My Last Name

I know engaged women who are absolutely THRILLED about the new last name that comes with wedding bells, but I also know some women who went through a short period of shock and regret when the whole name change process was finalized. It’s one of those wedding details you don’t necessarily think about until it’s over and done.

Well, I thought about it extensively, and I want to share those thoughts with the blog world, but first, please know that this was our decision, and I appreciate your respect as I respect your decision to change/not change/hyphenate your name with my whole heart.

Hi! I’m Nicole. Nicole Lee. Whenever I meet new people, they end up squishing those two sounds together and calling me Nicolee. I love that. Growing up, my sister and I were the “Lee Girls,” and I loved that, too.

In middle school, my friends wrote “Mrs. [first name] Hanson” and “Mrs. [first name] Timberlake” on their notebooks. I tried it. I thought it was weird. My young aspiring writer self did not want my successes to live under the shadow of a former pop star. (sidenote: Who would have guessed Justin Timberlake would still be so successful 15 years later?!)

Before I was even a teenager, I asked my parents if I would have to change my name if I got married. I think my mom initially said yes, but my dad told me no, although it was customary [in the U.S.], I did not legally have to change my name. This was a huge relief to me at the time because I’d just realized all the grandchildren on my dad’s side were girls, which meant, conventionally, our family name would end with this generation.

When I got a little older, I did some research and learned that different cultures have all different kinds of married name changing processes. In Guatemala, you don’t need to change your name when you get married because children take both their father and mother’s last name. Some traditions follow the mother’s linage. Some hyphenate. This was comforting to me because I felt like I had options.

In my research I found my American hero: Lucy Stone. For years, Lucy Stone’s biography sat at the top of my Christmas Wish List. I was so grateful when my sister actually got it for me. For those of you who don’t know, Lucy Stone was an abolitionist, a women’s rights activist, and one of the first women to earn a college degree. She learned Greek and Hebrew and translated bible verses herself. She was absolutely revolutionary in so many aspects of her life, but she is most commonly known for being the first American woman not to change her name after she got married.

Her husband, also a feminist, was cool with it. This was in 1855.

Today, her name lives on through the Lucy Stone League which is an organization that advocates for keeping your name, changing your name, or creating your own name. The philosophy is simple: name choice decisions should be made freely by each person.

Reading about Lucy Stone is really the first time I really thought about WHY my name means so much to me. It’s my identity as much as my face and my voice. It bothered me that men get to be Mr. LastName their whole life and women are expected to be Ms. MaidenName until we’re married and then Mrs. HusbandsName. The idea of someone addressing me as a different person based on my relationship status makes me really uncomfortable.

Grad school was the first time when I could say I knew “several” married women who hadn’t changed their names. My friends talked about the pros and cons. Bret and I were just friends when we first participated in these conversations, so my feelings on the whole name change business were never a surprise to him when we started dating.

Still, when we got engaged, a few friends asked me if I was going to change my last name.

I think, for a long time, I was afraid that if I became Mrs. HusbandsName I would be surrendering that identity of who I was before to become someone else’s wife. That role of “wife” seemed simple and passive. I felt like I NEEDED to hold onto my name to hold on to who I am as a whole person. After I met Bret I knew that wouldn’t be the case, I knew I wasn’t, in fact, surrendering my identity, so I started to wonder if changing my name was such a big deal after all. Even after all those years of being certain, I got hit with questions, and I considered every one of them:

You’re keeping your Maiden Name?
Well, yes, but it’s not my “maiden” name. It’s my name. It’s my last name.

Is your fiance okay with that?
Yes, of course. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be my fiance. Some people think not changing my name is disrespectful, but respectfully disagree. And so does Bret. He doesn’t think it’s disrespectful that I didn’t take his name, and for the record, I don’t think it’s disrespectful that he didn’t take my last name, either.

Is it because his name is so long?
No! I LOVE my husband’s last name. LOVE it. It’s just that I love my last name, too, and for me, that carries equal weight.

Do you worry you won’t feel like a family?
No. We’re married. We’re a family. We live together and spend every day together and do married things together. We usually just call each other by our first names, you know? You can call me Mrs. His last name – people have. And you can call him Mr. My last name. People tend to do this if my name is on the hotel/restaurant reservation. We both will get used to answering to either for different circumstances, I think.

What about your kids?
We don’t have kids. I hope we will one day, but if/when we do, we’ll decide what their names (first and last) will be then. I have friends who have different last names from their children and it’s really not an issue. If it creates a problem, I will certainly re-evaluate when the time comes.

Teachers will gossip.
I’ve heard this from a few of my friends who are teachers. I think it’s kind of weird. I’d expect teachers to be comfortable dealing with different kinds of families and different last names. To make things easier, though, I can enter both last names on the line. 

Why don’t you change it legally and keep it professionally?
I considered this. Having the same legal last name as your significant other is nice because it guarantees that you and your husband/wife/partner will be recognized on paper as family members. This is definitely a plus when it comes to plane tickets, passports, etc. That’s what my some of my female supervisors have done. It seems like a lot of work to legally change it and then socially keep your birth name. I’d wonder which one I was supposed to use in different situations. If that’s something I decide to do I can do it anytime, really. It’s not like the DMV and Social Security Office come chasing after you with name change paperwork the minute you get married.

Why don’t you hyphenate?
We’ve thought about one or both of us hyphenating. We’re still thinking about it, actually. If we have kids and we all want to be Last-Name’s, we can certainly do that then. Or I can hyphenate and the kids can have his name and I’ll still have a piece of that. Or I’ll have mine and he can have his and our sweet kids can carry the burden of having an 11 letter hyphenated last name. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Again, we do not have currently have children.

The bottom line is I’ve given this a lot of thought. Most of my female friends who are married decided to change their last names to match their husband’s, and that’s great. A few hyphenated, a few didn’t make any name changes (one because she and her husband already have the same FIRST name) and I have one set of engaged couple friends who will be both be taking her last name after they say “I do.” Why? In every case, because that’s what works best for them.

Bret and I both decided to keep our names the way they always have been. For now, this works best for us. A huge part of our decision is to emphasize the kind of marriage we want to have: one that is based on modern partnership, equality, and love.

Bret and I are two whole individuals who together create one powerful partnership. We’re so similar in some ways and so different in others. We complement each other. We were intentional about those details that traditionally divide the “bride” and “groom” roles during the engagement/wedding. For one thing, we both wore engagement bands.

Our wedding script looked something like this:

Who gives this bride Who blesses this union?

You may kiss the bride  You may seal your union with a kiss.

Introducing Mr. and Mrs. For the first time as a married couple…

We didn’t do a garter fling or a bouquet toss.

And – again – friends, if you did these things at your wedding I don’t love you any less for it. I think a lot of people breeze through these traditions and don’t worry about the origin and they have fun with it.

Traditionally, there are some really specific gender roles for “husband” and “wife” and for me and Bret … it just isn’t us. I’m so grateful that Bret didn’t grow up in the kind of household that expects cleaning/cooking responsibilities to fall completely on me because I’m a “wife”, and likewise, I never want Bret to feel like he should contribute the most to our household income because he’s the “husband”. We cook together and take turns with chores and we talk to each other about EVERYTHING and we take care of each other we are both so happy and content with the balance this brings us.

In summary to the longest blog post I’ve written in a long time: If you want to change your name, I think you should. If you don’t, I think you should keep it. If you’re not sure, hyphenate or wait and make your decision after you’ve been married for a few months. That sounds so simple — but I think many people don’t even look at it as a decision. I imagine it takes some getting used to, but I’m sure it’s pretty fun to share a family name with your partner. I promise you, though, you won’t feel “less married” if you don’t change it.

3 thoughts on “My Last Name

  1. i’m late to the game on this one since it was posted on june 5th, but hey it’s still totally relevant! i honestly never thought twice about changing my name when i get married. with my last boyfriend, i tested out my name with his last name – and i’ve done the same with my current boyfriend.. and it feels weird on my tongue, to say my name with a different last name. but i always just accepted that it would happen. this kind of made me think about it. so now, i’m not sure what i’ll do!
    thanks for the thought-provoking read, nicole 🙂

  2. Thanks so much! That was my main goal with this post: to encourage people to think about the name change process, recognize that it is a choice, and then feel confident in their decision either way. I think most women accept the name change as a given, but it’s nice to know there are a lot of options.

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