A rose by any other name

Ask before you decide to apply the mrs label

The ever fabulous Francesca sent me a link to a NY Times article concerning post-nuptial bridal monikers. I’ve written here about the practical aspects of changing one’s name, but I can’t recall if I’ve addressed the alternative considerations. To take the name of another (or not) can be an intensely personal process and, as you’ve no doubt noticed in the comments section, one that many people find rather off-putting.

Said article opens with a anecdote about a family vs. family softball game intended to determine whether Jill Van Camp would take Darren Bloch’s name or vice versa…an idea that may have been invented by New Yorkers Sam Shaffer and Kathryn Neale.

Thanks to hyphens, a vogue toward creative morphing of names, and legislation in some states that has eased the process for a man to take his wife’s surname, there have never been more surname options…But brides, and bridegrooms as well, are learning that with choice comes complication. They are turning what was once an intimate conversation into an interactive dialogue with relatives, friends and even professional consultants.

The number of newlywed ladies opting not to become Mrs. So-and-So is rising, at least among those who are college educated. And more duders are deciding to take the name change plunge, leading some states to put legislation into play that makes it easier for guys to become Mr. So-and-So. The Governator even signed a bill that will allow domestic partners in California to easily swap monikers in 2009.

If you’ve gotten flack for your choice to keep or change your name, you have an advocate in the Lucy Stone League, an organization dedicated to “equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names, because a person’s name is fundamental to her/his existence.” The league also pushes for the equal frequency of male and female name changes and equality of patrilineal/matrilineal name distribution for children, though I really don’t see either of those things happening any time soon. The site is worth a visit if you’re on the fence about changing your name–it discusses the history of name choice freedom, the importance of identity, and the many options brides AND grooms have.

Who won the softball match? You’ll have to read the article to find out! But before you scamper off to the Times, weigh on the name change issue via comment if, like many, you have strong feelings on the topic.

14 Responses to “A rose by any other name”

  1. Twistie says:

    I never even considered changing my name. In fact, when I girded up my loins to tell my fiance (now husband) that I wasn’t changing my name, he just looked puzzled and said ‘I never thought you would change it.’ My father and a couple friends never managed to wrap their heads around the concept that I had never changed my name and had no intention of ever doing so, but most people simply accept it.

    OTOH, when I was planning my wedding, there was a young man I worked with who was also in the throes of preparing to marry his love. He hated his surname because it came from a father who abandoned him before he was even born. He decided this would be the perfect opportunity to get rid of the hated name. He and his lady both wanted to use her name. For some reason, it was his family that decided to battle for his father’s name! They got enough family fallout (almost all from his side, though her father agreed) that they gave up on that plan. By that time, though, he’d gotten so close to ridding himself of the name he decided there was no way he was going through the rest of his life with it. The compromise he decided on in the end was to have his name legally changed to his mother’s maiden name.

    But where all I had to do to change the name on my check (if I’d wanted to) was to inform the office of my wedding date so the new name would go into effect as soon as I was ready, he had to go to court, petition to change his name, wait for it to be approved by the court, and then file legal documents with the company. He would have had to do this even if he had changed his name to his lady’s when they married. I thought that was ridiculous.

    I’ve got more, but I’ll save it for another comment, or possibly another conversation.

  2. Never teh Bride says:

    The good news is that the tides are changing, Twistie. Slowly, a centimeter at a time, but they’re changing nonetheless. As more grooms contemplate changing their names, legislators are recognizing that there is no logical reason that men should have to jump through hoops when all gals have to do is mosey on down to the SS office.

  3. JC says:

    I’m not changing my name – I’ve got a really common first name, so most people call me by my last name. It would just be too weird to not have it anymore. Luckily, it was one of those things that came up in conversation before we even got engaged. I’m amazed at how many people think that they can butt in and tell me that they can’t believe I’m not changing my name…and that’s part of the reason I’m doing it. I know that *I* am a strong enough person to not change and tell everyone else that it’s none of their business, but I’m sure that there are women out there who would like to change and don’t because of the pressure. I’d like to think that by not changing my name I am contributing to the critical mass we need for ALL options to be accepted without being judged.

  4. JaneC says:

    I contemplated changing my name and becoming Jane C D, but I’ve decided that, at least for now, changing my name is just too complicated and I’m too lazy to do it. I am happy to be called Mrs. D, but legally I’m Ms. C. My husband is fine with that–he would have been upset if I’d insisted that I never, ever wanted to be called Mrs. D, but as long as that’s ok he doesn’t care what my legal name is or what name I use at work.

    I’ve only had one person who said, “But why not?!” when I said that I wasn’t going to change my name, and that was someone at work. I’m really puzzled that he would be surprised. Out of six married women in our department four kept their names, one changed her name, and one hyphenated her name. Why he thought I’d be any different, I don’t know.

  5. K says:

    The only thing that bugged me in the article was the couple who chose an entirely new name. I expected that they’d come up with a combination of their own last names, but — nope! — brand-new, completely unrelated last name. I just think it’s a little superficial to pick a name out of the blue that holds no meaning whatsoever for you. It’s not a family name, an honored friend’s name, the name of a person you admire — it’s just a random name because you felt like being different. Yes, I suppose it’s special to them because it’s the name they’ll start their new lives with, but…the whole thing seems very hollow and spiritually empty to me.

    But that’s just me and my old-fashioned ways, I guess. 🙂

  6. Abby says:

    I have a name that is often misspelled or mispronounced, and when I got engaged I figured, “Great, I can change my name and everyone will get the new one right.” But it’s months later and I haven’t done it yet…it’s turning out to be tougher than I thought to let go of that annoying name I’ve had for so long!

  7. Carol says:

    After divorcing my first husband, I kept his name because it was easier to spell than my maiden name, the kids had his last name and I was already known professionally with that name. My recent marriage did NOT bring a name change – Mr. Carol is just fine with that. It makes sense because his mother’s name is exactly the same as what mine would be if I changed it. We are having some troubles, however. The church sends me mail under my maiden name, my married name and a hyphenated blend. When introduced, sometimes they use his last name, sometimes they use mine. We decided to fight it only if it became a legal or postal issue. So far, so good!

  8. Molly says:

    I totally dropped my maiden name when I got married, despite going to a very common last name and despite having strong feelings about identity. I did it because my husband was very sensitive about our disparate backgrounds and in some way, taking his name reassured him that I needed him as much as he needed me. I joked about having him take my name and he said something sour about it to the effect that my values and my family defined so much of our relationship that his name was all he had left. (That was pretty true at the time.) I don’t understand why it was so important to him, but given how much I defined about our early marriage I was willing to compromise on a point that mattered less to me than him. I haven’t ever regretted it.

    My own family still addresses me by the wrong name and initials *five years* later. I still have girlfriends look at me like I have two heads for dropping my maiden name. I’ve definitely felt pressure for “selling out.” I think it’s a shame that such a personal decision between two people has so many people sticking their oars in… but then again we haven’t had children yet!

  9. Jennie says:

    Twenty five years ago I hyphenated my name. My full signature became a nightmare (try signing all of your full name on a house closing! Jennie Middle Name Hypenated-Last Name), I have more AKA’s than a mobster, and the IRS, driver’s liscense, and most credit cards never did get it right. Since my divorce 4 years ago, I have been trying to get back to my maiden name. 4 trips to SSN agency, driver’s liscense agency, and repeated calls, actual closing of accounts because they wouldn’t cooperate and I now only have one that I cannot get to change…. Unless you feel strongly that it will adversely affect your children, keep the name you are use to. Or adopt the Spanish custom of giving the children the last name of the mother….

  10. cari says:

    I’m in the same situation as Abby–unusual, difficult-to-pronounce last name–and it’s had the opposite effect on me. I will never change my name because I’ve fought too many battles for it. Besides, it’s an excellent barometer of who’s an idiot and who isn’t. If I pronounce it for you once and you keep saying it wrong, or if I spell it for you and you still write it down wrong, you’re not worth my time.

  11. jinnan-tonnyx says:

    Re: K

    Sometimes there is no way to combine the names & come up with anything remotely pronounceable. For couples in my situation, I’m sure we’d prefer not to be judged on our depth & spirituality for the fact that we decided to pick an entirely new name for ourselves. For us it comes down to equality, not “being different”. Moreover, it’s really none of anyone’s business why we chose the name we did.

  12. Dianasaur says:

    I definitely think this should be up to the individual. I never even thought twice about changing my name. I knew it’s important to my husband who’s very traditional. I tend to only like tradition when it suits my purposes, and although I’m extremely independent, I had no reason not to change my name. It’s also made a lot of things easier. When we were engaged and went on some group trips, only the married couples got seats together and we were separated on a very full plane. It’s also easier in different countries in Africa, they would not understand why I wouldn’t have his name. Plus, I just like it. I can make jokes about being a DJ, and every time I sign or say my last name I smile and think of my wonderful husband.

  13. Audrey says:

    It never crossed my mind to keep my last name. I have no hatred for my maiden name, but all my life I imagined being Mrs. -something-. What girl doesn’t secretly practice her name with her boyfriend or crush’s last name just to test it out? My husband, on the other hand, comes from a family where the wife keeps her last name and the kids get hyphens. Since his mother is remarried he has half the same last name as his siblings. We actually argued about me changing my name because he felt like he was imposing his male dominance on me. I had to point out that telling me I couldn’t take his name was actually imposing on me more than letting me do what I wanted. Since his name is hyphened, so is mine, which causes for confusion for a lot of people.

    The funny thing is that his parents said they had never thought about what their kids would do for their own children..would they have to have a hyphenated hyphen? (this seriously crossed my husband’s mind, but there was no way I was going to become Mrs. B____-P___-W__________ or make my kids go through that. The in-laws’ solution to this was to offer to pay for him to change his name if and when he got married.

  14. Fenny says:

    Ive thought about the whole name thing for years. My surname is extremely unusual in this country (UK) and nobody can spell it correctly, even when you spell out the 5 letters to them. There are only our branch and my uncle’s side left. My brother has 2 daughters, my cousins (1 male, 1 female) each have one son, so of the next generation, only one will carry the name on under traditional circumstances. Here it is much less common for women to keep their own name or hyphenate.

    My parents are separated and I sometimes wonder, from conversations I have had with Ma, whether she would be miffed if I wanted to keep Pa’s surname if I got married. Her maiden name is fairly common and easy to spell, but I wouldn’t choose to use that instead, because it has never been *my* name.

    I have no problem in taking my husband’s name, but the genealogist in me would love to pass my name on to the next generation.