Today I read a Ms. Magazine blog post entitled “The Great Last-Name Debate” which discusses an issue both I and my fiance face as we plan our wedding; whether or not the bride (myself) will take her husband’s last name. This is a topic I have a very strong opinion about because I think it is taken for granted in heterosexual relationships that a woman will change her name. I want to make it very clear from the start of this article that I don’t think there is anything wrong with a woman (or a man!) choosing to take their partner’s last name. What I struggle with is that there is not enough of a decision-making process leading up to that choice.
I openly admit to writing my name in cursive on notebook covers to see what it would sound and look like with various crushes and celebrity’s last names. “Lindsey Bloom” was a common feature in my daily planner during my Legolas worshipping days! But I have to wonder now… why did I ever do that? What was reinforcing the idea that I was destined to lose my last name to a man? It was just something people did, something women did, and I ingested that as my fate. I can’t remember anyone ever questioning the practice. It wasn’t until I read the book series Clan of the Cave Bear and Dragonriders of Pern that I saw alternatives.
The reason women have historically changed their surname to their husband’s surname is rooted in misogyny. It’s the same reason the father’s surname is used and not the mother’s surname. To take on a husband’s name was to be transferred from your father’s ownership to your husband’s ownership, which is still the case in some areas of the world today. Why do you think it is that the father walks the daughter down the aisle? Why do people say the father “gives the bride away”? Why do some men still ask for the father’s permission before proposing? All of these are hangovers from an era when women were seen as property.
While the laws that confined women to such dire circumstances have largely changed in the United States (as well as in other countries) the tradition of girls and women taking their father’s and spouse’s last names endures. But at what cost?
Genealogical Research is Harder
If you’ve ever spent time on Ancestry.com or other family history sites, you have experienced this: blank spaces where the wife’s maiden name should have been. You run in to dead ends when you try to find more information on female ancestors. Record keepers and census takers often did not bother to write the maiden name of married women, and so that woman’s family history (and yours!) is lost to the sands of time.
Threatens Personal Brand Recognition
I plan to run for public office someday. What happens if I’ve lived the majority of my life with my maiden name, and then have a different one when I run? Will some people who know me not recognize me on the ballot?
Or similarly, what happens if I apply for a new job in a city I’ve spent most of my life in, but with a new last name? Will I lose out on job opportunities because someone on the hiring committee doesn’t connect my resume to the person they met (and liked!) two years ago? Will I lose part of the “personal brand” I’ve spent most of my life creating? If anyone knows of any studies looking into the economic cost of changing a name (aside from the actual administrative costs) please link to them in the comments.
As you can probably tell, I am not going to be taking my husband’s last name. Early on in our relationship I made it very clear that I would never take the last name of my future spouse (which was a somewhat strange conversation in the early stages of a relationship, but was important to me that he know my stance up front). Despite having told him early on, he expressed surprise when I reminded him after we got engaged. Being the incredibly progressive man that he is, he has taken it all in stride. Now, however, comes the revolutionary part. What do we do instead?
There are several schools of thought on this:
- Hyphenation: This is the practice of using both last names connected by a hyphen (ex: Lindsey Bloom-Loree). The downside of this method is when/if you have children. What happens when children with a hyphenated last name get married themselves? Do they add a new hyphen? That would get messy, and I hate filling out more words on paperwork than I have to, so we tossed this idea out immediately.
- Blending: I am very pro-blending of the two last names, especially since it reminds me of the Clan of the Cave Bear book series. Basically you find some aesthetically pleasing way to incorporate key elements of both partner’s surnames (ex. Lindsey Lorloom). As you can tell from my example, this just doesn’t work for everyone. Some last names are not meant to be blended.
- Inventing new surname: My partner and I are in the process of inventing a new surname, but it has been very difficult so far to agree on the same thing. Our plan is to debut our new surname at the end of our wedding ceremony in front of all our friends and family.
- Keeping own surnames: Some couples simply choose to continue with the last names they already have. This is especially true for public figures whose names are their brand. We have debated going this route also in the event we can’t agree on a new name. The downside is deciding what to do if/when there are children in the picture. I have heard of couples making one of the surnames an additional middle name (ex. Cindy Ann Bloom Loree) and the official surname being either the mother’s or father’s.
As you can see, the dust hasn’t settled on our decision yet, and we are only just beginning to see the push back from both families. I expected his family to be upset since it’s their surname they were expecting to see continue, but my own family’s reaction was a surprise. Since my family probably figured I would be changing my surname anyways, what does it matter to them what it gets changed to? It just goes to show how deeply embedded this practice still is in our culture. We need to question it more than we do.
But maybe you have questioned. Maybe you have spent time debating whether or not to change your last name or your partner’s last name, and you decided to go with tradition. That’s great! I’m glad you gave it thought and figured out what works for you. There are plenty of reasons why you might choose to continue with the norm. Perhaps the issue is of such overwhelming importance to your partner (perhaps the only child of an only child) that you don’t mind taking their last name. Like I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with making that choice. I just want to make sure it is, in fact, a choice.
So what do you plan to do with your surname?
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