I’m Keeping My Last Name

I’m genuinely curious – why is it still normal for a woman to take her husband’s last name? It’s not just a hurdle in terms of paperwork, but a major shift in identity. How can you go decades considering yourself by one name, one family history, only to swap it with another? What’s the point?

Up until a few years ago, I never thought this would actually be an issue. Every woman in my parents’ generation, on either side, kept the same last name from birth to death, and nobody questioned it. Sitting around the dinner table, if we got a telemarketing call asking for “Mrs. [Dad’s last name]” or “Mr. [Mom’s last name],” my sisters and I would laugh, say “nobody lives here by that name,” and hang up. But that was it. That’s the only time anyone ever questioned my mom keeping her last name, at least in front of me.

So imagine my surprise when, after a few fairly long-term relationships with nice, modern-day guys, it became an issue every time someone wanted to become more serious.

When I first mentioned I’d keep my last name, and at the very most, consider merging last names, one boyfriend joked that we wouldn’t get married – he’d find another woman to take his last name, but still, somehow in his mind, see me? It, uh, didn’t work out.

My last boyfriend took serious personal offense to me wanting to keep my last name or merge, instead of just adopting his. He saw it as an insult, deciding that me not wanting his last name was a rejection of him, his family, and his heritage. Even after I explained that it was about me staying in touch with my identity, my heritage, rather than simply not liking his, he insisted. We argued about it in short bursts spanning several years.

Growing up, he hadn’t seen a family with multiple last names unless the family underwent divorces and remarriages. The kids and parents all shared the same last name, and there was no “confusion” over who belonged to whom. To him, me refusing to change my last name was a signal that I wasn’t that interested in building a life together, long-term. Meanwhile, him refusing to change his last name was simply the way things are done.

I obviously thought that was bullshit disagreed, but I suppose ultimately it didn’t matter.

Still, it’s something so many fellow Troll X-ers are experiencing. So what’s the point of changing a last name? The arguments I’ve heard are:

Don’t you want to share your new family’s history?

“Share” would be the operative word here. If it were truly sharing family histories, both parties would combine last names. However, it’s only expected for the woman to shed her premarital identity and tack on his. Men aren’t asked to lose or even alter their last names. Don’t they want to share their new family’s history? The response: “I am, just not by changing my last name.”

Ding ding ding. So why can’t I do the same?

It’s confusing for the kids if we’re not a family unit with one last name.

Nope. I grew up with parents who didn’t share a last name, and it never seemed confusing or dysfunctional. I knew my mom was part of the family without needing her to change her name to signal that she’s my mom. How is this even an argument? I don’t think any child would sit there rejecting their own parent over a name, just like no adult should reject their loved ones over a name.

I was given my dad’s last name, as were all of my siblings, but I don’t think it made any difference in how we perceived our family. If anything, I wish I had both last names, because I feel so connected to my mom’s side of the family and their history, too.

It’s emasculating to the man.

Ah. Now we get to the meat of it. This is the whole “my mom did it for my dad, and I expect to get the same treatment” argument. I don’t really understand how me not changing my identity is somehow detracting from his identity and masculinity.

I don’t see the connection between masculinity and a shared last name. I’m assuming any man asking a woman to change her last name for him has gone 18-30+ years without anyone changing their last names. Were they less manly then? Is the moment a spouse adopts your last name the modern day walkabout? I just don’t buy it.

What if the last name is awesome?

Ok. This one I’ll give to you. If the last name just totally tickles your fancy, there’s no reason not to adopt it if you want it. But that’s the point – it should always come down to what each of you wants for yourselves. Not what your partner thinks he or she needs from you.

As for undeniably awesome last names, Stonelake, Knight, and Miao come to mind. I mean, come on. Making people say “meow” when introducing you sounds like a joke that will never get old. “Hi Mrs. Meow! How’s Mr. Meow?” But even with a killer last name like Miao, I’m personally still not convinced I’d give up my last name for it.

***

If a man is demanding I change my last name for him, and is unwilling to change his for me, that’s a problem. Honestly, I genuinely think it comes down to some sense of entitlement or property ownership, like a toddler labeling his favorite toy. If you stick your last name on someone, sure, they kind of belong to you in a sense. But isn’t marriage enough of a tether?

Instead, I think there are only three options that really allow for fairness and equality:

  1. Everyone gets to keep their own last names
  2. Everyone gets nifty shared hyphenated last names
  3. Everyone make up, keep, or change whatever last name they want, not because it’s expected of them, but because they genuinely want to identify that way

If one of those options doesn’t work for you and your partner, one of you might just be an asshole.

14 thoughts on “I’m Keeping My Last Name

  1. My fiancee and I have talked about this a few times over our relationship. While I would be happy for her to take my last name, I’ve never felt comfortable with her doing it simply because it was expected of her, and I won’t ask her to do it (nor do I expect her to). I’m not in favour of a hyphenated name, so I don’t see that as an option.

    Having said that, I do want our child(ren) to have my last name when we finally reach that point, but this is mostly because I’m the only male child of my parents, and my sister is unlikely to have children of her own, so a small, irrational part of me wants to keep my family name going (my fiancee knows this, but hasn’t shared any desire to have children with her last name). Still, this will be a conversation my fiancee and I will need to have down the line.

    • Trust me, I have that same irrationality. As part of a family of all girls, our lineage/name is going to die after our generation – at least in this part of the country.

      Logically, does it matter? Definitely not.
      Am I at leasts OK with it? Nope.

  2. I like this. Goes beyond the inequalities of wages and career and brings forth the broader issues of inequality that exists today – this being just one of many.

    Personally, I left this decision up to my wife before we were to be wed. I didn’t loose a lick of sleep over what she was going to do. It is her life to live. I shouldn’t be the one dictating how she is go through life.

    Thanks for your views.

    • Definitely – this isn’t the be-all-end-all of feminism and gender equality, but it’s a small thing that keeps coming up again and again.

      I love that you didn’t feel the need to impose a decision on your wife. What did she go with? (Please tell me she’s on the “Mrs. Meow” train, too)

      • You will have to excuse me, but I am not familiar with the Mrs. Meow train. I will need to look into that.

        After she wrestled with the decision for a year, she ultimately decided that she wanted a change because of some sad family history. At the same time, she didn’t want to completely write it off, so she changed her middle name to her last name and took my family name.

        We are united about being divided and that is a good thing. For example, her and I both voted for different candidates during the presidential election. There is something very sexy about independence.

  3. If someone got upset because I wouldn’t take their last name, then they would NOT be the right person for me. I got married a few months ago, and it was a never a question/struggle that I’d keep my own name.

    My last name is first of all, fairly unique. Second, I’m the last daughter in the family, and it would make me sad for the name to die off just yet. And third, who wants to deal with the administrative hassle of changing it on passports, etc.?

    If we have a kid, though, to keep it easy, he/she would take my husband’s last name.

    • Preach. There’s enough paperwork in this world.

      As for naming the kids, that’s exactly how my parents did it. I’m not at the point in my life where I’m seriously considering offspring, but I think I would want potential kids to have my last name, at least in part. I geek out over/am proud of the history it has, and would want to share it.

  4. I got married in 2010 and opted not to change my last name. It is an expensive process, and the closest social security office to me was a 45-minute drive down the steepest mountain grade in the state. My husband and I were broke and had a car that barely made it to the grocery store and back without overheating. Plus, on a more superficial level, I love writing a giant, cursive L when I sign my name, and switching to a name that began with M was not acceptable. But the primary reason I kept my name is because I WANTED TO. Simple as that.

    I got a lot of stupid questions from friends and a lot of negative comments from family, including one from my grandma that both confused and amused me – “So you’re one of THOSE women, huh?” Uh…yeah, sure.

  5. So happy to see other women who plan to/have kept their last names! This is definitely the way it should be. And while it’s a small thing, it part of the anti-feminist baggage that comes with other things in marriage generally.

  6. I’m definitely planning to keep my surname (or like you said, at the very most merge both names), partly because of all of the reasons you gave, but also because I love the way my full name sounds – I’m yet to come across anything that fits as well with my first name as my current surname does.

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