Monday, May 16, 2011

The Surname Debate - Would You (or DID you) Take Your Spouse's Last Name?

I got wrapped up in a Yahoo article yesterday that went into a discussion about women taking their husband's surname.  Apparently, according to a study, more women today are taking their husband's name than were doing so a decade or so ago. 

This is obviously a widespread tradition all over the world, but of course there are plenty of people who go a different route.  The discussion in the comments got pretty heated at times, and the two major dissenting opinions seemed to be:

You SHOULD take your husband's surname because NOT doing so is dishonoring him, showing your own lack of commitment, and proving just how much you do NOT love the man you are marrying.  If you cannot commit to doing a simple name-change, then you should reconsider getting married in the first place.  The type of woman who would KEEP her maiden/birth name is the type of woman who is looking for an easy "out" in case the marriage fails.  These women are feminists and only care about themselves.


You should NOT take your husband's surname, or should freely have the CHOICE not to do so because the practice of changing your maiden/birth name is an archaic practice dating back to the times when women were mere property, being traded from the father to the husband.  Taking on the husband's name is, in a sense, branding you as his new property, no longer the property of the father.  Changing a surname is wrought with legal complications, forms, documents, etc. and is a huge hassle for something that is essentially an antiquated, sexist practice.

I couldn't help but comment a couple of times, and I really didn't realize how much it struck a nerve with me until I really got into it.  My own personal stance is that, yes, changing the surname definitely DOES have connections with women being traded as property, but a woman shouldn't be branded as some sort of old fashioned, subservient ninny for choosing to do it.  HOWEVER, the decision to keep a maiden/birth name (or as I prefer, a hyphenation), had no bearing whatsoever on my love and commitment for my man.  NONE.  I was actually a little offended by the harsh comments from people directly saying that keeping your name is some horrible practice and a true show of selfishness and lack of devotion.  Hah...lemme tell you that NOBODY can love my man the way I can, not nobody not nowhere not noHOW.  Bet that.

There are so many important things that factor into a successful marriage -- not just a marriage, but a successful one -- than what your name is.  One commenter stated that sharing the same last name shows unity, and that having different last names essentially tells the world that you are NOT a united team.  So basically a couple who shares the same last name but rarely sleeps in the same bed and can hardly stand each other is more 'unified' than a happy loving couple with different last names?  Nice.  Several men said that they wouldn't even consider marrying a woman who didn't take on their surname fully and completely.  Many of the pro-husband's-name comments were fueled by strong religious notions (lots of Bible quotes that really didn't have much to do with the heart of the discussion) and several of the anti-husband's name/hyphenated name comments were moderately to overtly feminist. 

My last name is fairly unique (here in the States anyway I guess), and it honors my own family heritage.  It isn't lost on me that my surname is most likely the name of some sweaty slave master from hundreds of years ago, but not much can be done about that now.  It is still my late father's name, and it's important to me to honor it, especially seeing as how I'm an only child and he had no sons.  If my man and I have children, my family and heritage will be a part of them also, and I would want them to know that I treasure it as much as their father (my dude) treasures his.  I would want my kids to have his last name, however, and let them choose in the future what to do with their own names once they were old enough to take on spouses of their own.

Another commenter said that she and her husband married when she was 3 months pregnant and decided that to avoid a bunch of 'baby-daddy crap' she would marry the guy (seems she gave him the ultimatum to marry or walk) and take on his surname so that her child would always be able to look at his birth certificate and know for a FACT that he came from a "love relationship and was not a mistake" .  It would be a pretty sad state if that's the only way the kid ever knew, not in the love and affection his parents demonstrated toward one another, the mutual respect, the admiration, the devotion, the tolerance, the fidelity, the fairness.  Having nothing else to show him in the way of a good example except for a piece of paper showing that they shared the same last name...

I just feel that the name itself has NO bearing on what's inside the minds and hearts of the people involved nor the health and stability of the relationship itself.  A book cover can be torn, ragged, scorched, ripped, chewed, soiled - and still be a beautiful work of literary art on the inside.  On the contrary, a candy wrapper can be golden and shiny and brilliantly intricate with a candy inside that tastes like hog shit.  If a person feels that it is an honor to adopt a spouse's surname, be it a woman or a man, and he/she is doing so freely with a contented mind and spirit, then WONDERFUL, bless you.  That's a beautiful thing.  Conversely, if a woman wants to hold onto her given name, be it solely or hyphenated, then as long as she is doing so with a sound heart and in good conscious bearing no ill will or malice, then TERRIFIC, more power to you and bless you too.  As long as people are living their lives, contributing to society, not hurting anyone, what business is it of anyone else's what the hell they do with their name?

There are SO many reasons for taking one stance or the other, as the comments showed (many interesting personal stories).  Some people couldn't get rid of their maiden/birth names fast enough in order to cut ties with a dysfunctional family, and some men were happy with changing THEIR names to the wife's name.  What a wonderful thing -- diversity.  People doing what works for them.

So what about you guys?  For anyone that's married, what did you do, and did anything influence your decision to do it, or was it not even a thought?  And if you're not married but plan to be someday, is this anything you've given thought to?  Does your culture dictate that you MUST do one or the other, or is it tradition or choice?  I would really love to hear peoples thoughts on this, male, female, married or not.  As always, go crazy, write a 'novel', no censors.

Also, read the article (and some comments) if you get a chance - it touches on several points that I didn't get into here.


  1. ToffeemuffincupcakeMay 16, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    Hi, I'm a lurker who happened randomly across your blogpost and had to click because this debate has always fascinated me as well.

    I think my take on it is very much affected by the fact that my parents never married and my mum never took my dad's surname and as a result, I've grown up seeing this more as a nice thing to do rather than a necessity.

    I've heard a lot of people over-react about this topic with the various "it's tradition/if you don't you don't love them enough" etc arguments and while I can see the basis behind them all, there are far too many possible motivations for anyone to ever be able to give a blanket answer to the debate.

    For example, when I was younger I used to wonder about whether or not I would prefer my dad's surname to my mum's; as I've grown older and my relationship with my dad has frayed to non-existence, there is no way I would ever want to associate myself with him by sharing a surname.

    I've often wondered through various relationships whether I would want to take someone else's name and I have to admit, a small mercenary part of me bases it more on how good it sounds with my first name compared to my current surname >.<

    One option I quite like the idea of that no-one ever seems to suggest is both parties picking a new surname to change to; awkward in terms of all of the name change stuff, but surely more egalitarian and showing just as much commitment without any of the trappings of traditional property trading or overt feminism? It's just a thought but it's always one that's tickled me and I'd be interested to hear your view (and the views of anyone else, for that matter) on it!

  2. I took my husband's last name. I don't mind tradition at all, and to be honest, I wanted to escape my maiden name, as in my hometown, the police looked at you twice if they heard your last name.

    I completely agree with you, the name has no bearing on the relationship. The more important factor should be whether or not the marriage is a happy or successful one. That's what truly matters, or at least, that's what I like to think. What if someone had a really cool last name? Or, were in your situation? It doesn't make them an unloving jerk, and it doesn't make them feminist either.

    It's a shame when both sides have such an overly extreme view and judge people on whether they kept their maiden or took the husband's name. There's nothing wrong with being in the middle and going "Well it's not really my business anyway, who am I to judge over a surname of all things?"

    If someone wants to keep their maiden, it's their choice and more power to 'em. If they want to take the husband's name, same thing. It shouldn't be that big of a deal, especially people who don't even KNOW someone who made the choice.

  3. I'd probably go with the hyphenated option. If marriage ever happened, i would like to take my partners name - but i also LOVE my current surname. Its unusal, and i'm always getting compliments on it (as weird as that sounds) plus, i'm an only child - so in all fairness, i'm going to be the last person in my family with my current last name...

    As for other people? I don't really care. People should be able to do what they want with regards to this. It is afterall THEIR OWN name. They're the ones that have to live with it.

    People are getting so pissy about something, that in all fairness, isn't anything to do with them. If somebody wants to take their partners name, then fine. If somebody wants to keep their current one, then fine aswell. Its nobody elses business, in my opinion.

  4. i am kinda shocked that this is such a fervent issue with some women. i dont think its honestly a big deal at all. imho, if you like your husbands surname, take it. if you prefer your maiden name, keep it. whats the big deal? personaly, i have a very strange first name that doesnt really 'go' with alot of surnames. i would much rather have a choice as to what i was going to be called for the REST OF MY LIFE. i dont see how it effects my love for my spouse in any way

  5. o and i forgot to add, when i got married, i did in fact take his name. because i went with my name fairly well, and i always hated my maiden name lol. but i still like to think that having a choice is a very good thing

  6. I have to agree with toffee as well, as my relationship with my dad is non-existent as well, I can't stand the man, and that was another reason I wanted away from my maiden name. I had often thought about getting it changed to my mother's maiden name....but it would sound absolutely awful. Molly Golightly. >.< LMAO -- Let the Holly Golightly jokes commence!

  7. I did not take my husband's name when we got married. To be honest I didn't want to be one of...them o.O I hate my inlaws. They are literally white trash that want nothing to do with bettering themselves in any way.

    My husband is sort-of the black sheep in his family since he left his hometown area and actually is trying to make something of himself. He didn't mind at all that I didn't take his last name and said that he didn't blame me for not wanting to.

  8. @Toffeemuffincupcake -> thank you for stopping by :D -- several of the comments I saw were from people with similar experiences to yours, that they wanted to disassociate with a family name because of a strained relationship with a parent (or both parents or other family). I don't have that experience personally but I know people IRL that do, and I could definitely seeing them taking the spouse's name. And I always had that 'mercenary' part too that liked to think about how the name sounded ^_^ that's not too uncommon in women I don't believe.

    That's an interesting idea, adopting a whole NEW name. I never thought about it before lol! I could definitely see how it would be a PITA legally, and as far as genealogy too, I would imagine, but it could be done. There must be instances of situations in which a couple or a family would do that. I'm actually curious to looking that up....

    @AE -> what you said about the police in your town immediately made me think of a family in my fam's hometown that is 'well-known' by the law. It haunted every one of them, and other people in town with the same last name who weren't related...really sumthin else.

    @RanChan -> you and I are in a similar boat; I'm the only child too and the last of this branch of my family. I only know your first name (i think it's your real name lol) and yeah, I would be particular about adding another name to it too! It's so pretty :D

    @Zeri -> ikr; I didn't realize that some people felt SO strongly about it. Maybe moreso with the feminist point of view, but it didn't really occur to me that some people felt it was an actual *dishonor* and *disrespect* to keep your own name, even in part. And before I probably would've thought that their view was more steeped in religious reasons, but that wasn't necessarily the case, at least according to the comments I saw.

  9. @AE -> lol people would probably think you were making that name up! It's pretty, but I see what you mean >.<

    @cupcake -> see, yours is a situation that really works for you, and your husband was on board with it all the way, so it REALLY shouldn't matter as far as your actual relationship goes. How is that dishonoring your husband? If you two have kids, would they have his last name or a combo of the two?

    @Toffee -> this is from's "top 10 reasons why people change their names":

    "5. Couples Combining or Hyphenating Surnames to Form a New One

    Another popular trend with married or cohabitating couples is the creation of a new surname using parts of each partner's name or simply hyphenating the two last names for a brand new joint surname.

    Again, some states permit the combining or hyphenation of married couples' surnames with only simple paperwork, so be sure to check the law in your state."

    So I guess people not only pick new names, but some couples combine the two names to come up with a new one! That's so interesting :D I never thought about that as a real life possibility lol

  10. Cel - Oh yeah. Thanks to my dad's side of the family and their use of drugs as well as other BS, cops hear my maiden name and automatically assume I'm up to no good. Then there's the issue of my dad, and his "wife". Much like Cupcake's issue, my dad and his side of the family [the majority, not all] are white trash and have no interest in bettering themselves. I was the first to go to college. I spent my high school days working instead of participating in school events, and the man had the balls to ask ME for rides, or ME for cigarette money.

    I mean, I LIKE my maiden name. It's Irish, like my first and middle name, and it's my heritage, but at the same rate, I don't like what that name has been brought down to. *sigh*

    Sorry for the rant, LOL

  11. Interesting topic Cel.

    I really don't care either way. Take it or leave it, why do I care? lol.

    Personally, I'd like to find some way to keep my last name and take my boyfriends last name. I love that I have my dad's name, though he wasn't around when I was growing up, he is now and he's a wonderful, funny, brilliant man that I love dearly.

    On the other hand, I'd love to take my boyfriends last name. Though Stevie Sherrill sounds funky, I just love the idea of having that piece of him officially a part of me (oh gosh, I always say something that sounds naughty).

    So I don't care either way.
    All I know is I want to keep my last name and have my mans. And if they say I can't, too bad, I do what I want! lol

  12. We had our first child almost 2 yrs before we got married so I decided before he was born that he would take my last name. The straws that broke the camel's back so to say was finding out that his mother had a saying/joke about her in the small town they lived in(basically if your husband was late he was with her) and when she straight up seriously asked me to disinvite his father(that she was still married to) so she could go to our wedding with one of the guys she had on the side.

    So yeah I really didn't want to share a last name with all of that(an that is really just the tip of the iceberg with them) nor did I want my kids to either just for the sake of an IMO silly outdated tradition.

    We do joke around about one day maybe eventually combining our last names (my favorite is pronounced Ro-bar LoL) or him taking mine. But so far its working for us having different last names. I don't think anything would be different if we all had the same last name.

    Sorry for the mini rant about my mother inlaw but those people are enough to make a saint see red.

  13. I took my husbands last name- there wasn't really a thought put into it at all. I just assumed I would take his name.

    His last name is a lot worse then my maiden name- but it didn't affect me changing my name. I don't mind if people don't want to do what I did- they can keep their maiden name/ hyphenated name.

  14. Absolutely. Even if I don't get married, as soon as I'm legally old enough I'm taking my mom's maiden name. But that's for personal reasons.
    I never really thougfht about it and, in my honest opinion, it doesn't matter to me.

  15. I've never been a very big fan of my name. It's so common that their is a woman in my neighborhood who has the same exact first and last name as me. I never really thought of the possibility of me keeping my maiden name when I marry but I think I'd rather take my husbands name (unless he has a really terrible last name). I don't really care what people decide to use as their last name. I think people should be able to make their own decisions without being told that what they are doing is wrong.

  16. I took my now ex husbands last name and still have it even though we are divorced. Like Mystic...I've never been a fan of my last (maiden) name but for more personal reasons so it was a no brainer for me. I kept it after the divorce because of our daughter...I didn't want her to be affected in any other way especially since the actual divorce was so hard on her. Now that she is older, 18, if I remarry...I will take on that husbands last name or just hyphenate my ex and new hubby's name. It's just a bunch of work on the women's part to change all of that stuff and I'd only keep the ex's last name if remarried for daughter. Once she marries, (if she does)...I will then drop the ex's last name and totally assume the new hubby's.

  17. The Surname Debate - Would You (or DID you) Take Your Spou foots a maker on top of the incompetent. The Surname Debate - Would You (or DID you) Take Your Spou crowns the abysmal cap. The back invalidates a luggage. Se's Last Name? parrots The Surname Debate - Would You (or DID you) Take Your Spou.

  18. Sorry this is kinda late.. but I didn't see the blog post till now, and it interested me.

    I'm not married, and I don't know if that's ever going to happen.. but when I last had a boyfriend, he and I both had rather lousy last names. Mine is from my adopted family, and really common and rather Blah. His last name sounded downright horrible, and had a swearword in it. So we talked about both taking on a name that was entirely different from the ones we had. That name we were toying with was my surname before I was adopted. I don't much care for that family, and they don't care much for me, but *shrug* they have a cool name.

    I still might take on that last name again, when my adopted mom dies. But then again, I might not. If I do change it though, I'm adding the proper prefix that it lacked in front.

  19. My father took his mother's first husband's name when she got married. When she was divorced and he went to live with my great grandparents he took on her maiden name (their last name) and has stuck by it to this day. So I (and my two little brothers) have my grandmother's maiden name even though she has a new name nowadays being happily in her second marriage.

    I was raised by my great grandparents for about the first half of my life and I carried the last name my father chose to have. When my great grandfather had a stroke and they could no longer care for me, I went to live with my dad's aunt and uncle. I lived with them until I graduated high school and, for a short time, considered hyphenating or taking on their last name completely. I never did, but it was a great deal shorter than my current last name.

    Here I am, 20 years old, and in a fairly serious relationship. My boyfriend's last name is LONG. Like, longer than mine. And I write BIG. I just can't help it. I joked with him just a couple days ago that if I was going to marry him and take his last name I was going to need to re-learn to write to fit my name on signature lines.

    When I asked him his opinion on the matter he said that he and his family are fairly traditional people and would expect me to take his last name, but that they wouldn't be offended if I chose not to because it's my choice (and they know their name is LONG). He didn't have anything further to say about it and I thought it was sweet he had such a short, simple opinion on the matter.

    I don't know what I'll do, honestly. I don't particularly like my last name (it's an absolute b*tch to spell to idiotic phone operators), but I can only imagine the nightmare it would be to have to give them his. At least they wouldn't mistake his for "Harold." If you said his over the phone I'm guessing you'd have to be deaf not to understand what was said.

    For other women I'd say it's their choice and none of my business (or anybody else's for that matter). It all boils down to choice. Sometimes feelings affect your choice and sometimes not, but you can't always see what feelings are associated with that choice from the other side of the glass.

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  30. Not to sound callous, but I think the property argument is kind of stupid. If that was the case, then children of a single mother would be their property, when in reality, it shows that they are from the same family. Your kids may call you 'my' mom or dad, do they own you? In a way, everyone in a family 'has ownership' (ie, responsibility for the well-being of) one another.

    When you join your husband in marriage, the two of you should have the same last name, your children should have the same as well. I proudly took my husband's last name (but then again I like the guy, so if I thought it was about ownership I wouldn't have married him in the first place). Hyphenations and prenups always smack of fear to me, people who are afraid it won't work out. Then, you're not ready for marriage, simple as that. Also if you're taking someone else's name, who says it can't be your own? Feminists love taking things from men after all, I thought. >_>;

    1. Pardon, in second paragraph I meant to say that if I thought my husband wanted a piece of property I wouldn't have married him.