I read an interesting article today about men changing their last names after getting married and it has inspired me to blog. The idea of changing my name when/if I get married is something I ponder every now and again and I would like to share that ponder-process with you.
To start: a little story from when I was 16 or so. My boyfriend and I were both in the marching band, and we had band t-shirts with our last names printed on the back. Because we were *that* couple, we switched shirts and wore each other’s name. His mother noticed him wearing my shirt one day and asked why he was wearing my last name, to which I jokingly responded, “Oh, we eloped and he took my last name” at which point she promptly freaked out. It was not an acceptable idea that he would take my name; clearly, if we were to get married I would take his name! Tradition and all that, I guess.
We got engaged in college, and I happily planned to take his last name without giving it much thought- perhaps slightly because of his mother’s insistence on it, but mostly because that’s just what a woman does when she gets married, right? I even had a shirt made that said “Hislastname in training” on the back (not kidding when I say we were *that* couple). The one concern I remember having is that his last name was very common, and I already knew of 2 other “Jessica Hislastname” students at my school. For a slew of reasons I don’t feel like getting in to at the moment, we eventually called off the engagement and it’s now a moot point, but the idea of becoming just another Jessica Hislastname in the crowd did bother me a little.
Let me tell you that calling off an engagement, even if it’s mostly your idea, gives you a lot to think about. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the intervening years thinking about the impermanence of love and emotions, wedding traditions, raising families, conflict resolution, in-laws, what we/he/I did wrong, what we/he/I did right, etc, etc, etc and I have come to the conclusion that I am in no hurry to get married, and I would probably be okay if it never happens. That’s not to say that I want to be a spinster forever- I do still want to experience love, human connection, and partnership- but I think if a couple is going to be together forever, then they’ll be together forever regardless of marital status and that the reverse holds true as well. If it’s going to end it will end regardless of marital status. Do I really need some ceremony or paperwork or government validation to make my relationship more real and meaningful?
And once you throw that big tradition out the window, no tradition is safe! If I do decide to get married in the future, why should it be automatically assumed that I’ll take his name? I’ve been Jessica Mylastname my whole life and it’s worked plenty well for me so far. My name is a fundamental piece of my overall identity, and I don’t believe either partner in a marriage should be expected to give up part of their identity upon signing the marriage license.
One of the pro-name change reasons I’ve seen is that it helps foster cohesion and identity in the new family, especially for couples planning to have children, and I totally understand that concern. Taking his name and passing it on to your children is a convenient way to express that you are now a family unit. Of course, this can also be accomplished by him changing to her name, both hyphenating, both changing to some amalgamation of their last names combined to start a new family name (which I think is a beautiful solution, and what I would want to do if I were to change my name) and probably a million other ideas I haven’t yet considered. For me, though, it’s mostly another moot point as I don’t think I ever want children. I don’t have to worry about trying to pick up my child from school and being questioned because my last name is different from theirs, or worry about burdening a child with an awkward hyphenated name that they’ll have to figure out what to do with when they get married.
One reason against name change I’ve seen is the desire to carry on the maiden name. This one resonates with me a little since I am the last of my last name, unless I have some great uncles and something-removed-cousins I don’t know about. But again, I’m not planning to have kids to pass the family name to, so it’s not so much a question of if the name will die, but when (either when I choose to change it, or when I die.) *shrug*
So, hopefully you’ve noticed the trend here- that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, but my reasoning mostly boils down to “keeping my name is what feels right, right now.” I’m certainly not advocating that all women must not change their name. As always, I’m advocating for well thought out decisions; do what’s best for you and what works in your relationship.
When I brought this up with Ben one day a few months ago, the conversation went something like this:
Me: If we ever get married I think I’m going to keep my last name.
Him: Okay. Any specific reason?
Me: Well, would you be willing to change your last name?
Him: (puzzled look on his face as if he’d never considered that option) No.
Me: Then why should I?
Him: Fair enough.
And I’m pretty happy with that. I do take exception to the fact that men generally don’t have to consider this question at all. Giving up your name- part of your identity- is a tough decision for someone to make, and it seems that the ladies have been going it alone for a long time now. That Ben had never even considered the idea of changing his name until I brought it up, while I’ve been thinking about it for ages without even planning to get married says a lot about the current state of gender roles in our society. To his credit, he’s quick to rethink things when it becomes clear that the status quo is unfair, and that’s one of the reasons I love him. There have been other discussions on this topic since then, and we’re both still planning to stick with our current names should we ever get hitched. We’ve built our relationship thus far as Jessica Mylastname and Ben Hislastname and it would just be weird to start calling each other something else.