to change or not to change

very interesting post @ the The Volokh Conspiracy regarding women’s opinions on the subject of changing one’s name upon marriage.

This issue facinates me. I have always found the issue of naming and names important. who names, who gets named, the process involved, etc. It never occurred to me to change my name when i got married (even though it seemed to occur to everyone else – besides my own parents, to their credit). Many of my friends were even surprised that i wasn’t planning on changing my name, and i in turn was shocked at their surprise. that i had to explain my reasoning, etc. for me it felt like an odd decision to have to justify why i didn’t want to change my name. the main reasoning because, well it’s my bloody name. i have a degree with that name on it. i’ve started a career with that name. i feel it’s part of my identity, my heritage, etc. my husband had to justify to no one why he wasn’t compelled to change his last name to mine.

and to me that’s the issue. it’s significant that a woman is supposed to change her name. why is that? i can only take that to mean that in societal terms my name has less value and i don’t accept that in any other facet of society, so no…i didn’t change my name.

very often the reason for a name change is children and wanting a family to all have the same last name. i’ve seen very creative ways for this to happen without a couple having to unfairly abandon part of their name. my friends spike & jackie adopted a new family name when they got married. if we have children, i hope our child is intelligent enough to understand why both mommy and daddy have names of their own, just as they are individuals with other differences. our child will have a hyphenated version of our two individual names and i also hope that their teachers are smart enough to put two and two together as far as names are concerned. in my opinion, if that’s not the case there’s a bigger issue at hand than my decision to retain my own name.

found via feministe

  1. Anonymous said:

    I see the value in most of the different takes on this issue, and generally my view is: whatever works for the people making the choice.

    When I got married I didn’t insist that what is now my ex change her name. I did tell her though that I would consider it an extreme personal honor were she to do so. She did, and I did.

    Should I propose again, I would say the same thing. I can’t say I wouldn’t be disappointed if hypothetical spouse decided not to, but it wouldn’t be a source of strife for us.


  2. sarah said:

    on some level i agree. i mean i don’t necessarily think anyone is wrong, my point is more the why behind it. i often hear people say that changing one’s name isn’t a big deal, it doesn’t matter, etc. the same people who act all kinds of suprised and demand explainations of why others choose to keep their own name.

    so really, my point is i think there’s usually more to it than many people like to make out. if you say it’s not a big deal than don’t make it one. i on the other hand, honestly don’t think of the issue of changing one’s name as trivial – but that’s just me.

    also if you look on the post that i linked to, many of the women there who talked about changing their name in terms of giving something up or putting something else first like family before career, which also leads me to believe that women who don’t change their names are looked upon as selfish.

  3. Anonymous said:

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hmm. The last point is the interesting one. I think that the number of women who DON’T change their last name and are considered selfish probably correlates closely to those women who don’t want kids, and are considered selfish. If that made sense.
    People cling to their traditions. My pseudo-parents were married in their 40s, and saw absolutely no reason to change their names at that point in their lives. My pseudo-mom says she gets a gazillion variations on their names in the mail and via phone calls…people just can’t figure it out.

    Me, I’m torn. At 29 and not yet married, I’m pretty used to my last name. However, I don’t like it. So if I get a better offer, I’ll probably change it. Just for variety. It’s the spice of life, or something. ;)

    Still. The bottom line is “to each their own.” The world really can’t seem to figure that one out completely, though.

  5. samantha said:

    Grr. Stupid comp. Sorry.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Oh I don’t think name changing is trivial, in fact just the opposite. As for ‘the why,’ I’m sure to a large extend it’s rooted in western liberal tradition.

    I hesitate to make any generalizations about perceptions of women who don’t change take a marital name. I also think the term selfish is highly contextual (which would take me on a long and probably inarticulate explanation as to what I mean which I’ll avoid for now).

    Ultimately however, my take is this: if last name is enough of an issue for either spouse that it becomes a point of contention when it doesn’t “go their way,” then those people probably shouldn’t be married.


  7. sarah said:

    samantha – got it. i deleted one of your duplicates.

  8. Anonymous said:

    brooke is waffling; i like her full name, and think it sounds better than “brooke pumplin.” she’s currently thinking of legally changing her name to mine, but using her own for all her graphic stuff.

    i suggested that all male children get my last name, all female get hers, and this was met with resistance. we’re thinking of hyphenating.

    it’s also an interesting choice for her with having a last name of a father who hasn’t exactly been a wonderful force in her life as a whole… but, as you said, it’s *her* name.

    and who’d get rid of a name like mecure?


  9. spike said:

    the most persistent problem i have with the ‘to each her own’ argument as to changing or not changing a last name at marriage, is that is it blatantly NOT a choice in our society. If it were a full unadulterated choice then we wouldn’t be having discussions about it because it would not be at all unusual for women not to ‘take’ their husband’s family name. In fact, the ‘taking’ of the husband’s family name has been less of a ‘taking’ than a legal symbol of the trading of women as property between patriarchal families.

    It is not enough to say, ‘well that isn’t what it means now’ and ignore the history of the act. The history, tradition, outright control of women as chattel, whatever you wish to call it, is not so benign that women have complete freedom of choice on the matter. There are strong legal, societal & cultural motivations that still demand that women fold themselves into the husband’s family. Jackie and i chose a whole new name precisely because it was the most balanced of choices out there and which still gets us many a strange comment. Most ppl do not understand why i would want to change my name, whereas for jackie it was always an expectation that her name would at some point in her life not be her name anymore.

    Anyways, not to get too hung up about it, but as much as i don’t want to tell anyone what choice to make, there are choices out there that only continue to buttress a system that is based upon the control of women by men and legally codifies a woman’s identity as less important than a man’s.

  10. sarah said:


    as usual, your concerns are also mine. pete and i had this discussion last night that you’re right, the really interesting part in all this is the fact that only women are expected to make this change, to give up their name for their family. how come?

  11. jackie said:

    I think another facet of this issue is how you feel about the name you have– I was never very attached to my “maiden” name, for both personal and aesthetic reasons. It was nowhere near as cool as “mercure” :). Also, Spike already had a hyphenated last name, so we had to think of something different.

    But also, there’s another dynamic when you think about divorce, stepparents, etc. It definitely made an impression on me that my stepfather did not share our last name, but that my stepmother did. He seemed more “detachable,” (which in the end, he was), while she seemed like more a permanent part of us. and this is when I was about 8 or 9, so it shows that kids do think about this stuff, if they have a reason to, like the scenarios I mention.

    Every time I tell my students about it, they’re flabbergasted, and I love that, because it’s so great for people to know there are more options.

  12. Melissa said:

    Sarah, I too was surprised at peoples reaction when they found out I kept my last name when I got married. Most people our age were fine with it, but the older family, they live in denial and call me ‘Melissa Dragoo.’ Which isn’t my name. But the biggest headache are those people who refuse to believe we’re married. Once, to get a ‘married couple discount’, we had to bring in a copy of our marriage license. I don’t judge women who change their name, my best friend in the entire world did it. But I certainly wish the politeness would be reversely applied by all the ‘mainstreamers’ out there. I should get cards printed up listing the reasons I kept my maiden name so that I don’t have to explain it so much. Its often so frustrating, that I sometimes lie and just pretend I have my husband’s last name. And I think that’s pretty sad.

  13. Hi! I found your blog on the site. I’m a SLIS alum too — MIS ’03.

    Myself, I decided long ago that I’d keep my last name if/when I get married. I guess I figure: I’ve done a pretty good job at being Christina Dulude for the last 27 years; why change now?

    I was engaged for a while in my early 20s, and my then-fiance was happy I planned to keep my name. The idea of me being “Mrs. [his last name]” reminded him of his mother. Very unsexy.

    After he and I broke up, I assumed that most people our age were as progressive in that way. Evidently not, because the majority of guys I’ve dated since then have been downright shocked and offended that I hadn’t planned on changing my name.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog and just thought I’d drop a line!

  14. Anonymous said:

    A quick response to Spike’s comments which seemed, at least in part, motivated by my initial reponse:

    As I noted in my second post, my original post was not to diminish the historical roots of the tradition, but to simply reflect my own value system and the value systems I have observed in the people I’ve known over the years as it relates to the subject. I agree with you, there are signficant sociocultural historical factors at work. I disagree with the conclusion on current society from those historical factors.

    Unfortunately when getting into the level of issues that mentioned, they are almost impossible to prove or disprove. It becomes an infinite regress and is more a matter of belief. I don’t know who’s ultimately right on the macro-level analysis. My experience however leads me to disagree at this point in time.


  15. sarah said:

    wow! thanks all of you for the interesting responses!

    jackie, i do think you have an interesting point about how attached one is to one’s own name. you know that i love what you and spike did. in my mind it’s a very creative approach to the issue.

    christina (thanks for reading by the way) it’s always kind of depressing to get that kind of reaction as if something (to me) as basic as keeping ones own name is such an affront – to what?

    melissa – yeah we have monogrammed towels…from relatives. *sigh*

  16. Anne said:

    I should read your blog more often if you’re going to make interesting posts like this. :)

    I have known one man who took his wife’s name upon marriage — and he got at least as much flak as women who keep their own names. I’ve never quite understood (well, yes, I understand, but I don’t understand, if that makes sense) why the people who gave him grief could never seem to grasp that his reasons for changing his name were every bit as valid as the reasons a woman might have for changing hers. If it shows respect or honors the commitment or creates a new family when a woman changes her name, why doesn’t it do the same when a man changes his? (And, if I recall correctly, he had to go through the full legal-name-change procedure, including paying a filing fee and stuff — as do members of same-sex non-legally-recognized marriages — but a woman just has to say “yo, got married, new name” for it to be legally recognized.)

    I have a friend who married fairly recently and took her husband’s name — but she did it partly because she would up with the COOLEST NAME EVER, especially for a science-fiction writer: Cat Rambo. (Her first name is Catherine, but she’s gone by Cat forever and ever.) If I could get a name that cool, I’d change mine too!

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