Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What should you do with your last names when you get married?

My mom (Ann Althouse) talks about deciding what to do with names when she got married to my stepdad (Laurence Meade):

What did Meade and I do, you may wonder? Well, we're not making any more children — unless we're given a miracle — so the "family name" issue was absent. I didn't change my name the first time I married, back in 1973, and I've already gone through all the struggles of not having the same name as my sons. I had to sit silently while the judge who granted my divorce lectured me about the problem of women not changing their names. He presumed to opine — based on zero evidence — that my failure to change my name was a causal factor in the divorce.

I kept my name a second time. Why? #1: My sons have the middle name Althouse, and I care about that identification. I'm also damned used to my name after all these years, and I've made it slightly famous. Of course, I could keep using Althouse professionally and still have Meade as my legal last name, but I can also do the reverse and use Meade in practice for any purpose aside from signing various documents. And, as that last point reveals, Meade didn't change his name to mine either.
A while ago, a married woman who had taken her husband's last name asked AskMetafilter if she should change her name back — she said her new name "doesn't feel like me." She added, "Maybe when we have kids I'll feel differently?" That last point jumped out at me, so I answered:
I haven't been married, but I have been a kid whose parents kept their own names. Their solution was to give us our dad's name as the last name, and our mom's name as the middle name. (This is not bound by gender — others in my family have had their mom's name as the last name and their dad's name as the middle name.) I'm glad that I get to use both of their names. I think it subconsciously gave me the message that men and women are distinct individuals — the woman's identity doesn't get submerged into the man's. So I'd change your name back because, not in spite, of having kids.

Another anecdote... I know a woman whose maiden name is easy to spell and pronounce, and she took her husband's unwieldy last name when they got married. Years later, she decided to run for elected office but felt it would work better to go back to her maiden name. She filed the forms to legally change it, and only later told her husband. He was shocked and said: "I can't believe you changed your name without bringing me along to join you!" From then on, they've both used her maiden name as their last name.
FLASHBACK: "What's my maiden name?"


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Get rid of both last names and invent a new one for yourselves.

Jennifer said...

Interesting perspective. My parents did the same thing as yours and I hated it when I was younger. My friends all had these cute first name middle names and I was strapped with a Japanese last name middle name that I shared with my brother. I think I felt like that subtracted from my identity some.

As I've gotten older, I appreciate the tie to my mother's family. And I like still having a blood family name in the mix since I haven't had my original last name in a long time.

beckett said...

My wife and I both hyphenated our names when we got married. The children we will presumably one day have will get both our names.

I take a fair amount of grief for my decision to append my wife's name to my own. Men my own age act as if I'd agreed to be castrated. Older people are flabbergasted.

If our children followed our lead, their names would get longer with every successive generation, but they will make their own choices as to what to do in the last name department.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Do the old WASP thing- turn a maiden name into a first name, like Gore Vidal or Humphrey Bogart.