If you’re getting married, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make isn’t about your flower arrangements or color scheme—it’s what name to use after you tie the knot.
In our grandparents’ era, there wasn’t much to decide upon. But in the U.S. today, women have more options than ever before: Take his name. Keep your own. Hyphenate. Create a new name altogether. A friend of mine even suggested that the primary breadwinner should get to choose.
Even with all these options, changing your name is still a considerably touchy subject with loads of factors—cultural traditions, family expectations, professional reputation, and more—to consider. You’ll likely also find that everyone from your fiancé to your grandmother has a distinct opinion (in fact, according Brian Powell’s 2011 study, 50% of respondents believe changing your name should be legally required!).
The truth is, it’s up to you, as an individual and a couple to decide. Want to hear from those who have been there before? Read the three perspectives below to help you determine the right choice for you and your relationship.
Yours: The Traditional Approach
When I told my husband about this article, he shared his sole reason for wanting me to take his last name: “ownership.” After swiftly bopping him on the head, I thought about the nugget of reason within his teasing Neanderthal perspective and how it applies to our approach to marriage.
For us, a crucial element to building a successful marriage is establishing a unique, new family unit in which we each belong to one another. One identifying factor of our family is a shared last name. Among family and friends, we are fondly referred to as “Team Buell,” which is not just reflective of our shared name, but also of the way we’ve constructed our marriage—as a partnership.
Was I OK with dropping my maiden name? Yes. This was because I actually felt much greater attachment to my middle name, Dellia, which is the name of my grandmother to whom I owe much of my personality and musical and athletic abilities. By constructing a married name that reflected both my individuality and my new role as a spouse, I felt like I was truly capturing my authentic identity.
Mine: Keeping Your Own Name
Sharon, the CEO of a nonprofit, never even considered marriage early in her career, while she was focused on her goal of becoming an attorney for an international corporation. So, by the time she got married, she had graduated law school, passed the BAR, and built an established professional reputation—all linked to her maiden name.
For her, keeping her name was a no-brainer, both professionally and personally (she also preferred her last name to her husband’s). However, the responses she received from her husband’s family were less than ideal—they saw her decision as implication that their name wasn’t good enough. This was hardly the case, she said. “It just wasn’t mine.”
After several years of marriage, she’s still secure in her decision. Her family and in-laws, however, continue to address correspondence to the pair using her husband’s name. (You’ve got to love a not-so-subtle protest.)
Ours: Some Combination of Names
An increasing trend is taking some combination of both partners’ names, which captures the spirit of a partnership while leaving your pre-marital name intact.
“I like the idea of having the same last name as your spouse and identifying yourself as part of the same family, but felt like in some way, changing my name was like changing my personality,” says Adrian, who opted to drop her middle name and go by both her maiden name and her husband’s last name. She also worried about losing part of the professional identity she had built. “I have a unique last name, and it’s one that people immediately recognize.”
Betsy Aimee was in a more complicated boat. She came to the table with four names: her first name, Betsy Aimee, her father’s last name, and her mother’s last name. In Guatemala, where her mother is from, it’s traditional for the woman to either add her husband’s last name to her own or keep her name entirely the same. Guatemalan children take both their father and mother’s last name.
She knew she would keep her name intact even before she met her husband. “For us, family is not defined by a name but by shared values and a shared life.” Even still, her husband decided to adopt her name as his middle name when the two were married. The pair stays far from conformity and he didn’t have a middle name of his own, so he thought it just made sense.
Their choice was so unique that a clerk from the California courthouse initially denied their request, assuming it wasn’t a legal option. However, as a public affairs and policy professional, Betsy Aimee quickly cited the 2007 amendment to California law that allowed either spouse, regardless of gender, to adopt his or her partner’s name.
Winning the Name Game
Of course, there are many other naming options aside from those I’ve described, and an unlimited number of factors involved in determining what’s right for you. My advice? At the end of the day, a marriage is a partnership, and major decisions like these are best made together, taking both of your views, opinions, and beliefs into consideration.
Also know that whatever you choose, you’re likely to run into some critics. But, hold your ground! Taking your spouse’s name does not mean the death of your independence, and keeping your own doesn’t mean that you’re not committed to your marriage. What is truly important is determining which elements of marriage and naming are most significant to you and your relationship.
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Photo courtesy of Erich McVey.