His Name May (or May Not) Be My Name, Too

grace-kelly-wedding-dress_largeMy name is Grace O’Kelly.

Actually, it’s not. My name is something completely different, which I subbed for an homage to my favorite actress, because this blog gets very, very personal and my Great Aunt Gert doesn’t need to know about my sex life. I also have two separate pen names for my fiction forays, adult and YA, that were vetted by my agent for maximum shelf allure. As someone who plays fast and loose with her virtual identity, I shouldn’t have a particular attachment to my actual name.

Except, of course, I do. For twenty-seven years, I’ve responded to it and signed it and, all too often, winced when people sang the nursery rhymes featuring it. Despite that time in fifth grade, when I tried to change it to Josephine Applesauce, I quite like my full appellation. It flows well, has a good syllable ratio, and fits me. Which is a bit of sticky wicket, since I’m now expected to change it.

Part of the trouble with never planning to marry is that I’m constantly blindsided by societal expectations I’ve not fully processed. Take the marital name change. People, it turns out, totally expect me to take Professor McGregor’s last name, without any deliberation at all. You’re getting married, they remind me, it’s what wives do! That’s nice and all, but it was never something I expected to do. If I eventually found a chap I liked enough to marry, I’d keep my last name, no big deal. This is 2013! Women do it all the time!

Only, they don’t. 90% of women in America still take their husband’s last name. Even more staggering, 10% of Americans believe a woman lacks commitment to the marriage, if she decides not to change. No offense, my dear countrymen, but that’s fucked up. If anything, it shows a decided presence of commitment not to chuck the name you’ve had all your life, because some dude puts a ring on it. It was one thing when marriage meant going from a father’s protection to a husband’s, but those days have long since past. Thank heavens! We have choices and options. We go to school, we holds jobs, we lead countries. Yet, still we keep this convention, this most basic indicator that we are not equals in marriage or life?

It’s more complicated than that, unfortunately. The choice is not so cut and dried, as my feminist core insists. If you and yours plan on having children, what will they go by? When people unthinkingly address checks to Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, will the bank give you a hard time about it? (Fun fact: Yes, they will!) Is your current last name really yours at all, or just your father’s name anyway? People you love—not just the general public, but friends, neighbors, in-laws—may doubt the strength of your union, because of the choice you make. Worse, your future husband may have strong feelings about you taking his name. To him, maybe it’s not a symbol of the patriarchy at all, but a symbol of family. Hell, you could be like Mae—a hardcore feminist with the world’s hardest to pronounce last name, who became Mrs. Thoughtful so she could stop correcting the pronunciation of every pizza boy. Often, the marital name change makes life easier.

So, what will it be, Grace? My friends are already calling me by my assumed marital name—my real first name rhymes perfectly with the professor’s real surname, so it’s great fun for everyone—and I roll my eyes. I know I won’t take only his last name, both for feminist reasons and not wanting to sound like a nursery rhyme, but should I hyphenate? We do eventually want children, so that would be the easiest thing, as teachers/parole officers will automatically call me Mrs. McGregor anyway. Hyphenation would allow my name to have a presence. The professor doesn’t care if I change or not, but he’s also not too keen on hyphenating his own last name, so is that punctuation mark giving up feminist ground?

gracekelly07I don’t know. And, quite frankly, it angers my intestinal villi that I even have to ponder this. It’s complicated to change my name, but just as hard to keep it the same. I keep coming back to the fact that men aren’t expected to do this. People look askance at a guy, if he even considers taking his wife’s last name, calling it unmanly or unnatural. That doesn’t sound so equal, kittens. If this basic issue is anything to go by, maybe we haven’t come so far, after all…

– Grace

56 thoughts on “His Name May (or May Not) Be My Name, Too

  1. I always tell my boyfriend this, that whichever name is superior is the one that both people should have, it shouldn’t matter if its the husband’s or the wife’s. Let’s just be smart about this.

    • That’s such a great way to look at it, Katie! It keeps the couple identified as a family, but takes the inherent gender issues out of it. Brilliant!

  2. I took my husbands name. I was clouded in a fog of naivete all those years ago and even though I love Mr. Muse with all my heart and he makes me laugh, I’m still irked that society is so caught up in a name. There was nothing wrong with MY name, it was mine (possession is 9/10s of the law afterall) and yet, I’m the one who had to “forget” it so I could start telling people to call me something else. Taking HIS name was “what you do when you get married”. Pshaw.

    Now, instead of correcting how people spell and pronounce my maiden name, I correct how they spell and pronounce my married name. On that “book of faces” I list my maiden and married names. It felt strange at first, and then I looked at it and thought, “That’s ME.” It fits. I’ve always be defensive over keeping my identity, thoughtless comments referring to me marrying Mr. Muse were met with HIM marrying ME. Friends who commented that “well, you two ‘became one’ when you got married” were countered with “no, I got married – I didn’t lose myself in this deal.”

    In hindsight, my personality is probably better suited to living in sin than being married, though I seem to have adjusted well… Mr. Muse and I have been together 17 years, almost 14 of those married.

    It’s a pain in the ass to change your name. Every government form on the planet has to be changed. You’ll forever be marking in that box “Maiden Name”, the name by which you were once known. A friend had married, changed her name, divorced and then changed her name BACK, saying if she ever married again she was keeping her name and not going through “losing herself” again. I guess I’ll find out if that still holds true – she’s recently become engaged.

    Whatever you decide, make it a decision you can live with.

    • Muse, thank you so much for the great insight! The whole idea of this being “what you do when you get married” is what sets me off every time. We’re expected to not question it whatsoever and so, so many women I know haven’t had a single qualm or regret about losing their maiden name. It makes me think of the old parental question “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” People just keep saying yes to this bridge, with no other thought.

  3. Like you say, the vast majority of women do change their name when they get married. So why is it so awkward to administer the change of name on paperwork? The look I got at some places when I asked how to go about changing my name would not have been out of place if I had asked “Please can you re-register me as a non-human life-form?”

    • SUCH a good point, Sparrowgrass. Mae is going through this right now and it’s appaling. For something we’re expected to do by society, why not make the process super easy? For the men I know who have changed their names with their wives, it was even worse. Damn bureaucracy.

  4. I’m getting married next year, and since I’ve always been pretty traditional, I never thought I’d have such a tough time giving up my last name. I mean, I have a brother and about 20 cousins, so it’s not like The Ancient Family Name depends on me for survival. But then, I tried saying my first name with his last name and it just sounds WEIRD. Bah! I don’t know what I’m going to do….

    Thank you for a great read, and helping me realize that there are lots of ladies out there who are also struggling with this issue.

    • E., good luck on your decision! Despite what society tells us, it’s definitely something that takes some deliberation, no matter what you end up choosing. Despite what Shakespeare may have said, there really is something in a name.

  5. If you don’t want to, don’t. And make it known that you won’t so that people don’t write you those cheques. (PS that “and” in your hypothetical cheque is just as problematic unless you have a joint account.) I didn’t change my name. No one cared. Actually, I had a lot of married women tell me they wish they hadn’t changed theirs, but hadn’t realized that not doing so was an option. Divorced women feel this way times 3.

    From a practical stand-point, it’s a pain in the ass, as well.

    As for kids, flip a coin as to whose name they get. Or I’m quite fond of the Scandinavian (I think) method of giving girls the mother’s name and boys the father’s name. Or just hyphenate them, if you like.

    • Stephanie, I absolutely LOVE the idea of the Scandinavian method. It’s just so damned practical. Thank you for the suggestion! Also, quite frankly, it’s a relief to know someone who didn’t change her name. Almost every married Facebook friend I have switched over.

      • Facebook was one of the big things that made me give it thought, to be honest. Girls I didn’t know were trying to friend me and it took me a while to realize I did know them. I didn’t like the idea of losing touch with people because they didn’t know my name anymore.

  6. When I got married, I had this argument running in my mind constantly. Weeks before we headed to the courthouse and signed the paperwork, I was on the phone with every married woman I know and respect, asking them about this very thing. I was so afraid of losing my identity, of no longer being who I was/am/will be. I didn’t want to change my name because I’m a feminist, but then I thought it was kind of silly that such a thing would even matter to me, and then I would think ‘but my initials would be pretty cool if I changed…’

    You know when I finally decided? When I signed the marriage license. I stopped thinking and just signed whatever came out. I ended up with both names. And I realized that the name change actually means next to nothing to me now. It makes it easier for insurance and the like, but at the end of the day, most people just call me by my first name anyway. And I’m still who I was before…just as complicated and indecisive as ever.

    • Thank you so, so much for the insight, Polymath. It’s so reassuring to know I’m not the only one in turmoil over this. In the end, I think I’ll probably also take both names, whether it’s when we get married or if we have children.

  7. It is a huge dilemma! I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do yet. Ideally, I think that when you get married you should mesh the two last names to form a new one, then both partners get a new name (equality!). It does mess with that whole “carrying on the family name” issue, though.

    • I absolutely love the idea of merging two names! I actually had a pair of friends who, when they were dating, always said they would choose a new last name and both just take that. There’s something to be said for starting from scratch.

  8. oh, it’s a pain in the butt to change a name. I’ve been married for 6 months and haven’t talked to everyone I need to yet. Mostly cause I don’t know who all those people are!
    I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll just need to carry my marriage license around with me everywhere I go in case of confusion.

  9. I like the tradition of taking the name of the guy, so for me, when my boyfriend and I plunge into that monogamy extravaganza, I’ll happily take on his name and make my initials EEL, which is hilarious and so worth it. But ladies do have an option and I think it’s great if women keep their name, if the men take on a lady’s name, or if both parties decide to merge them into one super surname. Stigma for sure for the guys, but this too shall pass–maybe.

    As far as kids are concerned when one keeps their name, I think it’s only fair to hyphenate both people into it in alphabetical order, representing both sides. Skip the middle name, maybe, and just let the kid have that long-winded last name. Or don’t procreate and, therefore, resolve the issue on its own. Kids are smelly and sticky anyway…and very needy. 😉

    • Ha! Excellent points all around, mermaid. People should get a choice, no matter their gender, and kids are so, so smelly!

      Also, I’m more than a little jealous of your forthcoming initials.

  10. I didn’t change my name. My full name is 2 syllables – 6 letters so easy peasy to write and say. I wanted to keep my name despite growing up being picked on over it. It’s Chinese tradition to keep your maiden name too so I stuck with it. My husband didn’t mind too and even asked if i wanted him to change his name but that’s his identity and I didn’t want that. A lot of my friends expected me to change my name, they were very pleased that I didn’t and have taken up to calling my husband by my name! I think the trickier one for me is what to call our kids. It’s probably going to be the husbands name and I don’t mind really but some days I’d like them to have some connection to me. But I don’t like the idea of hyphenating. These decisions will be a long way away yet I hope!

    • Thanks so much for the great comment, Janey! I love that it’s a Chinese tradition to also keep your maiden name. That’s how it is in a lot of South American cultures as well, which I’ve always appreciated. Keeping a link to your family just seems so vital, no matter what gender you are.

  11. My mum kept her maiden name, and as a girl/woman, it actually makes me kind of proud. It was important to her to keep the name she’d always had and my dad was fine with it. She didn’t mean it to at all, but it does send a certain positive message to me about the kind of woman I want to be. No one seems to find it strange; just annoying with mail and banks, as mentioned above.

    The main issue really is that I’ve only got my dad’s name and when I was a kid it always made things slightly more complicated (just have to carry more documents around). It never bothered me that we didn’t have the same name though.

    So my advice is: do what you feel is right for you – it’s not crucial, but it does tell a little bit about who you are (I think) – especially if you feel so strongly about it, as you seem to.
    And mainly, if you stick with your own, please PLEASE, for your kids’ sake, give them both names. It’ll make their life (and yours) so much easier.

    • Thank you so much for such an insightful comment! I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the children’s points of view in the various naming situation, so your story was so helpful. If we have children, they will be hyphenated, or have two last names, no question. Thank you!

      • Glad I could help!
        It got me thinking and I asked my parents why I didn’t get both names – apparently you couldn’t actually do that at the time… Things are changing, which is good.

        PS: Your blog is always so entertaining and engaging, thanks for your great posts!
        And I wish lots of happiness to you and the Professor – whatever name you may choose in the end!

  12. I have an aunt and two cousins that kept their names, everybody is happy. When I divorced my ex I went back to my maiden name and only occasionally in elementary school the issue came up. I don’t regret it for a second and it never bothered my kids. You have to do what is right for you and don’t worry about what other people think. Sometimes easier said than done, I know…good luck with whatever you decide!

  13. I’ve always thought, in my hard-headed way, that I would like a man to take my (awesome) last name someday. More recently, I’ve been thinking a hybrid of both our names would be great – blending families, blending names, and all that. Then I discovered that in many states, while marriage is a legally acceptable reason for a woman to change her name, it is not necessarily so for a man. In fact, in some states, men have to petition and go to court for such change when a woman would not have to undergo the same process! Ridiculous!

    • S, I recently discovered the same thing! Even in states where it is legal, men have to jump through so many hoops to take their partner’s last name. It’s absolutely ridiculous. The process needs to be legal and easy for everyone who choose to go through with it, no matter their gender.

  14. I didnt think it was going to be this complicated, but maybe I’ll have to rethink this. I have been part of the “Whats in a Name?” camp for a while. Meaning- my name means nothing. Get to know me as a person and decide there for yourself. The same goes for me- whether I’m RB or RL, I KNOW who I am and thats not gonna change.

    Are my glasses rosy-colored or can it be that simple?

  15. I’m not changing my name, and my beau knows it. I asked him if he would be willing to change his name for me – and he said no without even thinking about it. So I asked him – how can he expect me to do the same? Thankfully, my fella is a logical thinker, and he accepted this calmly. On the quandry of children – we decided it was fair that my lineage (girl babies) would have my last name, and his lineage (boy babies) would have his last name. If we have two girls, then I’ll be gracious and he can have last-naming rights over her.
    Overall, I’m really quite pleased with our arrangement 🙂

  16. I didn’t change my name when I got married…It never really occurred to me that I should. This is who I was for decades—I part of me felt like changing it would cause a strange break with my past self. I worked hard to get here, so I kept the last name I came with. That being said we moved to a very traditional town and most people assume we aren’t married. When I confirm that we are married, they pull out the whole “but you have different last names” thing. That gets a bit old.

    • Jred, I could see that getting exceptionally tiring, but I’m so glad that you stuck it out. People keep acting like I’m crazy for considering this, so it’s quite reassuring to hear stories of women who kept their names and don’t care about the naysayers.

  17. I happily changed my name when we got married last summer. I guess I had always looked forward to it for tradition sake, and was pretty excited to get a last name from an awesome guy that had an accent in his name 🙂

  18. I’m grateful that I have male cousins, because I’ve been attached to my name for more sentimental reasons. It seems sad to me that a family name can just disappear, at the hands of one marriage. Since the “legacy” will live on with my cousins’ families, I’d be happy to think about changing my name. Unless it’s a really crappy one. Then I’ll just keep mine, thanks.

    PS: I can only deduce from this post that your real name is Mary, and that your future husband is Mr Berry. 😉

    • Zozette, you caught me! Your memory for our posts is super impressive. We shall try to keep it on the down low, but my real name is, in fact, Mary. The dear professor’s last name isn’t Berry, but it’s perilously close. Mae and Kate have had a ton of fun spreading the rumor that, when he proposed, he got down on one knee and said:

      Mary, will you marry me and make me a very merry Dr. _erry?

      I’m glad he didn’t, because I probably would have laughed too much to say yes.

      • Oh oh oh! I couldn’t possibly unmask you Miss Grace. I really thought I would be way off mark. My lips are sealed. (Though this comment is not as inconspicuous as I would like.) :l

  19. I see where your coming from. I’m South African & we have 11 different cultures but when a woman marries her man she has to take his last name. Its unegotiable really. I think people are so hell bent on it because nobody’s ever thought of doing things differently.

    • Namhlasm, thank you so much for your comment! I’ve wondered how this differed from country to country. Overwhelmingly, it seems that rather unfortunately it’s the unexamined norm for most of us. Hopefully that will start to change, the world over.

  20. I’ve been married for 5 years now and kept my name. Not a hyphen in sight. We have a son now and I opted to not hyphen his name either. My son has his father’s last name. My husband has never doubted my commitment to him and has never really cared about the name thing. To my mind… names are part of the identity process. As such, why should I give that up?

  21. I always thought I would want to be traditional and take a man’s last name, but the more I think about it, the more attached I am to my own name. It’s so common as to make me virtually un-Googleable and I’ve had the name now into my mid thirties. What if I marry someone who has a last name that I can barely pronounce, or that is strongly ethnic? Will that confuse people?

    Food for thought. Maybe I’ll just never get married. Problem solved!

    • Ungooglio, can I just say how jealous I am of your ungooglibility? My last name isn’t super common so, while there are a few other versions of me, my online presence is overridingly the one that appears in Google. Anonymity would be lovely some days.

  22. Oh My God! Thank you for this post. Took every combat out my mind. People get on my nerves with that societal stuff. I don’t care what people think. It’s my name and I’m the one who has to live with it. I’d rather get my lastname hyphenated. It’s not like my future husband would even consider changing his lastname on my behalf. People are just so typical and old school…. Get it together peoples. This is the 20th century… and We women lived our whole lives with the lastnames we have and love… I like my lastname… honey, you can change yours or hyphenate mines…. :p


  23. We did everything backwards – kids and then marriage. Well. Um. I was nervous about marriage. In the end I did take my husbands last name because my kids have it. I’m not sure if we did it the other way marriage first and then kids would I have taken his last name.

  24. Pingback: His Name May (or May Not) Be My Name, Too | Life on the Margins

  25. Pingback: When a Writer Gets Married: On Name Changes | Cait Spivey

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