about when you have kids- what happens to their names?

  2. I love this post, it’s really thoughtful. In my ideal feminist world both parties make a thoughtful choice regarding name change at marriage and neither would be assumed. I’m more bothered by the assumption and the appearance of just doing what you’re supposed to do than I am actually by name change.

    While keeping one’s name was common for a while (just ask Scott S., he has lots to say on this issue) it’s going out of style again, or so it seems.

  3. Oh and regarding the children thing, if we have children their names will be hyphenated since they would be, in a sense, a product of both of us.

    • I guess it is my having an awkwardly long last name that would make hyphenation a nightmare that makes me wonder. My last name is 9 letters, let’s say I marry a guy with an equally long last name, that would be a nightmare for my hypothetical children.

      • I have a friend with a long hyphenated last name from her parents and I hope she weighs in on this conversation from her perspective.

      • Long-last-named friend here, weighing in. One of my last names is 9 letters. The other is 7. Even if only one name is 9 letters, it’s going to be a nightmare. The only people I recommend hyphenating to are people who both have last names of 5 letters or less, since you can still fit it on a form.

        It’s really cumbersome as a kid to have such a long last name, because it would get mangled on every school document and ID (I once left my wallet in the bathroom and they called for me over the PA system but I didn’t go get it because they were using my second last name that had gotten truncated.)

        As an adult, I choose to go by only one of my two given names, and I’m always stunned by how much simpler it is to have only one last name. I generally beg people not to hyphenate their kids names. It’s really not a solution, and it makes a lot of things very difficult.

  4. I don’t really see asthetics as part of the equation there. Your name is who you are, and our child would be part of each of us, regardless of how long our names are. I think in the big picture, it wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, you wouldn’t just ditch your last name because it was too long or complicated, would you? I wouldn’t make the same decision for our children.

    Or, the alternative, is making up a new name, either combined or totally new for the child. We don’t want to do that but I can understand couples who do.

    • It is that bad. It really really is.

      At the airport, it’s hard to print a boarding pass when your credit card and the name on your ticket don’t match up because one has the hyphen and one doesn’t, since most airlines still delete the hyphen and squish the entire name together. In court, when I stand up in front of a judge and say my name, the judge laughs, and then says, “I’m just going to call you Ms. xxxxxxxx.” Whenever I have to call somebody about anything, it takes ten minutes for them to find me in the system because they file me under one last name or the other. Since for my job I’m an attorney and a notary, I spend an awful lot of time signing my full legal name to things. There is never enough space on the line and my name runs off and looks really messy on a court document, and it also takes me twice as long as anybody else to execute a document. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s incredibly awkward to have a client watching you sign 12 copies of a document and you really want it to be done as soon as possible.

      People have asked me if I’m married since I was 18 years old. Now they assume my Dad’s last name is my husband’s, and they’ll make derogatory comments towards me like, (at my character and fitness interview for the bar), “oh, you’re one of THOSE women” or “I don’t understand you modern women who choose to do that to yourselves.” While the correct answer is “f**k off”, this has happened to me *on job interviews*. Not to mention when I went to law school, my school assigned email address was firstname.lastname-lastname@ubalt.edu, and they couldn’t change it. Plus, the added difficulty of getting married and being a person with a hyphenated last name means that I don’t really have the option to hyphenate and not feel like I’m giving up a part of myself. But as a married person, it’s extremely weird to have a hyphenated last name, neither of which is your husband’s. My sister and I both struggle with this a lot.

      Aesthetics doesn’t have anything to do with why I probably won’t hyphenate my kids names. I just know that as a parent, I will not want to do anything to intentionally make life difficult for my children, and as a hyphenate, I know firsthand how difficult it is.

      • Okay, to just be totally honest here…I’m having a hard time understanding why we’re all arguing that it’s a choice whether you keep your name or change it, but it’s totally okay to generalize and say that hyphenating your kids’ names is a bad choice.

        Growing up I knew lots of kids with hyphenated names and none of them had feminist moms, they all had hyphenated names of birthdad-stepdad. This was really common in the community where I grew up.

        Also, I don’t agree with choosing a name to prevent assholes from making comments about it. That’s like…totally the opposite of how I conduct my life. Whenever assholes make a comment about me being “one of those women” (yes, I get it too because my last name is different) I stand up for myself in a way that represents who I am and the choices I made. Now, I get that you can’t do that necessarily in a bar interview, but for the most part, it’s really not a good reason to do something.

      • Also, I don’t want to say you’re lying about having trouble at the airport, because I know you’re not, but my boarding pass and driver’s license are under the name Katherine whereas my credit card says Kate, and I’ve never had a problem. In fact, personally, I’ve found the whole having a nicknamable first name the most problematic thing in my life about my name, but I think it’s an obstacle that isn’t really that big of a deal. Maybe the first name and last name is a totally different thing, but I conduct even legal business with “Kate” and never have a problem.

      • It’s always interesting too to think about this issue not from a theoretical perspective, but from a practical and logistical one which Ellie is doing. And then try to find a balance in between what you believe and want, and what will be more efficient on a daily basis as you live your life.

  5. A. and I had this conversation for funsies a few weeks ago and it turned into be kind of a thing. Because I love my name and would never consider changing it. EVER. Something I wish more men would consider more seriously is both individuals hypenating or even CONSIDERING taking their wife’s name. But as A put it “That’s stupid.” I think there a few different tracts – women who don’t feel attached to their names (my mother did not like her maiden name and despite my father’s protestations took his after getting married and has been quite satisfied with that decision), and in my case, perhaps a resentment of men who think that women’s identity should be linked to theirs only, while they make no mutual sacrifice (wow, that’s dramatic) – plus a panoply of other opinions. I think women just need to be armed with a middle finger in defense of whatever they choose. It’s your name and you can do with it whatever you want. Damn the rest!

    • It sounds like A. said “That’s stupid” because he has an assumption in mind that had never been challenged before- good for you for doing so!

    • I don’t love or hate my name. I think that would be a huge factor for me too, though. And maybe that will be something to think about especially since neither my Dad or his brother had sons, my generation is kind of “it”. I don’t know, I never really think too much about the decisions other people make– and when a friend gets married I don’t just assume they have a new last name, my cousin didn’t change hers and no one made it into any sort of big deal.

      I agree with Erin about just being able to defend your choice with that it is your name, your choice. The reasons shouldn’t matter to anyone else, really.

    • A while ago I read an article in a Canadian news outlet about a man who had changed his last name to his wife’s, and, man, the VITRIOL in those comments. So many people made fun of him for being a wuss, for letting his wife “wear the pants,” for not being a REAL MAN. It was a plain reminder that men who go through or even consider name change aren’t free of criticism and assumption of gender roles. It would seem our current society is crueler to a man who wants to change his name than to a woman who wants to keep hers — personally, I’ve experienced very little backlash for not changing my name, other than some mild confusion and questions. I like that by and large couples are having these kinds of conversations today, but the general tone might be putting men off of name-changing when otherwise they might agree to it. The closest we ever got to my husband changing his name is agreeing to take my last name as a second middle name. But then I decided not to change mine at all, so we dropped that thread.

      • I agree that men have a tough time if they choose to change their names. There’s a lot of societal pressure surrounding masculinity that apparently gets called into question for guys who consider a name change after marriage.

    • M. and I talk a lot about whether or not I should become Myfirstlast-Hislast, which I’m starting to be more and more okay with, and he’s said that if I do it, he’ll take Myfirstlast as a second middle name, so on our passports, etc. both our names will look the same. I’m pretty okay with this, except it doesn’t feel obvious enough to me (and I juuuuust renewed my passport/drivers license/notary commission), but first we have to pass a law making it as easy for men to change their names as it is for women. (I’m hoping the legislature introduces it next year.)

  6. When I got married B offered to hyphenate his name, but I didn’t want to hyphenate mine so we just both kept our names as is. He likes it and I like it, and while I get a little bit of crap about it, mostly people are just curious more so than judging my choice.

    I do want to say though that I didn’t keep my name because I’m attached to it and it bears no (okay well very little) meaning regarding my father or my family’s name. I kept my name because *for us* we didn’t consider marriage to be the merging of families or creating a new family or any of the things that I associate with a couple having the same last name. It just didn’t feel right for us, which is the most important factor.

    While I support everyone’s right to call themselves whatever they want, for me, I couldn’t help but associate changing my name as becoming either his or his family’s property. It wasn’t a feminist statement at all, getting a new name felt as foreign for me as it would be for most men to change their name.

    • And I think that’s completely valid. Just as we all define name change in different ways, we all have our own ideas about what marriage means. Which may be a topic for another post, haha.

  7. There’s two things about this for me: 1. I love my last name, it’s distinctive and interesting and I’m fierce about it. 2. Even if it wasn’t, I don’t like the idea of me changing something and B not, it just doesn’t seem fair. (That’s why I bought him an engagement ring so he could have something new and shiny too, haha.) So while we’re still pondering it, I’ve pretty much said, I’ll hyphenate, but only if he does too. If he doesn’t want to, I’m keeping it. This sounds petulant when I type it out but that’s not really how I feel, it just seems silly and counter-intuitive for me to change my name and him not to change his when we look at our relationship as an egalitarian partnership and pretty much everything we do in that partnership, we do together while keeping our independent identities.

    But changing your name when you marry is really easy in New York state regardless of gender (when you apply for a marriage license, either party can just fill in the new name they want–some states it’s easy for the woman in a straight marriage but tedious and difficult for the man), so I guess that gives me a slightly different perspective. I know two people who got married and actually combined their last names into a new made-up name they both took, haha.

  8. J and I had this conversation a couple weeks ago because it randomly came up. I want to change my name because I want my children and my husband and I to all have the same name. My sister didn’t change her name when she got married but changed it when she got divorced so she would have the same name as her kids and that thought process just clicked with me. I have a brother and he has a son so I know that my family’s last name would continue on (a big thing for me so my nephew’s birth was a huge relief for me).

    While I don’t think I will be far in my career by the time I get married, that is the exception to keeping my name and I then, I would only keep it professionally. That, and I do love my last name and the animal it is associated with. (And as somebody who grew up having to spell and pronounce my last name, hyphenation or creating a new name has always been out for me . . . I used to wish I could marry somebody named “Smith.”)

    I agree with Melissa and others — My big thing when it comes to names is the assumption. People assume that I will keep my name but there are some ways in which I am a “traditionalist.” I think the name issue is the next step in the feminist movement — something our generation is reminding the women who came before us. You fought so that we could have that choice, please do not scrutinize me for the choice I am making.

    • I think it’s possible too to refer to yourself in public by a name that is different than what your actual, legal name is as well. So where someone might go by HerFirst HisLast on facebook or whatever- they might keep their birth name as their legal name for the time being. And nothing says the decision needs to be etched in stone by the wedding day either!

      • It is possible, but it’s very difficult to go professionally by a name that isn’t legally your name – I know I can’t do it, and Mouse had a lot of trouble when she tried it. It’s much better, I think, if you want to go by your last name professionally, to only use your partner’s socially. I’m trying it out at my husband’s high school reunion.

  9. Being on the other side of the issue, i don’t really see an issue… My question would be who are you having to defend your decision to? Men or other females? I find it to be a non-issue really as it is not something I ever think to worry about. I think it is really rude for someone to criticize someone for a very personal decision. I do however take a little resentment from erin’s statement about “men” and how we associate women’s identity based on our own…besides being a base generalization… I don’t think it is a very fair statement to make. Great article Melissa. It opened my eyes on the topic.

    • Perhaps I generalized by saying “men” – I should have some “some men.” But it’s true – A was totally blown away when I said I would never consider taking my husband’s name or being the only person to hypenate. And I think a lot of men feel that way – and I know that it DOES bother some men when their partners won’t take their name (watch some reality television or the Marriage Ref!). On the other end, there are men out there (like you), who don’t see an issue. I know some men who let their children take their wife’s name, I think the woman’s name as a second middle name is a great compromise. There’s definitely a middle ground and communication is the best way to overcome any resentment about name changing. Maybe I can wear my man down into agreeing with me…

      • I had a friend who broke up with her boyfriend because they couldn’t agree about her not taking his last name when they got married. I mean, there were other issues, but that was a big one, and hugely representative of him not respecting her/her career, etc. (And she was a journalist, already published frequently under her name.) In this day and age, I have a serious problem with the men I know who say things like, “I wouldn’t marry a woman who wouldn’t take my last name.”

        The nice thing about having a hyphenated last name is that it screams, “I’M A SECOND GENERATION FEMINIST” (unless it says, “I’m divorced”, which I would be concerned about if I was on the market now). So both my sister and my husbands knew by the second date that we were keeping our names, and neither of them have ever had a problem. My husband thinks that hyphenating our kids names isn’t a problem, but I disagree with him there (see my comment on Kate’s comment.)

      • I actually thought about changing my current last name to my mothers maiden name put of spite…my paternal side of the family is crazy…it was too much work…bah. I think o’brien would have suited me better 🙂

  10. Some of this gets into regional/cultural norms as well. I am from the south but moved to the DC area just after I got married, and once I was here, I felt like I was constantly defending my decision to 1) take my husband’s last name and 2) get married young. One woman who was probably in her 50s once told me that I should “be modern!” and have kept my name instead, which offended me because I took “modern” to mean I had a choice — and I chose to change.

    For me, I decided to change because when (if) we have kids, I wanted us all to have the same name. Socially, I have my husband’s name (and I knew I was ready to get married when I was OK with the idea of taking it since it’s a little odd), but professionally, I will always have my maiden name and married name (no hyphen) on my byline and business cards. That way, I still get some of my own identity, but avoid minor confusion socially or with children.

    • Plus there is a very good chance that you and your husband will be a kickass power couple and therefore it’s good to have the two of you united under one name – it’s good to have people know that you are together, and sometimes it’s hard to remember, “oh yeah, so-and-so is married to so-and-so” when they have different last names.

      It’s so true what you say about the regional differences. I grew up in the DC area and didn’t meet women who planned to take their husband’s last name until college – and it was ALL of them! I was shocked and appalled. Since then, I’ve mellowed and realized that there are a lot of nice things about changing your last name and having a family name it’s a very personal choice.

      • My biggest problem here is that you’ve made the assumption, either inadvertently or in reference to a decision you’ve already made, that children would have a name other than yours.

        “there are a lot of nice things about changing your last name and having a family name it’s a very personal choice.”

        I’m incredibly offended (not by you, by the world) that people assume my children will have the name that came from my husband’s side of the family. I am hearing this over and over, that women choose to change their name so that their whole family has the same last name, just making the automatic assumption that their kids will be named with their father’s name.

        It’s possible to not do that. Trust me. I know someone who’s children have her last name even though she was and is still married to their father. Also, if our kids are hyphenated, neither of us have to change our name. I want my kids to have my name, and I want them to have B’s name. I don’t want priority over one name. It’s really that simple. Life isn’t easy and maybe I’m setting them up to have a difficult life with a hyphenated last name, but it’s just one of thousands of decisions I’ll make for them that may or may not make their life easier or harder. We’ll see.

  11. Kate, in my situation, my husband’s father died when he was young, so it’s always been very important to him that if we have kids, then they have his dad’s family name. But I understand the frustration about the assumption that it’s always the husband’s last name that the children will have. It really is equally important, and that’s my brother, sister and I all have middle names connected to our mom’s side of the family since we have our dad’s last name.

    • I do think it’s important that we all get to decide what option works best for ourselves and our partners, and that we are (relatively) free from the assumptions of others during that process.

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  13. So, my absolute favorite thing for kids, and I had two friends in high school who did this, is is when one of the last names works as a first name. My high school friends Mitch and Taylor both had their mom’s maiden names as middle names, and their Dad’s name as first names. I think that is super cool. It’s like the best hyphenating ever. Even better for girls because that way, you *always* have your mom’s name, even if you get married and change it. However, for the rest of us, that isn’t an option.

    In our relationship, my husband is absolutely 100% fine with the status quo. He thinks that I shouldn’t have to change my name, and therefore he shouldn’t have to change his. He is open to taking one of my names as a second middle name, either if I did the same, or if I ultimately choose to hyphenate. I worry a lot about the kids issue, because I know from my friends experience that it is annoying enough to have the kids have a different last name, but it’s even more annoying/weird to have the kids have a last name and then have a different hyphenated last name yourself. I might eventually go through a legal name change to either have only one name, or to drop one of my last names and take my husband’s, but I think it is far more likely that I’ll keep my name legally, and then just go by “Firstlast-Hislast” socially and with the kids, etc. I’m hoping he might also agree to go by Hislast-Mylast socially, but we’re not quite there yet. I know from dealing with clients where all three kids have different last names from the Mom that it is possible to have a whole mess of names going on, and it doesn’t make you any less a family.

    I think our children will each get one of my last names as a second middle, or they will both get FirstLast if I end up hyphenating and my husband takes my last as a second middle name.

    As to what Kate said about why women are always thinking they have to be the ones to give up their names, we’ve thought and talked about it. My husband doesn’t have a problem hyphenating our kids names, but I don’t want to for practical reasons, therefore I am probably going to be the one that sacrifices my name for the good of our kids. My husband doesn’t care nearly as much as I do about having a family name, so if I want a family name, I need to make the sacrifice and take his (I won’t). My husband doesn’t mind that people constantly call him Mr. MySecondLast, so I’m going to be the one changing my name because I think it’s weird to have a hyphenated last name, neither of which are my husband’s. He is generally nonplussed about the issue, whereas I stress over it a lot.

    It’s really funny to me that his little sister dropped her last name like a hot potato and was SO EXCITED when she got married to be Mrs. Moose. (Not their real last name.) Everyone kept calling her by her married name and she would get giddy, she was talking on facebook about how much she loves being Mrs. Moose, and I just sat there and felt super jealous that she could make this big change, be so psyched about it, and not be in the agony and stress I’ve been putting myself through for the last three years. I could probably have judged her for not wanting to keep her name at all, but it’s so much easier to just be supportive and buy them a return address stamp with their new name. Being judgmental will only make her resent me, and really, I’m just jealous that I couldn’t do what she did with nary an afterthought.

  14. oh, just a random bit of anecdata that I thought of to add, since a lot of folks say that hyphenating can be hard on kids: I went to school with a LOT of kids who had double-barrel surnames (I have no idea why we had so many, but we sure did, haha) and, as far as I can remember, all of them chose to go by one last name or another in school-related situations. We had to fill out (or have our parents fill out) a contact form every year, as I’m sure most or all schools require, and there was a space in there for how you wanted to be addressed or wanted your kid to be addressed, first and last. So kids who went by a name other than their birth name had that listed right next to their full name in class schedules, seating charts, etc. So everyone knew their full name and their parents’ names, but the kid could choose to be called something else for simplicity’s sake. It was pretty straightforward and I don’t remember anyone ever having a problem because of it.

    It also had the interesting side effect of allowing non-white kids to Anglicize their names if they so chose, although that’s not at all relevant to this discussion and I only know one person who actually did that 😛

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