Why I Didn’t Take My Husband’s Last Name

Remember the first time you liked a boy?

You probably still slept with stuffed animals and looked forward to buying your first bra. Also, you probably carried around sparkly notebooks, in which you wrote your first name together with your crush’s last name (and the names of your future children, too). Come on – we all did it.

The funny thing is, while most of us stopped sleeping with stuffed unicorns and started wearing bras, a lot of us actually did grow up and change our last names to those of the boys we liked. Weird, right? Don’t get me wrong – I did it, too.

Of course, I was only 25 when I walked down the aisle.

I didn’t know that my father would die just seven years after my wedding or that I’d get divorced just a few years after that. I’m pretty sure that the hall outside of the Social Security office in downtown Brooklyn still has a mark from where I kicked it in frustration after a clerk told me that I didn’t have the correct documentation to prove I was divorced. (Shoutout to Frye engineer boots; they can do some serious damage).

Mainly, I took my husband’s last name so that I’d bear the same name as my future children. I didn’t much care whether I shared a name with my husband, an artist who mostly went by his pen name, anyway. (Did I mention I fell pregnant before our wedding day?) My mother remarried when I was very young and took her new husband’s name, leaving me constantly correcting people who assumed we had the same name. I didn’t want my kids to have that hassle.

So, I had no problem jettisoning the identity I’d carried with me for a quarter of a century and taking on a new one – one that I really had no real claim to, now that I think about it. I didn’t share my husband’s family heritage, traditions, or beliefs. In fact, I’d only known the guy for two years. What – he knocked me up, we made some rash promises and signed a paper, and poof, I belonged to his family now?

Have you ever stopped to think about the term maiden name? It’s so common that we don’t even question it. People always ask for our mothers’ maiden names when we complete forms and applications. But really, maiden? Are we wandering through the forest in a gown, helpless and delicate, before some man swoops in to take us by the hand? Gross.

Of course, the marriage tradition of taking a man’s name dates back to when women were considered property. If you think history isn’t relevant, though, read what men said about taking their wife’s name, courtesy of Thought Catalog

“I would never do it. I’m not someone who pushes boundaries. I don’t like to call attention to myself, and taking my wife’s name would make me feel like I was on display – like I was trying to make some kind of statement, and that’s not me. For the same reason, I would never combine names or hyphenate. It’s archaic, I know, but if my fiancée and I weren’t planning on keeping our own separate names, I would only agree to the woman-changes-her-name thing.” — Luke, 26

So, he’s OK with women keeping their own names (right on!), but he wouldn’t be OK with taking his wife’s name (because that’s weird). Huh.

“I have some friends out west who’ve done the combo last name thing for the baby, and that seems fair. Starting a new lineage is kind of cool. But taking her name? That’s not fair. That’s just lame. No thanks.” — Ethan, 30

Yes, Ethan, it is lame. Totally.

“There’s something so emasculating about the notion of a man washing away his name altogether. Th[at] thought makes me uncomfortable and kind of angry.” — Edgar, 25

Yes, exactly! So, why aren’t more women angry?

Roughly 80 percent of women still take their husbands’ names after marriage. Why?

I’m even more puzzled by women who divorce and cling to their ex-spouse’s surname. Some of them claim that they want to have the same name as any children born from the marriage, but I say, have a little dignity, ladies. Do you really not have any identity outside of being a mother? Don’t you want to move on and form a new family structure? Holding on to someone else’s name isn’t going to help you do that.

And one more thing: the whole hyphenated name thing? Not a good solution. It’s a confusing bureaucratic nightmare, and no one will get it right anyway.

Look, I don’t mean to sound harsh. But as someone who’s been there, done that, I’m begging you: Keep your names, ladies.

I’ll tell my daughters – who, by the way, have a different last name than mine – never to change their last names. If they did, it would break my heart. Their names are their identities, and I never want them to give up those ties to their family for anyone. In marriage (and in life), we give up so much (and life) already… so can we at least remind ourselves of who we are?

Originally written by Elizabeth Laura Nelson on SheSaid.

Featured Photo by Wu Jianxiong on Unsplash.


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