Newsletter: Changing Your Name & A Few Things

Hello, Friends. How are you? Have you missed my “A Few Things” posts on Fridays? You may have noticed I’ve been transitioning the weekly link list to my newsletter. I’m still settling in to the newsletter and figuring out what I want it to be, but I think publishing it on Fridays and including a link list may be the way to go.

You may have also noticed my site has been totally unstable for the past two weeks. It’s actually been unstable since November, but it’s been particularly inaccessible for at least the last 10 days. I’ve had a programmer figuring out the bugs for months, and she was able to get major problems resolved yesterday. I practically cried I was so relieved! I’ve been updating this blog almost daily for the past 15 years, and when it’s unreliable it really throws me off. So I’m feeling huge amounts of gratitude today (I also published several posts that I wanted to publish over the last two weeks but couldn’t, so if you’d like to catch up, feel free.)

And now, here’s the excerpt from today’s newsletter:

I was surprised to read this stat in 2018 article: 70 percent of U.S. adults reported they believe a married woman should change her name, and half said it should be required by law. I’m going to repeat that last part: Half of Americans think women should be required by law to take their husband’s name. What? Like… what?

I’ve been going through life under the impression that more and more women were keeping their maiden names when they married. If you had asked me to guess the percentages of name-change-at-marriage, I would have said maybe it’s 50/50 by now on how many women change their name, and how many don’t. But I just looked up the real number and only 20% of women keep their maiden name. Then earlier this month, a feminist named Kimberly Atkins Stohr, who is in her forties and earned 3 post-graduate degrees, wrote an article about how she recently married and chose to change her name.

So obviously, I’m way off, and clearly I don’t have an understanding of how people are approaching this issue.

My own feelings about changing my name have certainly wandered over the (almost 26) years of my marriage, and have never completely settled. I remember originally deciding to change my name for several reasons….

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23 thoughts on “Newsletter: Changing Your Name & A Few Things”

  1. I kept my maiden name. I decided when I was about 25 or 26 years old that I would do this if I ever married. When I met my husband at age 36, I had already had two established careers using my maiden name, which gave more me a better reason to keep it than mere preference (not that I needed one).

    I think my husband would have preferred that I take his name, but to his credit, he deferred to my decision on the matter and has never made a big deal out of it. We have been married almost 13 years.

    I have a few friends who have done the same, so though I know we are in the minority, it seems “normal” to me. I also have a friend who made up an entirely new name with her husband, and they just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.

    We have two sons, and they have my husband’s surname, so I’m the only member of our household who has mine. I haven’t given a lot of thought to the possibility of my sons’ changing their surname when/if they marry. . . probably because they are boys, and the default in our society is that they will keep their birth names throughout their lives.

  2. I kept my maiden name. It was part laziness (so much paperwork) and the other part was finally coming to terms and appreciating my name. I have a very common name, hello being a Jessica born in the late 80s. My last name is super common as well. My whole life my name felt plain and I hated it. As I got into my 20s I started to appreciate it. Once I got married, I had already begun my career and academia and didn’t want to change my name. I thought about hyphenating my last name and my husband, combined it’s only 7 letters but again felt like too much work. I have no regrets but it can be annoying. The dog is under my last name at the pharmacy but under my husband’s last name at the vet office. Our daughter has our last name but I gave her two middle names, one of which is my maiden name. I think I’m one of a handful of my friends who didn’t change their names. It still surprises me that more of my friends changed their names than didn’t.

  3. I kept my birth name. Feminist act for sure, plus I think I have a much cooler last name than my husband. Ha! My children have my last name as their middle name; I didn’t want to go down the hyphen path either.
    When I read in your newsletter reason number 4 “I certainly liked the idea of keeping a maiden name as a feminist act, but it didn’t totally feel that way to me, since I would still have my father’s name. . . ” I was reminded of a response Marilyn vos Savant gave to a reader who had the same issue. She pointed out that (in your case) Stanley is *your* name. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to your father or your brothers. Why would they have more ownership of the name they were given at birth than you do?

  4. I took my husband’s last name – because it made me Faith Love. And when I divorced him, I kept it – I figure that the universe didn’t give me a name like this to just give it back.

  5. I moved my birth name to my middle name and used my husband’s surname.

    He ALSO changed his middle name to match my birth name.

    Then, we gave our children the exact same middle and last names.

    So, we all have the same middle and last names, and our kids can decide which pieces to keep. They can keep my maiden name and ask their partners to change/add it to their middle spot, too. Or they can keep their own surname, and change the middle name to their spouses’ unmarried name. Or neither! Who knows?

    Anyway, that felt right and equitable to us.

  6. I kept my maiden name since almost all the women in my family did, East Asian and Southeast Asian women don’t change their last names when they marry. Growing up as first generation American (I came to the states as a 1 year old) I always thought it was weird that American women changed their names.

  7. I got married just a couple of years ago and didn’t change my name. My mom kept her maiden name, so that’s always felt very normal to me. My husband also has a VERY common last name. I always told myself that if my husband had a fun, unique, exciting last name, then sure I’d change it. But he doesn’t, so I kept my slightly more unique one! He doesn’t care at all, but my grandmother-in-law said she “didn’t realize I was such a feminist.”

  8. I got married in 1991, I worked on Wall Street on the trading floor a very male dominated and misogynistic work space. I came back from my honeymoon and the first statement out of my direct boss was a sneer” I guess you’re going to keep your own name.” Not the wedding was great or how was the trip but the status of MY NAME. Why was this his concern or why was he threatened by the fact a woman would want to keep a part of her identity? It became the topic of conversation of the trading floor, some 100 different men chiming in on how I should change my name. I always remember one co-worker calling my husband a p*ssy because my husband did not “make me” change my name. The next morning the office manager came to my work space with papers with a name change form as my boss sat there and watched my answer. I told the office manager I did not need the papers. So yes I can believe that a 50% of the country believes it should be a law.

  9. I gladly took my husband’s last name because mine was forever being mispronounced/misspelled even though it was very short; his was far less complicated. A funny aside… my mom had a childhood friend who married a man whose last name was the same as hers, so she became Carol Sweet Sweet. :)

  10. Not only do I believe in keeping your name (its your NAME !!!) I also believe in giving the children the mothers last name. The harder part is finding a man who has enough courage to agree! I found one and I have noticed that there are a few others in my town.

  11. I hyphenated, and it is a huge pain in the butt. Many computer systems don’t recognize a hyphen (including airlines). I thought I would keep my maiden name, but it was a huge deal to my husband so I compromised with the hyphen. My kids have my husband’s surname. At work, I use the whole thing, but socially we tend to default to his name only. I think there is no easy answer aside from both spouses taking a new name and giving that to the kids. There is no way my husband would have done that though. It is inherently sexist even the way I did it. I hope my daughters feel free to do whatever their hearts tell them to do!

  12. I kept my name and my husband kept this; that way it’s fair all around. When our son was born, we gave him a new last name (pulled from our family histories) so that we didn’t have to decide which of ours to pass on. That way everyone has their own, no one’s name is fraught with sexism, and as a bonus besides, we got to choose a last name that worked well with the first name we wanted. (Name harmony is important to me!)

  13. I went to a working class public high school and then an Ivy League college. So far, the vast majority of my high school friends have changed their names upon marriage and the vast majority of my college friends have kept theirs. I don’t think a man would understand the amount of relief I felt when I met my now-husband’s older sister and learned that she had kept her name when she married. I was years away from really thinking about marriage at that point, but I knew that no one on his side would have any leg to stand on to fuss at me about my decision to keep mine!

  14. I kept my name, I always knew I would. My husband did offer to hyphenate but I think hyphenation is annoying and a hassle- when I was a teacher, all the students I had with hyphenated names (except one with a short and easy combo) hated it and most didn’t use the whole thing. One kid asked for his middle name to be used instead, and was counting the days until he turned 18 and could drop his entire long hyphenated last name.
    Our kids have my husband’s last name because it was important to him and not that important to me. Your parents choose your name anyway, their first names mattered to me more.

  15. I took my husband’s name because my maiden name really only brought bad memories from my father and childhood, so, in my case, and although I consider myself a feminist, I saw this name change as an opportunity.

    1. Same here. I liked the idea of leaving my difficult childhood behind and starting fresh with a new (to me) last name. I also like having the same last name as my husband and our child. It feels good to me to be part of a unit.

  16. When I married 39 years ago, I kept my name. 4 years later, when our first child was born both my husband and I changed our last name to a hyphenated version of our last names. and gave our children the hyphenated version. When our son married both he and his wife kept their own names and their 2 children have my son’s hyphenated last name. Our daughter kept my husband’s last name and added her husband’s last name.

    As a professional woman who became a CEO if I had to do it all over again I would have maintained my maiden name for work and used my husband’s last name personally and on legal documents. In this way, staff at my agency (who were computer savvy and noisy) could not so easily look up everything about me on-line.

  17. I kept my name, and never contemplated changing it, but I was genuinely surprised by the amount of pushback and criticism that choice received, even from people of my generation.

    I took my stepdad’s name at 20, it’s very meaningful to me and career-wise, changing it at marriage would have been a little tricky if I’d wanted to do that. My husband wasn’t bothered at all, but did want his name involved with our childrens’ names (fairly enough!) so they’re both double-barrelled. I’ve always taken the approach that it’s a one generation at a time decision, and the assumption that a family name will be passed down for hundreds of years also makes a lot of further assumptions about your sexuality and life choices. If my kids want to pick one half of the double barrel, take their spouse’s name, blend a new name or just go by one name (a la Cher ;)) it’s all fine with me! But I get a lot of flak asking about what happens when my daughter marries a man who also has two names, etc etc.

  18. I’m pretty indifferent on names–I didn’t change mine because it wasn’t important to anyone in our respective families and I had already built a life and career in my name, and I didn’t want to deal with the administrative burden. My husband’s and my last names sound pretty terrible together, so we also didn’t think about hyphenating or combining them. But I can also see why someone would want to change their name. One thing to note: Ralph Lauren’s real name was Ralph Lifshitz. He talks about changing it here.

  19. I have a unique maiden name and had no middle name, so when I got married I moved my maiden name to the middle and added my husband’s last name–his name is very cool and also unique, or else I would probably have just stuck with mine. We got married just before I started law school, so it was an easy time to change my name, and it meant a lot to him. I use my full name professionally and just my married name socially. We gave all of our kids (three girls) my husband’s name and no middle name, so they could also easily keep their last name if they chose to add their spouse’s last name some day, but my 6 year old daughter has decided that she takes after my side of the family, and insists that her middle name is my maiden name. (We’ve looked into changing it legally, and probably will someday, but it is strangely expensive for two parents who chose their child’s name in the first place to legally change it to a name they both agree on! If I had to do it over again, I would give my maiden name to all my girls as their middle name.) And my 9 year old has already decided that if she gets married she will keep her name and (maybe) add her spouse’s name as her middle name.

  20. I’m not married by my partner (a woman) and I have a baby girl. We have chosen a new family name! I have my mum’s last name but it’s her dad’s who we don’t see. I don’t love my partner’s name either. Our daughter’s last name is the first letters of both our parents name (it helped that created a great name:Spark). Our plan is to change all three of names but in the UK where we are it was easiest to put her name as spark on the birth certificate than the admin of changing our names. It’s still super rare to create a family name but I’m really happy we did it!

  21. I stopped using the term “maiden name” years ago because it is yet another misogynistic signal that abets the patriarchy. I use “given name” and “chosen name” because it works for all families, genders, and reasons that anyone might change the name they were given at birth (i.e. marriage, divorce, family blending, gender transitions). It decouples one’s identity from marital status and instead signals one’s situation as a child and one’s chosen future as an adult.

    I don’t have any opinions on any individual keeping or taking names, but I feel very strongly about women having the freedom to make an informed choice for their lives and having access to the tools, services and legal protections to implement the choice (just like all the other choices we have to make for ourselves and our loved ones.)

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