Your Birth Name Is Your Identity? Says Who?

Jill Filipovic recently penned an article against name changing for the Guardian. Or I should say, an article against women changing their names upon marriage. With all due respect to Jill Filipovic—and I have a lot for her—I very much disagree with her on this one.

Jill’s main point is this:

When women see our names as temporary or not really ours, and when we understand that part of being a woman is subsuming your own identity into our husband’s, that impacts our perception of ourselves and our role in the world. It lessens the belief that our existence is valuable unto itself, and that as individuals we are already whole. It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone’s wife or mother or daughter or sister.

I understand what Jill is getting at here, I really do. But I think she’s missing something here. One more quotation:

Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real. … Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world.

Here’s the problem: Who says your birth name is your identity? Who says you can’t make your own identity?

I have a friend who is going through a divorce. Upon marrying, she took her husband’s name, and now she is giving it up. But she’s not going back to her maiden name, either, in part because she has strong differences with her family of origin. So instead she is taking her grandmother’s maiden name, a name that has richness and meaning to her. She’s claiming it and making it hers. A contributing factor is that both her maiden name and her married name were impossible to spell or pronounce, and her grandmother’s maiden name does not have these problems. And here’s the thing: I don’t understand how anyone could look at my friend’s extremely meaningful choice and interpret that as her not having a permanent identity. Instead, what I see is her forging an identity, for herself. And I admire that.

Jill mentions that she hopes the coming of marriage equality will make this issue less gendered. I too think it will be interesting to see what perceptions marriage equality changes, but the thing is, I can’t help but think of the woman I knew briefly when I was an undergrad who has married and taken her wife’s name. Why? Because her parents were homophobic and there was all sorts of pain there while her wife was a wonderfully supportive person who had quite literally changed her entire life. This woman changed her name as part of forging her own identity and finding her own meaning.

And then there’s my decision. For me, changing my name was part of changing my identity. Libby Anne Husbandname is not  at all the same person as Libby Anne Maidenname. I changed my name at a moment when I wanted to shut the door on my past and say “that isn’t me anymore, I’m someone new.” Changing my name was extremely meaningful to me: it was about becoming my own person apart from my messy family of origin. Changing my name was not about giving up my identity. It was about developing my identity.

I also want to touch on what Jill says about the common reasons women give for changing their names:

The defense of the name change is something like, “We want our family to share a name” or “His last name was better” or “My last name was just my dad’s anyway” – all reasons that make no sense.

What in the world is wrong with wanting one’s immediate family to share a name? If Jill doesn’t want that, that’s fine! I know other women who likewise don’t care whether their immediate families share a name. But some women do care, and I don’t understand why that’s so very terrible. And what’s wrong with liking your husband’s last name better, or with not being attached to your maiden name?

Your birth name is not your identity. Your identity is yours to create. Sometimes that means changing your name, and sometimes that means keeping your name. And by the way, guys should have the freedom to change their names too. So by all means, go out there and forge your own identity, whatever name choice that means making. Just don’t let Jill Filipovic make that decision for you.

What are your thoughts on Jill’s article, and on name changing in general? Did you change your name? Why or why not?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Melody

    My husband is from Spain, where they don’t give their last name to their wives. Being from Texas myself, it was strange to me that he didn’t want to give it to me. I have a really cool last name anyway, so in the end, I love having my maiden name. It does throw people though, and I get a look of “can you do that?” a lot. Most just shrug and move on. Christmas cards and formal invitations are confusing for my family, though.

    Oh, and once we have kids, they will have both last names with his first, as they do in Spain.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      It’s very rare but some people put the mother’s surname first instead of the fathers (and in cases where there is only one progenitor, they can get both from a single parent) but usually it’s as you said, the child gets the first surname of his father and the first surname of her mother.

      Also, there isn’t the concept of middle name per se. They can have multiple first names like Juan Carlos or Federico Alfonso or even the monstruous María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza (that’s the name of a famous Countess) but all of them are considered the first name, not separated names.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        I mean Duchess* *facepalm*

  • Miranda

    My boyfriend and I know that we’ll get married eventually, but it’s not something we’re rushing towards. He’s Americanised his name, since he doesn’t like his Lebanese name, but has yet to legally make this so. As such, what we will decide on as our last name is a bit complicated. My last name is already hyphenated, thanks to my mother (she still has her last name, my dad has a different one–because she has a PhD, she says), so we’re definitely not doing that! We may choose another name entirely–or I might keep my hyphen. Still not sure. But yeah I do think the concept of just automatically dropping your last name for the husband’s can be insulting–while at the same time some might really want that. I guess it’s up to the individual. I suppose the thing that does irritate me is it seems to always be the woman who has to change her name, not the man.

  • Andrew

    When I was married, I chose not to change my name. My wife made the same decision. :-)

    I think the reason this question can generate heat is that like so many things, the customary standards for men and women are so different. For women, changing their name at marriage is opt-out; for men it’s opt-in. Which means that – particularly for conservatively-minded couples – if either partner feels strongly that having a single surname for the family is important, it’s invariably the woman who is expected to change, with all the inconvenience that that entails. In your case, you were able to take advantage of this expectation to make a clean break with a previous life with which you were dissatisfied, but for a woman who wishes to maintain continuity (eg for professional reasons) the name change process can be inconvenient at least. Whereas it’s simply another question that we men are not expected to have to consider.

    You might like to think of it as a variation on Debi Pearl’s themes: it’s only the wife who needs to mould herself into what her husband wants her to be, while he isn’t required to change at all. It’s not that the change per se is bad, it’s that the burden of the decision falls only on one gender, often without being questioned at all. (You had independent reasons for wanting to change your name, but that isn’t true of every woman.)

    In other words, if the question was “Should husbands and wives together choose a family name” – instead of “Should the wife change her name to match her husband’s” – this probably wouldn’t be a terribly controversial issue.

    (For the record, my wife and I tossed a coin to decide whose name our kids would take – we each wanted to use each other’s! :-) )

    • ako

      I think the reason this question can generate heat is that like so many things, the customary standards for men and women are so different. For women, changing their name at marriage is opt-out; for men it’s opt-in.

      Yeah, that’s the problem right there. The precise relationship between individual choices and social expectation is complicated and variable, but women in general are far more likely to be encouraged, or even pressured, to take men’s names, while men are often actively discouraged from it. And name changes often (although not always) have a negative impact on careers and professional reputation.

      It’s really hard to find a good solution to this kind of trend, because it’s easy to either end up not doing anything and repeating sexist patterns because they’re so entrenched that they’re the path of least resistance, or jump down individual women’s throats about their life choices and make a feminist principle into one more source of “Women are responsible for fixing everything, and will be judged as failures no matter what they choose!” pressure.

    • Marty

      I like the coin toss for picking the kids last name. That’s been a bit of a confusion for me – it makes perfect sense to keep my maiden name (especially as my husband and I are med students, 2 doctors with the same last name working together gets really confusing), but I don’t really know what to do with kids. I’ll go with his name, both because I like it better and because it’s the tradition, and explaining not going with the tradition has been annoying enough with keeping my own name. I like the goal of hyphenation, but it’s ultimately unsustainable.

      Does anyone else have a good solution for this conundrum?

      • Dolorosa

        In my family, both my parents kept their own last names. When they decided to have children, they decided that any girls would get my dad’s surname as a middle name and my mum’s surname as a last name. If they had boys, the opposite would occur. As it happened, they had two daughters, so we have identical middle names and last names, but I imagine this could have been confusing if they’d had one son and one daughter.

        I should also add that we’re Australian, and there is way less expectation – especially in middle-class families – that women will change their names when getting married. I’d say about half the kids I knew growing up had mothers who had kept their names, and this was considered entirely unremarkable. However, in those families, the kids always had the father’s surname. I only know one other family who did the same thing as mine.

      • Lynne

        My sister-in-law has kept her maiden name as her professional name (especially as she graduated from medicine before she married, so that’s the name on her qualifications) but taken her husband’s name in private life. So she is Dr X but Mrs Y. It doesn’t seem to have causede her any problems, and she’s been married nearly 30 years. But this is in Australia, so I don’t know if there would be legal problems anywhere else

    • Amethyst

      “I think the reason this question can generate heat is that like so many things, the customary standards for men and women are so different. For women, changing their name at marriage is opt-out; for men it’s opt-in.”

      This. It doesn’t bother me when a woman takes her husband’s name. I might take my husband’s name if I marry a man. I might take my wife’s name if I marry a woman. I might keep my current last name in either case. It does bother me, though, that there is a social expectation for women to change their name when they marry and that there is a similar expectation for men to keep their name all their life.

    • cj pomegranate

      Yes! The problem is that we see it as a gendered decision.

      One of the best responses I read to this article was at What Would Phoebe Do: (

      “Marriage, name-change or not, refers back to bad old days, feminism-wise. Using feminine pronouns to describe half of humanity points back to less-enlightened times. But the anti-name-change argument seems like yet another case of a common-enough feminist error: that because something is ‘what women do,’ it’s necessarily the inferior situation. Getting paid less, that’s definitively worse. Obviously, very very often, the women’s version of whichever lot in life is straight-up worse. But, consider makeup. Is it oppressive because men don’t (generally) wear it? Or is it oppressive to men that if they want to experiment with their looks, or enhance their beauty, this isn’t an option for them? Whatever penalty exists on (some) women (in certain circumstances) who don’t wear makeup, it’s zilch compared to that on men who do.”

      • Andrew

        Since you ask, the coin toss worked beautifully for us – we did it publicly at a family gathering, and kept the coin, so there was an element of ceremony about it and everyone knew exactly why we choose the way we did from the very beginning. Helps that our families are not in any way conservative, but all the same – worked nicely.

      • Rosa

        we don’t just see it as a gendered decision, it IS a gendered decision. The pressure on women to change their names is not rare or subtle, and the pressure on men not to change theirs is encoded into statute in most places.

      • luckyducky

        Rosa, you are not kidding about the pressure. I decided when I was 12 and my much older sister got married to someone with a truly difficult last name (literally means “unclean” in another language and contains all of the same letters with a slightly different order as a bodily fluid in English) to complicate having a fairly unusual first name in the context of growing up in a small Midwestern town in a very rural area. At that point I decided that there was no good reason for her to have made that change and I would not being making the same choice as my last name is easy but not terribly common and, (un)fortunately (?), it comes down to me on both sides of my family tree.

        That decision was only reinforced when my husband and I married young — it was an effort to demonstrate I was not just looking to become Mrs. Husband’s First Name Husband’s Last Name, as much for myself as for anyone else. On top of that, I was more established (if only very little more) professionally and financially than my husband — I had a credit score, a good one, and he had no credit history at all. Finally, no one gets my last name wrong and even people familiar with my husband’s last name spell it incorrectly.

        It kind of ticked me off when people started fussing at me to change my name when I could come up with a fairly substantial list of things that I would have to get changed over or would be inconveniently stuck in my maiden name whereas the only things in he had in his name was his driver’s license and title to his vehicle.

        Fuss they did. My parents pressured me, insisting (correctly) that my in laws would view my decision as a rejection of their family.

        My aunt insisted (incorrectly) that it would cause all sorts of problem when we had children in school — (gasp!) they would assume we weren’t married or the children were from a prior relationship… Even at the time I didn’t care if the school secretary assumed we weren’t married. Now, having dealt with school secretaries for sometime, I appreciate that they don’t really care either — they see enough of every sort of arrangement that it isn’t too scandalous for an unmarried couple to have children in school. And they can figure out pretty quickly what the familial arrangement is because they see enough paperwork to put two and two together and a stable (two-parent) household is pretty obvious regardless of marital status, which is often asked for on the paperwork anyway. And as our children look like both of us in pretty equal measure, the biological relationship is pretty obvious if unimportant.

        Finally, an older friend of mine gave me a deadline when she discovered about 2 mo. after we got married that I hadn’t changed my name. A deadline! She just said I should, no other reason necessary.

        I didn’t feel like fighting that fight again when we had kids — it obviously distressed my in laws as they brought it up as soon as we shared the news we were expecting — though I kind of wish we’d given them all my name for their middle name. I didn’t want to hyphenate because the last names end with similar endings and sound awkward together. Each of the kids has expressed some desire that we all have the same last name a couple of times and my daughter once asserted she wanted to have my last name. We told her she was welcome to change it when she was 18.

  • Alex

    This is the best thing I’ve seen to come out the Internet Spasm created by Filipovic’s piece. So, thanks!

  • TheGloriousLiberty

    I took my husband’s name. It’s shorter and easier to spell, and takes less time to write a check with. My parents divorced years ago and I’ve been used to thinking of my family in two halves, with two separate last names, ever since, and I’ve been thinking of myself as part of my mom’s family separate from part of my dad’s family since then, yet my mom’s maiden name was never part of mine (and actually, no one living who we’re directly related to has it anymore, come to think of it). Also, I had my mom’s example, she’s married three times, taken her husband’s name each time, but never gone back to her maiden name because she said it felt like she’d be denying her past, which told me a lot about how she sees her identity.

    But honestly? The real reason I took my husband’s name was because I love my middle name. I know where it comes from, I know why I have it, and I refuse to lose it. I have yet to meet any woman (who isn’t born with a hyphenated name originally) who manages to keep her maiden and middle names in common usage- all of them have picked one or the other. So if I’m going to lose one anyway, my middle name is far more central to my identity than my maiden name. I’d also like to point out that my parents accidentally gave me first and middle names that I’ve always identified as from parts of their families- my first name is very much from dad’s side, my middle is very much from mom’s. So now that I’ve taken my husband’s last name, what I have is a name that reflects both sides of my family of origin in first and middle, and family of choice in the last. Works perfectly. (Mom’s family also just never gave daughters middle names, until my generation, so they could keep that slot open for their maiden names if they married. Not an option I see discussed often.)

    • Anat

      Why would a woman who keeps her own last name as it was drop her middle name? She just keeps her entire name with all its parts. Same as a man. I kept my name. My husband kept his. We have no name in common. No actual person calls me by any name that is a part of his name. Occasionally bits of bureaucratic software get things wrong. Some paperwork once got addressed to MyMiddlename HisSurname and caused some confusion.

    • ako

      I’m surprised about the middle name thing. My mom and one of my sisters-in-law both kept their middle name and last name, and neither of them have had any trouble keeping their last name. I’m wondering if it’s a cultural difference, and where you’re from it’s common do to “Herfirstname Herlastname Hislastname” or something?

      (My other sister-in-law had been wanting to ditch her last name for years, and I think it’s unfortunate she didn’t have an easy, socially-accepted option to do that before marriage, since she’d had the desire well before she met my brother.)

      • ako

        I should say, neither of them has had trouble keeping their middle name, although they’ve successfully kept both names.

    • Christine

      I saw this comment about losing a last name being more that it’s difficult to use more than three names. So if you’re going to use two last names (hyphenated or double last name), it’s a bit awkward to keep using your middle name for everyday.

      • Christine

        By “last” I meant “middle”.

      • Anat

        Still leaves the option of just leaving one’s name as it was, without taking the husband’s name in any form. Keeping first, middle and last names as they were.

      • Christine

        Yep, very true. But that brings it down to only four options for how to deal with the name change, with keeping your birth name being only one of those.

  • Keljopy

    I did not change my name as my husband comes from a Spanish-speaking country and would’ve thought it was weird and in addition I’d already done 5 years worth of short-term jobs in my field and wanted to keep my name to make it easier to keep connections with former employers.

    However, I think giving women a hard time for changing their name is just as silly as giving women a hard time for not. So she has to learn new names for a few old school friends, beyond that, does it really affect her? I think it should be a personal choice, where none of the options (keep/change/hyphenate/guy change/make new) should be looked down on.

    If 50% of Americans really do think women should have to change their name, I think that’s pretty ridiculous. And I think it’s sexist that in many (most?) places in the US it’s really easy for a woman to change her name upon marriage, but comparatively somewhat difficult/expensive for a man to do so. I also think that men who refuse to marry someone who won’t change their name are pretty silly, and though the husband’s opinion is one thing to take into consideration, it’s ultimately the wife’s choice as it’s her name/identity (if they can’t even agree/compromise on that, it’s going to be a rough marriage). I do kind of wish it wasn’t so automatic/assumed that a woman would change her name, that it was a conscious, thought out decision either way for her, and that friends/family would ask instead of just assuming she changed it (I’ve gotten so many things in the mail addressed to Me HusbandLastName or even Me HusbandMaternalLastName despite trying to get the word out as much as possible).

    Basically: I see where she’s coming from on a cultural level, that our culture needs to stop assuming that women will change their name upon marriage and that this is a form of sexism, however I take issue with the way she goes about it by talking down about women who do change their name and telling them that they are giving up their identity and that they should always keep their name for the good of all women. There are tons of reasons to change and tons of reasons to not change, and the reasons that informs someone’s personal decision are really none of anyone else’s concern.

    Addressing a few of her other points:
    -”If your last name is really your dad’s, then no one, including your dad, has a last name that’s actually theirs.” That’s actually quite true. All the more reason to make a conscious decision on the issue. From a feminist perspective keeping a father’s last name is just as patriarchal as taking a husband’s last name, but if you are making the choice to do so (either way), you are exercising your agency as a woman.
    -”Why don’t men ever change their names?” They do. Not very often, but I had a friend that jokingly suggested to her then-fiancee that they should both change to a hyphenated combo of their names and he said sure, why not, and I’ve seen other examples on the internet. If the law treated people equally, even more might consider it.

  • Rae

    Wait, why is she just arguing that your last name is your identity, or is she trying to argue your full name is your identity, and in that case, where does that leave trans* people?

    And I knew a woman who did something similar to your friend – both her ex-husband and her birth family were horrible and abusive, so upon getting divorced she had no desire to have either last name. She ended up picking the last name of her all-time favorite character from the Star Trek franchise.

    Incidentally, I’m planning keeping my last name (on the off chance that I should ever get married in the first place) for almost the same reason: It’s a very cool last name to have if you love sci-fi and fantasy as much as I do :-)

  • sylvia_rachel

    I changed to DH’s surname when we got married. My birth name is hard to spell and harder to pronounce (not for me; for other people), and I was really tired of spelling my name every. single. time someone needed to write it down. Also, it’s my late father’s last name, and my relationship with my father was … not great. And also I was 23, a recent university graduate only a year or so into my first full-time job.

    Had I married in my mid-30s as many of my friends did, with publications and years of career (and more years of life) behind me under my birth name, I might have made a different choice — hyphenating, or using two names, or just keeping my birth name. My birth surname is actually still part of my legal name, as it’s on my passport and my Social Insurance Number card as a second middle name, and while I use my married name professionally, my writing name includes both (it’s a unique combination, which I like). More names = more flexibility ;)

    One friend of mine, when he got married for the second time recently (his first wife died very suddenly only a couple of years after they married, almost a decade ago), added his wife’s name to his, so now they’re both Firstname Hername Hisname. Apparently in Quebec, hyphenated surnames are so prevalent that now the big naming issue is what surname to give your kids when both parents have different hyphenated surnames (I’m imagining hordes of kids my daughter’s age with names like Jean-François Tremblay-Gendron-Langlois-Duquette…). I don’t understand why people get so exercised about other people’s choices — why not celebrate the fact that women have a choice now??

  • MrPopularSentiment

    I’ve never had any personal attachment to my name. I LOVE it, I think it’s really creative and awesome, but I just never felt like it was *me.* In my head, I’m just “I.” So when people say my name – my first name – it can often take me a second to realize that they’re talking to me.

    So as far as I was concerned, taking my husband’s name was fine. It did nothing to change who I was. He felt the same way about his name. We would have just chosen a new one for ourselves, but that would cost money (whereas one of us taking the other’s name was free). We ended up flipping a coin and I took his.

    I do regret that now because it’s so stereotypically gendered. Even though it meant nothing to us, I regret that we didn’t take a stand publicly and have him take my name. Now that enough time has passed for the name-change window to have closed and we’d have to change our son’s name as well, it doesn’t make sense to change things. But I do regret the way things played out.

    On another note, there was an interesting discussion in one of the parents’ groups I participate in about whether or not it’s okay to choose a new name for an adopted child.

    • Anne — Quicksilver Queen

      Wow, I was thinking of adding my 2 cents but your comment is almost exactly what I would have written…except I’m not hugely fond of my name (any of them, though I like the way my first looks). I totally get it though, it takes me a second to realize people are talking to me sometimes!

      When I got married, I wanted to take my husband’s last name even though I didn’t like it. I was at a point in my life where it seemed like a good idea. Now, I wish we had chosen something together. I’m considering changing my name to pick something that feels more like ME. I also changed all my usernames when I came into my new life.

  • Angelia Sparrow

    “I changed my name at a moment when I wanted to shut the door on my past and say “that isn’t me anymore, I’m someone new.” Changing my name was extremely meaningful to me: it was about becoming my own person apart from my messy family of origin. ”

    This, exactly. I was no longer the unwanted step-child. I was no longer expensive baggage. I was a person.

    I wouldn’t change my name if I were to marry again tomorrow. I have a professional life as Sparrow. Of course, i get carded on a regular basis at SF conventions…

  • Searching

    I love my husband’s last name. I love that I share it with him. Changing my name was a tangible expression of the emotional and spiritual breaking of bonds that I felt in escaping from my abusive and dysfunctional upbringing. My old name represents me from those dark years, my new name represents me in these years that I’ve been happy, healthy, and free. I barely think of myself as “Searching Maidenname” anymore, in fact someone referred to me by my maiden name a few weeks ago, and I had to pause and think “Is that me?”, because it’s not anymore. I’m a different person, a person who has come alive.

  • yewnique

    I took my husband’s name. I like being Mrs MarriedName.

    However, I come from a culture where women keep their maiden name. They may concede to being called Mrs Husband’s Full Name, but not Mrs GivenName MarriedName. And they do not change their name legally. (I’ve married cross-culturally.)

    My parents were not (and still are not) happy that I’ve taken on my husband’s name. ‘I gave birth to GivenName MaidenName, NOT GivenName MarriedName!! WHO is GivenName MarriedName?? Not my daughter!! You’ve forsaken your background!’

    My FullBirthName still appears on my passport, though. There is a lot more red tape to get that changed, so I haven’t bothered.

  • J-Rex

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with a woman changing her name for her husband, but I wish it was something women gave more thought to. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be assumed that she would take his name and it would be completely acceptable for him to take her name. At the moment, a man who took his wife’s name would be called whipped.
    When my sister got married, I casually asked her if she would be taking her husbands name and everyone looked at me like I was crazy for even asking. “Are you planning to keep your name??” I am completely undecided about what I’ll do with my name if I ever get married. I used to hate my name, but it’s grown on me. If I’ve become known by that name, I’ll probably want to keep it. I just hate the idea that if I don’t take his name, people will think less of me. I’ll be a crazy feminist. They’ll think it shows I’m less committed to him.

    • Kristen

      I totally agree. Filipovic’s piece has a lot of problems, but at least it’s shedding some light on this. The system is sexist. Want a family to have the same last name? It’s (almost always) on the woman to change her name. Don’t change your name? You’re making everybody’s life harder because you’re making the selfish decision to put your identity over your family’s. It’s bullshit.

      • ako

        I think she has some good points, but she’s also reinforcing the unfortunate cultural tendency to put the responsibility for solving a complex problem on a woman’s life choice. The “You! Don’t change your name!” aspect means a lot of people who agree with many of her points are on the defensive over their decision, and I don’t think it’s any more effective at getting through to people who are on the fence.

        In certain kinds of activist circles, there’s a tendency to focus on individual choice to an excessive and detrimental extent, and it seems to hit women particularly hard. Instead of looking at larger social issues, people get caught up in “I didn’t do X, so therefore I’m a bad feminist/environmentalist/social justice advocate” and the whole thing becomes all about personal guilt and ideological purity instead of meaningful change. If the intent is not “You should feel bad about what you like to call yourself/what your academic interests are/what you do for fun/what style of shoes you wear”, but that’s the effect, a change of strategy is needed.

  • Omorka

    I kept my maiden name but tacked the Spouse’s family name onto the end of mine, without a hyphen. When I sign my name, I give both surnames, in the order that I picked them up. At the time, I thought of it as a way of joining the family I chose, while not breaking entirely with the family I didn’t have a choice about. In retrospect, given what I later found out about the Spouse’s family, I wish I’d pushed for us both to take the name his family had before immigrating here, but I didn’t (and couldn’t, given the skeletons in the closet that family would have hidden from me forever if circumstances hadn’t forced them out a few years ago) know at the time how strongly I’d feel about it now.

    My little sister did the same thing I did, tacking her spouse’s name onto the end of hers. This means that I now have four names and she has six (she was the last, so my parents used up all of the names on their list on her), which often don’t fit on official forms, but oh well.

  • Karen

    Back when I married in 1980, I thought hard about changing my last name, and eventually concluded that Husband’s last name would be easier for others to spell. How wrong I was! Oh, well, it’s been almost 33 years, I’ve gotten used to it. If something (FSM forbid!) were to happen to my marriage, I’d change my last name to Luthersdatter; my dad’s first name was Luther, he was a shining light in my life, and of Norwegian heritage. But at this point in our lives, I think Husband and I really are together until death do us part.

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    For me, my surname is a very strong part of my identity, and I would never change it. As evidenced by the fact that I used to blog under the name “Bix,” I’m more comfortable changing my first name or using a one-name pseudonym than I am changing my surname. Part of the reason I decided to start using my own name is that it’s such a strong part of my identity that it felt really strange not to use it.

    Marcy is extremely unique as a last name (as in, there’s only one Marcy family in North America), and I feel very connected to that side of the family and its history, including to my grandmother who took Marcy as her married name. I would also want my kids to have Marcy as part of their name.

    My mom kept her surname when she married, and her surname is my middle name. It never caused any problems for us, but we also lived in a more liberal area. (OK, I’d actually have to ask my mom about that, because she probably did get flak for it from some people. But I wasn’t teased, or anything.) I understand that it can raise serious unpleasantness in conservative families and communities.

    There are a couple of arguments in the name changing debate that I strongly dislike (that I’ve seen around the internet in general, not here): the idea that it’s “creepy” (as in, incestuous) for a woman to keep her “father’s” name (as if men only loan their names to women and their names are never truly their own); and the idea that a marriage is less committed if a woman doesn’t take her husband’s name. Names are symbolic, and symbols can be nice, but they’re not the actual marriage. I also probably wouldn’t wear a wedding ring, for the simple reason that I find rings uncomfortable. But it sure wouldn’t be a reflection of the strength of my relationship with a real, living person.

    I think it should be easier for people to change their names; from what I understand, it can be a real expense and a hassle to change your name if you’re not a woman getting married to a man. People should be able to choose names that suit their identity however they see fit. I’m definitely in favor of naming traditions becoming more flexible. If I didn’t like my birth name so much, I might consider making up a new one that I thought suited me better.

    • ako

      the idea that it’s “creepy” (as in, incestuous) for a woman to keep her “father’s” name (as if men only loan their names to women and their names are never truly their own);

      I’ve noticed the “It’s not your name, it’s your father’s name!” thing get applied in a very one-sided way. Women who have objections to changing their name to their husband’s name get that, but almost no one will ever tell a guy that his family name isn’t rally his because it’s his father’s name. In fact, more people are likely to go “Oh, that’s your real last name because it’s your father’s name!” when it comes to men. Because it’s considered reasonable for a man to be an independent person who has his father as an important part of his identity, but not for women. I hadn’t heard the “creepy” thing, but that’s worse. Saying “It’s not really your name, it’s your father’s name” is telling women that their name is only ever about which man owns them. Calling it incestuous is saying a woman’s name is only ever about which man gets sexual access to them.

      I also think changing names to whatever you want should be easier and more socially acceptable. I’ve got a friend who came up with a wholly original name and changed it partly because she wanted an identity that was totally separate from her family of origin (things were…extremely not good with them), and I think there should be more expanding that as an option, so it’s easier to get a fresh name to go with a fresh sense of self outside of the “Woman who’s getting married to a man” context.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Yeah, the “creepy” comment gave me major heebie jeebies. I mean, there’s no way to get around the fact that (Anglo) naming traditions–and marriage itself–developed to manage property, which included women and children. Names marked them as a man’s property. If you really want to creep yourself out, you can reflect on the fact that slave masters gave their last names to their slaves. So unless you make up a new name entirely, you’re still working within an historically patriarchal system. Based on other comments, it’s still mind-blowing to some people for a woman to say, “No, this family name is also MY name. I get to use it as I see fit. My father doesn’t get to revoke its use, because he doesn’t own it.”

        So it’s a really loaded system with a heaping dose of ingrained inequality, but I agree with you that we can criticize the tradition without throwing the onus for social change on women who are making constrained choices in the real world, which pressures them to be the ones who change and adapt to hold the peace. Hopefully we’ll reach the point where naming is a completely individual choice, but we’re not there yet.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        I should add that I think changing the culture requires that everyone of any gender or sexuality should be able to change their names for any reason. Social institutions change over time–the institution of marriage has, for sure–and it’s definitely possible to change naming practices from property-based to a matter of individual determination. I think we’ve already started that process.

      • alr

        I’ve only heard “it’s your father’s name” in response to the argument that it is anti-feminist to “take a man’s name”. The point being not anything incestuous but that for most of us, we have a surname passed down the paternal line for generations.

        I changed my name. My maiden name is a common noun. My husband’s surname was more unique and not a common word. I like that. As for the great family heritage argument…my birth family’s surname is a misplaced artifact. My great great grandfather on the paternal line was born eleven months after the father (whose last name he was given) listed on his birth certificate died. What our last name should have been is anybody’s guess (and there are a few guesses). Names are labels. They do not have deep meaning. We have merely given them that meaning and then developed all sorts of mythologies and controversies around them. It is all too ridiculous and mostly leftover clannishness and tribalism.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Oh, I’ve absolutely heard people imply incest. And my family name isn’t ridiculous to me.

      • ako

        I hadn’t heard the incest thing, but I’ve heard plenty of people use “It’s not your name, it’s your father’s name!” against women’s decision to keep their names after marriage. Because arguing that the name a woman was born with and grew up with is inherently not hers, but is her father’s (it’s always “It’s your father’s name!”, because the father, being a man, is apparently allowed to actually have a name), is a really good lead-in for the idea that a woman should be the one to change her name for the sake of family unity, convenience, or any other reason.

        And may family name may only have subjective meaning based on associations, but that’s a lot of meaning, connected to meaningful relationships, and yes, my family heritage, and I don’t think that’s silly at all. (And yes, if your subjective relationship with your name is different, that’s fine. Just don’t pretend it isn’t a gendered argument to say that the name I was born and raised can actually belong to my father, but somehow not to me.)

  • TheSeravy

    I had a coworker whose financee actually said it was a deal breaker if she didn’t take his last name (and she did not like his last name. hard to spell. awkward to pronouce. but he was “traditional” like that apparently). And I will always remember the time how pissed my dad was when he was mistakenly called Mr. my-mother’s-last-name. Marriage was originally a transference of ownership from father to husband, and the surname change was a sign of that contract/submission. People all have reasons for changing their names but until the decision making process is egalitarian, it’s still a gendered issue as the norm/expectations are still on the woman to change her surname.

    • Kate Monster

      Wow. If someone told me that not changing my name was a dealbreaker–even if I had already planned to do so!–that would be a MAJOR red flag. That is some messed up stuff right there, in part because nstead of saying, “Hey, I know that it’s your decision, but I would like to you to change your name because [reasons that aren't patriarchy/equally stupid]“, he told her that their future together was over if she didn’t change her name. HER name. That would make me seriously reconsider the relationship–let alone the idea of marrying the dude!

  • Kristen

    This caused a real problem for me when my husband and I were engaged. He’s an egalitarian man, refreshingly non-sexist. One of the things that drew me to him was that when we talked about books (we’re crazy addicted readers), he read and appreciated books written by women and with female protagonists, and he identified with them just as he did with male characters. I know this man inside and out and he’s not sexist. That’s why I wasn’t prepared at all for him to be seriously taken aback when I told him I planned to keep my maiden name. He wanted our family to have one name–he liked the unity of it, the idea of having one name and one identity. He’s the only son, though, and he also didn’t want to lose his family name or disappoint his father. For him, my changing my name was what he expected and what would make that whole situation work. We would have one name, his family name would continue, life would be good. My wanting to keep my name disrupted all of that. I went through hell trying to figure out what to do. It felt selfish to me, to be keeping my name at the expense of what he wanted, when I love him so much. However, I have never wanted to change my name. Even as a kid when I literally did not know women could legally keep their name, the idea that I would have to change mine if I wanted to get married made me angry. I never wrong “Mrs. so-and-so” in my notebook when I had crushes. Becoming a feminist and understanding the property connotations of American naming conventions only cemented what I already felt about keeping my name. I can’t really explain why, but my name is part of my identity and the thought of changing it (even to a name I objectively like better) felt deeply wrong. I kept my name, my husband processed it and got over it and is now very supportive. It was a very hard decision, but it was the right decision for me. I needed to start our marriage that way, with the understanding that ultimately, my identity and my desires are as important as my husband’s.

    To me, it was somewhat symbolic that even though I was getting married, I wasn’t going to succumb to the stereotypes and the sexist traditional marriage. Kid is sick? Mom misses work. One person’s career needs to go on hold because of the kids’ needs? That’s mom. Both parents work? Mom picks up the housework slack. I was determined not to fall into that trap, and so right from the beginning of the marriage, I did not compromise a belief that I hold very deeply even though it would have been easier and less messy for everybody if I did.

    • WereBear

      ~I did not compromise a belief that I hold very deeply even though it would have been easier and less messy for everybody if I did.~

      This is a dilemma so often presented to women in our society. If we would just BEND everything would go so much easier! But sometimes it is very important that WE not ALWAYS be the ones to make everything easier for everybody else.

      That is a tremendous burden and we should not be the only ones to carry it.

    • Sam

      I don’t really understand the “family name” argument for name changing… me, surname and family name are not the same thing. For example, I am from a blended family. My sisters and I have the surname W—– and my parents (mom and step-dad) have the surname C——. Thus, we are the W—– – C—— FAMILY! We have one family name, but different surnames. If/when I get married I assume that my husband and I will keep our surnames, but will will be the W—– – HisName family…..I assume we will pick children’s surnames the same way we pick first and middle names; what sounds good, what we like, what won’t give them embarrassing initials, etc.

  • TheSeravy

    I think the problem with surname change is that women aren’t as free as men when making this choice. For example, women choose to be the stay-at-home parent for a variety of reasons but cultural forces skew the results with women being the one to stay most of the time and men being judged for taking on this role. Much like career choices: women (in developed countries) can choose their career paths but societal pressures still funnel women towards traditionally female professions.

  • Kristen

    Here’s the other part of Filipovic’s article that I identify with (and this got me in trouble on another blog discussion of this article). I also wish fewer women would default to changing their name. I really, truly don’t mean this as a criticism of Libby Anne or anybody else on here who changed your name. Nobody has an obligation to keep their name or change it or whatever. Women who don’t take their husbands name are, in many communities, creating a serious disturbance and risk personal and professional consequences. I don’t have the right to tell anybody to put themselves at that kind of risk, and I don’t know everybody’s lives. I know there is a really, really fine line, though, between that and what I’m trying to say. If what I’m saying makes anybody feel defensive about their naming choice, I apologize and that’s not my intention. However, I’m still frustrated that after decades of feminist progression, 90% of women in heterosexual marriages still take their husbands’ names. Every single one of those is an individual choice, but those choices all lumped together make it harder on women who want to be part of the 10%.

    The more people who buck the tradition, the less power the tradition has. I made the mistake earlier of assuming that women keeping their birth names is the only way to chip away at this tradition, and I don’t think that’s the case. It isn’t just about names, but it’s about all the acts of disruption and defiance that people can do in order to make that tradition less of a cage. Men can be open to changing their names or just not pressure their fiances about taking their name. At their jobs, people can make a conscious effort to ask each family member’s full name, instead of assuming that they’re all the same. If you hear of a man who changes his name, give him some support for that to make up for all the shit he’s probably getting from his other male friends. Make sure your children are familiar with the professional ‘Ms.’ prefix.

    I’m not trying to tell anybody that it’s wrong to take a husband’s last name. I just think that the tradition itself is sexist and that the fact that women are coerced into changing their names even when they don’t really want to is unacceptable.

    • alr

      I had no desire to make a political statement out of my marriage.

      Believe it or not, some people just want to live their lives not make grand pronouncements out of everything. I liked his name better. End of decision. It wasn’t political and it is not political for most people I know.

      • Rosa

        It’s political either way. It just becomes more obviously political when a couple goes against tradition instead of with it.

        The amount of approval and good assumptions for the woman who changes her name is about equal to the disapproval and negative assumptions for the woman who doesn’t. There’s no neutral choice in our society, because our society is sexist.

  • Christina

    My husband and I decided to hyphenate both our names. So while we used to be Mr Smith and Ms Jones (not our real names) we are now Mr and Mrs/Ms Jones-Smith and our child is Son Jones-Smith. I really like that we all have the same name without either of us giving ours up, and we’ve agreed if/when Son is in a position for it to matter we won’t mind if he keeps all, some or none of his current last name. It was really easy for both of us to change our names, all we needed to do was provide our marriage certificate as marriage in Australia gives both people involved the legal right to use either or both the surnames listed (though if you want to choose an alternative the process would be different, but still not too difficult)

  • Miranda

    I guess the other issue I have with my name is not necessarily that I want to adopt another name, but that I feel like none of my names belong to me, exactly. My name (in order) goes Mom’s Middle Name, Mom’s Cousin’s Name, Mom’s Last Name-Dad’s Last Name. I feel like a scrambled up pile of family heritage…and one I know so little about since my mom never talks about anything. I have thought for a long time about picking a different last name for myself if I get married (don’t feel like changing it otherwise, too much effort) just to feel like there’s something more unique about my naming scheme. ha.

  • RowanVT

    I am entirely willing to change my last name. I don’t care for it much (in fact, my father and his siblings don’t even like their last name that much!) and I like the way my first name sounds with my boyfriend’s last name.

    But maybe I’m okay with that because I’m used to usernames. There are two usernames that I have used for most of my life. One has been in use for 17 years, the other for 9 years. I respond equally well to either of those names, and in fact respond to Thera (short for theraphee, my world of warcraft character) better than my given name at this point. And I really like it as well.

  • KarenH

    I often hear a variation on that argument. I run a message board for debating blended family issues, and we occasionally get a brand spanking new stepmom who is outraged that the former Mrs. Perfect refuses to “give up my husband’s name!!!!” Generally with accusations that the Former Mrs. Perfect really just wants her man back and why can’t she just be graceful about it?

    For me? I don’t really have a dog in the hunt on either side. Change your name. Or not. It’s all good.

  • Anat

    When I got married my husband and I agreed that either both of us change names or neither does. We were living in Israel and at the time the situation was that I could either change to his name, hyphenate or keep my name (or take a different name). However he could change his name to anything, as long as it wasn’t *my* name or a name that included my name as part of it – ie he could neither take my name nor hyphenate both names. Since we couldn’t come up with a third name we both liked we just kept our respective original names.

  • Lisa

    I have a rather American last name and it constantly annoys me. When pronounced correctly, people here either misspell it right away or ask me to spell it out for them. And usually they ask me to spell it 2-3 times to make sure they got it right. I have started saying it with a very German pronunciation and it does help, but there are still issues.
    In some way I wish I had an easier name that goes for both countries (like Smith or something, everybody here knows how to spell that!) but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
    I thought about whether, just hypothetically, I would take my current bf’s last name and I have to say no. He has a very complicated and very German name and he always has to spell it out for people too. And they still get it wrong most of the time. It’s actually so bad that he has started using my last name when ordering pizza or something because that saves a lot of time. I don’t even want to imagine how problematic it would be in the US.

    End of the story, last names aren’t my identity at the moment. For all I know I would take a name change to Smith or something any day just to make life easier.

  • Karla

    “What in the world is wrong with wanting one’s immediate family to share a name?”

    What’s wrong with it is that only women are expected to change their names to accommodate that want. Appallingly sexist. Libby Anne, I love love love your blog, but I think you’re wrong on this. Women changing their names is a problem simply because men almost never do it.

    • Beutelratti


      Changing the last name shouldn’t be only women’s business. Every man should also consider changing his upon getting married.

    • Aoife

      Exactly! It’s not a problem if Person A decides to take Person B’s name. It’s not a problem if you, specifically, chose to take someone’s name for Important Personal Reason. It is a problem that women are expected to give up an aspect of our identity that men aren’t, for the sake of men.

  • Beutelratti

    I’m not married yet, however my mother kept her maiden name and my father took her name when they married. They did it both for practical and for aesthetic reasons and I’m pretty proud that I can say that I have parents that didn’t fuss over who’s the woman and who should traditionally change their name.

    If I should get married, the only reason for me to take my husband’s name would be if I liked it more than my maiden name. If I don’t like it, then I would expect my husband to consider changing his name just as much as I considered it.
    I’m strongly against this “You’re the woman, you change it.”

    Moreover, if I have sons, I want to raise them with the awareness that it’s totally okay for them to change their name and that it doesn’t make them less “manly”. It just means they’re acknowledging that women are truly their equals (even when it’s “just” about something like last names).

  • WereBear

    In the state of NY, for instance, marriage is a time when the two people can pick any name or combination they want, or even choose a new last name for both of them. I think that’s awesome!

    I have a loose approach to such things because since I was tiny, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and played with various pen names. Fortunately, I liked my given and middle names very much, but had a friend who disliked her first, and while still in grammar school, took her middle name for first name use. I never felt pressured about my “birth name” because I have three brothers who can caretake that; and while it’s common and easy to spell, it had this tendency to make people mispronounce my first name!

    So when I got married and acquired stepchildren with their father’s name, it seemed enjoyable and practical to experience a new name to go with my new responsibilities. Do not underestimate the bonding of this move. And when I signed Mrs. Dadsname, I had any rights to the children I needed, which soothed their father at the thought of emergencies.

    When I was widowed, I met a wonderful guy, so after taking 1st husband’s name, I just had to take 2nd, to show I loved him as much, as I saw it. And we toyed with the idea of choosing a new last name for both of us; but in the end, we both liked his last name. Which isn’t even his; he was adopted by his stepfather at a very young age after his mother was widowed. It meant a lot to him to have the same last name as his siblings.

    Where I so agree with Libby Anne’s post is that this must be a personal choice, which can vary; for anyone. Men don’t have to do anything to keep their name; but I feel they have a lot of pressure NOT to change it, even if they would like to. And while that’s a bigger box to be in, it’s still a box they are stuck in.

    As for me, I now write non-fiction under my legal name… and I have a new pen name for the fiction I’m planning. We all have many identities, and to some extent, women and writers can indulge that… something I think more men would enjoy if they could.

  • Kodie

    When I was younger, I thought of changing my name all the time, my first name as well. Also my middle name. My mother even encouraged me to replace it if I really hated it. I think now I have a good name, and I like my first name, but there was a time when I thought my last name was too hard to spell, my middle name embarrassingly old-fashioned, and I was just in love with the romance of a lot of different first names that I could choose from. (Kodie is not my real first name). I don’t hate my name, I just wanted many other names that seemed cooler for some reason. I wanted to get married and odds were pretty much, a new last name would be more attractive than my own and closer to the beginning of the alphabet. I had my “liberated” idea that I wanted to keep my name only if his was worse and choose to change it if his was nicer, easier to spell, and now that seems pretty shallow to me.

    I don’t feel like that anymore. It’s not about aesthetics. I fit my first name, I grew into appreciating my middle name a lot, and if I ever get married, I’m keeping my last name. It’s all a part of me now in a way I can’t really describe or agree to change. It’s not really that bad, and a lot of what I formerly disliked about it was influenced by my mother, and getting called on in school near the bottom of the list. The former is still true and the latter never really comes up anymore, does it.

    I also feel I guess that any future husband who wants to change his name to mine would be weird to me. He could, I guess, if he really wanted to, I just can’t imagine it though. I mean, women grow up with the idea that their last name is disposable and have this “choice” of keeping it, but it’s still seen as “oh, she’s going to be like that” and the whole affair is just too whimsical. Your name does establish your identity. It’s not that you can’t change it to something else, but I don’t think marriage warrants the change. Being absorbed into a husband’s family is symbolic but it’s still there, as are many wedding customs reflecting that and other traditions I see as no longer relevant. It’s cheaper to change your name if you’re a woman when you get married – that’s not a reason, that’s a symptom that it’s expected in a way that it’s not normal for a man to change his name – and why should he? Why does anyone have to consider it, if not the woman? If men have gone generations without even considering it, why does that make it equal? He keeps his name because he is considered the person in a marriage, the head of the household. I do not feel like anyone has to change their name because they are both people. Yet we live in a patriarchal society, so whose name goes on the children? I don’t know the answer, and I likely won’t have to answer that for myself. It’s a union of two houses, two people in their own rights, this is how the man continues his “line” that’s supposed to be why he takes a wife in the first place, to keep his house and bear his children. Other countries have different traditions of naming the children, but in many cases, it’s permanent for the boys and temporary for the girls.

    I don’t necessarily agree with every statement of the post quoted by Libby Anne, I still think women can decide for themselves to go along with whatever makes them happy, but to me, there is this old feeling of who I used to be – someone who thought changing my name was freedom, and that it was sensible and orderly, and that I also used to be kind of shallow, expecting to get married young and shedding off the name I was born with, that I associated with how much my mother continued to find fault with the name and also my father and her in-laws.

    If anyone finds their name too hard to spell, too long to write, and doesn’t sound good, why wait for a man to change your name if you really feel that way? I’m no longer buying that argument. If you are attached enough to your last name to keep it only if his is even worse, then I no longer feel that I can understand not feeling attached enough to it that you would change it if his is better. If you hate your family and want to disassociate from them, why wait for a man. I mean, I wish I thought of these things when I was younger, because I did the same thing. I let my last name hang around so long that now I’m used to it. I didn’t formally change it just because, and now I do think of it as a part of my identity.

    It just occurs to me because young women still have these ideas, and maybe marry young without having the time to reconsider later if they feel the same way. We’re raised to expect to change our name, and scribbling our “married name” of the latest boy we have a crush on. Up until the age of about 32, I still thought I was getting married to this one guy and was by then willing to add his name to the end of mine if he added my name to his. You know what he said to me? Wouldn’t your father mind? I said, it’s MY name, what are you talking about?

  • jose

    This is an example of a difference in approach. You’re approaching this from an individual decision perspective, while she is approaching it as a big picture characteristic of our culture. I disagree with the individual decision perspective because that’s all it takes into account, shrugging off the cultural tradition in which it’s taken as if it didn’t matter.

    For women to go from their father’s name to their husband’s name is a telling symptom of who’s important socially and who isn’t—of whose name matters. The names that don’t matter (women’s names) won’t figure in any paper and will be forgotten in history. We have to ask ourselves how naming would work if we lived in a different culture.

  • saramaimon

    a last name isnt just an identifier, it is a family name. once upon a time ones patrilineal lineage was of very strong significance, now it is less so. however for me it still is so i plan to pass it along to my son. his father grudgingly accepts that.

  • saramaimon

    changing ones name often has an element of rejecting ones family, or of making an ethno cultural statement

  • WereBear

    The whole point of feminism was to LIBERATE.

    It’s not working if we just come up with new rules to impose!

  • Vixi Dragon

    There are also men who choose to take their wife’s name upon marriage. (I realize it’s not common, but it is being done here in the States. Case in point:

  • Elizabeth

    “Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world.”

    I didn’t read that at all as saying you *birth* name is your identity, but your name *whatever it’s origin* is how people identify you out in the world; to me, that means whatever name you use carries meaning. She elaborates in that paragraph and the next on how changing your name based on marriage status suggests your (women’s) identity is relational, not their own. She also mentions changing your name in certain situations, such as if your transgender, to more correctly reflect your identity as something positive and not relational.

    I really think people are misunderstanding that line.

    (sorry if this gets posted twice…I’m getting some kind of error)

  • Tracey

    I guess I’d look at this one from a legal standpoint. It should be just as easy for an adult of any gender to get any part of a name legally changed whenever they want to. Perhaps with an upper limit cap so people don’t abuse it and tie up the legal system. Outside of this it should be up to individual choice.

    When my fiancé and I discussed name changes, I decided I liked my name best as it already was. He was fine with this. In turn he requested that any children take his last name (he didn’t want to burden them with spelling a hyphenated name and I think he was afraid of the criticism he’d face from family if we used mine) and I said ok, I’m fine with it. It was a great compromise and we are both happy.

    The weirdest thing is the flack I get from his grandmother. She seems to think I’m personally attacking their family (or maybe my wife role?) by not taking his name. She mails all our Christmas cards to me as Mrs. Hisname. She’s indicated to others that I ought to have changed my name and she makes weird comments when I talk about DH cooking or cleaning. It’s not like I was trying to take a stand, and it’s frustrating to deal with her making a big fuss when no one else in the family cares either way about it.

    • Rosa

      The pressure we got was mostly from my family, which I found odd. My mother, who has now changed her name twice, each time she married – so she doesn’t have the same last name as her children – was Very Concerned that we would have problems because of not all having the same last name. One of my aunts had a giant hissy fit claiming she could tell my husband is hurt deep in his heart by not giving his last name to our child (who has his dad’s first name as a middle name). My dad is convinced I’m an evil feminist harridan, so this wasn’t different for him at all, but the rest of them really surprised me.

      Though of course my husband’s family hasn’t learned to spell my name correctly in 14 years, so maybe they’re just more passive-aggressive than mine.

  • Lola

    I have a problem with the whole “your name is your identity thing.” I come from a blended family- my name is my father’s name, my mom switched back to her maiden name after her divorce and never changed to my step-dad’s name when they got married and then to make things more confusing, I didn’t change my name when I got married. The result- my name changes constantly depending on situation, depending on the context. I meet my mom’s coworkers- I’m Myfirstname Herlastname, my stepdad’s friends rarely know my actual last name, I’m either his last name or my moms and people call me my husband’s last name often enough. Guess what- none of it is who I am and being called the wrong name has never bothered me.

    (Also, the reason I didn’t change my name after I got married was sheer laziness, I had moved to a new state and just gotten a new drivers license and didn’t want to deal with it).

  • extrovert

    My impression was that by “identity” she meant something more practical – your name is how people identify you in the world. If you change it, people you knew earlier can no longer find you as easily, they won’t remember who you are, they won’t think of you as much. Maybe a woman who got married at age 20 in 1950 wasn’t affected as much by this: she didn’t have email, facebook, credit cards, blogs, etc all under her old name. It was probably just her high school friends who would be confused, but even that was a loss – they might have thought of her years later for a job or something and not been able to find her. But nowadays, jeez, your name is written down everywhere! The younger you get married the easier it is to change, but even teenagers have their names all over the place these days. And the longer you wait, the more degrees you have, the more places you’re listed as an author, the more accounts on websites, etc etc etc. Changing your name might not affect your internal identity, but it definitely affects people in the world keeping track of your identity. It will hurt your chances of getting jobs because people won’t remember who you are on a networking level. If you get divorced, or widowed and remarried, you’re faced with the same choice again – do you keep the name of the husband you’re no longer with, or do you go through all the hassle again of changing your name and again people losing track of you? There are women that were acquaintances, not close friends of mine, in college, and they’ve changed their names and not even hyphenated or kept their maiden names in paretheses on facbeook or anything. The result is I’m having trouble remembering who they are, and if I might have thought of one of them for a job or a writing gig or whatever, well, now its a lot less likely that I will. (Obviously I know who my close friends are either way. But networking happens with acquaintances you haven’t kept track of, and that’s what gets lost with name changes.)

    Plus, of course, its super sexist that only women are expected to change their name.

    My mother never changed her name upon marriage, and I feel like it was good for me growing up with the expectation that I didn’t have to either. People sometimes ask me if it was confusing that my parents didn’t have the same last name, and no, it wasn’t ever an issue for a second. The only time its an issue is when people judgementally ask me about it, and I wonder if they’re thinking that they want me to change my name when I get married soon.

    I’m never changing my name. That’s an easy question to answer. The hard question, for me, is what to name the kids? That’s where a decision actually does have to be made.

  • Slow Learner

    When my wife and I were planning for our wedding, I was unsure of when it would be appropriate to bring up last names.
    For myself, I wasn’t that attached to my surname, and was sure my family would get over the shock if I changed it. My surname was already double-barreled, so just keeping both our surnames would be thoroughly unwieldy; her surname didn’t work that well replacing either of the two in my big-hyphenated-blob; I wasn’t sure what to do.
    Then she brought it up, saying she wanted to take my name, because my surname was more interesting and she’d never felt very attached to hers. She stuck to that despite opposition from some of her family; at one point I barely refrained from telling her aunt that if the continuation of the family name were that important, she should have had children.
    I agree with an earlier commenter that the fact that our decision came to the traditional answer by a non-traditional route does make the other options we considered invisible, and contributes to the default setting. All I can think to do is ask non-judgmentally of friends who are getting married whether they are changing their last name, and being open about the fact that we considered several alternatives.

  • extrovert

    I was focusing on the “identity” part in my previous post, but I also want to say that the only thing wrong with all those other reasons is they’re only expected of women. Want the immediate family to all have the same name? Only the woman changes her name, looses her networking opportunities, has to deal with paperwork changes, etc. Want to distance yourself from an abusive family, your name is hard to spell, etc? Well, those sound ok until you ask yourself when the last time was that you heard a man say any of those. If a man wants to distance himself from his parents or his name is hard to spell, he isn’t expected to change his name when he gets married. Your maiden name is really just your father’s name? Well, that’s true of men too, but they aren’t pressured to change their name in adulthood to prove they don’t belong to their father anymore. The problem isn’t in the reasoning, its that only women are expected to even consider these reasons one way or the other. Its a frought decision either way, and its one men are never faced with. That’s what’s wrong with the system. If we could get around to a system where every time people got married, they BOTH considered changing their name and decided it on a personal level that didn’t result 99% of the time in women being the ones to deal with it, then it would be ok.

    • Little Magpie

      @ Extrovert, at 67;
      “Want to distance yourself from an abusive family, your name is hard to spell, etc? Well, those sound ok until you ask yourself when the last time was that you heard a man say any of those”
      Actually, my ex-boyfriend’s father did exactly that; took his wife’s last name because he was estranged from his own family.

      • extrovert

        Good for them! But how unusual is that? Something like 90% of marriages in the US have the woman change their name, and I’d wager that in the US its less than 1% where the man changes his name. So its not to say it can’t happen, but it certainly isn’t the expectation we all grow up with.

  • saraquill

    Growing up, my mom kept her maiden name as a subtle feminist statement. I thought it was a good idea, so I planned on doing the same. Que my confusion when “never depend on a man” mother remarried and instantly took his name. For the first couple of years in their relationship, she buried a lot of her identity into him, and still does to an extent.

    As for me, I had my name my whole life, I’m comfortable with it, and I”m in no mood to change it after marriage.

  • Eva

    The thing I don’t like about the name changing is the way it seems to be expected of the woman but not of the man. If it evened out it would be a different matter.
    My wife and I both kept our names. Of course we’re a lesbian couple and therefore not really “expected” to do it any special way, so it was totally up to us. I’ve never even considered changing my name, ever. I always thought I had the best name I could possibly get, last name that is, the given name I wasn’t as keen on. I remember as a little girl we had these “memory books” in school where we wrote small poems to each other (maybe just a Norwegian custom). One of the usual poems went something like: “Firstname now and firstname ever, lastname now, but not forever”. I always hated that particular one and never wrote it to anyone.
    When it comes to kids we haven’t had to decide anything, but some friends of our solved it in what I think was a reasonable manner. When they expected their first child they decided that if it was a boy it would have his name and if it was a girl it would have hers. Any subsequent children would have the same family name as the first child. So now they have a boy and a girl, both with their father’s family name.

  • perfectnumber628

    I agree with you- women should have the choice to change or not change their names, and not be judged as “unfeminist” for that choice. In my case, I’m not married, but my whole life I just assumed I would change my name when I get married. Kind of looking forward to it. :)

    Have you seen “The Last Name Project”? Women (and a few men) share their stories about what they decided to do with their name when they married. Everybody has a different story, different reasons, and that’s great.

  • Freya

    I kept my last name. And it was a battle. At one point my MIL accused me of not loving my husband enough. But it wasn’t about that. For me it was about keeping my identity and breaking with a tradition I found sexist.

    My preferred choice actually would have been combining out names (first syllable of his last name combined with the last syllable of mine would have blended well). I liked the symbolism of two people blending their life together to create a new family. But it wasn’t an option for him.

    I never liked the idea of hyphenating. My last name is three syllables already, and I didn’t want to make it even longer by adding an extra two syllables. Plus I didn’t think it was fair that I was the only one who would be hyphenating. I always told him, “I’ll change my name if you change yours.”

    In addition to finding it a sexist tradition I have a unique first name and like having my very common last name to fall back on. His last name was rather rare, and I like having one name that people pronounce correctly without having to re-say it over and over again.

    Ideally I would have given our sons his name and our daughters mine, but as he is the only man in his family who is able to have children and it’s important that the name be passed on in his family I decided to let the children regardless of gender get his name, though as of now it’s a mute point as we only have one son.

    That’s what works for us, but I’m not presumptuous enough to believe that it will work for everyone. I was given a ton of grief because I did not change my name, and still far too many people in his family send me Christmas cards addressed as Mrs. His-first-name His-last-name, which drives me crazy (and makes me wonder if I should send something to them addressed as Ms. Her-first-name, her-maiden-name). So I’m not going to judge others for changing their name as it’s a very personal decision. Plus for people from families that were hurtful I can see how it could be cathartic, and there are also just some last names out there that should die out.

    I do wish that there was more acceptance for people who don’t go with the flow.

  • Niemand

    I have no particular pr0blem with a woman taking her husband’s name or a man taking his wife’s name or them making up a new name or any other permutation. I do have a problem with a society that expects that a woman will always take her husband’s name on marriage. And, like it or not, the decision to take your husband’s name doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Society largely expects a woman to take her husband’s name. It’s no longer required, but it’s still the default. So I’m dubious of claims that women make the decision to take their husband’s last name completely without coercion. If it were truly an individual decision that everyone made based on preference, there should be as many men taking their wives’ names as women taking their husbands’.

    So, call yourself whatever you want, but don’t ignore the social pressures that influence your decision.

    Changing the subject a little: A question for people who don’t share their partner’s last name and have children. What last name to the children have? Mine have my (male) partner’s. Again, this was not a platonically ideal decision made in a vacuum. I gave in and let him get the last name rights. I wanted to hyphenate, but…well…then she’d have the name Firstname Middlenamethatsheiscalledby Secondmiddlename* Rare Twopartlastname-Rareunpronouncablelastname. Computers would hate her and she’d never get any mail.

    *Secondmiddlename is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. It’s one that also works as a first name and gives a connection back to my family and the grandparent I felt closest to, so works as a compromise in the naming game.

    • Anat

      My daughter inherited my husband’s last name (which is now hers too) because that was the only legal option in Israel at the time. I don’t particularly care if she shares a name with one of us or neither, what matters is she has a name that has been hers from the get-go (and which she is free to change to whatever whenever).

    • Rosa

      My son has my last name. Largely for aesthetic reasons – we had a hard enough time finding a name we could both agree on, without adding one that sounded well combined with his father’s multi-syllable many-consonant last name.

    • Little Magpie

      @Niemand: My cousin, who is in a common-law relationship with her partner (ie, not actually “married”) – their children have her last name (with his as a middle name): ie Kidsname HisLastName HerLastName.

  • Jayn

    For me the question of whether or not to change my name came down to one thing–he asked me to (I had yet to come down solidly on either side as far as my personal choice, though had he not I probably would have kept my maiden name just from inertia.). It also seemed appropriate, as getting married was, for me, a huge life change, much more than just making my commitment to my husband official. I did initially not change, as the initial marriage was rather rushed time-wise, and then there was paperwork that was complicated enough without adding that tangle, but I did finally change my name after 5 years, when I became a US citizen. (Which I’m still getting used to. I’m kind of wishing I had just taken it to begin with, since it would have made dealing with the change much less of a hassle) I didn’t drop my maiden name entirely–it’s now my middle name since I never identified with my old one, although similar to your friend picking up my mother’s maiden name somehow also came to mind, since I identify more strongly with her ethnic background.

    As other have said, the big tangle is really that only women are expected to think of these things. While I have my reasons for choosing as I did, the fact remains that it was still a choice I had to make that my husband was never faced with.

  • Katherine

    Libby, I have a ton of respect for you and you’re writing, but I think that you might be the one missing the point here. Granted, the article was a bit harsh, but being a bit harsh doesn’t mean that Jill doesn’t have a point. Who says your name is your identity? Our society, our society does. In fact, our society identifies and organizes people by their LAST names before using their first names, so while your last name might not be a part of your PERSONAL identity, it’s a big part of your cultural, public, and professional identity.
    And I’m sorry, but in this post, I see you doing he very thing that you so often complain about other writers doing… First you say that identity isn’t about a name, and then you say that the reason you chose to change your name was because your identity was changing.
    And I think I get where you are coming from. It sounds like you had a really legitimate reason to change your name, and you made the best possible decision for you, and that’s awesome, that’s as it should be. The problem with name changes isn’t that some women change their names…. The problem is that 90% do. Just like if a husband and wife decide that in their specific case the husband is better at accounting and the wife is bad at it, and they decide TOGETHER that he will be in charge of the finances, that’s different than our culture assuming that men should be in charge of money. At the present time, our culture assumes both that last names are an important part of identity, and that men are in charge of last names.
    As I see it, the problem isn’t that women sometimes change their last names, the problem is that men almost never do.
    The fact that women change their last names most often in our culture is a remnant of a time when women were their fathers property until they because their husbands… And it reinforces that idea, I’m sorry, but it does. And that matters. And I identify with Jill here. The fact even among my liberal progressive activist friends almost ALL the women changed their last names while almost NONE of the men did is maddening. One couple opted for a hyphen – but only for the wife, the husband kept his single last name.

    One point I disagree with Jill on is that marriage equality will help in any real way. I’m gay, and engaged, and after talking about it for a very long time my fiancée and I decided that we will both change our last names, to something new, as a symbol that marriage is about creating family and we are one family now. When my fiancée told her mother this, the mother’s response was “oh wow, I guess that’s ok, I just never thought about you now being an Ourlastname anymore!” And then after some thought she added “well, I guess if you were marrying a man, I would expect you to change your name and I would t think twice about it!”

    You see, since we are both women, society sees us as equals. But if one of us were to have a penis, that name would be expected to prevail. And that is part of the trappings of patriarchy, regardless of how good individual reasons for changing a name may be.

  • AnyBeth

    I intend to change my name when I marry for two reasons: (1) Yes, I’m one of those people who prefers not to be associated with my natal family; and (2) his initial is one I’ve wanted since I was 7 and I still think it’d be neat going with the rest of mine.
    Fwiw, boyfriend has told me that were it not for my wishes as above, he’d’ve asked about changing his name to mine or hyphenating.
    My sister and BIL both want to distance themselves and make an identity of their own. They intend to create their own name… except they haven’t yet, so it seems they may each stick to their natal names.

    • AnyBeth

      Something just occurred to me that I wanted to add:
      If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have kept my name, not because I felt closer to my family but because I wanted to avoid his name, one that’s really rare, long, and counter-intuitively spelt and/or pronounced in any language. I’d rather have kept my fairly common and easy-to-pronounce name than be doomed to be always correcting people and among those very easy to find.

  • Kristen

    Katherine, I agree with you. It doesn’t work to say, “I made a free choice to change my name, therefore there’s no problem for anybody and other people must be making their choices freely.” Creating your identify via your name is an empowering action. Some people really do make that choice freely and feel empowered by it, and that’s great. However, a lot of people are coerced into it. I think it is important for women to insist on what THEY want. If you want to change, go for it, but if you don’t really want to but you’re considering it because it’s easier on everybody, stick to your guns. The more people who do that, the less coercive that choice will be in the future.

    @Niemand, my son has my husband’s name. Our plan was for boys to take his name and girls to take mine. We’re working on another, and I’m starting to reconsider whether it’s a good idea to have full siblings with different last names. If we have a girl, we might go with his again. I don’t mind doing the awkward explaining on why I have a different last name than my son, but I’m not sure I want to put my kids in the position of doing that when they’re in school together. Everybody will assume they’re step siblings and they’ll have to do the explaining, and I don’t want to make their lives difficult.

  • B.

    I agree with your take on this article. The important thing is for women to be able to choose whether they want to change their name or not, and other people just shutting up and dealing with their decision – not forcing the woman to pick either choice. Taking on a partner’s name is just as valid of a choice!

    I, personally, cannot stand my last name. It is silly and brings to mind an unflattering comparison with an old cartoon character. I don’t want to offend my paternal grandparents by changing it on a whim, and changing it in the event of a marriage is probably the easiest way for me to do so. Would I take a future husband’s last name? Probably, provided I don’t dislike it more! There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Sam

    I actually agree with Jill! It’s not so much a choice to define your identity as you see fit when women getting married actually get a legal shortcut to changing a name where no other person does…I think men have the “short-cut” option at marriage in only 6 states. I agree with people having the right to define their own identity; so why not have the same legal name change procedures for all? Men and women, people getting married, and people who are not getting married?

    • Libby Anne

      Are you sure there’s a shortcut? I had to fill out paperwork to get mine changed, and it was a pain—and I was doing it when I married. Where’s the shortcut? Not arguing, just curious.

      • Noadi

        Many states have pretty arduous processes for changing your name unless it’s a woman marrying. Often it requires paperwork plus going to court, in front of a judge and justifying to the judge why you want your name changed and prove that it’s not for fraudulent purposes and if the judge says no you’re out of luck (as has happened to numerous trans* people when trying to get a name change), and often also the requirement that you take out public notices of a name change in local papers. It can be a very expensive process, to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Compared to marrying where the most difficult it gets is a bunch of paperwork.

      • Kodie

        What Noadi says is correct as far as I know, but I would also assume the process used to be even easier for marrying women before they started having their own bank accounts and credit cards and driver’s licenses, among other things. I’m not now nor ever have been married in any state, but I would also think outside of any of the extensive other reasons a person might have for changing their name, showing a marriage license would be one adequate proof that might not be as easily accomplished in any other case. I have also heard that it costs less, and it might just be that much easier – heard of cases where a marrying man changing his name to his wife’s name was hundreds of dollars more than the traditional way around, probably processed due to the fact that men don’t have to change their names or worry about any of this as if he were taking an alias or decided he really liked the name “Eric Clapton” better than “Ernie Klapp” and then they say no because that name’s taken, even though it’s legal to name your son Eric if your last name is already Clapton. If your name is Patti, you can take the name “LaBelle” if you are getting married to Mr. LaBelle, no problem.

        I think there is no regular form or place on the efficiently-handled marrying woman’s form for a man to change his name to his wife’s and has to fill out the regular general paperwork. Just like how the bank still asks you for your mother’s maiden name. General assumption that people living have mothers who got married and it’s long enough ago, nobody remembers. Women change their names, so there’s already a form just for that, and it’s an ordinary and socially acceptable reason, so it’s not prohibitive, but they still need to be able to trace it to your former name, since you are, after all, changing your legal name to something else.

      • Sam

        Noadi beat me to it! :] But yes, essentially what s/he said. Of course it varies from state to state, but I’m pretty sure most of them require some sort of hearing. Here is one situation in Florida where a man was accused of fraud for not going through the proper procedures for a name change (he assumed he could take his wife’s last name with the marriage “short-cut” process, but the current law did not extend to men).

        I also know that in Quebec, everyone desiring a name change must go through the lengthy process. I have heard that the courts are extremely stingy in granting name changes. They see a valid reason only if your name is embarrassing (Seymour Butts), infamous (Adolf Hitler), or difficult to spell to the extent that it causes a burden (Hjeakfnda Hiodanf). Marriage is not recognized as a valid reason, although many women in Quebec choose to assume their husband’s surname socially (Like at the wedding, when the couple is introduced as Mr. and Mrs. ______, although she has not legally changed her name on her SS card, Drivers license, etc.)

        I’m no expert on name changes, but hopefully this information is useful/interesting in some way!

      • Libby Anne

        Thanks guys! I was not aware of this. Yes, this is definitely a problem!

      • Jessica

        In California where I live either spouse can use a simplified name change process upon marriage, but only if one is changing to the other spouse’s name or some part of it. (For instance, I used this process to tack my husband’s last name on the end of my name so my name is firstname middlename maidenname husbandsname). If you are changing to a new name that neither of you had before, or are otherwise changing it, there’s additional procedures and costs.

  • Christine

    If I had been working before getting married I probably wouldn’t have bothered to change my name, because it would have just been to much bother. Same if I actually had to change it (in Canada you can assume your spouse’s name when you get married). For me it was that I wanted to be able to have the same name as future children, and didn’t want my husband to have to give that up. And the reason that I was the one changing my name was two-fold: his name is way cooler, and it was a lot easier for me to do so. And yes, by taking the easy way I’ve made the problem worse. Our names really wouldn’t have made a good combination name anyhow though.

    What I really would have liked is the option where we were Mr & Mrs His_last_name, but I continued to be First_name My_last_name. It’s just not accepted enough here, so it would have been awkward.

    • Christine

      Right – I forgot what Sam said about Quebec. I believe that every other province allows people to assume their spouse’s name when you get married, instead of having to legally change it, but I’m not actually sure if it’s technically a province-by-province thing (with the English-speaking ones being the same) or if Quebec is using one of its exceptions.

      Friends of the family got married in Quebec specifically for reasons connected to lack of name change on her part.

  • Alexis

    Neither my S.O. nor I have a particularly strong connection to our last names (or the families they represent), so if/whenwe marry we’ll probably create a brand-new name for ourselves. Hell, it’ll probably end up being either from sci-fi or fantasy.

    This also makes me think of people passing down whole names to their children. My S.O. is Firstname Middlename Lastname the Third, and it really bothers me. It always struck me as hubris of the highest kind to assume that your child will be so much like yourself that you may as well be the same person. So for him, changing his last name will be at least something he can do to break from his family, just like changing my last name will help me break from mine.

    • Kate Monster

      I like your scifi idea. Instead of becoming “Mrs. Kate Smith” or “Ms. Kate Monster-Smith,” we can be Mr. and Ms. John and Kate Kirk-Picard (What? I like the classy sound of hyphenates!). Or Mr. and Ms. John and Kate Baggins! Or Dr. and Dr. John and Kate Van Helsing! (NB: for this last option, we both have to receive MDs or doctorates before marrying).

      Hey–speaking of naming traditions, why does the dude’s name always get to come first?

  • Caitlin

    “What in the world is wrong with wanting one’s immediate family to share a name? …. And what’s wrong with liking your husband’s last name better, or with not being attached to your maiden name?”

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of this in particular. The problem is that it is unidirectional and its historical roots are based on the idea that women are the property of their husbands (and all of the charming laws, policies, and social norms that go along with that). If these reasons really did go both ways and men and women changed their names with equal (or nearly equal) frequency, then there would be nothing wrong. But it is almost always the case that women change their names and are expected to (and may be socially punished if they don’t), and that men do not change their names and may be socially and even legally punished if they do. How do we change the patriarchal nature of name changing other than not doing it? (My family did want to share a name, so we are all hyphenated–an imperfect solution, but the one that worked best for us. Our children do not seem particularly hung up on how they’ll deal with this when they marry, saying they’ll discuss with their partners what the best plan is for them).

    • Sam

      I agree! It makes sense on an individual level (this woman liked her husband’s last name better than hers, so she changed) but on a societal level, its obvious that there is something else going on!

      I actually get a bit defensive when people say a family should share a surname; I am from a blended family so I don’t share my last name with either of my custodial parents. My dad isn’t really in the picture much, but I don’t associate my name with him, I associate it with me! Furthermore, I have always been close with my extended family and consider them to be just as “important” as my nuclear family, so sharing a name with everyone I consider family has never been a top priority for me.

  • Clytia

    I changed my name when my wife and I got civilly united. We agreed that since we were family now we wanted to share the same surname, but neither of us had any preference as to which one to go with. In the end, I decided to change mine, since being German but living in New Zealand, no one has ever been able to spell or pronounce my maiden name, and it has been such a nice change not having that problem anymore. Of course, when we eventually go back home, we’ll have the same problem all over again, but with the surname we both share now. Oh well.
    Also, I do get what you’re saying, since my parents are in the middle of getting a divorce, and my mother has decided to change her name, but since both her married name and her maiden name are impossible for anyone here in NZ to spell and pronounce, she’s creating a completely new name for herself that she likes. While I personally don’t think the name suits her (she did ask my opinion, though I didn’t give it to her as strongly as that), I respect her choice for what it is.

  • jose

    You wrote this recently about gendered advertising:

    “I really find the messages this kind of gendering sends highly disconcerting. As a feminist mother, I will do my best to counter these messages with my own children, but that won’t stop them from picking up things subconsciously and from feeling pressured by peers or teachers to conform to these gendered ideas and stereotypes.”

    You can apply the same thinking to giving up your name as well. The focus is on what this cultural peculiarity consists of and what the effects are. Notice how you didn’t frame this as an attack on mothers who buy a doll to their daughters.

  • Kate Monster

    Quoting Kristen: “For him, my changing my name was WHAT HE EXPECTED…”

    This, in a nutshell, is the problem. Women changing their names isn’t the problem–the societal expectation that (in heterosexual, monogamous marriages) women will change their names, that it is the man’s name that constitutes the “family name”–this is the problem. The problem is that there’s still a certain judgement placed on men whose wives don’t change their names–as though it’s emasculating for a woman not to do so, as though it means she doesn’t *really* love him (a friend of mine who got married last year told me that this was one of the reasons why she was changing her name). That government forms in many states make it simple and cheap for a woman to change her name upon marrying, but men who want to change their names have to jump through (often costly) hoops to do the same thing.

    Societal expectation is powerful and often subtle. And in this case, it places a huge burden on women, both women who wish to change their names, who must deal with a detailed examination and outright criticism of their reasons (“You’re a bad example for women! You’re sublimating your identity to a man just out of tradition!”), women who do not, (” You’re just a ball-busting feminist! You’re setting the marriage up for failure! What are your kids going to be called?”), and men who adopt a hyphenated/new name or their wife’s (“You’re not a real man!”). It’s one of the many Catch-22s tied up in the move from patriarchy to egalitarianism: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • Little Magpie

    Slightly OT from the whole point of the post, but I wanted to react to the title of the post, about birth name being identity. My brother in law, having been through many name changes (more on that below), and in Illinois, they way they change your ID is that they change the birth cert – but they don’t REDO it, oh no, they basically cross one thing out and write the new thing on, and it looks all unprofessional and unofficial even though it IS official.
    Okay, so here’s where I need to do a little ‘splaining. My BIL is a transman, that is, assigned female at birth, and his self-realization about gender happened after marrying my brother, but before getting pregnant. SO, with one last name change destined to happen sooner or later with the gender change, he figured, change his name *before* the child was born, so at least the child’s birth cert wouldn’t have to get amended when her parent’s name was amended. But it turns out that what Illinois puts for the parents names on a child’s birth cert isn’t their *current names* but their *original names*. Because it’s not that *people* have children, clearly, birth certificates breed baby birth certs right?
    My brother in law’s paper trail of names looks like this: (leaving out the middle name for brevity)
    at birth: HerGirlName DadsLastName
    after parental divorce: HerGirlName MomsLastName-DadsLastName
    after marrying my brother: HerGirlName HusbandsLastName
    after adopting a male first name: HisGuyName HusbandsLastName
    And what ended up written on the “mother” part of my niece’s birth cert? THE FIRST ONE.
    Bureaucracy is dumb. :P

    • luckyducky

      Because it’s not that *people* have children, clearly, birth certificates breed baby birth certs right

      Love this! And it is totally accurate, we are all better off when we recognize the paper trail only has a loose relationship to the biological one and is not a perfect record of reality.

  • Christine

    What is the standard way, where you live, to ask what a recently married woman’s name is? I’m used to “are you changing your name/did you change your name?”. This caused me some trouble when one woman asked “what’s your name now?”. It threw me, because I’d been having a bit of adjustment to what my name was (neither one felt right, and it wasn’t helped by my campus computer login predating my name change). So apparently me “hah, I can do this!” answer came out as me telling her that she was rude to not assume that of course I’d just change my name to his. (She and her husband hyphenated their names, although she uses her birth name at least sometimes for business ventures, as it’s less of a mouthful).

  • Grikmeer

    My dad got really annoyed with me when I changed my name by deed poll, and I just got a little baffled. The way I see it the surname is meaningless. He didn’t choose it, it was given to him by his father, and so forth. I changed my surname because I had made one which I preferred, but I kept both of my first names, because they were CHOSEN by my parents. It’s also the reason I am choosing to feminise them when/if I transition, instead of choosing a whole new name.

  • Gwynnyd

    As a person who kept her own name, I can attest that my (currently both adult) kids had no problem at all. I was fine with giving them the spouse’s last name (as neither of us considers them possessions). I was also fine with being “Mrs. Husband’sLastName” in social situations or to the scout troops. If Aunt Edith insists on addressing the Christmas cards to Mr & Mrs – I can just shrug and move on. But MY credit and MY passport and MY business cards have MY name on them. And I would have thought twice and hard about marrying a man who was not fine with that.

  • Kat

    Here’s my take on the whole to change or not to change issue: Yes, most women change their name, and a lot (but not all!) make that choice due to societal pressure. This is a problem. But making blanket statements about how that’s a bad thing to do does nothing but put the ones who want to change between a rock and a hard place. You want to change? You’re a bad feminist. You want/choose to keep your name? Same old pressure as before. Yes, changing the climate would be quicker and more dramatic if we all decided to not to change, but it wouldn’t establish an atmosphere where the decision was freely made. All it would do is impose a new standard.
    Full disclosure: I’m getting married in a couple months. I’ve decided to take his last name. And yes, I do occasionally feel a twinge of guilt for that decision, as if I’m contributing to the problem. But I don’t want to do it any other way. We liked the symbolism of sharing a last name for the new family we’re creating, and neither of us felt like creating a brand new one (not because we think it’s objectively a bad idea, but because we personally didn’t want to). Our names don’t blend well together, so we decided we’d choose one of ours (both are short and easy to pronounce, and we’re both on relatively good terms with our families). In all honesty, the tiebreaker was that I already have a cousin with Hisfirstname Mylastname, so it would have made things confusing if he took my name (although he said up front that he was perfectly willing to do so, even in the face of all the grief he would have gotten from his parents over it).
    Here’s the thing, though: I really do think all of the options should be available to everyone, and that includes the traditional ones. In this case, the traditional option happened to suit the two of us best. I’d rather tell our (future) children that we made the best decision for ourselves, and that they should go through the same process to determine what works for them, then to tell them we chose a less than optional solution because that’s what “good feminism” requires.

  • Rilian

    That women tend to take their husband’s last name is indicative of a problem. Like how the fact that more black people are poor or in prison or whatever is indicative of a problem. It’s not that poverty *should* be equally distributed across races, but you would expect it to be, just out of randomness, so what’s making it not that way? And what’s making it that it’s nearly always the woman taking the man’s name and what’s making it that people want to have one family name anyway? It’s indicative of some kind of problem. But just telling individual women not to change their names is not necessarily going to solve it. I think it could maybe help though, in a roundabout way. It can be a sign that you are more than a man’s wife. But still an individual woman should do whatever she thinks is best for herself.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    I changed my name because I had been previously married and the apostrophe in my name gave computer systems apoplectic fits. Now, I am wondering if a name change for the whole family would be apropos. My husband hates his family and my family is more loving, tho my name is a bit complicated to pronounce. Once we finally get his daughter home, maybe an entirely new name would be healing for us?

  • Mogg

    I have a surname which is easy to make rather predictable jokes out of, and my father’s family (with the exception of my father) is not particularly worth memorialising. As such, I have always intended to change my name unless futurehusband had a name more embarrassing than my own. Now that marriage is a possibility in the forseeable future, I’m possibly changing my mind. I’ve had this name for getting on for forty years so It’s well worn in, and I’m so used to the jokes that they amuse me more than anyone else – timing how long in a new situation before someone makes one, for instance. On the other hand, I don’t have anything so deeply professionally associated with my name that I couldn’t change it if I wanted to, and my partner has a name I find quite nice and has the added bonus of being towards the start of the alphabet, something I always wished for as a child. It’s a little difficult to spell unless you’re familiar with Dutch and people tend to stumble over the pronunciation, though. Then again, my name is pronounced exactly as a common English word, but is spelled differently, and so I usually have to spell my name, too…

    Incidentally, my partner was horrified when I suggested that any children we have should have his name – he wanted there to be a discussion, I was just thinking about any kids not having to put up with the jokes.

  • KM

    I appreciate this article quite a lot and appreciate you taking time to respond to Filipovic’s article. I found her article as a whole quite troublesome as I am a feminist, very progressive, and decided to take my husband’s name.
    Granted, I did not give up my birth last name either. I ended up with original first and middle names and always include my birth last name along with my married last name. I did not hyphenate, as I found the result aesthetically unpleasing. So I go by First, Birth LN, Husband’s LN. Essentially, two last names. I strongly considered not changing and mutually hyphenating among other things. In the end, as both my first and birth last names are incredibly common in the U.S., I opted to add my husband’s last name to set me apart from the literal thousands of other people in the U.S. with the same names. (Filipovic, it makes me easier to Google! I actually can have a web presence now!) I also added it because I like his last name aesthetically, I appreciate the symbolism of adding a new name, and I don’t really give a rat’s ass what others think of my decisions about my name. My name, my choice.
    While I completely agree that it is a problem that 90% of women change their names while only 1% or less of men do, I think the problem lies not in the fact that they change but in the extremely likely case that the majority of those who change don’t think through the implications, history, etc. of the naming conventions and change theirs as sort of a reflex. In other words, the fact that people assume that women will change and not men is the thing about changing names that bothers me. And it bothers me A LOT.
    However, what bothers me MORE is when women come down on other women by ridiculing them for the choices they make. Sure, it’s not the choice that you would make, but if she made that choice for herself, for her own reasons, how dare you tell her that they’re illegitimate reasons? I already have plenty of the patriarchy around me to tell me that my reasoning is illegitimate, wrong, foolish, and ignorant. I don’t need my sisters saying that as well.

  • Louise

    If I ever get married, I think I would change my last name. If I don’t get married, I would love to change my last name to my grandmother’s maiden name. Actually, married name is fine too or maybe I will make up a name. I just loathe having a last name that came from my “father.” It is a constant reminder.

  • Andi

    I didn’t mind changing my name to my husband’s, not one bit! I always HATED my name, and if I hadn’t gotten married, I probably would’ve gotten it legally changed. My parents gave me a long, vowel-ly, flowery, alliterative name that probably would’ve sounded nice if every situation called for the whole thing (middle name and all) and I didn’t have a slight southern twang in my speech. As it was, whenever I had to give my name, I sounded like I didn’t have a tongue. Oh, and of course, my surname was hard to pronounce and I wasn’t particularly close to my father’s side of the family (I got the sense that they didn’t much care for the white half of me.)

    I don’t even like to go by my original first name, it never felt like it fit me and I was always more comfortable with the shortened nickname version my parents gave me, even though my mom likes to claim that my dad gave me this boyish nickname because he wanted a son and not a daughter. :P

    So, yeah, I’m all for being able to change your name. And I don’t appreciate people telling me that because I took my husband’s name, I’m somehow a mindless drone or his servant.

  • sarahbee

    Best response I have seen to this question yet is Andrea Grimes’ “We Cannot Choose Our Way To Gender Equality“. For example:

    No one is living a sexism-free life. No one is free of privilege. Everyone commits microaggressions. Everyone fucks up. Everyone makes shitty decisions. Some of the shit you do is sexist. Sometimes you’ll do it consciously. Sometimes you’ll do it accidentally. Sometimes you’ll do it joyfully. Observing that people make sexist decisions, even observing that YOU, MY FRIEND have made sexist decisions, may genuinely be a critique and a judgment of you as a person, but also may be a cry for help, or a cry of anger, because your sexist decisions are making someone else’s life harder, even if they make your life easier. To be feminist is not to be free of criticism; to be feminist is to be open to criticism.

  • Joolz

    I think all the fuss about this is missing one point – there have only been two, maybe three, generations of women who have even considered not changing their name. The fact that it is now only 90% of US women who take their husband’s name is brilliant – that means 10% don’t. My mum is nearly 70 and it wouldn’t have occurred to her that it was even possible for her not to take her husband’s name when she got married. I’m in my mid-40s and when I got married nearly 20 years ago we did have the discussion about names – I hated mine (it was the surname of a very popular british sitcom character from the 1970s and I spent my entire childhood, teens and 20s enduring catchphrases from the show every single time someone heard my last name); his was also a slightly comic name but that was due to a cultural reference that was dropping out of existence. The initials of both were the same and my signature has always been an unreadable scrawl of my three initials, so taking his name simply meant I could lose the name I had endured but also keep my signature the same. We did discuss changing them both but couldn’t decide on a name we both liked – we trawled through family histories, talked about names we liked in books, films, tv, etc. In the end it was just simply easier for me to take his name. Another consideration was the paperwork and that is something that would be nice if it changed. It wouldn’t have been too difficult here in the UK – you can pretty much call yourself anything you want so long as it isn’t for fraudulent purposes – but there is still lots of paperwork and as the paperwork queen of this household I really didn’t want to double or triple the hassle after we married.

    If we had had children then I have no doubt we would have discussed the issue of name change on marriage with them (girl or boy) because it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, set in stone. In retrospect, if we had had children my former name would have been better than his name because the cultural reference for his name still exists but the sitcom reference for mine has pretty much gone the way of most things from the 70s!

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if in another two generations it is down to 75% of women who change their name, and two generations after that it’s more of a “what do we call ourselves when we pair bond” question.

    I just realised while typing this screed that my entire name is now different to what it was before I married DH. He gave me a diminutive that I really liked (I was Julie – but he always called me Joolz and I liked that far better than Julie, or Ju, or Julia (rare, but happens occasionally). I think I came up with the spelling when I first got an online account. I’m often surprised at how many people assume I’m male just because my online name is Joolz.

  • Sophie

    I always used to say that I wouldn’t change my name when I got married because I had my surname changed already. My mum suggested that I started to use her maiden name when I changed schools at 11 because we kept having problems because of our different surnames. School administrators had refused to give my mum information over the phone and on a couple of occasions had refused to let her take me home without my father’s permission when I was ill . My mum had changed back to her maiden name fairly soon after my parents’ separation and had also used the opportunity to change her hated first name to the nickname she developed as a teenager.

    My name wasn’t changed legally until I was 18 and I only I did that because my National Insurance number and exam certificates had been issued in the name I used at school. My current surname is a very common Scottish surname, I think it may be the commonest. My birth surname was also Scottish but very unusual, and sometimes I do regret the change. My paternal grandmother is still very angry about me changing it and often deliberately writes me cheques to the wrong name. It’s kind of funny since it’s not even her birth name, but also frustrating since her behaviour does cause me problems.

    My partner has a double-barrelled surname which goes back several generations. The story is that there were several tradesman in a village who all had the same surname (which is a very common surname in Wales) so to avoid confusion they all added their wives’ maiden names in front, so wife’s maiden name – his surname. I love the story and quite like the name, it also goes well with my first and middle names. Plus I am in the process of cutting my mother out of my life, so changing my name away from hers would be a good step. I know that my partner does not care about the matter at all, and would just want me to do what made me happy. Of course this all depends on whether we get married, it’s not something that is particularly important to either of us.

  • Emmie

    I have both taken a husband’s name and legally changed my name (first and last) to something completely different that I liked just because I liked it. Both where well thought out decisions which suited the situation at the time. I am very happy with my name now and it was totally worth the hassle and expense to go through court to finally have a first name that I like and a last name that I find meaningful for personal reasons. My son was sad about my fist name because he’d liked the original but didn’t care at all about the last name change.

  • Emmie

    I have both taken a husband’s name and legally changed my name (first and last) to something completely different that I liked just because I liked it. Both where well thought out decisions which suited the situation at the time. I am very happy with my name now and it was totally worth the hassle and expense to go through court to finally have a first name that I like and a last name that I find meaningful for personal reasons. My son was sad about my first name because he’d liked the original but didn’t care at all about the last name change.

  • Sara

    I kept my maiden name when I married, and was proud to do so. But this article still made me angry when I read it (not yours, Jill’s). Women yelling at women for acting too feminist/not feminist enough. Boo to that. Do what you want with your name, it’s YOURS! Supporting women in making decisions that are right for them is what feminism is about – not just changing who women need to bow down to. BTW, I had never heard of Jill F. before but have read a few articles by her in the past week, all of which were much much better than the article quoted here. I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.