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The Wedding Surname Revolution

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.

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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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14 Comments »

  1. My parents put both of their (short) last names together for me and my sister. It’s very creative but also confuses people sometimes and they’ll put a hyphen in between. I still think it’s really cool and am proud to have both of my parents last names in mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What was unexpected about my name change is how much it impacted my identity. I went around around for 34 years known as one name and then one day, with a smack of a gavel I had a new name. After a little while my old name began to drop off of Google search results and that left me feeling off balance at times. I had this sense like I was just plopped into the middle of a life that was already in progress. Granted a LOT was changing at the time for me but my name change played a part in what I was feeling. Even to this day on occasion I’ll write my name or get some mail and I’ll catch myself realizing, I am Paige Rudnick.

    I talked at length with another woman who did take the last name of her husband at marriage and marveled at our similar experience in regards to how our name changes impacted our identities. Seems to me the matter of a post-marriage name is a good one to not take lightly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we take for granted how much we hear and use our last name on a daily basis. It’s like when we read a sentence and don’t really see “it” “and” “or” because they are such common words our eyes gloss over them. Until they are spelled wrong, and then we notice them everywhere! Having such a common theme in your life like your last name change is jarring, so you the benefit must outweigh the price.

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  3. We’re going through the same thing. My fiance actually offered to take my last name, so we’re both very open about it. For me, my last name is kind of boring, so very MN Swedish and his is kind of cool (I mean Lindsay Lilli sounds amazing as a writer, right? :p)

    But I like the ideas of blending (Nilli? nah….) or finding a new surname, too. I think, because of the vast amounts of online data and record keeping, it actually won’t be that difficult to trace lineages. Indeed, I’ve gone through some of my grandmother’s notes and I would say historically it has always been difficult. I like that more people are becoming more open about discussing these options despite some of the superficial challenges they may face. These are all very great points you bring up and hope you both decide on what’s best for you. Cheers~

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re absolutely right that the advent of precise record-keeping is a boon for the creativity of our generation. We have so much more freedom for changing our names without the fear our next generations will not be able to figure out who we were.

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  4. I like the idea of keeping my own last name or hyphenating, but could change my mind down the road. I’m really fascinated by the idea of changing last names and first names entirely- it’s a bold move!

    On a much smaller scale, I want to change the way myself and people I meet pronounce my last name. My grandparents (fresh off the boat from Holland half a century ago) still pronounce their name the Dutch way, and I’d like to continue that tradition. The Americanized version just sounds so harsh and awkward to me! I guess that would be another reason for keeping my last name in the event of marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice, thought provoking article. My wife and I had to think all this over when we got married, and we both carried the burden of long gone spouses last names as well. We chose to revert to our childhood names (in my case from Genta to Elizabeth, hers from Maria to Manuela). Then we took both of our father’s surnames and simply decided which came first and which came second. So when the actual names were changed the day we were married, I became Elizabeth Mine Hers, and she became Manuela Mine Hers. Both of us had completely changed not only our surnames, but our first names as well.

    Traditionally, women only change their last names when they marry. Some of the institutions we needed to notify with our changed names (bank, credit cards, driver’s license, social security, property titles, doctors and health records, registering to vote…) had a terrible time wrapping their little brains around it. As you mentioned above, a woman is a man’s property (first father, then husband). They were totally not prepared for a complete name change, only because traditionally they have probably rarely if ever,had to do so.

    I carry a copy of our marriage certificate around with us, just in case. I still need to pull it out and prove to people once in a while that we are who we say we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a big part of the problem with changing names is that the administrative side has not caught up with the fast changing reality. It’s similar to how we still have to answer “male” or “female” so often when filling out forms. Unless it’s for medical reasons, my genitalia really should not be of any import! In some states it’s actually illegal to give a child the surname of anyone other than the father, or the father has to sign off to give permission for the child to have a surname other than his. In many places in the USA there is only room on the forms for one middle name. It’s very frustrating!

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  6. I’d love to blend my girlfriend’s last name with mine, if only because it would become “Tancierro” which sounds super cool. 😄 But we both want to keep our surnames because they represent not only the importance of our families to us, but also the fathers we both lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lots of great thoughts in here! My middle name is my mother’s maiden name, and my sister’s middle name is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

    Personally I hate the argument that hyphenated names will make things complicated for the kids. That problem is twenty years in the future at the earliest! If an adult with a hyphenated last name plans to marry another adult with a hyphenated last name, they will both hopefully realize they were raised in homes that value both partners, and they will carefully consider the issue before coming to a decision that works for them.

    Liked by 1 person

      • My friends andI had the same concerns.about hyphenation 30 years go when we got married, but I haven’t seen the rash of multi-hyphenates in wedding announcements that we anticipated.

        Liked by 1 person

        • it’s funny how much some things have barely changed in the last few decades, and others are unrecognizable now. I wish we weren’t still tackling the same feminist issues as thirty years ago!

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