Newly Married: How We Chose a New Last Name
Back in April I penned my first blog post on the frustration I felt when people assume a woman will take her husband’s last name after getting married. Articles on this subject pop up regularly, such as this week’s Mary Sue article on Japanese women fighting to keep their surnames after getting married. One of the biggest hurdles for engaged feminist couples is what to do in the face of rigid tradition and familial expectations. My husband and I decided to go the route of changing both our last names to something completely new. Here’s how it happened:
Towards the beginning of our relationship I remember telling Eric that I had no plans of ever taking a future husband’s last name. After we got engaged I reminded him again that was how I felt. We discussed at length all our alternatives. It was easy to rule out hyphenation* or combining our existing names. We simply did not like the aesthetic of hyphenation or the nonsensical combinations throwing our unusual last names together produced. We also debated at length the practicality of keeping our last names as they were.
In that scenario, our chief concern was which name our future children would take on, and the logistical/administrative problems that could create later. I felt strongly that if we kept our last names, any children would use my surname given the immense physical sacrifice of bringing them into this world. However, neither of us liked the idea of Eric being the odd one out, and so we realized we needed to come up with a new last name for ourselves and our future family.
That decided, we started laying the groundwork with our immediate family. Neither of us was sure how they would react to our decision, and we didn’t want anyone to be shocked on the day of the wedding. I can only speak directly about how my own family took the news, but I know that Eric spent multiple long phone calls with different family members explaining our rationale, as well as explaining why it was unfair to expect me to take on their family surname.
My own older relatives seemed a bit uncomfortable with the idea, but if they had any real misgivings they hid them well. For the most part, everyone was supportive. My mom and dad thought it was really cool, and they were excited to learn what the name would be. However, part of me wonders if it is easier for my family to accept me changing my last name since there was an expectation that I would be changing it to something else anyways.
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Choosing The Name
Now that our intentions were well known, and our resolve firm, we needed to actually come up with a last name we both would like. This took a long time!
Almost immediately we turned to books we had both read and liked. As aspiring authors and voracious readers it was extremely attractive to borrow something from our favorite fantasy authors. We poured over Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time names at length, and spent many an evening in bed throwing names back and forth, trying them on for size before discarding them. We didn’t want something too outlandish (Mandragoran), or recognizable (Gandalf? ha!), but at the same time wanted the narrative meaning of the name to resonate with us as a couple.
Yeah, it was a tall order. Thankfully we had over a year to narrow it down. We would go a few weeks without thinking about it, and then one of us would have a eureka moment we would share with the other. We would each be so sure the other would like what we had come up with, but we shot down a lot of each other’s ideas. As August rolled around it got to the point where we returned to our original idea of keeping our own last names and avoiding the hassle altogether.
BUT, we DID find a name, finally, after months of brainstorming. Eric brought it up during one of our name fests, and as soon as it was said, we knew. This was it!
We chose Taveren. In the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (& Brandon Sanderson) there are unique individuals who are called Ta’veren because they cause the world around them to change. They also have a higher destiny they are called to. Being lofty-minded, goal-orientated people, we loved the idea of affiliating ourselves with the same sentiment.
Once we settled on THE NAME, we kept it a secret. Each of us chose one person to run the name by just to make sure it sounded last-namey enough. Once we got the thumbs up from our friends, we were ready to go.
I hadn’t expected that picking up our marriage license would be emotional, but it most certainly was. I couldn’t stop grinning once we had that piece of paper in hand. This is real! It’s happening! It was also incredibly easy. We live in the Minnesota metro area, which is very progressive, and the clerk didn’t bat an eye at our decision. However, we did have to remind her we were both changing our names when she initially checked the paperwork for us. It is probably not common enough of a practice yet to be on the clerks’ minds when couples walk up to the counter.
However, throughout all the vendors and registries, people assumed I would take Eric’s last name. We even received gifts prior to the wedding addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Binfet. I don’t begrudge the older relatives their confusion, but I do begrudge one specific instance we encountered. When we took dance lessons they insisted the lessons go under Eric’s last name even though I was booking the appointments. I didn’t see the sense in this, but when I asked them about it they said it was because they had a hard time finding the brides later on after they changed their last names to their husbands’. Ostensibly this was for marketing to them for future dance lessons. Once I knew this, I gave them our future last name to put on their books. However, it still chafed that they were so insistent at the beginning.
On the flip side, when Eric & I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to set up our wedding registry the employee who helped us was completely dismissive of Eric’s presence. She focused all attention on me as if Eric was only there to hold my purse. As if he had no opinion on what we’d like to receive as wedding gifts! It was a very unpleasant experience, and my least favorite of all our wedding chores. The sexist expectations surrounding wedding traditions swing both ways.
We were successful in keeping our new last name a secret right up until the big day. I was really excited to share our new last name, and since we’d already laid the groundwork for over a year, I didn’t expect anyone to be openly unhappy about the name change. They’d had plenty of time to make their peace with it. I also kept hearing from friends and family that they were also excited to learn what we would be calling ourselves! It added a really nice element to the ceremony, and it was fun to explain how we came up with it the rest of the night.
One thing I did insist upon when we came up with the ceremony script for our officiant, who is a friend of ours, was that I not be referred to as “Mrs.” at any point. So at the end of the ceremony when he announced the name he said “Mr. & Ms. Taveren, you may now kiss!” As you can probably infer, I also didn’t want him to say “you may now kiss the bride.” I wanted us to be given permission to kiss each other instead 🙂
Eric, myself, and the officiant all worked out the script together, and it was one we were all happy with. Eric and I also chose to write our own vows, which we kept secret from each other until the day of the wedding. As atheists, it was also important to us that our ceremony not include religious elements.
Looking back at our wedding day the ceremony was the best part. I had thought beforehand I would enjoy the party at the reception more, but the ceremony was so perfect, and so thoroughly us. I will cherish that memory forever.
After the Announcement
One of Eric’s brothers got the reference immediately, and heartily approved. Other fellow geeks followed suit after a little memory jogging, and were equally congratulatory. For everyone else, we found ourselves pronouncing and spelling the name over and over again at the ceremony. In retrospect, we should have had a huge poster with the new last name on it!
Much to our surprise, it turns out that not everyone knew ahead of time we were changing our last name, and so we had two very annoyed older relatives after the ceremony. However, Eric had to tell me they were annoyed, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed. They kept it to themselves, and I’m sure they vented about it later behind our backs. But that’s OK with me! I’m so grateful they didn’t question us or berate us at our celebration, and I hope with time they will understand why we chose to buck tradition. I’m very appreciative that they didn’t express their frustrations to us on our wedding day.
We’re still in the midst of converting all our accounts to our new last name, which is kind of annoying, but at least we’re doing it together. It feels fair. I am eager to make the transition and have us be fully our own unique family. In the past week I find myself emphasizing to co-workers and acquaintances that we both changed our names, since many of them didn’t know Eric’s surname and may have assumed it was Taveren. Eric has told me that people’s reactions to him changing his last name have amounted to a shoulder shrug and “so that’s what they’re doing these days” more than anything else. For me, it is an amazingly comfortable, reliable, loving feeling to have my partner change his name with me.
Prior to making any decision about our surnames at all, I had decided a long time ago that I would keep my former name as my pen name (take note that I avoided using the term maiden name here). That is why you’ll still see Loree as my author name on HerStoryArc.com as well as on my other publications. To my surprise, I find myself wanting to change over completely. I had thought I’d want this last vestige of my “former” self, but it seems out of date to me now. So, you heard it here first, you might be seeing Taveren in a lot more places after this.
Taveren is a name I’m proud of, and I want all the world to know!
*I want to correct something from my first post on the topic of surnames. I spoke somewhat disdainfully of hyphenated last-names, citing that old adage “what if the future kids also want to hyphenate?” But, as was so graciously pointed out to me by my fellow editor Celia, that question rests upon the assumption that those unborn children will feel compelled to continue using their parent’s surnames. Since my entire argument is that all options should be available to a couple, it makes sense that all options would also be available to the future babies. Thank you for calling that out Celia!
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