What’s in a name?

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.


About Essential Everyday Pineapple

Crazy cat lady extraordinaire, liberal, atheist, feminist, vegetarian, engineering student with an art degree. Essential Everyday Pineapple is just a phrase from a random word generator that had a nice ring to it. What? Blog names are tough.
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7 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am a little surprised that you never touched on the point that when you were still just a twinkle your parents, and many like them, spent a fair amount of consideration in picking your name to ensure that it fit well with your last name. Whatever their decision on the topic happened to be your first name was, in part, custom tailored to fit your last name. Personally, I’m in favor of no changes and any resulting children being named after both lines.

  2. Amelia says:

    I’m planning to hyphenate my name after my wedding, and plan on using both. I told my students that it didn’t matter which last name they called me, because they would both be part of my new name.

    With that said, as far as children are concerned, I plan on giving them Colby’s last name. It’s something I want for our children and our “family unit”. He’s been really supportive of what I wanted to do, whether that meant taking his name or not. 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    Sounds like we have spent a similar amount of time thinking about this — a lot! I feel the same as you. Having taken a different last name for about a minute and changed back, I can say that it is a hassle, and my name is my brand, as far as my music goes. I’ve been me for a while now. Think I’ll keep it that way. Probably. 😉

  4. Kristina M. says:

    I toyed with the idea of changing my name if/when I got married. I’ve had stuff published under my current name, and if I got married, I wouldn’t want to confuse readers or whatever. In that case, though, I could still keep my maiden name as my pen name. Then, my dad died. After that, I decided I’d keep my last name to have a connection to him. If I ever have kids, though, they’d have their dad’s last name because I see the hyphenation thing as kind of pretentious.

    (Also, I agree with the “not expecting the man to change his name” thing. If I don’t expect him to change his name, why should he expect me to change mine.)

  5. Klamath says:

    So if men don’t do it women shouldn’t do it either? Okay, so since men don’t marry men, you shouldn’t marry a man either right? Also you can’t wear a engagement ring, a wedding dress, makeup, high heels, because men don’tdo those things. And you shouldn’t do anything that men don’t. And obviously having sex wiith men is prohibited because that is also something men don’t do. And women should never do anything that men don’t do. Right? And not having sex with men is a good thing because that could lead to getting pregnant and since men dont get pregnant or even consider it, women shouldn’t either.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is one of the dumbest arguments I’ve ever heard. Feminism is not about turning women into men, it’s about correcting the injustices and double standards women face every day, among other things. Suggesting that women shouldn’t do anything men don’t is mischaracterizing Jessica’s argument and shows a misunderstanding of the women’s movement. And, your argument doesn’t even work…

      1. There are men out there that want to marry other men. In fact, in some places, they do.
      2. Lots of men like wearing traditionally female clothes. Ever seen an Eddie Izzard show? I bet there are some folks out there that would love to wear a wedding dress and have a sparkly engagement ring. This doesn’t even touch on the transgendered/transvestite folks out there.
      3. Surprise!, men have sex with men. Just like some women have sex with women. It’s just as valid as any other consensual romantic entanglement.
      4. Not having sex with men is a good thing if a woman isn’t interested in men. I also think a sizable majority of people would agree that not getting pregnant until they’re really ready to is a fantastic thing.

      Even if your poor conclusion was valid (it’s not), you picked some pretty terrible examples to support it. Men (albeit a minority) do all the things you claimed they don’t.

      I suppose the more valid question that follows from your comment is, “Why are women expected to do those things?”. Why are women expected to wear make up and dresses and pretty rings, but men aren’t, and then shamed when they do?

      As a man, I’ve been granted a pretty good existence, with minimal stupid rules and roles. I have a great privilege that doesn’t extend to women. I’m not likely to get raped and then blamed for it because of what I was wearing. I’m not going to be shamed for intimacy with several women. I’m not going to be ignored when I have legitimate complaints at work. I’m don’t face a 33% cut in wages for the same job. Being a man is a pretty good gig, but I don’t think it’s fair for our female counterparts to indulge our privilege blindly and not work to even the playing fields. It’s the right thing to do.

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