It’s a real feminist dilemma: When you get married, do you take your partner’s last name or do you hold onto your own? We spoke to seven women who have been a little more creative with their choices.
Kate Summers: “We tossed a coin at our wedding to decide whose surname we’d take”
“We knew that we wanted to share a family name when we got married, but didn’t think there was a clear reason to pick one of our surnames over the other. So after thinking through different options we thought flipping a coin captured there not being priority for one name and instead literally making it a 50/50 chance of which family name we kept.
We talked about how we would choose our name quite a lot in advance. It was mainly about doing things in a way that symbolized the equality of our partnership. We also walked down the aisle together. I wasn’t ‘given away’ by my dad. It was important to us that the wedding reflected our various values and the name choosing was part of this.
We actually got officially married at the local registry office, just with close family there, a couple of days before our wedding day. On the wedding day we had created our own ceremony where there was music, readings, short speeches from me and Andy and an exchange of rings and promises. At the end of the ceremony two of my brothers and Andy’s brother officiated the coin toss! Heads for Dyson, tails for Summers – tails won!
Andy has changed his surname for work and everything and that was actually all pretty straightforward. Reaction from friends and colleagues has overall been really positive. A senior work colleague of Andy’s once commented I must be a ‘strong woman’ in a way that I don’t think was meant as a compliment. It is a bit tricky doing something that breaks from tradition because you are then implicitly criticizing the existing tradition and those that have followed it. Our intention was more about doing what was right for us.
It was really important to us to have a shared family name and to decide on one in a way that communicated the equality of our relationship. I think we came up with a pretty good way of doing that.”
Amy Clemens: “One of my sons has my name and the other has my husband’s”
“It was actually my husband who suggested it. We had our first son before we were married, and I didn’t give a lot of thought to his surname. I think maybe I assumed that if and when we got married that I would take my husband’s name. But then when we did decide to get married, I thought about it, and changing my name just seemed unnecessary. I couldn’t come up with a good reason to change it, but I could come up with a number of reasons not to – including, I must admit, being too lazy to fill out all the paperwork.
When I was pregnant with our second – after we had become married – I suggested we use my surname as a second middle name. And perhaps also add this to our first son’s name legally. He suggested we just use my surname. Initially, I wondered if I felt that strongly about it, but I quickly realised that I did. It felt right, and I felt a sense of pride in doing it.
My parents didn’t even blink, and neither did my husband’s parents. My siblings raised a few eyebrows. And I’ve had a few friends say “they’re going to hate that at school” and “it will be so confusing”. My response is, “how will it be any more confusing than them having a different surname to me?”
Funnily enough, the only person I was worried wouldn’t get it was my oldest son. I didn’t want him to feel like I’d chosen the baby to have my name over him. But we just didn’t make a big deal out of it, and so far (they’re only six and two) it hasn’t been an issue. In fact, he corrects people more readily than I do.
Occasionally people do get confused and either change my name to match my oldest son, or change my husband’s name on documentation. This happens rarely and doesn’t stress me in the slightest. I see it as an administrative error, rather than a judgment on my decision.
I am extremely happy with my decision, and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“I like that he doesn’t feel like he has to do what traditional gender roles state, and that he doesn’t measure his “manliness” by superficial things like his wife taking his name.”
Mrs Brave: “I just gave myself a brand new surname”
“I was getting married and trying to decide what name I wanted after marriage. I hadn’t thought too much about the politics of names before being engaged so this was my first time questioning why things were the way they were. I decided I didn’t want my husband’s name, but keeping my own name was keeping another man’s name so not really a sign of independence. I thought that the only way to have a woman’s name is to make my own.
I chose the name Brave. I was part inspired by the idea of Buddhists receiving a name that is a goal or a virtue to aspire to, and partly inspired by Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Men series! If I was Ms Brave, I would be daily declaring that I was brave, and people might expect it of me. I thought that was a great challenge and reminder to myself to embody courage and bravery – something that I have needed to make some tough decisions in the past few years and make changes in my life.
My husband is not Mr Brave – although some companies assume this by default, an assumption I find both interesting and anachronistic. My husband was fine about it; he knows I am independent-minded. My parents were not delighted. I changed my full name, dropping my middle names and longer first name “Rosemary” as I had always felt these were too formal. My mum loves my name and is careful to address letters to me with it but my mother-in-law was confused by my not taking my husband’s name and would send me cards as Mr & Mrs Husband’s Name which I hated.
It has been really strengthening – it felt like an opportunity to start again with a clean slate. I have not always made the most of opportunities or been strategic or bold in my life and I wanted to change that. It is a great conversation starter and I get a lot of compliments on my name.
My dad died last February and it has made me miss my name at times. Sharing a name with others is a good way to feel part of something bigger; I think I forgot that in my bid to define myself as separate and singular, and the notion of belonging is now becoming more important to me.”
Pamela Power : “I kept my name 25 years ago, when I had to justify my decision”
“Keeping my name was a feminist decision – which I realise is ironic because I was just hanging on to my father’s name – but it just felt too weird to take someone else’s name.
My husband was absolutely cool about it. His comment was, ‘I wouldn’t be happy to change my name, so why should I expect you to’. My parents, however, were not amused and neither was my father-in-law. Only my mother-in-law, who was this very cool, sassy woman, supported me. I was surprised that my father wasn’t happier seeing that he was a raging snob who thought that being a Power was really the greatest thing and I’m not sure his attitude didn’t influence me on a subconscious level.
This was 25 years ago, in South Africa, so I had to justify my decision. I automatically got sent an ID book with my new name – Pamela Vos – which sent me into complete decline. I then found out that I would have to apply to the department of Home Affairs and justify why I wanted to keep my own name. I said it was for professional reasons — I was working as an actor and an academic — which was partly the truth, but in reality I thought it was a lot of patriarchal nonsense forcing a woman to take her husband’s name.
I have never regretted it and I felt a deep sense of relief when I got the ID book back in my old name after I’d applied. It was like I had my identity back.”
Lara Badger: “I kept my name because I love it”
“I’ve always been what you can call a proud feminist and have struggled with the idea of taking someone else’s name. Plus, my surname is such a part of my identity I didn’t think I could give it up.
I haven’t always loved the surname ‘Badger’. At school I was teased about it and I didn’t like to stand out but as I got older and gained more confidence I became proud of it. As a family we really play on it as well. We get a lot of things with badgers on them.
My husband didn’t take my name. He feels the same way about being a Rafferty as I do a Badger. He supported me all the way, as he said I wouldn’t be the woman he thought he was marrying if I had taken his name. There was a discussion about me hyphenating my name but we’ve agreed if we have children they will be Badger-Rafferty.
My family knew it would happen as they know me. I think my dad was pleased. My husband’s family perhaps took a bit longer to get used to it but were never anything but understanding. Some of my friends had a harder time understanding it which was interesting. I got asked what was the point in getting married if I wasn’t taking his name. We’ve been to a few weddings since being married and I’m always down as Lara Rafferty on the table plan.
Even though I’ve kept my surname I still very much feel a wife and really enjoy that.”
Amy Jones: “My husband took my last name”
“It was a practical decision more than anything. Garry’s maiden name (we really need a better term) was unusual and the kind of thing you’d make fun of. He works as a police officer and so didn’t really want an unusual name that would make him very easily searchable online, and I wasn’t keen on giving up my solid, boring last name for something a bit silly, so he decided to take my name instead.
Our conversation about it was so normal and boring, I can’t even really remember it. I think we were just chatting about it one day, long before we were even engaged, and I said I’d like to keep my last name if we got married and he suggested he take mine instead. It all came from him.
For him, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I know some people have worried that they’re betraying their families by losing their name but he didn’t feel like that at all. He reasoned that if women do it all the time and it’s fine, why not men? Now, he likes it – if I ever call him by his maiden name, as I do sometimes to be playful or silly, he says “That’s not my name!” When I asked him about it he said that the fact he’d changed his name to mine made him happy, and “Now it’s just who I am”.
I was quite proud of him for suggesting it, to be honest. I like that he doesn’t feel like he has to do what traditional gender roles state, and that he doesn’t measure his “manliness” by superficial things like his wife taking his name. And it was nice to keep my name but us still have the same one, and that when we have children all three of us will have the same name.
I think it also meant that I didn’t have an identity crisis when we got married. I didn’t feel like a new person, or like our relationship was in this huge new stage, and for me that was brilliant. I married him because I loved him and was happy with him, and the fact that none of that was changed by our wedding is, in my book, an excellent thing.
It was really difficult for him to change his name in certain places. Banks and passport offices, weirdly, were fine, but Virgin Media and our letting agents were utterly baffled by the idea that a man had changed his name after marriage. It’s not that hard for a woman to do it, but even proof of marriage certificate wasn’t enough for our letting agents. We have same-sex marriage and a world where men can take their wife’s name, so why is it so difficult?”
Aubrey Menarndt: “We combined our last names to make a new name”
“We were Aubrey Menard and Will Arndt – now we’re Aubrey and Will Menarndt. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a decision. We had been using the portmanteau “Menarndt” for a while already for things we did jointly. I remember that Will had a computer folder called “Menarndt” for our shared documents, but I don’t remember any big discussion about whether we should combine our names that way. We’re both feminists who have long thought about the name issue, so it just came easily and naturally.
Me taking his name was never something that we considered. Each keeping our own names seemed to just forestall the question until we have children, which we plan on. Hyphenating was an option, but can be clunky, and can create problems and the erasure of the woman’s name (which is almost always used as the middle name/first part of the hyphen) later. This seemed like the easiest option.
We had a lot of difficulty with Will’s family. They weren’t happy. As for my family, I have three younger brothers. I hope my decision encourages them not to take for granted that their future partners will take their last names and to be open to different possibilities.
I think that it gives Will and I a sense of family cohesion. As far as we know we’re the only Menarndts in the world, and so it gives us the sense that we’re building a unique and shared identity and value set that we look forward to sharing with our future children.”
Image credit: Stocksy United/ Studio Firma
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