Taking your husband’s name

August 17, 2012
These arrived the other day.
Yes, the college I’m teaching at needs to have them on file
to be sure I have the appropriate credentials
to be teaching young minds. 
Not that these tell you much
except that I met a university’s degree criteria.
Documents from another life
But, whose name is on them?
That is M’s surname, which I took in 1972 when we married the first time. 
And that’s who I was as I finished my college career.
And then, one day, after he left, I was writing a check in Publix on Appalachee Parkway in Tallahassee, Fla. {Yes, there was a day when grocery stores did not take credit cards and debit cards had not yet been invented.}  I remember the moment vividly. I stopped, mid-signature and thought to myself, Why do I have this name?
Why, indeed?
So when I went to court for our divorce, 
I took my birth name back, legally,
and it’s been my name ever since.
A few months later, I was preparing for a very unfortunate rebound remarriage and told my traditionally Southern fiance that there were few non-negotiable things in my life, but that my name was one of them. I would be keeping my birth name.
“That’s perfectly fine, darlin’,” he drawled.
Two months after our marriage, he told me that it wasn’t at all fine.  
And three years after that I divorced him and moved to California.
I’ve kept my birth name ever since. It seems an anachronism not to. 
And I’m always surprised that young women still take a man’s name.
“If you had kids, you’d feel differently,” women have said to me.
No, I don’t think I would. 
These are the same women who,
next time around,
take a new husband’s name,
 a name that is not their children’s.
“But your surname is actually your father’s name,” I’ve been told.
Yes, that’s true, but in my case it’s the name I was born with
and it’ll be the name I die with.
Even though I’m remarried to M
and could have that name back, 
I don’t want it.
It’s his.
I have my own.
And I like it just fine.
{Ok, I admit that once I came very close to taking a man’s name again.  
I simply could NOT resist the idea of being Mike and Carol Brady. 
Never let it be said that I don’t have a sense of humor.}

Was this something you also thought about?
How did you make your decision? 

19 comments on “Taking your husband’s name
  1. Maria says:

    Great post as I still get push back from people for having kept my married name. My in-laws once purchased me a plane ticket with my husband’s name attached to mine as they never accepted that I did not take their/his name. It was so complicated to change the travel itinerary that they now use my name. I married at 33 years of age, had a non traditional sales job, and was very successful. I got that job on my own, and succeeded in spite of all the men who doubted me or put obstacles (physical and metaphorical) in my way to try to make me fail. When I married I chose to keep my name for two reasons, one was because when calling on accounts with my new name I would have to “explain” the name change and converse about getting married. To me this could be too much personal information and a time waster, and the other was that I had lived with my name for 33 years and completely own all that I have done right or wrong with that name. My name is who I am. Thanks for the post.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So why get married? There are actually tax advantages in remaining single. Why embrace one archaic tradition and slam the other?

  3. I hear you! It puzzles me that women still do this, today. Everything you say in your comment resonated with me.

  4. Kelly says:

    I took my husband’s name, but I want my old name back. Actually, I want to take my mother’s maiden name. but I wouldn’t mind using both my mother’s and my father’s names. everyone thinks its nuts. But basically I just don’t want his name anymore. My son, 9, wants me to keep it (I didn’t ask, he brought it up somehow) and I explained to him that I am me even if I’m named Kelly Manfredjinsinjin, my real name to him should be Mommy. So I’m still debating what to do with my name. I agree with you on many levels. Its a strange and archaic tradition. But then, IMHO, so is legal marriage. LOL

  5. I always looked on marriage as an economic contract…but it’s gotten all wrapped up in other stuff, which is probably why the institution fails so often. Maybe we were better off with those arranged marriages and lovers on the side…? LOL

  6. Anon, that’s such a great question and a good point –thought about it before and then again when I saw your comment– I’ll be blogging about it soon.

  7. Kelly says:

    if it is truly an economic contract, all the more reason I hope to never be tied up in one again. I would happily commit my life to another person, but not “legally” if I can help it.

  8. Rickatoo says:

    I have 2 cousins that married young, took their husband’s names and divorced quickly. Both kept their married names. One has never remarried and legally changed her surname to her mother’s maiden name. The other remarried, but still uses the surname of her first husband.

    After my divorce, I kept my married name to make things easier for my (then 4 year old) son, even though he had not seen his father for 2 years. He was just learning his name and how to spell, etc., and I felt it would be unfair to change his name out of nowhere. I kept the name so he wouldn’t be the only one he knew with that name, although used both names in business. When he was 10, my son decided to change his last name to my maiden name, which we did together in time for his Bar Mitzvah.

  9. Ricki, that’s an interesting twist. Didn’t know that!

  10. Rickatoo says:

    Yup. He decided along the way that he wasn’t part of that family and we should use my maiden name. I had always told him it was an option if he wanted. We did it for the Bar Mitzvah so we could tell everyone we knew at the same time 😉

  11. Laura.ModernHousewife says:

    I love this post. I changed my name when I got married and I don’t really regret it other than people never being able to spell it or pronounce it. My maiden name was much easier. I do, however, regret dropping my maiden name altogether. I should have made it my middle name. Oh well. It’s too much of a hassle now to change it again. I would love to see a post from you on the topic of choosing to be child-free. I always get so many quizzical looks and questions when I tell people my husband and I are choosing not to have children.

  12. Your maiden name WAS easier! LOL sure, I’ll do a post on that! I’ll email you offline about it, some Qs.

  13. Rickatoo says:

    People have problems with both my maiden and married names. A serious discussion was had about whether my son was ok with changing his initials from ASK to ASS.

  14. ASS…wow, that WAS a change!! b

  15. Rickatoo says:

    Fortunately teenagers don’t use their middle names as often as little ones

  16. Robin Herman says:

    When I got married in 1981, I had been a reporter at the NYTimes for almost a decade, and my byline had accrued considerable value. That’s what I told people then when explaining why I was keeping my “maiden” name. Truth is, I felt strongly that my name carried my IDENTITY and I was not going to diminish my identity for the sake of marriage. Like most girls, I’d had fantasies about changing my last name to this or that boy’s, sounding out the new name for the thrill of it. But when it came down to reality as a woman in 1981, I chose not to follow convention. My husband, who has always shown the utmost respect for me, did not make it an issue at all. And remember, at that time, it was quite an unusual choice, even “feminist” and “radical”. Paul and I are married 31 years now, and my choice from back then has become unremarkable. I would be curious to know, however, how taking a husband’s surname currently breaks down by income, education, geographical region, religion and a number of other factors. Do you have a link for that info?

  17. I don’t. I wonder if it even exists.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This was a really hard decision for me as well, for all the reason voiced by others — career, identity, etc. My husband wanted me to change my name…he’s traditional (old fashioned) and we planned on having kids. After a lot of thinking,it came to this for me: holding on to the past or moving forward toward the future.

    For me, my maiden name was the last thing I possessed from a father I barely knew, and who died when I was a teen. In contrast, a wonderful husband that wanted to build a family with me. I decided to take his name, but keep my maiden name as a middle name for business.

    I still identify more with my maiden name, but ironically, I found out a few years ago that it wasn’t even my father’s. Turns out he was conceived out of wedlock and had his mother’s name from a previous husband. So really, what’s in a name?


  19. Mich, I think you have branded yourself with both names now, and that works. At least the names go together!

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