The name change issue

A lot of people ask me why I hyphenated my name instead of just changing it to my husband’s when we got married. Others flat out refuse to use my entire name or ask me rude questions like “don’t you respect your husband?” Here’s the story.

Kyle has always been a pretty easygoing guy, so when I mentioned my decision to hyphenate instead of change it altogether a few weeks before our wedding, I was surprised at his angry reaction. He told me that his brothers would think badly of him and it would seem like we weren’t married, etc. etc. I became irate and scared…the wedding was set and ready to go and I had just stumbled upon something that could ruin it all. By the end of that night, many tears and screams later, Kyle decided he was ok with the hyphenation–but it’s something we’ve had major fights about since. We’ve been married about three and a half years now and I think he’s finally come to terms with it. Below is a list of reasons why I chose to keep my name.

1. Taking your husband’s name is a tradition based in a time when husbands owned wives.

2. I was an author with a hefty amount of articles under my belt and changing my Google search results didn’t seem practical for my career.

3. I love my name. It has a rich history behind it.

4. I didn’t want to.

I could create a vast bibliography to back up the top three reasons but the most important one is number four…if I didn’t want to change my name, why should I have to? This goes for women who want to change their names as well. It’s our choice. Here is a list of the rude and inconsiderate things people say and do to try to make me feel bad about my choice:

1. Write birthday checks to my would-be married name (I can’t cash them easily).

2. Airline tickets have been booked for me in the wrong name, warranting an extreme search process at the security checkpoint.

3. Work colleagues have consistently referred to my would-be married name in professional situations, which ends up confusing people.

4. “Don’t you respect your husband?” By the way, the answer to this question is always, “Yes, and he respects me equally.”

5. How did I raise such a feminazi? (This one obviously comes from my mom.)

6. It’s what a good Christian woman would do (seriously, someone said this to me. I almost punched him). Actually, in Bible times, besides the whole “man owning wife” bit, families needed the same name in order to protect their assets. Today, in the age of marriage licenses and social security numbers, this is hardly a concern.

7. Did you do that so it will be easier to change back if it doesn’t work out? (this was “sort of” meant as a joke. Har har.)

8. You’ll get over that once you have kids. (No, I will not. My decision to retain my own identity within marriage is not a phase that I will “grow out of”).

9. My doctor told me, “oh you don’t want to do that. It’s way too confusing in the paperwork. Our nurses will only use one name.” (Ummm…time to fire some sexist nurses)

10. I wanted to do that but my husband wouldn’t have it! (Sometimes this is said in a rude way, meant to make me feel like bad wifey, but I consider it more of a cry for help.)

When people are rude to me about my name I am always shocked…imagine how people would react if I said, “you took your husband’s name?! Why? Don’t you know that means he owns you? What about your children? They’ll think you’re  not equal to him!” I would be even more of a feminazi for uttering even one of these.

All of my married friends have taken their husband’s names and I suspect they think I don’t approve, but this is what choice is about. If that’s what they want, that’s what they should do (although, one friend confessed to me that she secretly wished she didn’t change her name). If a married friend wants to change her name to Princess Consuela Bananahammock (a la Phoebe from friends), that is her prerogative and none of my business–just like my decision is my business.


11 Responses

  1. […] And in a possible related issue, Sarah McClellan-Brandt considersthe name change issue […]

  2. […] to make history by chatting about this myself.  In fact, everyone from the New York Times to Many Feminist Bloggers have discussed this topic, and no one comes to the same […]

  3. Amen, sister! Those whose names are closely related to their career identities have even more reason to seriously consider whether or not to change it. It is a big deal either way and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If I could do it all over again, who knows if I’d still change it. On the bright side, my new name is much easier to sign… but harder to pronounce! Oh, well…

  4. I can understand the reasons related to your writing career, etc., but couldn’t you have just as easily kept your maiden name instead hyphenating?

    I think that a lot of the reactions you’ve gotten are extremely rude and inconsiderate of your desires, and there’s no justification for them. The people who do and say those things are just being petty.

    However, I can see how someone might consider a hyphenated name to show some amount of disrespect to a woman’s husband, considering the long tradition of wives adopting their husband’s name. (I won’t argue that the origin of the tradition is TOTALLY inappropriate for our time, but so also are most traditions, yet we still practice them.) It’s almost as if one who chooses to hyphenate is “tacking on” their partner’s name as an afterthought.

    Hyphenating has always been a weird thing to me. Why is it only the woman who does it? Why can’t the couple BOTH hyphenate? Why doesn’t he take HER name? Why can’t they both pick a suitable NEW surname?

    For the record, despite my maleness, I don’t particularly care either way. My wife chose to change her name, but I never expected and certainly didn’t force her to. (Well, I suppose I did expect her to change her name from that of her ex-husband, but I didn’t assume it would be to MY last name.)

  5. Pete,
    Thanks for commenting. Actually, the reason I hyphenated my name was to compromise with my husband, who was initially really upset about the whole thing. I proposed that we both go to McBrandt but he flatly refused. I love the idea of picking a common name, so trust me when I say that the hyphenation was in no way an afterthought. He’s mellowed out about it since we’ve been married, but we’ll have to revisit the argument when it comes time to name our (as yet non-existent) children!

  6. I think I still refer to you as “McClellan” anyway. 🙂 You know the “vogue” think for movie starts is to now name their kids with the mother’s maiden name as a middle name. Nicole Kidman did that. Her kid is named Sunday Kidman Urban.

  7. I did hyphenate, and it certainly wasn’t out of disrespect to my husband, or to add it on as an afterthought (I have to say that reasoning rather confuses me as its so off base as to how any woman I’ve ever known to hyphenate ever made her decision)

    First and foremost, it sounded good to me mixed. I also didn’t want to completely get rid of my birth name, as I liked it, and I am, in a weird way, my father’s surrogate son (he has two daughters, of which I am the oldest).

    I wanted my name to change as a function of getting married, but I didn’t like the idea of just taking his. It didn’t sit right with me. So, I hyphenated, making a new name, which, to me, rather perfectly symbolized the making of a new family from two others.

    Thankfully, my husband never really cared; he even considered taking my name for awhile. I think he might have been somewhat hurt had I not changed it at all, but even then, if we’d talked it out a reasonable amount of time before getting married, I think he would have been fine with it. He’s even thinking of taking my hyphenated mess. My family never cared either, I think they were somewhat happier with my decision than if I hadn’t done it at all.

    Not that his family ever sends me mail that way (though I think that they don’t know… and I’m not going to open that can of worms).

    I do have a pair of friends that changed both their names to a completely new surname when they got married. They both really weren’t that impressed with their birth names, or the symbolism of taking one over the other. So, they researched an entirely new name based on their ethnic background. I thought it was sweet, though it was part of why his family refused to attend his wedding. It’s so crappy.

  8. My mother did not change her last name when she was married. Why should she? She didn’t join my father’s family, they started a new one of their own, as equals. Why should the woman’s history be erased? I am a product of both family lines. My last name is the same as hers. It has never caused any problems, and I’m rather proud of her and my name.

  9. I did not change my name when i married but neither did my husband. I do regret naming my children his famiy’s name, they are now teenagers and do not wish to change. I fell weak the the pressures around me when they were born. Thank God for womyn like you!!!!, who keep your birth name and name your children accordingly!!

  10. I am quite interesting in this topic hope you will elaborate more on it in future posts

    • I will…there is a lot of good information on this! Thanks for reading.

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