Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Alternative to Maiden Name vs His Name

I debated for a long, long (LONG) time whether I should post this or not, because a) it has little to do with baby names, and b) it's personal in a could-be-bad way, and c) who really cares? So today I said screw it. I'll just post it so that someone else taking the boat I took can either laugh at me or find my words helpful.

I was over at the Baby Name Wizard's blog ( ) A LOOOONG time ago, and read an interesting article, "Living Surnames: A Manifesto." I must say I didn't make it more than two paragraphs down before I started reliving my own nightmare of deciding whether I should keep my maiden name, and I didn't make it more than four paragraphs down before deciding to write this post. Now, I won't pretend to have any new and exciting information on keeping your maiden name - that debate has been done repeatedly and others can debate it much better than I. Also, I don't want to debate it. As long as the person keeping or changing their name is doing it solely because they really want to, I think that's great.

My own story is a little different. When I got engaged it wasn't long before someone called me "Mrs. Hislastname." And I cringed. I immediately hated the idea of changing my last name, and I swore to myself I wouldn't change it. Not that he had an awful last time, because that would be an entirely different story and I would have made the extra effort to keep my last name. In the end, I changed it anyway, because I didn't like the idea of having a different surname than my future child. If I have kids, 'cause that's another entirely different story. (Our last names didn't look good hyphenated, or I probably would have done that.) I asked my fiancee to change his last name to mine, and I honestly don't remember how that conversation went. I also threw around the idea of my husband and I changing both of our last names to one of our choice, and I don't remember how that went either, but I didn't know anything about that at the time, much less how to go about picking a totally new surname. That doesn't mean those options aren't open to others, though. Because they are. If you read nothing else in this post, know this: don't let our culture brainwash you into thinking your only options are accepting his last name, keeping yours, or hyphenating. There's more.

But for a while there I had everyone worried. Everyone looked at me like I was nuts and scoffed at me. Like I had to change my name. My mother's biggest comment was that she'd have to return the (non-existent) monogrammed towels she got us. She totally tricked me on that one, and being the cheap-o that I am, that was actually a huge factor. Then, my now-husband virtually had a meltdown for several reasons. Did I hate his family? Did I not want to be known as his wife? Did he not make enough money? He made it clear that he would feel emasculated if I kept my maiden name, and everyone would laugh at him. None of these reasons were enough to make me feel sorry for him/change my mind, though his pleas and woeful stares did get to me. I was not about to give up the name I had used for twenty-four years, the name I was comfortable with and fit me, the name that my mother and father had, just to make him feel like a man. Oh, the things you do for kids that aren't even born yet. To this day I still get a homesick type of feeling when someone calls me by my new last name, almost like I've given up a little piece of me. (Well, I guess I did.)

The only reason I even debated keeping my maiden name was because I had the choice. This has not always been the case. Women are still becoming more equal to men. A woman changing her name is what I would call a "societal norm." I suspect the top reason women change their name is because they think they have to, because society demands it and looks at you funny if you don't. Most people probably assume the only women who can keep their maiden name are those who have established a strong career. And I suspect the top reason women sometimes decide not to keep their maiden name, even if they want to, is for their future children. Hyphenating two names probably comes from a desire to keep one's history and future together. I don't mean to offend anyone, this is just what I think. I haven't done research on it, this post is more like a personal rant.

The decision is ultimately up to you and you alone. My husband may have made his case against me keeping my maiden name, but his input and everyone else's input didn't sway me one way or the other. The towels did, and the thought of my future children's last name. Of course, yeah you're supposed to start deciding things as a couple, but when one party blatantly refuses a suggestion, you're left to decide things for your own side. If someone is going to try to force you/expect you to change your name, they may only have their own interests in mind. Your name is what makes you an individual, and no one should expect you to do something you're not comfortable with. My advice in this post is to come to that decision on your own. I don't think it is right for anyone else to have a say. If you want to keep your maiden name because it was the name you grew up with, the name of your mother or father, the name that fits you it. If you want to hyphenate in order to get the best of both worlds or make everyone (including yourself) it. If you want to change your name so that you will share the same name with your husband and it. But don't let others make you feel like crap for it, and keep in mind that your husband could just as easily change his name.

Regardless of what the two of you want, talk to your significant other about this impending name change and have an open conversation about either one of you changing your last name(s). Open communication and healthy dialog can solve a lot of questions. Why should it have to be the woman? Why can't he change his name? If hyphenating is out of the question, how about both of you change your last names to something else? As I was reading the article mentioned above, she writes that "nobility first started adopting hereditary surnames in the Middle Ages." Before that, surnames told people something personal about you, such as your occupation, physical appearance or who was your mother or father. You could be an Erikson as likely as you could be a Leifsdottir, a Baker or a Brown. So for you, in the modern day, you could look into your ancestry for a new surname (maybe both of you had an ancestor that was a blacksmith, so you change your last names to Smith, for example), or you could be inspired by your own self (maybe both of you have black hair, so your new surname could be Black). Either way, at least one of you is going to lose the visual connection to your side of the family, meaning, if a woman changes her name she will visually be related to her husband's family -- with a quick glance on paper there will be no way for a stranger to know if you were born into that family. Likewise for the man. So if all else fails, maybe both of you can start fresh. You're beginning a whole new family, after all.



  1. It's rotten that it's usually the woman that has to go through this agonising choice, although I guess Laura is right that it means at least we are making an active choice, and not just passively accepting our names like a man.

    I think I must be very lucky that it wasn't an agonising choice for me - my own family name was changed/Anglicised when my father's family emigrated from Germany, so I never had a strong connection to it - it had only been in the family for five generations. And there had been a (no doubt scandalous) divorce at some point, and the family name had been taken from a great-great grandmother anyway.

    So it hardly felt like some me-of-me surname anyway - with these random changes, it seemed like our name could just as easily have ended up being Smith or Frankenberger or something.