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Women and Last Names:

[I had posted this earlier, but there was a glitch that kept the comments from working; reposting it now.]

I've found that lots of women of my circle — generally professionals who, I think, would describe themselves feminists at least in the sense of believe that men and women should be fundamentally equal socially and professionally — change their last names when they marry.

That surprises me, because the symbolism strikes me as somewhat antifeminist; maybe it shouldn't, but it does. Perhaps this is because back in Russia, where I first noticed people's last names, my mother and my grandmother (who had helped raise me) had kept their maiden names, and I think so had many of my parents' friends. I distinctly remember my reaction when I met a couple my parents knew, and noticed that they had the same last name: They're not just husband and wife, I thought; they must be brother and sister. I hadn't learned yet about the incest taboo, and brother-sister marriages seemed more plausible to me than a person's changing her name.

But of course different people perceive symbols differently; and obviously many friends of mine don't take the view that I do. So let me ask a question, and seek comments, but only from women who have changed their names when they married: Why?

I think I know some possible answers, but I don't want to influence the responses, so I'll just seek comments from the readers. Again, please post comments only if you are a woman, and you changed your name when you married.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen comments.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Many Thanks
  2. More on Women and Last Names:
  3. Women and Last Names:
Janine Peterson (mail):
I'm a woman, preparing to be married in October, and I will change my name legally. I have a decent freelance writing and academic career with my maiden name, and I write about some controversial topics, so I'll continue to write under my maiden name.

I'm changing my name because I want my children to have the same last name as both their parents. My fiance and I considered using my last name or a common historical last name, but we decided that would be too complicated. Sometimes I worry about the decision, thinking I will lose my connection to my family, but I realize that as long as I keep in touch with my family, that keeps the connection strong.

It was not an easy decision, and I wouldn't judge harshly anyone who did otherwise than I.
5.17.2005 4:02pm
Elizabeth Foley (mail):
Okay, I confess I'm one of those feminists who changed her name post-marriage. Why? It's actually rather simple: for the sake of the children born of the marriage. It's just easier, from a child's perspective, to have mommy and daddy have the same name. It gives the children a stronger sense of family (at least in our culture, where it's the "norm") and an easier way to identify with both parents, not just the parent whose last name they assume. Children can, of course, achieve the same sense of affinity to both parents by assuming a hyphenated name (e.g., Smith-Jones), but let's face it: If two hyphenated-name children grow up and get married, there's a bit of a mess. Besides, it seems self-evident to me that voluntarily adopting the name of one's spouse (whether the female adopts the male's name or vice versa) does not render the one who changes his/her name "subservient" in any way. It's just convenience, more than anything else.
5.17.2005 4:03pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Eugene, it doesn't strike me as any more "antifeminist" than the Littlest Conspirator's automatically inheriting your surname and not your wife's. It's arbitrary, sure, but so is driving on the right side of the road.

The old standard practice in the US was to take your maiden name as your new middle name. My mom, for example, was Linda Joan Hasse before marriage, and Linda Hasse Dulak after, though she just uses the H. as middle initial. I was Michelle Kathleen [usually just K.] Dulak before marriage, Michelle Dulak Thomson after, and I do try to use all three names so the "Dulak" stays visible. (I dislike the hyphenation craze; I was not keen to be Michelle Dulak-Thomson. I know one couple so egalitarian that both spouses took the hyphenated name. Lord only knows what will happen if children of two such marriages marry! A name can stand only so many hyphens.)
5.17.2005 4:14pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I changed mine; I'm not sure why. I know my husband liked the idea, as did his family. I didn't care one way or the other, and either did my family. So, why not go with tradition?

If possible, and you get appropriate data, it would be
interesting if you did a really, really silly sounding statistical test. Is there a correlation between changing your last name and moving up in the alphabet? I know this sounds idiotic, but at my former work place, we were discussing this with people in our section and *every single* woman in our section who changed their name moved
forward in the alphabet. (Example: I went from "Txxxx" to
"Lxxx".) None who would move back changed their name when they married. (Example: Ms. "Bxxx" did not change to Mrs. "Nxxx" when she married.)

Since we were polling the engineers, all with MS degrees or
higher, we had a small sample of about 9, and of course, an odd sub-group.

For the record, not one woman *thought* the move up or down in the alphabet had anything to do with their decision to change last names.
5.17.2005 4:24pm
Kris:
I am a professional woman in two fields -- published poet/journalist and attorney. Like Janine, I'm marrying in October, and when I do, my current last name becomes my middle name, and I will take my husband's last name as mine. You say "different people perceive symbols differently," and it is so. Most Gen-X men accept that their wives will choose a name based on the level of convenience and the career impact. In fact, my fiance assumed I would keep my name, and tried to feign indifference in an effort to be sensitive. But many men perceive themselves to be "giving" their family name to their wife at marriage. To them, it is a gift that represents the creation of their own new family, and their promises to that particular woman and the children they may have together. I cannot express to you how pleased my fiance was when I surprised him with my decision to take his name. Accepting that gift is also a symbol: that I put my husband (and potential children) and my immediate family identity before my own convenience or career identity.
5.17.2005 4:28pm
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
I agree with the prevailing theme here. I want to have the same last name as my children and my husband, so that we appear to the world as a family unit. I think hyphenated names are silly.

Additionally, I'd always hated that the initials of my maiden name spelled HAM, and I'd never felt any attachment to my middle name, so I was happy to trade HAM for HMV.

Besides, who wouldn't want to become a Volokh? (Spelling issues aside.)
5.17.2005 4:30pm
Susanna:
I changed my name upon marriage because I've always hated my maiden name, which is perpetually mis-spelled and mispronounced. My husband has a nice monosyllabic and spellable name. As others have said, it's also convenient to have everyone in the family have the same last name. And why should I be loyal to my father's last name? Presumably the truly feminist thing to do would be to make up some brand new name. For a brief time in the 1970s there were some women who recristened themselves "Jane Marysdaughter" and the like! Thus confusing everyone equally.

We should not fetishize names. They're arbitary. I always feel very sorry for people with "bad" names, e.g. names not merely unpronouceable, but embarrassing. Many names falling into this category are those from a non-Anglophile culture that unfortunately are synonyms with obscenities or goofy phrases in English: E.g., Thomas Crapp, Mary Slutsy, Young Bum Koo, etc. There is no virtue in going through life as Jon Turd or Jane Lipshits. Courts should offer free name changes to all!
5.17.2005 4:46pm
Mrs. Whatshisname:
To the extent that one views marriage as a spiritual and religious enterprise, there is also significance to the gesture of unification and establishing to the larger world that you are one household. The ideas of selflessness and dying unto oneself are religious ideals that appeal to me, albeit ones that I often fail to achieve. I don't know if it was along those lines or in complete contradiction to those ideals that I also felt that who I am transcends my name. My talents, friends and professional contacts have followed me beyond the name change. The agonizing over the issue may have more to do with ego than with practical concerns or whether or not one is a feminist. For me it felt like sweating the small stuff when there were more significant issues of equality out there.

With all that said, let me hastily add, that I agree these concepts apply to both genders and I have no intellectual problem with men taking their wives' names (I had a family member who did that) or of the couple choosing a new name.
5.17.2005 4:47pm
Rebecca Oris Davidson (mail) (www):
I changed my name when I got married five years ago. I'm 26, for reference. There were a few reasons:

  1. My maiden name was Pope. The subject of many bad jokes.

  2. For some reason, people don't hear the letter P at the beginning of words. Many, many times I discovered that the reason the receptionist couldn't find my records was because she thought my name was Hope. It's vaguely annoying to have to spell out a four-letter name.

  3. I was never particularly attached to the name (see #1), and it meant a lot to my husband that I was willing to change my name.

  4. Pope-Davidson-Maertz was right out. (He dropped the -Maertz when we married, because really, Davidson-Maertz is a lot of name.)

  5. Many things are less of a hassle when husand and wife have the same last name. Except on the most official things, we generally don't have to provide anyone with suppolrting documentation to prove we're married.

  6. All my sisters (and other female relatives) changed their names when they got married, so I always vaguely assumed I would, too.


I never considered it a feminist issue. The name just wasn't all that central to my identity. I thought about it, but ever since I was about twelve, I couldn't wait to never have to hear another bad Catholic joke.

If you're doing it for the right reasons (because you want to, and not because you feel like you have to), changing your name at marriage isn't any less feminist than getting married in the first place. And I have little patience for those who claim that marriage is an inherently anti-feminist act. It can be, but it shouldn't be.

An interesting sidenote: in the last few years, I have started using my middle name more. However, since Oris (which was my paternal grandmother's first name) is not a common name, many people assume it is my maiden name, and I have gotten quite a few letters addressed to "Ms. Oris Davidson."
5.17.2005 4:50pm
erp (mail):
Back when I got married in 1956, I did what was customary at that time. I changed my last name to my husbands, dropped my middle name in favor of my maiden name and kept my own first name. It worked fine and simplified matters especially when the kids came along.

If I were a young woman getting married in today's world, I'd use my last name for business and add my husband's last name for official documents and family matters. It's a simple way of having it both ways.

If you're keeping tabs, you can add me to the anti-hyphenated list
5.17.2005 4:58pm
Kris Denniger (mail) (www):
When I got married back in my third year of law school, I chose to change my name despite my feminist views. I wanted to have a single family name, regardless of whether we had kids or not. I felt it proclaimed us at the most basic level to be a family unit. It never occurred to me that it would loosen any ties to my family, which have always been strong. Nor did I think I was proclaiming any sort of ownership - anyone who knows me would find the idea laughable at best. I would've considered putting my name into the mix, hypenated or otherwise, but it's always been annoyingly unwieldy for others to spell and pronounce. I'm now divorced, but other than it being a royal pain to change my name back, I don't regret the decision. In fact, if I ever choose to remarry I'll change it again and confuse the heck out of everybody. (I should mention that because I'm in-house and not in private practice, I don't have to deal with the name recognition issue.) The only caveat: it totally annoyed me to receive mail addressed to "Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname." That really is beyond the pale, however Emily Post correct it may be.
5.17.2005 5:01pm
kristine (mail) (www):
I posted my reply on my own blog, but I will add that I also did the maiden-to-middle thing. (Besides, I never liked my middle name.) I think a lot of women are doing this more now (even though it's always been a common practice in the South) and I wonder how many thought of it after seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton take to using her maiden-as-middle name as her political aspirations grew.
5.17.2005 5:06pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Good heavens. I had never even thought of Hillary when I went with the three-names-but-unhyphenated scheme. Subconscious influences at work here?
5.17.2005 5:15pm
Michele (mail):
I changed my name and moved down the alphabet. I traded a 10 letter German name that was hard to spell and pronounce for Miller. I always felt bad for my brother, who is "stuck" with the name. If my family heritage had been emphasized when I was young I may have had more desire to keep the name.

Nobody asks me to repeat or spell my married name. Having the same name as my children was also important. We married five years before I got my professional license, so that was not an issue either.
5.17.2005 5:34pm
Deanne (mail):
Well, I didn’t want to change my name, but my soon-to-be husband had a deeply-held conviction that a common last name would help our acceptance into this conservative community we were just moving to. Because of the move, he argued, keeping the name I had established a business reputation under wasn’t an issue. He was afraid people would think we were “living in sin” and that this would have a detrimental impact on our businesses. I didn’t particularly like his last name, in that it was more often mispronounced than not, and well, I liked my name. We had intended to have children and he felt we should all have the same last name. I felt that it would be a great reminder to our children that conformity is overrated. Besides, if we were all going to relate better because we all had his family name, would they view my family as second tier? He also felt that by my reluctance, I was somehow symbolically withholding from a full commitment to the marriage. Of course, it’s a personal choice for women but the reasons we articulate for why we made the choice speak volumes about who we believe we are and what we believe we value. Over time, “his name” became “my name.” Then, ten years later when the divorce occurred, he wanted my maiden name restored. I most often find the need to “use” my last name in business, so if I were to marry again, I would retain my maiden name for that purpose, and go with the flow as a social unit. I am now of the opinion that a woman’s name should not be one of the negotiable items going into a marriage. Money, sex, religion, household chores and children, yes, but not my name.
5.17.2005 5:40pm
Hilary (mail):
I changed my name because I didn't want to hyphenate and I thought it would be easier than maintaining two separate last names in one family.

I have less qualms now about the philosophy behind my decision than the logistics.

Changing my name proved a long, still- ongoing trip through bureaucracies large and small, private and public, aggravating and more aggravating. I work at a large Fortune 500 company, and changing my name, which acts as my login on many of the atabases I must use daily, required at least 3-4 and phone calls/emails or letters. Dealing with the government wasn't so bad, though I'm not 100% everything there came out ok. But I still have several accounts out there in the world that know me by another name.

If I had to do it over again, I might have kept my old name.
5.17.2005 5:43pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Ah, well, my maiden name was a trial in various ways. Educated folks (influenced by the "Michelle," I suppose) tended to think it was "du Lac." It was useful, on the other hand, in identifying telemarketers at sight, or rather sound (typical call: "May I please speak to Michelle . . . [hestitant pause] Dullick?") Only now, though, have I come to appreciate the uphill battle my husband has had to fight to get people not to insert that phantom "p" into "Thomson." I suppose by using both names I get the worst of both worlds.
5.17.2005 5:55pm
kimsch (mail) (www):
I changed my last name at marriage because it is traditional. I went from a five letter last name near the beginning of the alphabet to a twelve letter last name near the end of the alphabet. A twelve letter last name that no one can pronounce, btw.

The other day while signing a charge slip, the store owner asked me, "Is that a sign or a sentence?"
5.17.2005 6:22pm
Former Kerr Student:
Okay, so I'm violating the rules, but only because I came up with a solution to the name dillema that is fair and workable, if only I could get everyone to adopt it. Basically the system is:

1. Everyone gets two last names.
2. Daughters are named with their father's last name (FLN) first, and mother's last name (MLN) second.
3. Sons are named with MLN first, FLN second.
4. When couples get married, the husband takes the wife's MLN, and the wife takes the husbands FLN.
5. Kids then get their father's father's last name and their mother's mother's last name, with order determined by steps 2 and 3 above.

It would work I tell you.
5.17.2005 6:51pm
Erica:
I am a 29-year-old attorney getting married next month, and I have chosen to take my husband's name, despite the considerable headway I think I have made in developing a reputation under my current name. I also plan to adopt the last-to-middle scheme. I echo the opinions of the women above: it's easier to appear a family unit, it's easier once you have children, etc. (Like many of the others, I am also very anti-hyphen.)

I will move from a very pronounceable and common last name to a very ethnically-identified last name (my fiance and I are of different races, and his last name makes his racial identity crystal clear). I will be interested to observe people's reactions when they speak to me on the phone or email me, then meet me and realize I am not of the ethnicity they assumed. Should be an interesting sociological experiment.
5.17.2005 7:13pm
Will Quale:
I fall into a slightly different category than you requested responses from, but I think it's still a relevant perspective: I'm a man who intends to take my wife's name upon marriage. Reasons: 1) Family unity, as cited above. I think families with different names lack a cohesive identity, both for outsiders perceiving them and for family members (especially children) themselves. 2) Aesthetics. Hyphenanted names are unappealing. 3) I feel no great attachment to my last name; it's an unrecognizable Ellis-Island anglicazation of a Norwegian placename where only one generation of my ancestors even lived (back when Norwegian last names changed as families moved around). 4) My last name is never, ever pronounced or spelled correctly by strangers; whatever I trade it in for will likely be better in both regards.

Conveniently, my girlfriend would like to keep her name and has one which is quite intuitive yet not all that common.
5.17.2005 7:19pm
angua (mail) (www):
I am recently married and in the process of changing my name. First off, I never really liked my maiden name -- it's long, it's Russian, it's impossible to spell on an empty stomach. Also, it comes from the side of the family I don't particularly relate well with. (If I could think of a beloved relative whom I would be honouring by keeping the name, it might be different.)

Another consideration is the fact that I do have a brother, so the name would not die out with me. Again, if I had a good reason to keep the name, I would. But I only see it as an inconvenience, while my husband's last name is five letters long and is about evenly divided between consonants and vowels.
5.17.2005 7:32pm
Bree (www):
Felt like it.

The husband appreciated it, his last name is much easier for a random person-on-the-street to spell and pronounce, and I had no objections to it.

And you feminists crack me up - isn't the point of feminism to support women in their choices? So where's the support of women who want to change their names?
5.17.2005 7:45pm
Mary:
I was married 9/7/01 and had decided to keep my maiden name professionally and use my husband's name in other instances. Then I tried to fly after 9/11 with some documents that had my maiden name (Mustapha) and other documents that had my married name. I decided if I wanted to fly again I should pick one. I picked my husband's for many of the same reasons others have mentioned.
5.17.2005 7:54pm
Cindy (mail):
I married at the age of 31, and said goodbye to my maiden name with joy. I love my family, but the name Turpin brought much teasing and misspelling over the years, along with the occasional, "Are you related to the thief, Ben Turpin?" And being referred to as a paint remover (turpentine) wasn't exactly the highlight of my childhood. So I ditched it.

My married name is much easier for me. With Thompson, they just ask, "en or on?" and away we go. In addition, I preferred sharing the same name as my husband, and as a traditional sort of person, it just seemed right to me.
5.17.2005 8:03pm
Kai Jones (mail):
I changed to my husband's name both times; I have no wish to be associated with my father's name or family, nor my mother's.

Miss Manners (well-known ettiquette expert) says that having your maiden name as your middle name, followed by your husband's name, actually indicates that you are divorced. It was done to distinguish the former Mrs. Smith (who is now known as Mrs. Maiden Smith) from the current Mrs. Smith.
5.17.2005 8:26pm
Dawn B. (mail):
I changed my name when I got married at 22, just after graduating from college with a BS in Chemistry, Highest Honors from a University of California.

My husband and I talked about it for a long time beforehand. The rule was that I would change my name as long as I had not been published professionally before then, as I wanted all my professional work to be under one name. I had a female teacher who hyphenated her name and it was a devil of a time to track down her research as various journals did it one of three ways: (1) Her maiden name [prior to marriage] (2) Her hyphenated name or (3) her Married name as they didn't allow hyphens.

We wanted the same name in our family so that when attending functions for our future children, teachers could easily identify us. We also didn't want to have to choose which family name to use for the children, and wanted them to have the same name. As, I'm the oldest of 4 children, two of which are boys. My husband is the oldest of 3, and he's the only male. So, he wanted to continue his family name for geneology's sake, which meant the children would have his name.

So while I loved my maiden name and considered keeping it, I chose to change it and my first paper was published under my married name even though I did the work 1 year previous to the marriage.
5.17.2005 9:29pm
erp (mail):
Bree's question is puzzling. In what way aren't women who want to change their names being supported by the comments on this string?

It's interesting that so many of the decisions about name changes were made for purely pragmatic reasons of spelling and pronunciation. Women are doing whatever works best for us.

I guess we really have come a long way.
5.17.2005 10:29pm
cathyf (mail):
I took my husband's surname because I wanted us all in our immediate family to have the same surname. It was easy and cheap for me to change -- virtually every place wanted nothing more than a copy of the marriage certificate. If we could have both changed our surnames to some common 3rd name, then it would have been much more complicated because you have to get some sort of official name-changing government document in any other cases.

I also had quirky and personal reasons. I am half Italian, and I got an Italian surname when I married. My maiden name is Scottish, so if I take up the bagpipes I can wear a kilt from my clan tartan. (Perhaps related... In the mid-1700's the last Marquess died childless. His sister's husband took her name, and their son regained the title.)

cathy :-)
5.17.2005 11:06pm
catie (mail) (www):
i took my husband's last name for two reasons.
1. it was important to my husband that everyone in our family have the same last name. (i changed my cat's last name, too)
2. i really liked his name and it was his name that drew me to him in the first place.
3. i always found women who kept their maiden name to be annoying mostly because it's a pain in the ass when addressing envelopes.
5.18.2005 12:09am
Kaela:
I'm changing my name when I get married next fall. I've never felt any attachment to my family name, since it's just one my grandfather made up when he wanted to ditch the "old country" name. It's only two generations old and anyway I have brothers who can carry it on if they want to. I basically see it as a way to get a new name without having to pay court costs. My fiance doesn't care either way. We aren't planning on having kids, so that's not a factor.
5.18.2005 12:11am
Kate Litvak Black:
I use my maiden name as my "professional" name (for publications and teaching). I use my husband's name as my "personal" name (for everything else). This gives me the best of all worlds: neither my colleagues nor my neighbors are confused. And it's a lot easier to spell "Black" than "Litvak" when I order plane tickets on the phone!
5.18.2005 12:55am
Bree (www):
Erp,

I was referring to the original post, not the comments (which I hadn't read when I left mine).
5.18.2005 1:06am
John_B (www):
I'll excuse myself from the rules because of a factor that's not really noted in the above.

When my wife and I married, back in the 70s, I was about to embark on a career that would take us overseas constantly. For the sake of avoiding hassles, we considered that a single family name on both passports would be eminently useful in avoiding numerous Immigration wrangles.

She kept her maiden name for all her writings and all her personal financial matters. We shared the same surname for documentation purposes, present and future.
5.18.2005 1:15am
amy (mail):
His name was cooler. That's all. My husband actually wanted to change his name to mine, and was desperately apologetic about all of male domination, but I thought it would've been dumb, because his name was cooler. Also easier for me to pronounce. Still use my old name professionally.

Did the maiden-as-middle name thing, too. Partly because of the novelty of having a middle name (I hadn't had one before). I think Judith Martin's got it wrong; the effect sounds to me late-19thc-early-20thc bourgeois, not divorcee.

If I had it to do over, though, I'd have stuck with my old name. Hasn't been worth the trouble. Don't imagine at this point it'd be worth the trouble to change back, either.
5.18.2005 1:19am
Eleanor Roosevelt (mail):
I changed my name when I got married, but my maiden name was also Roosevelt (I was Teddy's niece), so no one noticed.
5.18.2005 8:17am
Elayne Riggs (mail) (www):
For my first marriage I used a hyphenate, because more people knew my zine and my writing by my maiden name, but since both my surname and my husband's were subject to a lot of pronunciation and spelling problems I came to regret that decision. (It's bad enough that I have an unusually-spelled first name!) When I remarried I took my husband's surname because it was easy to spell and pronounce and is actually shorter than my first name - and because, in the social circles we travelled (the comic book industry), his name was better known than mine as he's a professional.
5.18.2005 10:22am
Wendy:
All of my 30 something friends who changed their names are still married. Those who didn't are all divorced. One of the reasons I changed mine because I work for my father and professionally it is easier to have a different name.
5.18.2005 11:56am
Linda (mail):
I changed my name when I got married. At the time, I didn't really want to, but made a "deal" with my husband where he would follow my religion and I'd take his name.

I do like his name better in some ways than my maiden name, and no one in my original family kept my maiden name except me: my father changed his last name, my mother remarried and took my stepfather's last name, and my sister changed her name to his too, and got adopted by my stepfather. So I was the only one with my maiden name from age 13 or so until I married at 26.

It was absolutely no professional trouble to change my name, though I made a half hearted attempt to use my maiden name for some things for a while, it didn't work out. I did keep both my middle name and maiden name as middle names though and now have a 4 part name (first, original middle, maiden surname, husband's surname).

And I moved from position 7 in the alphabet to position 1, and from 9 letters to 7.
5.18.2005 11:57am
Angela Johnston:
We married in 1989 and I changed my name to his, keeping my first and middle names. Kids were a big factor in my choice since I wanted the same name as my children. I didn't like the hyphen (although it was *months* before I stopped stuttering with introductions "insley-uh-johnston"). The only problem we ran into was our honeymoon trip. My inlaws had gotten tickets with the married name but all my ID and passport were in my maiden name. We traveled oversees and had to discuss it often.
My maiden name was hardly ever misspelled, because people asked. My married name is frequently misspelled because people drop the "t" (And the names mean the same thing Ian/John - sley/ston as "small farm")
5.18.2005 12:04pm
Jenny:
I changed my name. My maiden name is an unusual and mmorable one. My father is in the same profession I'm in and he is very well known. Starting out, I got really sick of the raised eyebrows and slightly snide comments: "Oh, are you related to ___? I guess that sure helps, huh?" My accomplishments are my own and now, with a name no one connects to good old Dad, I feel that I get much more recognition in my own right. Sure, I suppose I could have just changed my name to "Smith" or somethign without waiting for marriage to make a change. But as someone else notes, to change your name outside of marriage, you have to go to court and it's a pain in the ass (yes, i looked into it once!). When you marry, it's easy; all you need is th marriage certificate.

Eugene, this is not about feminism. Don't get hung up on symbols. Allowing a man to hold a door open from time to time isn't a feminist bugbear anymore. Focus on the real stuff: women still earn less, are expected to do more child care, hit glass ceilings, are subject to more of a sexual double standard, and still face a ton of other overt and covert discrimination.
5.18.2005 12:49pm
Jen (mail):
For the last ten years I've worked in IT at several different companies and I've seen a parallel trend: I'd estimate that of all the name changes processed for women, perhaps 20% of them are divorced women going *back* to their maiden names. An interesting side phenomenon!

I should also confess that I've known many e-mail administrators etc. who flagrantly ignore requests from women to maintain hyphenated names. The hyphens sometimes blow up the mail server so they just set them up with the last part of the hyphenated name. I find this disrespectful, but it is another argument against hyphenation.
5.18.2005 12:51pm
Kim Wells (mail) (www):
I am definitely a feminist, and I changed my name on marriage. I got a lot of flack for it, actually. But my reasoning was that my father, whose name my "maiden" name was, never did anything for me (he left when I was about 5 and barely paid any child support). And so here I was, with the choice of one man's "name" (daddy) and another man's name OF MY CHOOSING. And I also saw it as a fresh start-- changing to a new life. And finally, I had not yet gotten any of my professional degrees, and it would have made a difference if I had. It makes it easier for the BA, MA, and PHD to all have the same last name. And I didn't want to put my maiden name as my middle name cause I liked my middle name the way it was-- Ann-- and it kept a vowel in the middle, rather than a consonant. And that was important to me.

Think of it this way. I think there are far more important things to feminism than whether you change your name on marriage. Economic equity. Political office parity. End to sexual discrimination. Money! Power! And how far back do you go to find a "matriarchal" name to keep? It's all a man's name for the most part, unless you come froma very different world than I do.
5.18.2005 1:11pm
mythago (mail):
I have been married twice; I changed my name the first time, changed it again (to a family name) when I divorced, and kept my name in my current marriage. Hope that doesn't invalidate my comments.

At the time I changed my name, I made the same comments as many women here--it was my dad's name, it wasn't that big a deal, I was still a feminist, his name was WAY easier to pronounce and spell than my maiden name, and so on. But bluntly, and looking back at it, I (and I suspect most women who change their names) was not being honest. The real, core reason was that it was very, very important to my husband that we have the same last name. And if I had refused, it would have been an enormous battle. It was easier to give up a name I wasn't terribly attached to, anyway, and my husband liked it. I didn't want to admit that if I stood my ground rather than saying "no, your sense of male privilege is not a trump card," that it would have caused an irreparable rift and perhaps ended our marriage. (Eventually it ended anyway.)

After the divorce I changed my last name to a family name (not my father's--long story there), and kept it when I remarried. My daughters have my last name and my son has his father's. It's never been a source of 'confusion' to the children or, for that matter, to anyone else. In an era of blended families nobody seems to think much of a constellation of last names.
5.18.2005 1:23pm
Mac (mail) (www):
I don't think of taking a husband's name as inherently anti-feminist unless it is expected and would cause a problem if the new wife did not take the name. I got married about five years ago and considered keeping my last name, hypenating, or making up a new last name for my husband and I to both adopt. My husband didn't care one way or the other and left the decision up to me.

In the end, I took my husband's last name because I like it better than my maiden name. My father is a real douchebag, so leaving his last name behind really didn't fill me with sorrow. Plus, my new last name is infinitely easier to spell and pronounce than my maiden name.
5.18.2005 1:30pm
Stephanie (mail):
I really like the feeling of family unity that came with sharing the same last name with my husband once we got married. The main reason, however, was that my maiden name was a real pain. It was an eleven letter German last name that never ceased to confuse people. I am happy that I will never be called "Stephanie Blahblahblah" by a telemarketer ever again. (and yes, they actually said "blah, blah, blah!")
5.18.2005 2:04pm
Kari (mail) (www):
When we married last year, I took my husband's last name for personal and legal use, for many of the reasons cited above, and for future genealogical simplicity. I use FirstName MaidenName LastName for professional purposes, which has greatly helped the transition. No political statement was intended.

I think Virginia Postrel had an interesting take on this a while back. "True liberation makes the personal apolitical."
5.18.2005 2:09pm
Trish Wilson (mail) (www):
I took on my ex-husband's last name as my last name, and I used my maiden name as my middle name. I liked the sound of it. If my husband's name was something dreadful like "Glotfelty" I probably would not have used it.

I haven't taken my current husband's last name because I'm too well known in my professional circle by my first name and maiden name. Changing my name to include his last name would just make things confusing for me.
5.18.2005 3:07pm
Trish Wilson (mail) (www):
Then again, I might consider taking my current husband's last name for legal purposes. I won't use it in my writings. He is descended from a Hungarian count. By marriage, I am a countess. The title is another one of those worthless Eatsern European titles, because the family fortune was squandered ages ago. The name itself is pretty cool. It even has an accent. Still, I'm a countess by marriage, and that's pretty cool.
5.18.2005 3:23pm
emjaybee (mail):
I just liked my husband's last name better. There are many boys in my family, so my family's last name was in no danger of dying out. I also have a purely selfish reason: when I worked in a bookstore, I noticed how many people started browsing at the A's and seldom made it all the way to the Z's. I am a writer; my husband's last name started with a B, my maiden name with a W. Taking his name moved me up the beginning of the alphabet. Voila.

My husband actually offered to change his name to mine if I wanted! We also considered a merger of our two names (we both hated hyphenating) but there was no graceful way to do so. I just had no particular attachment to my maiden name. It wasn't any kind of statement about anti-feminism.
5.18.2005 3:32pm
Ancarett (www):
I teach and publish under my maiden name. I legally hyphenated my name with his a few years after the wedding, only with children as the focus. In some ways, I didn't need to bother. Everyone at the schools and the conservative relatives have always addressed me as Mrs. Hislastname. But it has helped a great deal when identifying myself as youngest's mother for the purposes of insurance and medical processes.

As another commenter has noted, the whole surnaming system in the West has a patriarchal turn so I don't see what's so bloody feminist about keeping one's father's surname as an adult woman
5.18.2005 3:44pm
Jay (mail):
I cannot agree with those who are willing to shrug off the tradition of women taking on the last names of the men to whom they are joined religiously or legally as "arbitrary".

The fact is that this practice is based in the now defunct common law doctrine of coverture and its denial of numerous legal rights to women.

It amazes me how soon we forget history. Coverture was upheld in the Supreme Court case of Bradwell v. Illinois in 1893, only a few generations ago, yet many are willing to call the women's rights movement complete (or at least largely complete, with only systemic or "leftover" problems). An exorcism of demons as nefarious as those which, for millennia, held women at a lower biological and legal standard than men takes far longer than that.

Today, as previous posts show, the male last name is assumed as a matter of convenience; that is, the convenience of abiding by tradition. That tradition, however, is a remnant of a regrettable and shameful history of repression. Being conscious of this, I don't see how one could be persuaded to continue in it, regardless of the benefits.
5.18.2005 4:54pm
Connie Conine (mail):
I changed my name to my husband's when I married at age 33 because it went so well with my first name! Otherwise, I'm the the camp of not changing--I like the idea of giving girls their mother's name, and boys the father's name.
5.18.2005 5:18pm
bud (mail):
Another note on the hyphenation issue: in English tradition, the hyphen indicated a bastard child "recognized" by his father.
5.18.2005 7:04pm
Lisa (mail):
Jay,
If it is important to you, then fine. But I could care less what it used to mean (or what some people think it used to mean) long ago. I think it is currently a fine tradition that brings our family even closer. And all I'm really doing is exchanging one man's name for another ;-)
5.18.2005 8:27pm
Seth:
Many people here have explained their decision to adopt the husband's name "because I want to have the same last name as the children". But wait-- why is it automatic that children should take the father's name, but not the mother's? Why shouldn't it be the case that the father has a different name than the mother and the children?

The same patriarchal tradition that accounts for women changing their names also accounts for why children get their father's name. Both are functions of how Westerners have organized their society. If these traditions have been made, they can be unmade if people applied themselves.
5.18.2005 9:41pm
Lisa (mail):
Seth,
Seth,
Why do we use the English system of measurement? Sure, if the majority of us wanted to throw out tradition and start anew we probably could. But the majority never will. Americans are tolerant enough of those with different ideas to allow them to implement them for themselves, but those who oppose tradition should be tolerant of us who are very happy with the current situation.

I have yet to see one good reason to spend time and effort to change the current tradition. I will certainly encourage my daughter to take her husband's name when she marries.
5.19.2005 12:14am
mythago (mail):
I don't understand the "man's name" argument. Surely, then, your husband could take your name, since he'd just be exchanging one man's name (his father's) for another's (your father's) too?
5.19.2005 1:12am
Robin:
I changed my name to my husband's when I married, and use my maiden as middle. We were married just as I was starting my legal career, so I didn't have to worry about being known under two different names. I use just the last name socially and when being introduced, but I always use the maiden/married combo in writing, especially professionally. I figured that if it worked for Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it was good enough for me! (though it's somewhat smoother for them because one of the three names is monosyllabic, which gives a better sound, to my ear -- my name is three two-syllable words)

My husband had no strong feelings about me changing my name. He said that it was completely up to me, and whatever I wanted to do was fine. I chose to change it partly because I liked the idea of having the same name as my children (my parents divorced when I was 1, and my mother kept her married name so she and I would have the same name). I also did it as an expression of confidence that we would be together for life. I can see the reasons for not changing to a husband's name, and don't criticize any woman who keeps her name, but I'm happy with my choice.

A couple of years after I changed my name, I realized that all of my married cousins (mostly Midwestern) had changed their names, but almost none of my college friends (East and West Coast) had.
5.19.2005 10:06am
carissa:
I took my husband's last name after no small amount of agonizing and discussion with him. He was wonderful about the whole process: offering to change his name to mine, take a hyphenated name, and saying that it was my decision in the end. I think it was because of his reaction that I decided to change my name -- since he was willing to give his name up for me, it made me willing to give mine up for him.

(I wanted us to have the same last name because it marked us as a family.)
5.19.2005 10:16am
sinda:
I know, since I did not change my name, I'm posting as an outlaw here, but I wanted to add my comment to the hyphenated-name-for-children- issue.

My children's names are hyphenated. A commenter earlier noted that this would make things tricky if two such hyphenated adults want to marry. I think that when my children are adults, they can make their own decisions about their names. They can drop the hyphen, choose one surname over another, take their spouses' names, choose another surname - whatever they like. I made the choice that was right for me, and I hope they do the same.

And I haven't noticed that they feel a lack of family unity. To the contrary, they relish having each of our names - it creates a very pleasing symmetry and unity in our family.

Thanks for the topic, good postings.
5.19.2005 12:16pm
Maria Goodrich (mail):
OK -- I'm posting as an outlaw... but this is an issue near and dear to me and I very much want to respond to the "it's just exchanging one man's name for another" argument.

My husband and I struggled with this issue before getting married. He really would have like us to share the same last name (for all the symbolic and practical reasons outlined above) -- so I offered to "give" him mine. In the end we chose to keep our own names... and I guess that's the point I want to make -- Sure, my last name is the one descended from my father. But for my entire life it has also been MY name. We haven't decided exactly how to address the naming of our children when that day comes (although we very much like Former Kerr Student's suggestion!)... but if I were to give my daughter my last name would it still be "just another man's name"? I choose to believe that it's mine -- it's the name attached to all my degrees and publications, the name that's shorthand for my identity to every person I've ever met.

My commitment to my husband and the family unit we've formed is extremely strong -- certainly no one would ever question my husband's commitment because he declined to accept the last name I offered. After a lot of initial soul-searching about this, we're extremely comfortable with our choice... it's hard to believe it ever seemed like such a big deal. Any practical inconveniences have been very small. Yeah, we get a few letters addressed to Mr. and Mrs. hisfirstname hislastname -- but it's so much fun when a telemarketer asks for Mrs. hislastname and I can say "Sorry, there's no one by that name here," before hanging up on them.

Sorry again for breaking the rules....
5.19.2005 3:04pm
Raina (mail) (www):
I took my husband's last name when I got married at 20 because we wanted to have the same last name. I don't think we ever even considered having different last names. To me it's just what you do. We did, however, think about him taking my last name or us both taking one of our mothers' maiden names. Eventually we decided to go with his, though, because I had strong family connections and didn't care as much about the name, wheras his family is old, small, and nearly dead - we thought it would be nice for his family name to live on. Plus it's very unique because it's an Ellis Island misspelling of a Czech name and I like unique names. I can guarantee there's no other "Raina Cepel"'s in the world.

I went by my middle name up until junior high because there were three other girls at the school with the same name, and then went by my first name, so I'm used to changing names and my family still calls me by one name and my friends by another. I like that.

I think if I had been older when I got married, I might have not changed my name or kept my name professionally. But since I got married at 20, all of my diplomas and papers and such have the same name on them.

In Mexico, I believe, they have some sort of scheme like the one suggested above where everyone takes both their parents names and when women get married they replace one of them with their husband's father's name. (I don't remember the details exactly though) It's all in the traditions, it's not like any way is "right."
5.19.2005 5:49pm
Donna (mail):
I took both of my husbands' names.

First marriage, right after graduating from Caltech, 1987. My name was Evans, his was Sarapata. I hated it. It was always mistaken for Sarah Pata and filed under the wrong initial letter. Four kids, all with his name.

Second, 2000, young French guy who didn't even consider that I might take his name but was thrilled when I did. Maindrault--his family laughs when I try to pronounce it.

The inconveniences? My kids' names don't match mine, which isn't really a problem. I have the name I graduated from college under, the name I published under, and the name I graduated from nursing school under. And I didn't get considered for UCLA med school years ago because they filed my application half under my maiden name and half under my (first) married name.
5.19.2005 8:20pm
Eve (mail) (www):
I kept my name when I got married at 27. Ellis Island name that it is, it is mine, had been mine since I learned to write it twenty years before, and I didn't want to change it. When my daughter was born two years later, we agonized about what to do. We both wanted her to have our last name. In the end, we picked out of a hat, and the name we picked was my husband's. In some ways, I was relieved; we'd be "normal." When our son was born two years later, we opted to give him my husband's name--we wanted the children to share a name, that became the overiding concern.

We live in the Bay Area, where there are many family configurations, and many parent partners with different names--so our arrangement is not at all unusual. Most (doctor's offices, schools, and so on) do not assume that we have the same name. I do not think there's a perfect solution to this problem. As with many things, there is "choice" for women -- many above posted they changed their names b/c they didn't like the one they had -- but with choice there is a kind of burden. For example, I harbor a small sadness that we in my family don't all have the same last name--but who to "blame"? Only me, because I opted to keep the name I was born with.
5.19.2005 10:56pm
Hazel:
You know if it's that important for a man for his wife to have the same last name as him then he should take his wife's name.

The question shouldn't be is it anti-feminist for a woman to take her husband's name, it should be why are men still allowed to sit back whilst the women in their lives jump through hoops to please them. I'd say it showed a profound lack of respect towards women on behalf of the man if he's expecting his wife to take his name.
5.21.2005 9:39am
Hazel:
Also, why should children have to be given their father's name? Sexist tradition isn't something we need to hold on to.
5.21.2005 9:42am