She Won’t Change Her Last Name

Written by Lynette Hoy NCC, LCPC

wontchangenameMy fiance and I have a great relationship, but there is one thing we cannot agree on. She made a promise to herself, when she was a child, that she wasn’t going to change her last name when she got married. Now that we are together, her idea of a compromise is to wait till she finishes college (four years from now) to change her name to the married name. This is very difficult for me. I am not old fashioned, but the one thing I want in our marriage is unity. I feel very strongly that having our name be the same from the get-go will complete that unity. She suggested hyphening our names, but this would make our combined name over 20 characters long. Am I just being an old-fashioned dinosaur about this? Am I so out of touch with reality to think that this compromise won’t be a good idea?

Advice:

If you have this one issue causing you so much disturbance now, it is a prediction for the future. Neither of you will be happy in your marriage if one caves in on an issue of this gravity. One of you will be resentful and that’s a poor way to start a marriage that you want to last.

I don’t consider myself old-fashioned either, but, I do concur with you about the last name. First of all, when you become a married couple the name change that occurs is a symbol of the couple identity that the two of you are taking on. It’s a symbol of your commitment to one another and to “becoming one”. You love your wife so much that you are giving her your name. Your wife loves you so much that she is taking on a new name. Any children you have will bear that name and carry it into the future.

Secondly, the norm in our society is still for the woman to take on the name of her husband. If you decide to do differently, you will be stepping out of the norm and making it difficult for your children to carry on that name. Suppose your name becomes “Smith-Johnson”. What will a male child pass on if he marries a woman who wants to combine their names — “Smith-Johnson-Schroeder” ? It becomes more and more complicated.

Thirdly, the issue of last names raises questions about the roles of husbands and wives. If you want to take the role leadership in your family passing on your last name will signify that role. The usual role of a married man is that of leader and protector. Be careful here, I’m not saying that the husband is the dominant one or that the wife is not equal, but the last name issue signifies a question about the roles. Who will lead the family? How will decisions be made? Is your finance concerned that if she gives up her name she is giving up her vote in family matter as well? You need to discuss this. This issue is more than “what name shall we choose?” It is an issue with hidden meaning and assumptions about what your relationship will be like and what roles you will take on.

Don’t cave in, talk this through. It sounds like you have a deeper conflict of values and expectations regarding roles. I encourage you to begin working through this. This is really a test of what is going to happen in the years to come in your relationship. Stand up and be a leader. It may mean that you need to post-pone the wedding until you are both happy about the decision you make together. Working through this issue will lay a foundation for how you work through conflict together in the future.

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131 Responses to “She Won’t Change Her Last Name”

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    People will always have opinions, and while I do not agree with all of them, I do welcome them, however I think we have taken this conversation as far as we can. One thing both sides can agree on is that names, whether your own or that of your spouse or child, are very important things. I hope that all couples entering into marriage will take the time to discuss their feelings about names long before their wedding day and come to a solution that works for their family. Dreams are not easily given up, and when we rip them out of someone’s hands, damage inevitably follows. We need to be gentle with the expectations of the ones we love, and careful when handling the things and ideas they hold dear.

    I am closing the comments on this article for the time being. I do thank you all for your participation in this discussion.
    -Ed.

  • cycleboy says:

    Jamie: “The tradition of passing on the surname of the father makes (lineage) somewhat easier. ”

    While I agree that tracing one’s family tree is both rewarding and educational, I disagree with the above statement. I would contend that passing on a surname is completely irrelevant.

    Consider trying to trace the parents of John Smith. The surname will be virtually useless without a birth certificate. Even in my own family, which has a fairly rare surname, relying on that name alone would be impossible. Although there only seem to be 2 family groups bearing the same surname here in the UK, they are quite unconnected.

    Only by having birth certificates with the mother’s and father’s names can tracing be accomplished. Then, it matters not a jot what names either bears – they can even be totally different from their offspring – they can be traced in the usual manner. Though I have not tried this myself, I have asked the question of two people whom I know are tracing their family roots and they confirm that changing or not changing surnames is quite irrelevant; as long as those changes are RECORDED.

  • cycleboy says:

    “Cycle I’m finding it hard believe you were DISSAPOINTED as you say , when your wife wanted your name , not caring either way is one thing but actually having dissapointment is strange . You want them to have the choice but when they do , your still not happy . Hmmm”

    You’re probably not the first person to describe me as ‘strange’. I take it as a compliment.

    My wife did hyphenate my surname to hers, as you say, her choice. However, I did the same to preserve the symmetry. My choice.

  • cycleboy says:

    Leah: “Are you saying the father was Polish, but the mother was American?”

    Well, I’m in the UK but you’ve got the gist. His father came over during WW2 and me his wife here. Having an unusual name for this country (I think it’s less so in the USA) he decided taking her surname would make things easier all round. More pragmatism than feminism.

  • cycleboy says:

    Sorry Michael, your last posting reveals that you’ve not understood any of the comments people have been making on this thread. Others, as well as myself, have tried to point out where your logic falls down. We have not tried to gainsay your feelings, only your logic, yet you still claim that women do not own their surnames. Clearly, you will not be convinced so we might as well agree to disagree on this point and close the conversation.

  • Catching up, comment 7.

    Michael.

    While it’s true that Mrs. originated in the old context of “Mrs. John Smith” soon evolving to “Mrs. Lucy Smith” it is now completely acceptable to be “Mrs. Maiden Name.” My sister is a Mrs. who uses her maiden name. I, personally, have a problem with the title Miss and Mrs. so I use “Ms.” because it’s as ambiguous as Mr. I used “Ms. when I was single, and I used it when I got married.

    As for your comment about if one is not ready to feel owned, they should not be married, are you married? And if you are, how do YOU like being owned? Or is it just the WOMAN who should accept that feeling of being “owned?”

  • Catching up (comment 6)

    Michael!

    Just because men of a previous generation had a “right” to something archaic doesn’t automatically entitle men of the current generations to have the same right.

    I understand that in the late 1800′s it became illegal to beat one’s wife in North American, and let’s not forget the British phrase “rule of thumb.” This originally meant that no man could beat his wife with a switch that was thicker than his thumb.

    Your Great-Great-Great-Grandpa may have had the right to beat his wife. Do you want that same right? Are you entitled to that right just because someone in the past had it?

  • Catching up (comment 5)

    Right on, Cycleboy. By me keeping my name, and him keeping his, no one holds a veto. My husband actually offered to take my name, and I told him:

    “Thank you, I’m touched that you would offer, but it would mean more to me if you kept your own name, since I would not change my name for you, or anyone. I am not going to expect someone to do something for me, that I would not do for them.”

    He offered, I was flattered, but ultimately, I didn’t want to have the same imbalance.

    It’s the “&” between our names that joins us, not the sharing of one name. That “&” is what makes us one unit.

  • Catching up (comment 4)

    Cycleboy.

    Are you saying the father was Polish, but the mother was American? I’m guessing here. Did the family take her name, because they all wanted to have an American name?

    I took my mother’s maiden name because I wanted a Danish name. I live in Canada, where my Dad was born, and I speak his native language as my first language. I wanted something that my mother had, so I took her birth name.

    Now before someone says “but it’s your grandfather’s name” let me say this.

    Because of the nature of last names in general, and their origins, I could have taken “Hansen” a name that was not a name from my family, and it would still have been someone’s father’s last name.

    As time goes on and this tradition eventually goes by the wayside (I know it could take a few decades, or even a century), the “father’s name” won’t be such an argument.

  • Catching up

    Hello, Confused.
    I was not gloating, nor was I looking for an ego boost. I was using myself as an example. Believe me, I’m not as well-known as Winfrey, Palin, or Thatcher. I’m sure you knew to whom I was referring, even though I only used their last names.

    As for “disappointed” my husband was also disappointed when his exes INSISTED on taking his name. The only reason why they did was because he felt himself in a catch 22. His words:

    “They take my name and perpetuate an old tradition, or I tell them not to take my name, thus forcing them to OBEY, and looking like a misogynist, for not allowing them to make their own decision.”

    They took his name because it was their choice, not his. He was greatly disappointed. When I came along, he took a change and spoke up, telling me he would not marry me if I took his name. That was not a threat, that was just a fact. I would not marry him if he wanted me to take his name. He said what he said, and I said “good, because if you expected otherwise, I’d be gone!”

    People like my husband, and Cycleboy are disappointed when women want to roll over and embrace a tradition in the man’s “honour” that actually insults the man whom they wish to honour, much the same way I am upset when someone holds the door open for me because I’m a woman. If I have my arms full, and you get to the door first, that’s one thing, and in a similar circumstance I’d hold the door for you, but if I’m just walking through a door, empty handed, and unencumbered, leave the door to me.

  • Catching up with this thread today, still addressing Michael.

    Comment 2.

    OK Michael. In comment 1 I stated that the husband should have no say in the woman’s name, since he is not directly involved in the creation of the woman. However, the parents are both involved with the creation of the child, so naturally the name should be discussed between them, again not just assumed.

    I am speaking from a biological standpoint. Humans are the only animals where names are even an issue. Fathers in many other species in the world can bond with their young, without the human evolution of names. Simply being in that child’s life.

    My husband and I discussed your comment. As you know from reading my past comments, he has sons, and daughters, and one of those sons took his MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME! Another son decided he wanted the name of his step-father, and the one son who does have Hubby’s last name (his mother named him, Hubby wouldn’t have minded if he got her name), may get married some day and take his wife’s name. Who knows?

    Anyway, my husband has bonded extremely well to those children by being a loving father. Giving a child a name does not automatically bond a father to them, Christensen is neither my father’s nor my husband’s last name. I had my father’s last name growing up, and we still had a rocky relationship. I love my father, but we are two very different people with two very different personalities. True that the advantage to pregnancy and birth, risky though it is, may be a type of bonding between a mother a a child, but even this is not automatic. Look at women like Andrea Yeates, who are capable of killing their own children? You call that bonding? She carried and birthed those children, but had she been able to properly bond with them, I doubt she would have killed them.

    Bonding with a child takes EFFORT, not just biology or (to use a word with which you don’t agree, but which I defined in comment one) TRADITION.

  • OK this thread has been very active this afternoon, so I’m going to address each comment individually.

    Comment 1

    Michael. Wikipedia defines tradition as a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past, ergo name change is a tradition. Women who don’t change their name and the men who support them are un-traditional, and that is OK.

    I’m glad you agree that it is a woman’s choice. However, we must disagree that it should be OK with the man that she not change her name. She is the one getting a new name, and as an adult, it is up to her, and her alone. She is not a baby with no choice in the matter. If the man doesn’t agree with what name the woman chooses for herself, it’s his tough luck. Gone are the days when a wife must submit to her husband. He is not a woman’s sovereign, and life is not a scene from Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew. What is an honour to some is clearly an insult to another. If my husband was going to be insulted by my not taking his name then he’d be the wrong man for me. I am not the only woman in the world who feels this way.

  • Michael says:

    Who said anything about ditching anything? You talk like changing your name and getting married puts an end to your career, it certainly does not. Nobody’s ditching anything.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    “Being recognized as ONE unit in a marriage is 100x more important than a career. Who cares?” So a woman who spends a decade in med school should ditch all of that time and investment the moment she becomes a wife? I am genuinely shocked to learn that there is anyone in a developed nation who holds such a low opinion of women.

  • Michael says:

    “What about women who earn professional designations under their maiden name and are not legally allowed to use their married name while working? Are they also ashamed of being wives?”

    Being recognized as ONE unit in a marriage is 100x more important than a career. Who cares?

    “I would be very careful about attempting to speak on behalf of all Americans”

    Excuse me…when did I say all Americans? If you read my post I said a lot of Americans, not all.

    “I do not expect to change your mind on this, but please be assured that you will not change mine either.”

    No kidding, because you are a woman.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Michael, I hardly know where to begin with your comments. You are simply incorrect. Women can, and are, referred to with “Mrs.” regardless of whether or not they take their husband’s name. “Mrs” denotes a married woman, not a subset of married women who also chose to take their husband’s name. It is ludicrous to suggest that a woman who chooses not to change her name on her wedding day is somehow ashamed of her marital status or unprepared for matrimony. What about women who earn professional designations under their maiden name and are not legally allowed to use their married name while working? Are they also ashamed of being wives?

    There is neither logic nor precedent in your argument about where names come from. How did you get your own last name? By the simple act of being born into a family that kept you and named you. The same way I got mine. Men do not own their names more than women do.

    I would be very careful about attempting to speak on behalf of all Americans. I do not doubt that this is how you feel and as the beneficiaries of living in free societies so you are permitted to think this way and I am permitted to disagree with you. I do not expect to change your mind on this, but please be assured that you will not change mine either.

  • Confusion says:

    Leah , looks someone has had there ego stroked with all those newspaper articles you mention. Men aren’t looking for recognition for leading a family , it’s in most of our DNA to be that way . Your bringing up a double standard when we talk about a thousand years ago . There really wasent any structure to society back than don’t you agree? Where you there to witness how people with no last names as you suggest acted towards your family , I’m sure there was a way they distinguished there families from one another somehow . There were no computers or file cabinets to keep track of all that so your going on speculation . I apologize for saying STATES . I’m used to using that instead of saying Territories or Provinces. Cycle I’m finding it hard believe you were DISSAPOINTED as you say , when your wife wanted your name , not caring either way is one thing but actually having dissapointment is strange . You want them to have the choice but when they do , your still not happy . Hmmm

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I should also say Michael that I admire your desire to honour your father by carrying on his name. He must be a great man and pleased to have such a devoted son.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    You are determined to be right here aren’t you Michael?! :) I love your persistence.

    My one question about the issue is the problems that will arise for future generations trying to trace their familial heritage. The tradition of passing on the surname of the father makes that somewhat easier. If we have parents that have different names and children with different names our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren are going to have a more difficult time figuring out their family history. I think there is great value in knowing our heritage. Are there ways that this new trend in a woman’s freedom of identity can still be followed for future generations?

  • Michael says:

    That leads me to another point about this “keeping my name” non-sense. You can’t be called “Mrs.” anything if you don’t take his name. Right or wrong, that gives the impression that you’re ashamed of your marriage or trying to hide the fact that you’re married. It gives off a terrible impression. Why would would a woman go by “Miss or Ms.” if she’s married? That’s ridiculous.

    The bottom line is, if you hate the idea of being a “Mrs.” then you have no business getting married in the first place. If you’re worried about the perception of being “owned” or losing your “identity,” then I don’t think you’re ready to be married. Sorry, that’s how I, and a lot of people (at least in the USA) feel. You’re not being owned, your identity is not being altered, because as I said all along, a woman’s last name has nothing to do with her identity as it does for a man.

    Women, think about how you got your last name. It was carried on by MEN being born and passing it along in your family. You can NOT pass that name along, because obviously you are not men. What is hard about that? Accept the fact that men can carry on names, and women do not. That’s how it goes. People are ALLOWED to do whatever they want with this issue, doesn’t mean they SHOULD.

  • Michael says:

    I am saying that yes the husband should have veto power over something like this because he is not the one going against the protocol. Since the woman is the one wanting to keep her father’s last name, she is the person going against the right thing to do. It’s not fair to a man when his father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc. all had a “Mrs.” as their wife…and now all of the sudden since women have more rights, that is taken away from him? That, my friends, is BS

  • cycleboy says:

    Michael: ” If it means that much to a woman to keep the name AND it’s okay with the husband, then yes go for it. But if it’s not okay with the husband (and most men who would indeed have a problem with it)then I don’t think it’s right to keep the name. You have to consider the man’s feelings in this.”

    Oh, where to start with this one?

    “if it’s not okay with the husband” suggests, in your opinion, that he should hold a veto on this issue, which isn’t a very good start to a marriage, I’d suggest. You could equally re-write your statement with the sexes reversed:
    “If it means that much to a man for his wife to have his name name AND it’s okay with the wife, then yes go for it. But if it’s not okay with the wife…”
    See what I mean? How can you compromise if one person has a veto?

    And finally: “You have to consider the man’s feelings in this.” How about this: “You have to consider the woman’s feelings in this.”?

  • cycleboy says:

    michael: “my name better damn well be from my dad. I wouldn’t tolerate it any other way.”

    I had a school friend whose father was Polish, but the family all took her surname. I don’t think I am assuming too much if I guess that he was as attached to his surname as you are to yours.

  • Confused says:

    Leah , looks someone has had there ego stroked with all those newspaper articles you mention. Men aren’t looking for recognition for leading a family , it’s in most of our DNA to be that way . Your bringing up a double standard when we talk about a thousand years ago . There really wasent any structure to society back than don’t you agree? Where you there to witness how people with no last names as you suggest acted towards your family , I’m sure there was a way they distinguished there families from one another somehow . There were no computers or file cabinets to keep track of all that so your going on speculation . I apologize for saying STATES . I’m used to using that instead of saying Territories or Provinces. Cycle I’m finding it hard believe you were DISSAPOINTED as you say , when your wife wanted your name , not caring either way is one thing but actually having dissapointment is strange . You want them to have the choice but when they do , your still not happy . Hmmm

  • Michael says:

    “I happen to know a large group of women and men who believe that SHE was the one who was pregnant for 9 months, SHE was the one who endured labour, SHE was the one risking her life, many women died in child birth, and SHE was the one who breastfed the baby, so SHE should NAME the baby. Think of pregnancy and child birth literally. The least a man can do is impregnate the woman, but the least a pregnant woman who carries a child to term can do is be pregnant, and give birth. If she chooses to keep that baby, it does not make sense to pin someone else’s name on that child.”

    So your basic view of a father in one’s life is basically worthless? All the things you mentioned above are what a mother gets to experience with her child. She has the special bond of giving birth to the baby. And what does the dad get? The dad gets to give the baby HIS last name. The mom giving the baby her last name makes no sense. It makes even less sense that keeping her last name. Again, if it’s okay with the husband, go for it. Do what you want to do. But I can not in the least bit imagine a man putting up with the fact that his child (especially a son) won’t be getting his last name. I really don’t know how a man could tolerate this. You’re pretty much pissing on your father, grandfather, great grand-father, etc. Why would a woman want to alter the legacy of a man’s family. I just don’t get it.

  • Michael says:

    I really don’t like it how you refer to it as “tradition.” I have only met one woman in my lifetime who has kept her last name after marriage. I have a hard time calling it ony “tradition” when basically everyone I know (I live in the midwest-USA) automatically does it. It’s not a problem for them. It’s a very minority-based opinion to not do this. Like I said, it’s protocol, not so much tradition.

    Yes, your right…people should do what they want. If it means that much to a woman to keep the name AND it’s okay with the husband, then yes go for it. But if it’s not okay with the husband (and most men who would indeed have a problem with it)then I don’t think it’s right to keep the name. You have to consider the man’s feelings in this. I can’t imagine the disappointment I would have to face being told that my new wife won’t be taking my name. It really should be an honor to take the name of your new husband. That’s how I view it.

  • Michael.

    My ring situation may be rare today, but as time marches on it will become less rare. It may not be a gold cigarette case with the next couple, there may not even be a ring. People are realizing that they have more engagement options than the traditional ones.

  • Michael.
    To state that something is YOUR opinion is one thing. You are going to do what you are going to do, as is everyone else. It’s when you (or anyone else) insists that that’s the only way for the world to be. I’m not suggesting that the entire system change, because I am not in control of anyone but me. However, it should be accepted that there are many different types of people, who are going to do many different things, no one thing being more screwed up than the other, if it’s what works for the individual. If you want to live a certain way, that’s fine, but this cherished old tradition may not last forever. Many old traditions have died out. What do you think of the woman vowing to obey and serve him? What do you think of Ephesians 522: (wives submit to your husbands as the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…) 100 years ago, or even 40 years ago, both verses were commonly used in weddings, and now they have all but disappeared in the mainstream, only being carried on by certain conservative groups.

    I happen to know a large group of women and men who believe that SHE was the one who was pregnant for 9 months, SHE was the one who endured labour, SHE was the one risking her life, many women died in child birth, and SHE was the one who breastfed the baby, so SHE should NAME the baby. Think of pregnancy and child birth literally. The least a man can do is impregnate the woman, but the least a pregnant woman who carries a child to term can do is be pregnant, and give birth. If she chooses to keep that baby, it does not make sense to pin someone else’s name on that child.

    We no longer live in a society where a man must go out and risk his life every day for the good of the family. Both genders are capable of working, and both genders are capable of childcare.

    The name tradition is GRADUALLY changing. I’m not saying it’s going to be a quick change, but it’s changing just the same. My husband is significantly older than I am, and remembers a time when it was law that the child got the father’s name. “Thank God that all change,” he said to me. “The name of the child should be determined by the individuals, not by society.”

    If it does not make sense for you to name a child the way I would, then don’t do it. Who knows? The child may grow up to resent the patriarchy, and take the mother’s maiden name out of principle, or invent a totally new name and keep it. Or he/she may get married, and combined her/his existing name with that of the partner, creating a new name from that.

    There are many more name options than there were 100 years ago, and in 100 years from now there will be many more. The tradition may not die out in our lifetime, but it’s certainly not going to stick around forever.

  • Michael says:

    As for that damned ring, you know full well I would not have accepted it if I didn’t have something equal to give in return (remember the gold cigarette case?)

    I am obviously not referring to you when I mention the ring factor. Your situation is a rare exception.

  • Michael says:

    The fact still remains that “married” couples with different last names just don’t seem right to me. Why would the child have his/her mother’s name? How does that make any sense? I suppose you want your kids to have your name?

    If my parents would have gave me my moms name, or God-forbid hyphenated it, as soon as I would turn 18 I’d get my last name changed to my dads, and only my dads. I am just as part as family to my moms side as my dads but my name better damn well be from my dad. I wouldn’t tolerate it any other way.

    So Leah, if I may ask, what’s your solution? I get the feel that you prefer both husband and wife to keep their own last names. But what about the kids? What are their names going to be? Basically anything you answer is going to be extremely messed up based on the fact you have two parents with different last names. A woman insisting that “her” last name goes to the kids is no better than the men who supposedly want to “own” women…which btw is not the case at all.

    Basically, this whole new wave of women wanting to keep their father’s names really screws everything up. You have married couples with different names, brothers and sisters with different last names, hyphenated names that could eventually combine to become Smith-Jones-Walker-Johnson. Anyway you slice it, the only LOGICAL solution is to keep with the protocol of taking the mans last name and giving the kids his name. The integrity of a family’s identity is severely altered any other way you approach it. It’s not just “tradition,” it’s protocol….and for good reason.

  • Cycleboy.

    Thank you for injecting another dose of logic into this discussion. Men have existed for millions of years without needing to rename women.

    As for your description of yourself, you excel in a number of the same areas as my husband. A real man is a man of confidence, not one with an over-inflated ego. Kudos to you for not encouraging your wife to become just another anonymous Mrs.