Men: Did you keep your surname when you got married?

Image by the awesome Stuart F Taylor

Do me a favour, yeah? Next time a straight couple tells you they’re getting married, would you mind turning to the gentleman in the pairing and asking him: “So… are you planning to keep your surname?” Go on, I dare you. I double-dare you. Ask him, in a cheery tone, whether he plans to take his wife’s name. Watch his reaction, then pop back here and let me know in the comments how that went.

I have strong feelings about marriage and names, but because I’m not planning on getting married myself, it feels like I’m overstepping if I have these opinions out loud. Why should I care if a woman takes her husband’s name when they’re married? It’s not as if I’m ever going to have to struggle with the obstacles that come in the form of angry families-in-law who want to ‘continue the line’ or sexists making pathetic jokes about ‘who wears the trousers’ if we end up picking my surname instead of his. Because of this, my opinions on surname changes when straight couples get married have languished in my drafts folder for well over a year. When it comes to individual couples, their choices are none of my business, so I do not offer these opinions to the women I love, nor to the men whose surnames have replaced theirs. It would be rude.

And yet… that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion at all. After all, when people ask me why I’m not keen on getting married, the name thing is right up there in my top three reasons for saying ‘I don’t.’

Elsa Pataky and her husband

Yesterday, as I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter far too close to bedtime, I spotted this headline: “Chris Hemsworth Explained Why His Wife Hasn’t Changed Her Name“. In the article, we are told that:

“Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth have been together since 2010, but fans have wondered why, after nearly a decade and three children together, Pataky hasn’t changed her name. Hemsworth shed some light onto the situation during an appearance on Australia’s The Kyle and Jackie O Show on Sunday that it’s just something that didn’t work out because of the family’s travel schedule.”

Why the everloving fuck have ‘fans’ been asking this question? Why do they care? Why is Elsa Pataky expected to justify doing something (i.e. keeping her surname after marriage) that men do every single fucking day without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow?

Sorry to put it in such tediously simple terms, but this is fucked up.

And oh God yes of course, before people pop below the line to angrily smash the word CORONAVIRUS into the comments, I know that this is not the most fucked up thing in the world right now. There are many many more important issues to care about than whether or not a celebrity takes her husband’s name, but I am living in these Weird Times too and I am trembling with relief and pleasure to have something that makes me feel something – anything – that isn’t All That Horror. Besides, when we are eventually allowed out to play again, there may be a fair few weddings. I hope there are, at any rate. When I’m out of here, I will hunger for joy and cake and friends and love and dancing. And if they’re straight weddings, I want to remember this Hemsworth/Pataky thing so I can nudge the lucky groom at some point before the big day and ask him: “Are you planning to keep your surname?”

Please be upstanding for Mr and Mrs Hisname!

At straight weddings, I am the irritating second cousin/sister/niece who waits with bated breath as the couple signs the register, listening out for what – to me – is the most affecting part of the service. When everything’s done and dusted, and the couple have said their vows, as they turn to walk back down the aisle the registrar usually announces:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for… Mr and Mrs Hisname!”

Occasionally I’ve been to straight weddings where they announce ‘Mr Hisname and Mrs Hername’, and it gives me a little burst of joy. Likewise ‘Mr and Mrs Hername!’, which is delightful and refreshing.

This moment in itself is interesting. It is a moment born of individual choice, sure, but it is also influenced by expectation and societal pressure. The choice as to whose name you go by once you’re married is yours, of course, but it is not an apolitical one.

Marriage as a public declaration

When I talk to friends about getting married, there are usually lots of reasons why they’ve chosen marriage specifically rather than a co-habiting partnership. Practical reasons like ‘we have certain rights as a married couple’ mingle with fun reasons like ‘we want to feel more like a team.’ On top of that, I often hear this:

‘We want to make a public declaration of our love/intent to be together/dedication/commitment/etc.’

This is cool, and I get it. I would love to be able to make a public declaration of my commitment to my other half, if only to save relatives from treating him like he’s something temporary just because we haven’t tied the knot. I’d rather not get married, of course, but I’m not ruling it out entirely because I’m a people-pleasing little fucker and my other half might one day decide he wants to. Yes, I am literally willing to publicly declare against my own principles if it would make my dude happy, so I can fully understand where women who take their husband’s name are coming from, even if their reason is just ‘he wants me to do it.’

But if your marriage itself is a public declaration then the choices you make about how you get married are surely public statements too. If your marriage says something important about your relationship, then it’s tricky to see how a name change isn’t a public statement too: it says something. And it will keep saying that something long after everyone’s polished off the wedding cake.

If your marriage is your declaration that you’re a ‘team’, there will be many who interpret ‘Hisname’ as an indication that he’s the team leader. If I were to take my partner’s name, even if I did it only because I hate my surname (which I do), it would be impossible for people to tell that that’s the reason I did it. How does the telesales rep know it when they ask for ‘Mrs Hisname’ on a call? How do my nephews and nieces know, when they hear the registrar announce it as I walk back down the aisle? On an individual level, this may not matter, but on the grand scale I think it does. It matters in the same way all our wedding traditions matter – they send a message that this is the way things are, with the implication that they’re the way things should be. It matters because Chris Hemsworth fans are apparently still asking why Elsa Pataky hasn’t changed her surname.

If you genuinely believe that surnames don’t matter then again, I dare you: ask an engaged straight man if he’s planning on keeping his.

If you love me you’ll do admin

On a practical level, changing names has an impact. Where there are straight couple ‘traditions’, you can usually bet that those traditions will come with a lot of extra unpaid labour for women: everything from doing the housework to remembering social engagements, writing Christmas cards and maintaining relationships (even with HIS friends and family!), household budgeting, childcare, the whole shebang. Same goes with the ‘tradition’ of women taking their husbands name when they marry – she’ll have to contact every official place where her name is on record and jump through administrative hoops to erase her old name and replace it with the new. One more task for the ‘you’re a woman, suck it up’ to-do list.

In the article about Elsa Pataky and her husband, the reason he cited for her not having changed her name ‘yet’ was that they “were living in Europe and deciding where to go. It was a complication of passports and so on.” Damn right it’s complicated. Getting your literal passport changed is a pain in the arse. Add to that bank accounts, driving license, school documentation if you have children, and every other micro-thing that you’ll have forgotten until four months after the wedding… yeah. It’s a lot. Not to mention the fact that if you get divorced she may have to change it all back or even – fun! – keep her ex-husband’s surname long after the split, in order to maintain consistency for any kids that may currently still be in school. My Mum kept her married name on all the school documents, because she didn’t want to repeatedly have to field questions, post-divorce, about why her surname was different from those of her children.

So when straight men want their wives to take their surnames, I agree that it’s a personal choice. It’s not something that I – or anyone outside the couple – should get to decide on their behalf. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. After all, ‘fans’ of Elsa Pataky and her husband have apparently been questioning why she still has her own name, and if people who are aggressively defending patriarchal traditions are allowed to stick their oars in, I think it’s only fair that I get to sever the end of those oars with a chainsaw have my say too.

Men: are you planning to keep your surname?

I know a straight couple who tried to turn things on their head: he was going to take her surname when they married. To them it seemed like a nice way to keep that ‘same name’ tradition while challenging the status quo. Sadly, as is so often the case, the status quo didn’t want to be challenged: his family kicked off. And I mean Kicked Off, with all the capitals and screaming rows and ‘I can’t believe she would try to destroy our lineage!’s implied therein. What seemed to the couple like a neat idea seemed to his family like the end of the world – a terrible slight. A grotesque insult. In the end, this couple decided that the hassle wasn’t worth it, and she took his name instead.

Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly about this. Why I don’t think individual choice can be pried apart from the public message you’re sending if you, as a man, ask your wife to take your surname. Whatever your personal reasons are for doing it, those reasons are rarely ever heard – you don’t get to explain in detail why, to everyone at the wedding and everyone your wife ever speaks to as Mrs Hisname, that you’ve considered the patriarchal implications and made this decision for reasons of teamwork and because your name just rolled more neatly off the tongue. And because you don’t get to explain this to everyone, your personal choice will continue to feed into the idea that this is ‘how it’s done’. Your personal choice is never going to be as apolitical as you want, as long as people keep asking Chris Pataky (sorry, Chris Hemsworth. Oh, did you not take her name Chris? What a brave choice, good on you!) why Elsa Pataky has not changed her name.

You might not care what other people think. You might think your personal choice is what’s important here and all the rest is nitpicking. I get it. And I want to highlight that I’m certainly not telling women what to do with their own fucking names, because then I become as bad as the people who tell you you ‘must’ take someone else’s. Already I am feeling nervous about this post, because I wrote a significant chunk of it well over a year ago, long before this global pandemic hit, when I still cared about stuff other than some tiny virus that’s fucking up all of our lives. I am only publishing it today because – have I mentioned this? – it feels so fucking good to be able to wallow in something different that pisses me off. Something which feels innocent and silly and tiny compared to the horror that’s raging outside. I am slipping into a warm bath of this problem, to temporarily distract my brain from that one. Bliss.

So I’m not going to tell any woman what she should or shouldn’t do with her name. I am not going to tell you that if you’re a feminist, you should consider using your wedding day to tip the scales slightly and demonstrate to younger women that they don’t need to erase their identity when they partner up with a dude. Apart from anything else, it is enraging that those who usually get blamed/questioned over this are women themselves, who may already be exhausted from struggling to try and keep one of the most basic and fundamental things about their identity. By the point at which some twat says ‘are you keeping your name?’ or ‘are you changing your name?’ she may already have dealt with hours of debate on that exact topic, and having yet another one – in which she’s forced into carrying either responsibility for patriarchal traditions, or the quest of smashing those traditions into dust – is yet another huge pile of emotional labour for her to carry. I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes re-editing this post to pull focus onto the husbands who ask their wives to change their names, rather than the wives who agree to do it: blaming women for patriarchal traditions is thoroughly baked in to everything, even my own words and work. Depressing.

I’m not going to tell women what to do. But I do think it’s important to challenge our traditions, and discuss why they can be harmful. That’s why I dare you, right now, to commit to asking the straight guys in your life about marriage and names. When the next straight engagement is announced (and I hope there’ll be many after lockdown) please ask the gentleman if he’s planning on keeping his name. If he brushes it off or tells you names don’t matter, or that it’s ‘only a little thing’ for his fiancée to change hers, or that it’s ‘tradition’ or ‘teamwork’ or any one of a dozen other reasons that are usually cited as ways to diminish the significance of what society’s asking of women… challenge him. Ask whether, if a name change is no big deal, he is willing to do it himself.

Stop asking Chris Hemsworth why his wife won’t take his surname, and instead ask: why not take hers?

 

 

38 Comments

  • Silverdom says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I agree with your POV.

    When Silverdrop and I married, I took her name. There were several reasons…

    She’d gone through the hassle of changing her name back to her family name after she divorced her first husband.

    I was unattached to my name – perhaps because I am adopted and had ‘divorced my Daily Mail-reading ‘family’ years ago – and it just seemed easier, and less hassle for her, if I changed. If I had been more attached to my name, we would each have kept our own.

    Also, I remember clearly thinking “Why the fuck should the woman always have to take the man’s name?” It just seemed wrong to me.

  • Exhibit A says:

    This is really good, and as someone who didn’t seriously consider taking his wife’s name when we got married (on avoidance-of-alliteration grounds, as much as anything), I agree with pretty much all of it.

    If Liv and I could go back and do it all again, would we change anything about how we approached that issue? Maybe…but I doubt it. As a doctor, Liv still uses her maiden name professionally, which I know made taking mine an easier decision to make – and it was 100% her decision – but she’s also written about this very issue on her blog: https://theotherlivvy.com/2017/10/14/im-a-feminist-but/. For me, the more we normalise the idea that other options are available for couples who want them, the better, which is why asking those questions is so important!

    • Girl on the net says:

      Livvy’s post was actually the one which originally sparked me to start drafting something on this – many many moons ago! Then I updated it a little later when something else came up in the news about changing names (this, if you’re interested, which I thought was a really depressing/fascinating insight into the kind of comments people get when they make choices outside of what tradition seems to be happy with: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/aug/20/i-understand-my-wifes-lived-experience-better-meet-the-men-who-have-taken-their-wives-surnames). I emailed Livvy at the time because I wanted to link to her but I didn’t want my post to sound like I was trying to have any kind of opinion on her decision – it sounds like she had more than enough of that on the day itself which is WILDLY RUDE and holy shit I genuinely cringed that her mate kept banging on about it ON THE WEDDING DAY ITSELF. Argh.

      Anyway. I say all this just to acknowledge that yes, I’ve read Livvy’s post and also the one on Scarlet Ladies talking about the feminist implications in more detail. I think she makes some v good points, many of which I agree with even if I wouldn’t make the same choices myself. It’s personal, innit, and as I say in the piece I do not want to question or interrogate women on these decisions any more than I want to cross-examine women in boardrooms to ask why all the other people sitting at the table are men.

      Instead I’m going to ask a question: have *you* written about this? Do you think that there is something worth exploring in the fact that Livvy is the one who has to do the work of publicly discussing and explaining the name change thing? I don’t mean to attack you here, you may well have spoken publicly about this before, and if you haven’t then maybe you just couldn’t think of the right way to address it. But I’d wager that there’s a huge imbalance in what people expect of you versus what they expect of Livvy – in terms of performing feminism and explaining decisions like this. I fully agree that the best option here is to normalise *all* available options, so people can see the different possibilities represented, without pressure to pick a particular one, and in order to do that we need to ask these questions and have these discussions publicly. Thing is, right now, it is mostly women having these discussions. Why is that, and is there anything you can do to address the imbalance?

  • Julie says:

    My son took his wife’s name when they married. However the first I and his dad knew was when he changed his name on Facebook. Well I found out that way but his dad isn’t on facebook so I advised some remedial action. I really don’t care and am very happy they took their decision, I guess they were nervous about reactions. Several of my family asked me about it and I told them that was what they wanted and if they needed more info then to ask him. After all he was 27 at the time.

    As for me. I won’t change my name back because I’ve had this one too long – I was divorced last week. If we get married I will probably take his name. If my son isn’t called this name then no need for me to keep it and no point in going back.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah I’m glad for your son and his wife that they have you there to be supportive and field those questions from family! That’s awesome. I get how things must be tricky with divorces and name changes too – I know lots of people who have grappled with that question, especially when children already have one name or the other. I am glad you’ve found what works for you.

  • Yes I kept my surname and she took mine. I wasn’t attached to my name and would have gladly taken hers but my first name coupled with her surname sounded like a cheap dimwit TV character. Nothing wrong with those names in itself but together… A terrible alliteration. Also my initials would have been PP.. 🙄.

    Legally we could not choose a double name (only the name taking partner can attach his or her “maiden name” to the couple’s surname. So my surname was chosen by the both of us.

    I wish the government would make it easier to change, keep or amend your name whenever you marry or otherwise legally partner up.

    • Girl on the net says:

      “I wish the government would make it easier to change, keep or amend your name whenever you marry or otherwise legally partner up.”

      Totally agree! I would actually like for it to be an open question, when people are registering for marriage – one which is presented as an open choice with a range of possible options, rather than just ‘are you, Ms So-and-so, planning on taking his name?’

      “Legally we could not choose a double name (only the name taking partner can attach his or her “maiden name” to the couple’s surname.”

      That sucks, I’m sorry! And OMG what a ridiculous law! I’m not sure which country you’re from, but here in the UK it is definitely legal for both members of a couple to double-barrel their names. Here’s the relevant page on the deed poll service in case anyone is looking to explore that option:
      https://www.deedpoll.org.uk/a-womans-rights-upon-marriage/#three

      “my first name coupled with her surname sounded like a cheap dimwit TV character. Nothing wrong with those names in itself but together… A terrible alliteration. Also my initials would have been PP”

      As I say in the post, these are personal choices and I’m not going to tell anyone what theirs should be. For me, though, I would find it deeply upsetting if my partner told me he couldn’t take my name for reasons that basically boiled down to ‘it sounds weird’. If I were being asked to erase my identity – that has been with me my *whole life* – and replace it with a new one, jump through huge admin hoops and abandon the label I had carried with me my whole life, but he felt it was appropriate to ask me to do that on the grounds that he didn’t want a particular set of initials… yeah, I’d be absolutely gutted. As I say, though: you are not me, and I am not saying that you can or should make the same choices I would. It’s just I hear ‘it just sounds silly!’ quite a lot during discussions on this issue, often from men who say they would be perfectly happy to take their wife’s name in any other circumstances. I do not tend to hear the same thing from women, because as a general rule – initials, funny surnames, new names which sound like TV characters – women would usually be expected to just suck it up.

  • Prudence says:

    My husband left me for another woman late last year and I’m now left with a surname that feels like a really bad fit. Especially since his family appear to have forgotten that I, his partner of 26 years, even exists. I’m also a ‘Mrs’ still when I’m not really. I definitely have decisions to be made regarding my description and identity. I honestly can’t really explain why I even took his surname in the first place. I’m slightly ashamed that I didn’t question it more closely.

    (On the plus side, I am mostly thriving. I am extremely excited about my future and had just started to have some of the most exciting sex of my life before ‘all of this’ happened. I’m aware this isn’t relevant to my change of surname, I just really like saying it out loud!)

    • Girl on the net says:

      I am so delighted that you’re thriving and that you’re able to take such joy in saying it out loud! I hope that your future continues to be massively exciting! Also, I want to stress that I don’t want to make any individual woman feel shame about her name, or indeed any of these choices. Ideally I don’t want any individual to feel this way at all – it wouldn’t be ‘tradition’ if it didn’t come with a huge amount of pressure to conform, and while it’s massively important to have that discussion I think we can totally examine why our traditions might need to be altered without saying that those who’ve stuck by them until now are bad people. Take care and I hope when ‘all this’ is over you have lots of excitement to get cracking on =)

      • Prudence says:

        Oh, it didn’t come across as shaming whatsoever! I love questioning the norm, I just wish I’d done more of it myself back then. I think this especially as I have a daughter and I encourage her to question *everything*. I guess my own shame comes from letting myself down, but then I’d never judge anyone else for those same choices, so maybe I should be kinder to myself.

        And thank you for your good wishes. Your blog continually proves to be a source of inspiration. I have great plans for the future :D

  • Amber says:

    I absolutely intend to change my last name if I get married to my bf’s last name because it is a bloody FANTASTIC name. However, I also use a first name that is not my legal name. It’s not super expensive to change one’s legal name BUT IIRC in Canada where we live it’s easier and/or cheaper to do it if you are getting married. Which is dumb but there you are. Currently, changing my name or getting married are not on my priority list… But someday.

    Now, if I had a better relationship with my family of origin or if my bf had a worse name, I would not change my name. I fully agree it’s an outdated practice that puts a lot of potential burden on the name-taker. But in my specific circumstance, it works for me… Just not for any of the normal reasons!

  • Janine says:

    Been married for over 30 years so back then it was a given that the woman would take her partner’s last name. I did the hyphenated thing because I just couldn’t give up that part of me. If I could do it over again I would have kept my maiden name and probably not even gotten married. I remember at the time mentioning it to my friends and family that I was thinking of not changing my last name and not one person thought it was a good idea, not even my dad. My partner was okay with the hyphenated name but he wanted his name in there somewhere. Hyphenating was my compromise and even that was looked on as kinda odd. I remember feeling like giving up my last name was like I was supposed to kinda forget about all my wild and crazy single life stuff and now become a settled down married Mrs. Husband’s last name here person. That all that stuff was kinda unimportant and belonged to that other person not this new Mrs. It didn’t happen because I married a wild and crazy guy. Years later I asked my partner why it was important that I take his name, something I should have done back then, but oh well. He couldn’t even remember, probably because it was the norm back then and his family was pretty traditional. He could care less now and told me to change it back if I wanted but honestly the paperwork involved overwhelms me.

  • Lizzie says:

    Our friend emceed our wedding and announced with great gusto ‘Mr. Hisname and Ms. Hername’ to the mildly put out faces of his dad. They address cards to us with his name only which peeves me greatly, and his dad has mentioned that he thinks we should have kids to ‘continue his name’. If anything comes out of my vagina, it gets my last name, thanks. Yes, I did say that to his face. No, we don’t get asked about kids anymore.

    Depending on which of us booked hotels, we check in under each other’s names, but he never even asked me to change my name. He seemed surprised when I started the conversation and then we looked at portmanteaus etc but just decided to be lazy. I know my last name comes from my dad so swapping one male name for another isn’t a big deal, but I like my name and it’s part of me.

    • Golden Hare says:

      Your last name isn’t your dad’s though – it’s yours! It is the same as your dad’s, but you’ve owned it for your whole life, for a couple of decades at least. And even if you do see it that way, why would you swap your dad’s name for that of your father-in-law?

  • Mitsuru says:

    Thanks for publishing this, I most emphatically agree with what you’ve written. I’m not married to my partner but even if we do in future, we’ll each be keeping our own names. If I’d thought about it twenty years ago, I would have changed to my mum’s maiden name, but even though I’m not thrilled about having my father’s name, it’s now too much a part of me to change.

    I’ve also had otherwise reasonable friends say things like “it’s fine if couples each keep their own name, unless they have children because then it gets confusing”. (fwiw our daughter has my last name and the world hasn’t imploded).

    I sometimes think back to a friend who really wanted to keep her own name but compromised to double barrelling it after her husband got upset (he didn’t change his name at all). As you say, it’s everyone’s individual choice to do what they want, but choices are rarely made in a vacuum.

  • Big Spoon says:

    I love your ranty posts and I agree with every word you have written here.

    I don’t think my partner and I will get married but she decided a long time ago that she would never take my surname if we did, which I fully support. If we marry we will probably both keep our own names, although I would consider taking her’s because my surname is quite common and I feel little attachment to it, whereas her’s is extremely unusual. I already took on her “name” on Twitter when I became the Big Spoon to her Lil Spoon.

    The only complication with both partners keeping their own names (which seems to be the easiest and “fairest” solution to me) is that it’s not clear what names any children take. It’s not something that will ever apply to us (see my vasectomy guest post), so I have never given it a lot of thought.

    This topic is also closely linked to that of titles, which is one that bugs me a lot. Men have is easy with Mr, whereas women have to pick between Mrs, Ms and Miss, thereby either broadcasting their marriage or allowing people to make assumptions about them based on their choice of Ms or Miss. I know some languages have rectified this, for example German used to have Frau (Mrs) and Fräulein (Miss) but the latter has been phased out in the last few decades because it was considered condescending.

  • Moondog says:

    I think more couples (especially those who are planning to have kids and want to ‘have the same name so it’s easier’) should come up with a new name, especially if they can do a good portmanteau.

    As a person who doesn’t get behind the idea of marriage personally, I do wonder about whether I should have much of an opinion about it, but in the end, like you, I think we can comment on the tradition itself without criticising individual people’s choices.

  • Llencelyn says:

    I met a neat person many years ago. I would’ve gladly taken her name without a thought.

    On her side of the family, there would have been resistance, I imagine. On my side, there would be snide remarks about who’s wearing the knickers in the family. Joke’s on them though, ‘cuz knickers be sexy.

    I’ve always felt… mild irritation at these issues. Issues that should not be issues. But I guess I should feel flattered if third parties suddenly had so much to gain or lose from my naming choices.

    I understand these things to be old things from old times. But then you start hearing “It’s the way it’s always been.” At that point, i think you’re done justifying a tradition.

    One day, I’m gonna get married. I’ll take her name. She’ll take mine. Time and space will be torn asunder. We’ll live and love dangerously like that.

  • One of my best friends, the hairy one, got married relatively young – that is to say, he’s one of the youngest of my little friendship group, and he got married first. Since then, almost everyone in said group has coupled up, and there have been three more weddings as a result. I wouldn’t be surprised were there not at least two more on the cards.

    My hairy friend, who was once a blogger too, wrote a post called “It’s my name and you can’t have it” (which I’ll totally be jacking for my own blog if I get married), which was a fair and reasoned discourse on marital norms: he wanted to keep his name as a reference to his family (it’s quite a common British name, but not so in America, where he now lives); his wife (who is American) wanted to keep hers, both because of family connection and the ease of it all.

    As you mentioned in your post, jumping through all the hoops of having your name changed on absolutely everything official is nothing short of Herculean. You’re bound to miss at least one thing, and probably something you don’t think about too often – what if it’s your ISA in another bank, or the name you’re registered as under your home insurance, or what you’re known as by the Student Loan Company?

    As a result, my hairy friend and his lovely, smiley wife decided pretty early on that there wouldn’t be any name changes. They got married and remained named exactly as they were (unless you count the “Ms.” to “Mrs.” transition as a name change, which is another discussion entirely!).

    I’ve never really been bothered about my surname. It’s impossible for people who don’t know me to pronounce and seemingly difficult to spell, even though it’s only six letters. My current job, where I’m known by my surname, continuously spells it incorrectly and I’ve been there for a year! I don’t want to have children, and neither does my sister, so we are the last in the bloodline of our family (our cousins have a different surname), and I’m not sorry to let this difficult name die out.

    (Incidentally, my young cousin Rezza has two children, and she and her husband Kezza made up a new surname for them (a portmanteau of their first names), as she didn’t change her name either. When my little niece starts school, this may prove confusing for the staff!)

    But if I get married, I don’t want to change it. I don’t want to jump through those hoops, and like my hairy friend, I don’t want to put whoever I end up marrying to have to do all that as well. I’m perfectly fine with her making whatever choice she makes, as I’m not particularly bothered about it. I’m just of the opinion that not changing anything is – crucially – by far the easiest!

  • Ben Alder says:

    In Spain, a married female partner will keep her ‘maiden’ name.
    In Sweden, it’s not uncommon for the boy to take the girl’s name or for the girl to keep her own name and hyphenate it with her husbands, for example Andersson-Borg
    Finally, I know a couple in the UK who decided that the girl’s maiden name was more interesting than the boy’s family name, so he changed his name to hers.
    I think rigid naming conventions in which the girl ALWAYS has to take the boys name are a Anglo cultural thing and may change as the years roll by now people know that they have a choice in the matter

  • Jul says:

    Haaaaaaaaaaaa this is totally one of my pet peeves, too. My mom was (is) a bra-burning, fist-shaking ’60s feminist, who very reluctantly agreed to give us kids my father’s surname after he convinced her that his father would die of a heart attack if his children didn’t carry on the family name. (Except that all of his grandchildren are women, so presumably we’d all be taking our husbands’ names anyway.) I know a bunch of people who have come up with creative alternatives to the Mr. and Mrs. Jones bit.

    One couple got married after 10 years and 2 kids together. They and the kids all changed their last names to that of the husband’s stepfather, who’d been a strong and loving parental figure to both of them. One man took his wife’s last name because he’s never felt connected to his family of origin. One couple kept their own last names, but changed their first names to Moonlight and Morning Star. My sister gave birth to a son, who has her wife’s last name. Her wife gave birth to a girl, who has my sister’s last name.

    • Phillip says:

      While I think I can smell the melting Playtex, the truth is that no bras were harmed in that media event. There was a dumpster provided. What a wonderful change it was!

      This happened on the tail end of an event that went unmentioned, but not unnoticed. Girls….young girls. They wore girdles. It was bizarre. It was almost (to the paranoid) as though they were armored.

  • Katie says:

    My college ex was trying to coax me into marriage and one of the lines he tried was that he thought my first name would sound good with his last name. I immediately told him I thought his first name would sound good with my last name. He stared at me and said, “Why would I change my name?” I said, “Why would I change mine?” Somehow we didn’t work out.

  • Phillip says:

    My wife and I got a lot of blowback over just keeping our names as is. Quite a number of people just went on to the point of real rudeness. It was a simple thing that seemed not so much, but some thought not.

    My parents were VERY unhappy that my wife was going to continue to use her ‘own name’. I got mad and told them that there was a solution. The first three letters of her last name and the last three letters of mine AND my parent’s last name would make a NEW name….BURTON. They didn’t say any more. I still feel bad that it got so ugly. Would we have done it? YES. I’m glad it stopped short of happening.

    Getting married was a chance to make a legal change by writing it on a form for the Driver’s License or Social Security or Immigration. I was told at the time, that as long as I didn’t intend to defraud, that I could call myself what I wanted. I don’t know if this is 100% true. I do know that you can’t change your name to a number.

  • Nix says:

    When we married, it never occurred to me that my wife should take my name – mostly due to the complications of changing names, but I also didn’t feel the need to brand her. For the same reason changing my name was also not considered – and I’m quite attached to my name anyway. I don’t remember anyone questioning our decision – or even being surprised. Of course, we’ve been using our names for over 30 years and had a few accomplishments to our names, so it made sense to keep them. On the other hand I definitely wanted my name for our kids. My family name is rare in my country, could have actually die out. My wife’s family name is also quite rare, but she has brothers and cousins, so they can keep the name alive :-) The hyphenated combination would have a terrible alliteration, so that’s totally off the table.

  • Jay says:

    Let’s not get started on double-barrelling..

    I do know a couple who each already had double barrelled surnames and were seriously, and I mean seriously, considering retaining all of them. I mean, it’d take a week for them to sign their names….

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    This is clearly a topic that people love to rant about (understandably so!).

    I saw it come up in a Facebook post the other day. A friend of mine noted that she kept her own surname, she didn’t even think of taking her husband’s (she’s actually Dr or Professor Surname, which makes the case for keeping it even stronger). She noted that anyone who thinks she would take his name really doesn’t know her; if she receives emails addresses to ‘Firstname Husband’sname’ or ‘Mrs Husband’sname’, she knows which ones to ignore.

  • Phillip says:

    It is hard for me to grasp the difficult and convoluted nature of the happy occasion of marriage being twisted up with the difficulties of what names to use. I grew up in Northern Idaho which is a very conservative part of the most conservative State in the United States. The United States are anything but united! Just to keep using our own names really opened my eyes to many issues. Religion, mysogyny and other mean spirited weirdness. “BECAUSE I DON’T OWN MY WIFE”. I said it so many times. I don’t live there anymore. When I was eighteen (my father was worried about liability for my actions) I left. I took a hundred dollars and a few clothes and down the road I went.

    GOTN always leaves me with something to ponder. No matter what no matter how, I profit by introspection.

  • Bex says:

    I love this post – thanks GOTN! I got married last year and when REPEATEDLY asked why I wasn’t changing my name my answer was simply ‘It’s a lot of work for something I don’t want to do’. I’ve been gradually changing accounts from Miss to Ms for years so had nothing admin wise to do at all.

    When we attended our first wedding together, my now husband took it for granted that I would take his name if we got married, and that I’d be given away. A decade of feminist rantings and questions like ‘would you be happy with your mum standing up in front of all your family and friends to give hwr permission for you to marry me?’ allowed him to reasses his thinking. Or I should say do some thinking – previously he hadn’t consider the history or these traditions and why someone might object. Anyway, the morning after he officially proposed, before we had told anyone, I said ‘you know I won’t be changing my name’ he said ‘of course! I wouldn’t want you too’.

    It’s not been entirely plain sailing. My father in law was put out by the name thing and my not been given away (my dad had to calm him down). Even at the wedding someone said, ‘but obviously legally you are still Mrs Hisname’- nope! I just refuse to answer any post addressed to Mrs Hisname, that isn’t me. It is difficult to talk about without seeming to judge others choices however I feel I have had a gentle influence as more than one person said they wished they had made deliberate choices when they got married, and my aunty in her 70s has double barrelled her name on Facebook, 50+ years after changing her name!

  • RCJ says:

    Marriage is a merger, not a takeover. I tried my first husband’s surname for a few months because I was young and that’s what was expected I suppose. It felt wrong whenever people used it, I thought of his mum, it just wasn’t me! So I reverted back to my maiden name and to be honest I think my husband was kind of proud that his wife wasn’t following ‘the norm’ (this was 25 years ago). He reckons he considered changing his name, but it didn’t happen, I guess he was fairly attached to his own. Yes, exactly! Our kids have recently made noises about changing their names to include my surname too, which I was pleasantly surprised to hear. My name finishes with me otherwise, but what they decide to do is their choice.

    I was remarried a year ago and changing my name was never a consideration. There are 3 surnames in our household now which some people find confusing, but so be it. I am who I am, I was given my name on the day I was born and I’ll die with it, it’s mine, it’s me.

    Over the years I’ve done some research into my family history, following the women’s sides. I come from a line of really strong women and it seems a shame that their family names simply disappear as soon as they married.

  • Roark says:

    I took my wife’s last name when we got married. I was using (and still do) a pseudonym anyway as my last name, and she thought it was a fun idea for me to be legally under her name. People like my father hate it. The woman who was issuing my new driving license at the DMV called me a sweetheart and called some of her co-workers over to meet the guy who took his wife’s name. Two couples who got married after me in my friend group created brand new last names for themselves (partially inspired by my unconventional move).

    I lost my shit over the name thing one time, when we got a wedding invite to my wife’s cousin’s wedding in Mississippi. The envelope was addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Roark ____. I’m like “it’s not even my original name, and I’m not the relation here.”

    • LMW says:

      For reasons I wasn’t attached to mine so wanted to change but also wanted to retain an identity that was meaningful to me. I went from dad’s second name to husband name-mum’s second name. I don’t regret it at all, my husband didn’t even try to get involved in the decision and if I hadn’t changed at all he would have been fine. The most annoying parts were having to do the change via deed poll, as it wasn’t a typical marriage change style and then trying to get it updated everywhere. I also prefer to use Ms given the choice!

  • Roxythromycine says:

    When I (male) was about to change my surname due to happy wedding reasons, this was not a big issure among my friends, my work or my family. Except of my father. Anyway, I had a good talk with one of my best friends – he’s a very traditional person with a very traditional mindset, but just said “why, it’s 2009, this should not be an issue these days”.
    I like the sound of my not-so-new surname, it provides clear communication on the telephone, and all in all it’s just a surname ;)

  • Clair says:

    When my partner and I got married we created a new name for each other, merging both our surnames together. His mother was furious, saying that it meant that if we ever had children they wouldn’t really be part of the family. I never forgave her for that.

  • Alice says:

    Even on my wedding day I was trying to figure out if I was keeping my name or taking his. I thought you had to sign the register with your new name (that’s what everyone was telling me). Both of us were in the position that there were no children continuing the name line, which registers as a thought, but bot much more.
    Initially I double barrelled mine, but only changed it in theory with the bank. It was easy to do but ridiculously hard to undo. I’ve had to go back to being a Miss in order to reclaim my name. I didn’t like it double barrelled, husband didn’t care one way or the other about my surname, so I changed back to my maiden name. I probably appear like a harlot on joint docs, as Mrs X & Mr Y, but if it makes people wonder then I’ve added a little intrigue to their day (however boring it really is!).
    My FiL and my sister are the only ones who refer to me as Mrs Y, the first because I think he wants me to be part of the “family”, but I remind him every time that I’m an X, not a Y. And my sister does it to save writing a second name on an envelope.
    If we have kids.. who knows. Maybe they’ll be X, Y, XY or some combination.
    I think my other thought is that regardless of who takes whose name (when you both have the same name), only those who know you will know which way around you’ve done it. Everyone else will assume she has taken his. By keeping different names the point is fairly clear. Each to their own is the most important thing though. :)

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