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Married or Maiden Name - Behind the Last Name (Change)

Struggling with the notion of taking his last name or keeping your own? Read on for insight into solving the potential identity crisis…

Call it the precursor to the “Mommy Wars,” the name change debate can be just as ruthless, just as grievous, and that seemingly perfect solution, just as elusive. Granted, for many women, the name game is a non-issue. In fact, The Lucy Stone League, an organization named after a woman who refused to take her husband’s name when she married in 1855, estimates about 90 percent of women marrying today will drop their own name to take their husband’s. So is the great debate merely a grand illusion leftover from bra-burning second-wave feminists of the 1970s?

Hardly. Because while most women say, “I do” to taking their husband’s last name, a great many of them struggle with the concept and the decision. A quick glance at some online forums dedicated to the topic affirmed that this is still a hot-button issue – with judgment, perceived or actual, running rampant on both sides of the proverbial fence.

Even those brides who didn’t agonize over the decision are painfully aware of potential ramifications of their married name and judgments the other camp may inflict; “Oh… You took his last name? Well, isn’t that so 1950s house-wifey of you!” And the condemnation is by no means exclusive to one side: From the other side, you may hear, “So you hyphenated your last name? Are you that insecure that you feel the need to assert your independence with every penned signature?” and so on and so forth.  The judgment of women by fellow women seems to begin with the name change and continues through to the next hot-button issue: whether or not to work outside the home. And we all know that no one is going to solve these issues any time soon.

Thus, it’s understandable that many engaged women struggle with the notion of the impending name change. If you are one of those women who can’t seem to find that easy answer – that perfect solution – relax in knowing that you’re not the first women to wrestle with the concept, and you most certainly won’t be the last.

Reasons Women Resist

Changing your name is never easy; you must get a new driver’s license, passport, and credit cards. Then slowly you change subscriptions, membership cards, address books… The process is inconvenient and time consuming, but this doesn’t even factor how long it takes psychologically to accept a new married name as your true identity. The root of the dissonance lies deeper.

  • Identity – Let’s face it: The thought of changing the name that’s stamped on your birth certificate can seem like a door slamming shut on the woman that was. For many women this is a tough psychological transition to accept.
  • Cultural Significance – Some women, particularly from strong ethnic backgrounds, consider their maiden names a testament to a proud cultural background strongly tied to their character. Any other name would be an inaccurate depiction of their cultural identity. A woman of Asian descent, for example, may find it absurd to transform suddenly into a “Smith” or a “Jones.”
  • Family History – A rich and storied family background may have bore a woman a name wrought with historical meaning – signifying generations of ancestors who overcame countless obstacles to flourish in a new world. She may have a strong personal connection to such a name that she’s not quite ready to shake.
  • Professional Consideration – For women who have literally built names for themselves professionally, they may find a name change too difficult or too costly for their careers.
  • Lineage – Many women feel a strong urge to ensure their family name lives on. Perhaps you are the last in your generation who can pass down the family moniker and don’t want to be the cause of a dying breed.
  • Aesthetics – Yes, we all laughed at “Julia Gulia,” but many women do face the prospect of marrying into a name that either sounds ridiculous with their first name (a number of jokes come to mind), or a name that is extremely difficult to pronounce or spell. If you’ve been a “Jones” all of your life, going to a five-syllable name may prove a tough transition.
  • Societal Implications – For some, the tradition of the woman changing her name upon marriage seems patriarchal and signifies a change in “ownership” from father to husband. You may ask why society still practices such a symbolically oppressive tradition in these supposedly modern times.

Options Galore

Just like the number of potential personal reasons behind the internal struggle, the range of naming options varies. Before making a hasty decision, realize that there a number of ways you can go in finding a name that fits.

  • Maiden in the Middle – Take his name, but replace your middle name with your maiden name. You can still have both names without the often-awkward hyphen.
  • Implications – This is a great way to honor both your maiden name and your hubby’s. You will still have to go through the process of changing your name, however, and if you feel this solution does not properly address the societal implications of female ownership, this option may not work for you. You may also really like your middle name and hesitate to lose it.
  • Pass it On – Take his name, and give your maiden name to one of your children, either as a first or middle name.
  • Implications – This is another good way to pay homage to your maiden name and ensure that it survives at least one more generation. Again, if you have concerns with the idea of changing your last name at all, this may not be the solution for you.
  • A Night and Day Difference – Keep your maiden name professionally and his name socially. You can go ahead and officially change your name, while keeping your maiden name at work and in professional circles (many celebrities do this).
  • – Implications – This option seems like a good compromise, but realize that many people will get confused, especially if a lot of your social network is comprised of professional acquaintances and vice versa.
  • Have it All – Add his name to the end of yours, essentially creating two middle names for yourself. You don’t always have to go by all four, and you will both have the same last name without the confusing hyphen.
  • Implications – You will still essentially have his last name; if this is a problem for you, this may not be a solution. You may also find that your maiden name gets lost among the four names over time.
  • Call in the Hyphen – Use a hyphen to link your last name with your husband’s.
  • Implications – This option lets you have the best of both worlds, but can be tough on the tongue and even the ear. Of course, there is also the whole conundrum: Mrs. Long-Smith marries Mr. Tom-Jones, and they have a son named Mr. Tom-Jones-Long-Smith. Because of this, many perceive the hyphen as merely a one-generation solution. Also, consider the fact that your immediate family will all have different last names. There is something very unifying about introducing the bunch as “The Anderson Family.”
  • Get Creative – Create a new name, either hyphenated or a new name altogether that you both share.
  • Implications – The epitome of fairness and compromise, this option solves the problem of multiple last names for the same family; however, if you were originally hesitant to give up your identity to take his last name, taking on a completely random identity with no ties to either of you may seem senseless.
  • His and Hers – Keep your name; both of you will have different last names entirely
  • Implications – By keeping your name as is, you can forego the whole name-change process. You stay you; he stays himself. Amazingly enough in these seemingly modern times, however, having a different last name from your husband can cause confusion. What will you name your children? And regardless of how many people you inform that you have kept your maiden name, some will still refer to you as Mrs. Husbandslastname. You will need to be prepared to handle this gracefully when correcting people.
  • Go Mod. – Keep your name, and he takes your name.
  • – Implications – Well, why not?? Women have been doing it for centuries, so it’s about time the tables turned. But even in these modern times, the idea of a man taking his wife’s last name can seem outrageously “out there” to some. He may face some ridicule from his friends, and his family may or may not be supportive of the idea. And if you are insistent that your taking his last name is oppressive, why is it any less oppressive for him to have to take yours?
  • Go Traditional – Take his name, and join the ranks of 90% of women getting married today.
  • – Implications – Convenience-wise, taking his name will make your life easier (you won’t have to explain to countless strangers that yes, you really are married, and yes, little Tom and Jane really are your children). Deep down, many women see doing so as an act of love and commitment, not something to be judged in terms of gender politics. If being perceived as old-fashioned and dependent are what’s stopping you, assert your independence and ignore it. Instead, consider taking your husband’s name a sign of entering new stage in life, for there aren’t too many instances when it’s perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to shed your old skin and embrace a fresh new beginning. Of course, if letting go of your maiden name just doesn’t feel quite right for you, don’t fight it for tradition’s sake (see above for possible alternative solutions!).

Keep in Mind

Regardless of the name you choose, invite your future husband into your internal dialogue. If the decision is troublesome for you, alert him from the beginning and discuss with him your reasons for debating the name change. The final decision should be one that is comfortable for both of you – and to heck with the rest of them!

And just what can we take away from the sea of perplexities and countless naming options? It’s important to realize that a woman’s identity is not ultimately tied to her last name. Many women who take their husband’s last name are far from traditionalists. Likewise, not every woman who keeps her maiden name – or some combination of both – possesses the feminist fire of a Lucy Stone. So yes, pondering whether to change our last names often involves an internal struggle, but we women should delight in knowing that our true character is more complex than a name. If the perfect solution proves elusive, rest assured that regardless of the name you take, you will always be yourself – in all your mannerisms, quirks, and idiosyncrasies that make you uniquely you. Cheers to you!