To take, or not to take? That is the question that many women nowadays ask themselves when they get married and face the decision of changing their last name to their partner’s, keeping their own, or hyphenating the two.
We pulled three different perspectives from three different women to hear about how they came to their decision on whether or not to take their partner’s names. Learn about how they considered honoring their families’ (both new and old!) roots, questioned society’s traditions, and discovered what self-identity means to them when making this big decision.
Sally: Social Traditions Deserve to Be Questioned
I honestly never really put much thought into whether or not I would take the last name of my husband whenever the day came that I got married. It was just kind of a given. That’s what you do, you get married and you change your last name to your husband’s. It’s tradition.
However, growing up and coming from a family of three girls, I was always a little sad knowing that we would be the last in the lineage that was our family’s last name. The name would literally die with us (that’s how I dramatically think about it). My father’s sister and her husband didn’t have children, so our family name really does end with me and my two sisters.
It was as I got older and started to question the general traditions of things being done just ‘because they’ve always been that way’ that I started to realize that things like taking a man’s last name were optional. I knew that it is tradition, one born out of a patriarchal society, but I still wondered why? Why is it still socially acceptable for women to give up their last name in favor of their spouses? Why not men? I know some men do take on their spouse’s last name, but it is by far an uncommon practice.
While I put a lot of thought into the larger question of name-changing, when it came time for me to decide, I didn’t overthink it. I simply kept my own name. I knew all along that that was what I would do. I’ve found that it does require some explaining, though. I’ve had some funny/awkward moments when people find out I got married and they excitedly exclaim “Oh, Mrs. Smyth!” and I have to politely correct them.
I do want to make one thing clear: I threw out the “P” word (patriarchy) in talking about name-changing, but by no means do I think that women who take their husband’s last name aren’t strong females or standing up for women of feminist or anything like that. I know plenty of amazing strong and independent women who took their husband’s last names. I’ve also known others who kept their own names. It’s just a personal choice that every woman gets to make, and I’m lucky enough to live in a time and a place where we have the autonomy and freedom to make those choices and decide for ourselves.
Alison: My Married Name Honors Where I Came From and Where I’m Going
I met my husband almost 10 years ago, and we seemed to follow an untraditional path. We started living together in our first year of knowing each other, bought a house, got engaged, then married six years later. At each step, everyone under the sun asked about the next step. The day after I got engaged, a co-worked asked if we had a date. The day after our wedding, my parents’ friend asked when we were planning to start a family (that was four years ago!)
One of the biggest changes that came with marriage was changing my name. Derek and I had a long engagement. Because we had been living together for several years, getting married was more symbolic than a step before we merged our lives. I always knew I wanted to change my name. I liked the idea of sharing a name with my spouse. However, when the time came, I wondered if and how my identity would change.
I grew up in a very close family. Most of my mom’s family lives in Cincinnati, so I was lucky to see them regularly and learn about where they came from as I grew up. With my dad being from the Philippines, a lot of his family is still there, and those who left are scattered across the United States and Canada. When I was 24, I went to the Philippines with my dad. We visited both islands where my grandparents were born, and I finally got a true sense of where my dad came from. That trip completed the picture for my family and also gave me a sense of pride about my identity as a Hontanosas. [Read more about Alison’s connection to the Philippines.]
Fast forward four years…with my wedding approaching, I wondered how I could preserve that sense of identity while becoming a Wheeler and starting a new storyline with Derek. I didn’t want to hyphenate my name, so decided to replace my middle name with Hontanosas. I was surprised by the amount of comfort that gave me. It’s just an ‘H.’ or not written at all, but it was a great compromise for me. And in the end, I don’t feel like any less of a Hontanosas by changing my last name to Wheeler. I gained a name and a family history that is now part of my own.
Marisa: Reclaiming My Maiden Name was Reclaiming Myself
When I got married at the unripened age of 21, I was eager to be a grown-up and do grown-up things like buying a condo and getting married and otherwise flying the nest of my family home. I was aware that not taking my husband’s name was an option, but I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to buck the tradition that all the other women in my family had followed. I also bore some pretty painful scar tissue from being bullied and teased about my name all my life. So I was actually a little relieved that I’d never have to hear the same old stupid jokes about it again if I took a married name.
A few years later, I found myself facing the question from the other side: whether or not to keep my married name after divorce. Initially, I thought I would stick with it. Because I got married so young, changing my name the first time felt like a tangible marker of my transition from child to adult. Reverting was like going backwards in time, and I was only interested in moving forward and rebuilding my life. Besides, everyone I worked with, everyone I knew after college, my family, my bank, my doctors, all knew me by my married name. It would have definitely been convenient to keep it. Anyone who’s been through it knows that changing your name everywhere is a huge hassle!
“After my divorce, I fell in love with myself and committed to staying with that version of me for the rest of my life.”
But there’s so much more to a name than paperwork, and before long, I started to change my mind. My ex-husband and I had been together for so long – since we were 14 – that my entire understanding of myself was wrapped up in who I was while I was with him. As I got more distance from him, I discovered myself as an individual. It was a profound and revelatory journey, and above all else, it felt so good. After that, keeping my married name was like wearing the wrong size shoes. It didn’t fit me anymore, and it couldn’t contain my growth. So I reclaimed my original name, first socially/professionally and then legally.
Here was another marker in the road: the moment when I stepped into my authentic self for the first time as an adult. I fell in love with myself and committed to staying with that version of me for the rest of my life. Whether or not I ever remarry, I am hands-down keeping this name. It will always remind me how I learned to “own my strong,” as we say around here, at a pivotal time in my young life. And guess what? Not a single person has teased me about my name. Even if someone did, the little girl who was made fun of has grown up into a strong and fierce woman who would not put up with that ish for one second.