The Vagenda

Becoming Mrs Someone Else: What’s In A Name?


By Bianca Franqueira Hanks*

(*aka Bianca Gómez Ellis)

(‘name n. A word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others….’)

In recent years, as I have watched more and more of my peers shuffle off into marriage, one thing that never fails to fascinate me is that age old question relating to what happens to the bride’s surname after the big ‘I do’. I am not ashamed to admit that there have been many times when I have been scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed only to become slightly baffled upon stumbling across a post by someone I don’t know. This is then always followed up with a slight twang of – dare I say it – disappointment, when I realise that, actually, I do know them. They just got married. So, as a perpetual fan of the question mark, I think it’s time we started to really question why it is that we choose (and it is a choice) to hold on to a tradition that dates back to a time when women were – figuratively and literally – the property of men. So, is it really a harmless tradition, or an outdated nod to the patriarchy?

My surname follows the Hispanic naming tradition whereby the child takes both the father’s and the mother’s surname. Everyone has two surnames that last from birth until death, women do not change their names when they get married, and neither do men. When a couple decides to have a child, it is accepted that each parent will pass on one of their surnames (traditionally the first surname which, in Spanish speaking countries, is the paternal line) – so that their child will also have two surnames. For example, Should John Smith marry Mary Jones, their child would become Baby Smith Jones. No hyphen, no changes, no merger names (Smones/Jonith etc) – just two names.

I like this tradition for two reasons: firstly, at no point is anyone required to change their name. Secondly, children bear the name of both parents – no parent is overlooked. Should I one day decide to have a child, hell will experience an ice age of truly epic proportions before I allow my child to pass through her/his existence without my surname (although quite how I will choose which of my surnames to pass on, I have no idea, perhaps I’ll put them in a hat).  I recognise, however, that this system is not perfect – tradition dictates that it is the male/paternal lines that are passed down through generations (interestingly, the Portuguese/Brazilian system does the opposite in that it is the maternal lines that are passed down). In an attempt to redress the imbalance of the Spanish system, I always told myself that, if I were to ever become a writer, my pen-name would be a tribute to my grandmothers’ surnames. It’s a workaround at best.

For reasons that go above and beyond my feminism, I have always struggled with the concept that, just because you decide to legally and/or spiritually align yourself with someone for the rest of your life, you are suddenly given a new identity. This is not just an issue for me as a woman, it is an issue for me as an individual. I recognise that such an attachment to one’s name is not universal, and I recognise that it is, perhaps, owing to cultural influences on my father’s side, that I attribute so much to it. But, cultural traditions aside (I see no value in tradition for tradition’s sake), I absolutely and categorically reject the idea that, should I ever decide to get married, it follows that I will change my surname.

For me, I would consider it to be disrespectful to my parents, my grandparents and, crucially, myself, if I chose to erase or alter something that is so fundamentally a part of who I am – my name. Sure, part of me likes the fact that my bizarre name reflects my cultural cocktail of a background, and yes I like that it’s unique (Facebook has confirmed that there is no one else with my name out there), but mainly I like it because it is mine and because it connects me to the people I love. It has been the most constant and unchanging thing in my life – it never changes, never alters, I knew my name before I knew anything else. And it’s just not something I am willing to part with.

Of course, I am fortunate in that I have a family that I love wholeheartedly, so that I would never want to be disassociated from them, and I can understand (particularly in cases of estrangement, abuse etc.) when people decide to change their names for reasons that are unrelated to marriage. Or even when someone just chooses to take on a completely different name: I know of someone who changed his surname to that of his favourite author and I applaud his choice because it was a choice that he made about his name and his identity. It wasn’t a name that was assigned to him, it was an autonomous decision.

The concept of adopting your husband’s surname is an issue particularly for women of the English speaking world, wherein the tradition is to take your husband’s name upon marriage. At school, I remember girls writing their first names alongside the surname of their boyfriend/crush/favourite pop star – their own surname sent to dust – to test whether or not the names ‘matched’. Of course, you can argue that this is all harmless fun, and to an extent that may be true. However, when innocent childhood fantasies about becoming Mrs Justin Timberlake translate into adult decisions about becoming Mrs [insert husband’s name here], it becomes less harmless and more deserving of scrutiny. It is odd to me that we accept so easily the concept of becoming Mrs Someone Else, without ever questioning why.

In Greece, the tradition of changing one’s surname at the point of marriage was made illegal in 1983 and the surname of any children is made as a collective decision between the parents; it can be that of the mother, father or both. That was 31 years ago, and yet I am writing this article as a British woman, knowing that my view is a minority one in my country. Ours is a tradition that baffles many outsiders looking in, including an Iranian friend of mine (in Iran women are legally not permitted to change their surname when they marry): ‘In my country you can’t leave the country without your husband’s permission, but you have your name. We haven’t got freedom but you keep your identity. Women here [in the UK] have so much freedom…. but they change their names?’

There are flaws in every system, and Greece and Iran are no exceptions. I, for one, am not proposing that we legislate against women changing their names upon marrying – history shows us that the legislation of identity treads dangerous waters – but I am suggesting that the tone of discussion start to change, so that instead of asking, ‘why shouldn’t I change my name?’ we ask ourselves, ‘why should I change my name?’ What do we stand to gain? What do we stand to lose?

When it comes to issues relating to gender equality, I try to apply my own personal feminist litmus test, consisting of two key questions:

Would we accept the same rule if it were applied to men? For example, when I am asked if, as a lifelong follower of football, I understand the offside rule (cue eye-roll). My response is always, without exception, ‘would you ask me this question if I were a man?’

Would we accept the same rule if it were applied to any other social, economic or political (non-gender specific) group? For example, when people choose to dismiss sexist and misogynistic jokes/comments/actions as ‘banter’; would we be so quick to dismiss racist, homophobic or xenophobic behaviour, in the name of ‘banter’?

If the answer to one or both of these questions is ‘no’, there is a high chance that we are looking at behaviours and/or assumptions reserved exclusively for women, because they are women. If we apply the same questions to the issue of surnames, the conclusion I reach is that this is a custom that applies to women, because they are women and, therefore, warrants careful critical analysis.

I know that many women choose to adopt their husband’s name for the sake of their future children, in order to maintain some kind of familial unity by name. This (societal) assumption that my children will have someone else’s name, but not my own, is simply not something I can accept. Why should my (or any) child’s surname automatically default to being that of their father? Is his name somehow more important than mine? (If your answer here is ‘yes’, are you suggesting that he is somehow more important than me?) Given that his contribution to the child’s gene-pool will be no greater than mine; given that I would elect to play quite a substantial role in the upbringing of said child; and given that the child would be legally assigned to me (either via a nine month camp-out en utero, or via adoption), I am somewhat reluctant to let my contribution to this hypothetical human go unnoticed.

As for it being a way in which to unite a family – will a name ensure that a family stays together? Will it guarantee a happy and fulfilling family life and home? No. Divorce rates tell us otherwise. I venture that love and commitment would be a better, and more reliable, method. Can we not be united together as human beings, without becoming one another? In the words of a friend, “why would I want to be Mrs Him?”

I would encourage all women to think carefully before shedding their own name. My own view, however, does not extend to criticising or thinking less of women who do choose to adopt their husband’s name. I may not understand their choice, but I wholeheartedly respect that it is their choice. And that is what counts – the choice – be you a feminist or not. There is no right or wrong answer, and yes you can be a feminist and take your husband’s name. As feminists, we have long fought against society’s patriarchal expectations of us as women, against a gender-hierarchy that forces women to accept decisions made, not by us, but on our behalf, so let us not start telling one another what to do. The choice is yours to make, and yours alone.

As for me, I was born with a double-barrelled name, and – notwithstanding some bizarre circumstance where I end up in a witness protection programme – I intend to die with that same double-barrelled name. Unhyphenated, unaltered, unchanged. What’s in a name? Quite a lot.


53 thoughts on “Becoming Mrs Someone Else: What’s In A Name?

  1. That’s a really thoughtful post, thanks for sharing what other cultural norms regarding names are outside Britain. I’m about to get married and despite having given the topic much, much thought, I simply can’t decide what I want my last name to be. As you said, it will impact the names of our future children, and if course, judgement from all sides whichever name I choose. I like your Spanish way of doing things, but in Britiain, many people see double-barrelling as either trying to be fancy or acknowledging that the parents aren’t married. The best conclusion I’ve come to is that I can use whichever name as and when pleases me, and I’m happy for friends to call me by whichever name pleases them. Thanks for writing it, certainly food for thought.

  2. I changed my name upon marriage. At the time, I thought long and hard about it and decided to keep my ‘maiden’ name for work and changed my surname at home. This doesn’t for one second mean that at home I believe I am subordinate, less worthy or in anyway inferior. I made a conscious choice deliberating on the cultural norms and on the societal pressures. I decided to keep my fathers surname at work because it was he who had always encouraged my education, and after his death I felt it would be good to carry on this recognition of the years of support and love he gave to me. As a feminist I feel I made the right choice for me. I was never even asked by my husband if I would change my name, it was left to my choosing.

    I feel that the judgement of other women, such as that in this article, is to assume that they have thought less about this issue, or they are less of a feminist. Not true in my experience. Ok so you didn’t/haven’t/wouldn’t change your name-good for you, but really, so what?

    I also feel that this constant pressure by other feminists to conform in these ways limits our conversations to our clothing choices, surnames and body image issues. I want to talk with other feminists about the huge political issues facing women such as equal representation, power and the intrinsic oppression of women across the globe.

    In short, I’m sick of talking about my name, I’m more than that. As Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Sorry if my choices disappoint you as you scroll through my facebook posts.

    • The writer spends half a paragraph stating that she is not judging or looking down on anyone, and that she ultimately believes in choice:

      “I would encourage all women to think carefully before shedding their own name. My own view, however, does not extend to criticising or thinking less of women who do choose to adopt their husband’s name. I may not understand their choice, but I wholeheartedly respect that it is their choice. And that is what counts – the choice – be you a feminist or not. There is no right or wrong answer, and yes you can be a feminist and take your husband’s name.”

    • No, this is wrong. Feminism is not about choice, it is about equality. Not all choices are equally good and not all choices lead to equality. Choosing to take your husband’s name and subordinate your existing identity to his is simply not, and can never be, a feminist choice – where feminism means working towards equality between the sexes. The language of choice is further misleading in that women do not make this choice in a cultural vacuum: no one would even think of changing their name to their husband’s if there wasn’t a tradition, centuries old, of women becoming the property of men on marriage. This is where the idea comes from, and no amount of defensive justification can alter that. The fact is that every woman who takes her husband’s name is opting out of a battle that could easily be won by our generation but now we’re leaving to our daughters to fight. Because of the selfishness of women who think it’s romantic or convenient to take a man’s name, our daughters will grow up with the idea that women are second class citizens – a collection of Mrs Men, rather than individuals. No solution to the embarrassing ‘choice’ between being Mrs/Miss/Ms – where our identities are defined by our marital status, will be found by our generation. The administrative documents of the nation will go on enshrining this double standard for women and men. We could have moved things on, and we didn’t. It is shameful.

      And the tired old line about how a woman’s name is really just her father’s name applies equally to men – whose names are also just their father’s names. Funnily enough, you never hear of men saying that their name is their father’s name: they can own their birth surname; women apparently can’t. This makes no sense.

      • Having now read down the thread: what a lot of depressing comments. Every person who says she’s changed her name has offered a completely self-involved reason for doing so. No wonder real feminists have such an uphill struggle when so many women – even the kinds who read feminist blogs – have no concept of larger issues or their responsibility to engage in political, social and cultural battles that require even such minimal ‘sacrifices’ as keeping their own name. Clearly many of the women posting on this thread think it’s the job of other women to fight for basic equality, while they sit around justifying subordinating themselves to patriarchal norms. Grim stuff, and given the young age of many of the posters, really sad for the future of feminism.

  3. I had a difficult childhood and didn’t feel cherished, despite having both parents together for most of it. My husband’s family taught me how unconditional love feels. I took his name consciously, because I felt more like a member of his family than my own. 15 years later and I’m fast approaching the year which marks the point when our family name has been part of my life for longer than the name I was born to. I am still completely in love with him and our family.

  4. I loved this article. This is exactly how I feel. I also sometimes feel a bit odd to see friends’ Facebook statuses such as “aaaaahh! 5 days until I’m Mrs [husband to be's name]” wondering if they ever made a decision about it or just change it because they’ve never even questioned it.

    I won’t be changing my name to my husband’s if I get married. I changed my surname when I was 18 to my mum’s maiden name which she’d reverted back to partly because I liked it a lot more than my surname (my dad’s name) and partly because he was a shit parent and my mum made a much greater contribution to my life. So I appreciate I’m probably more attached to my new name than most people might be to theirs as I made the choice myself. Also changing your name is a total pain so it’s probably part laziness that I wouldn’t be overly keen to change it again any time soon although I do like the idea of a new family name that is one both partners choose themselves.

    When I had a child recently we decided to give him my surname as like you say he is no more my partner’s child than mine, and I didn’t see why I had to have a different name to my child just because of stupid traditions. Also my name is more unusual and my family is all women so otherwise it may die out whereas my partner has a brother and a reeeally common name and is also more likely to take my name if we marry. We experienced A LOT of negative comments about it from partner’s family who got overly offended they weren’t linked by name to the new baby, health workers who assumed I was a single mum and/or didn’t know who the dad was, people who asked outraged “why would you do that?!” and “well aren’t you going to get married?!” and of course the pile of baby cards addressed to Baby [partner's name]. I’m sure I’ll get lots of negative comments if I marry and keep my name too and a pile of cards to Mrs. I find it a bit strange that most people in the UK never question that a wife or children will take the man’s name even though if you think about it logically there’s no good reason why it still needs to be that way. I hope things start to change so there’s more variety in what women/families choose to do and then at least it shouldn’t be quite such a bad experience for women like me who go against what was expected.

    • I identify with this greatly. As a child, I never liked my surname (my father’s name) because I felt a much stronger connection to my mother’s family, whom I lived with and spent most of my time with. This isn’t to say I didn’t connect with my dad, but rather that I didn’t connect with his heritage and I’m not too fond of his parents. I was also born before my parents decided to get married but even at birth I was given my father’s name. When I asked my mom about it, she said that it was because she wanted me to have a piece of my dad even if they never ended up getting married. To her, I would always be her daughter and in her care but the same could not be said for my father – at least not when I was born. Maybe because of my lack of attachment to my father’s name I might be more willing to change my name for a future partner but I’d much rather have y mother’s maiden name.
      tl;dr: I’d much rather have my mother’s maiden name than any other (including my current surname)

  5. I would never change my name, and the most hated argument that I always get about this is “Well it’s not like you’d be keeping your name, it’s your father’s”. No, it’s not. It’s mine. It’s the same as my father’s and given to me by my father (and so on, I assume), but you can’t gift something to anyone and then say it isn’t theirs. It’s always been mine and I’ve used it every single day, and nobody can take that away from me. I’ve felt like this before I discovered feminism, as the idea of relinquishing a part of my identity to make someone else’s bigger always sat badly with me. So, thanks for validating my instincts (!?) and articulating them better than I could- brilliant article.

  6. I was quite young when I got married – 23 & still at uni. I changed my surname when I got married because I, marginally, preferred his to mine. I never liked my maiden name & this was a good opportunity to change it without offending anyone. However, if I had liked it or had a career with my maiden name then I think things would’ve been different. It’s important to my husband that we have the same surname & he would’ve changed his to mine if that’d been the case. We actively chose his.

    However, one thing I have thought about a lot since & have actively changed since is my title. When I got married I became Mrs H but I didn’t really like it, made me feel old but Miss didn’t seem right either. In the last couple of years I’ve been changing all my accounts etc to Ms because why is it important if strangers know if I’m married or not. I actually think we should adopt the French or German model who have done away with mademoiselle & frauleine for adult women – all adults are now madam or frau – like men when they turn 18 are monsieur or herr. I don’t hugely mind which we adopt Ms/Mrs or something new but it would define a woman as her own person rather than automatically connecting her with her father/husband. Does that make sense?

  7. I’m married and I changed my surname to be the same as my old man’s. Our kids also share the same surname as we do. I didn’t take the decision lightly, but ultimately I feel it was the best thing to do in a practical sense. We are united by our name and it’s stabilizing for children to have a sense of family cohesion. But aside from that, we love to travel and it means we can, as individual parents, travel with our children without being questioned and turned back by border authorities, which does frequently happen to many people who don’t share their kids’ surname, whether they’re the Mum or Dad. Personally I think it’s irrelevant what my name is, I’m me. I do know guys who’ve taken their spouse’s surname as a stand against patriarchal norms, which I applaud. It’s an interesting subject but it’s way more complex an issue than being able to say that individuals ought to do x y or z. What about gay marriage? What about step kids? Adoption?

    Although it’s a tradition that stems from a wife being her husband’s chattel, I don’t think that’s still the case today. Maybe these days you could think of it more as one spouse giving the other the gift of their name. Quite a romantic notion if everyone agrees on it.

  8. I decided to take my husband’s name when we married. It was a decision purely based on the fact that I thought the combination of my first name and his surname sounded nicer than my previous name. I didn’t think about it that much – I took the decision pretty lightly because I was confident I would still be the same person after I married as I was before and that the people I cared about would know that too and this has since been born out to be true. I have always thought that my name actually says very little about who I am – it is just something for other people to use so other people know who they are referring to. I had absolutely no pressure from others to change my name and had I not liked the name I had the option to adopt, I would not have bothered. I asked my husband if he wanted to take my surname (do a swap as it were) – he thought about it, said he preferred his but thanked me for the offer and that was that.
    I am with the author in disliking the patriarchal tradition of being given your father’s surname and then expected to take your husband’s surname on marriage as if it is a signifier of ownership. However, I have no problem with a married couple of any gender combination sharing the same name but rather would like to see everyone feel freer to make that choice or not. Women and men make choices about their names for a variety of reasons, from the profound to the flippant, and should be allowed to continue to do so without assumptions being made or comments being passed by others.

  9. This is an article with perfect timing! I was bridesmaid at my oldest friend’s wedding just yesterday and was so irritated with the Mr & Mrs whatever thing. You haven’t suddenly become a new person because you gained a husband! My name is awesome, why would I ever change it?! I have a double barrelled name which I intend to keep and my children will no doubt have the same also. I find the whole taking your partner’s name thing so inherently irritating! Don’t get me started on all the ‘be submissive to your husband’ which was bandied about by the Priest when he was carrying out the ceremony. Pretty sure more than a few of the pictures taken are going to show my face fixed in a grimace of apoplectic rage!

  10. I got married in January and took my husbands last name keeping my own as a second middle name. At the time I felt like I had made the right decision. I would say 8 months on I do feel more conflicted and resentful really that it’s something men don’t even have to contemplate. My own mother hated her last name so was happy to change and when my parents divorced she went back to her mothers maiden name. Deciding on children’s names is difficult but another aspect is the whole remarriage thing. My partner was divorced so there has already been one Mrs C already. I feel like it makes us interchangeable and less special. I know this is not how my husband feels. But still there it is

  11. I wanted to take my wife’s name but she disallowed it. I guess for a good reason, because that would leave me with a different surname to my sons from a previous marriage.

    What she does now is sometimes uses her maiden name, sometimes mine, and sometimes a double barrel, depending on how the mood takes her. Certainly keeps me on my toes when I have to phone up and enquire about things on her behalf!

  12. Before reading this article, I figured I was in the majority, having changed my name after marriage. However, now I feel as though I am in a distinct minority in the amount of how much emphasis I put on my maiden name, or any of my names for that matter.

    When I was born, I was giving the standard three names, first, middle, and last, which was my father’s name. Having been raised Catholic, I later acquired a fourth name via my confirmation name, Claire. While, I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I still include that name, mostly out of habit, but also because I think it is pretty. When I was growing up, I loved the names my mother had chosen for me, and the name I’d chosen for myself, but I really hated my last name. It was unattractive sounding, hard to spell, and was always getting mispronounced. To top it off, my initials were “B.K.”, garnering me the nickname “Burger King” through grade school.

    As I got older, I realised my name didn’t much matter. Sure, I was “Ms. K-k … Uhm, Brianna?” but in the long run, it didn’t change anything. I had a friend whose given name was Sparkelle, but in spite of the connotation a name like that might give off or assumptions made about her based on her name, she was the smartest girl in my honours classes. I think she’s an engineer now.

    When I met my husband, I kind of knew right off the bat we were “meant to be”. It wasn’t some grand thing with orchestras playing in the background as we shared true love’s first kiss or anything, but it was just a feeling. It was the kind of comfortable happy you know you want to feel forever. Before we got married, we talked about everything: names, number of kids, if/how to combine our finances, living arrangements, etc. We decided we wanted to have the same last name, because we wanted to have it be somewhat symbolic of our union. I asked if it’d be alright for me to take his, since his is short, easy to say and spell, and I liked the sound of it with my name(s). It wasn’t some emotional thing to give up my “family” name. My husband wanted me to hyphenate, but I figured 4 names was plenty enough. So, I dropped my maiden name and became “Mrs. Someone Else” … except I didn’t really. I am not “Mrs. My Husband’s Wife”, I’m me, with a different name. To be honest, I didn’t think much of my new name, aside from getting used to answering to it at the doctor’s and having it changed on my office door.

    I understand women who hyphenate, don’t change, bump the maiden name to the middle name, or pick something entirely new for your new family. For me, the answer to the age-old “what’s in a name?” question, is a resounding “not much”, but it’s different for everyone. It’s really a personal choice and I don’t think it has to be a feminist v. non-feminist issue,

    P.S. Very well-written post! Sorry my comment was almost as long as the original!

  13. We are both quite fond of our last names, so will be keeping them. What to do about children was a bit more of a headache. My last name is a rare one and is at risk of dying out, his last name comes with a crest, a history. Even a title if enough people die off.

    In the end it has been decided, and girls get his last name, any boys get mine. An imperfect solution, but the best we have thus far come up with considering both of us really like our names (and he is completely against double barrel names, he fears you will end up with Smith-Jones-Brown-Green-White-Purple)

  14. I’m changing my name. My father is an idiot, I haven’t had any contact with him in over ten years. He isn’t invited to the wedding. I got his name by default. Why would I wish to keep it – why maintain any connection with a despicable man when I can drop it so easily? My mum has a different name now, and my stepfather is doing the walking down the aisle bit.

    The man I’m marrying is a good man. So, after a lot of thought, I have actively chosen to take his name. He offered to change his name first, and never tried to talk me into changing it when I thought I might keep my maiden name.

    I would never judge anyone who kept their original name, it would be nice if the same courtesy could be extended to me. I’m not doing this by default. I’m doing it because it’s right for me.


    • But the author says she doesn’t have any issue with you changing your name, she was asking not to be judged for not changing hers?

      • ‘This is then always followed up with a slight twang of – dare I say it – disappointment, when I realise that, actually, I do know them.’

        I would argue that this is a judgemental comment. What basis does the author have for this feeling of disappointment? And why feel ‘disappointed’? Why not ‘surprised’, for example? The implication is that they are letting the side down by changing their names. That is a judgement.

        ‘It is odd to me that we accept so easily the concept of becoming Mrs Someone Else, without ever questioning why.’

        This assumes that those changing their names have not considered the decision deeply – that it’s just the default choice. Maybe it is for some, I (unlike the author) would not presume to know what everyone is thinking. It’s not the default choice for everyone – some people think about it very carefully indeed.

        I believe that this article *is* judgemental, and that’s what I have a problem with. It’s implying that those who change their names have failed in some way, or are ‘bad feminists’.

        • Although I enjoyed Bianca’s article I agree with Hannah. Bianca is simply lucky that she has a cool Spanish name of which she is happy and proud and resounds with good familial sentiment for her. She also conveniently overlooks that fact that in Spain the maternal name IS eventually lost. Should Bianca Gomez Ellis marry Juan Rodriguez Sanchez their children would ordinarily be called Gomez Rodriguez which are the paternal names. Ellis and Sanchez are dropped, these are the maternal names. Nearly everyone in the UK carries the paternal family name. Jane Brown decides she wants to keep her name, so what? Brown is most likely her father’s name anyway because we live under patriarchy. At best it’s her grandfather’s name. I don’t think it’s feminist reasoning, it’s more likely Jane Brown likes her name and doesn’t want to change it and good for her. I don’t know anyone whose surname truly carries through from a maternal line. I got married in February, I didn’t wear a white dress, no-one ‘gave me away’, the mother of the groom made a speech, the father of the groom did not, everyone cried in equal amounts…. and I took my husband’s name. Like Hannah, I’m estranged from my father and my birth name sounds like a hardcore sexual innuendo. I asked my husband if I could take his name and he was delighted, he’d supposed I wouldn’t. It was a lovely moment between the pair of us. I decided to change my name because I’d rather have the name of a man who loves me than the name of a man who doesn’t. It’s not an easy decision and Bianca would do well to reserve judgement and feelings of disappointment regarding her friends. It’s a tough decision for a woman. However, above all I believe that the name change discussion is a red-herring. The most important thing is to come to an agreement as a couple and find a name that suits you both and that may be the woman’s name. I have a friend who never changed her name but her daughters have their father’s name. It’s a pain because they travel frequently with her and rarely with him and she is always asked what relation they are to her which she finds saddening. In their case it would be better if the kids had her name. It’s not a feminist issue it’s a family issue and it needs to be discussed thoroughly to find what is right for you and your partner but women who have considered all the options need feel no guilt for taking their husband’s name. Like Hannah says – it’s right for her.

        • Hey, so I just wanted to briefly counter your comment about the judgemental nature of this article:

          Although the initial comment (which you quote) is indeed slightly judgemental, I reckon that’s fair enough. Everyone makes initial basic judgements based on various contextual factors, the important thing is to not be rigid in the maintenance of that opinion, especially in light of other evidence.

          So I’d say it fair for her to feel “a slight twang of … disappointment” when she encounters women who’ve changed their names upon marrying as it is most likely that they have changed it without consideration, merely because it remains the norm. As this is a system she disapproves of, it’s fair enough to be disappointed in its casual propagation. Later on she does actually comment on situations similar to yours (paragraph 6), differentiating them from that status quo.

          Ha, so this is a bunch longer than intended, but pretty much I just wanted to say it seems reasonable for her to have a negative reaction to an action when she disapproves of the majority’s motivation for it, provided she also acknowledges and accepts the minority cases in which it is not based on an unfair system. Which she does.

          • I see your point. I guess though, it’s easy to say it’s fair enough for someone to be judgemental, when the person being judged is not you.

            I have agonised over this, argued with my mother and other relatives endlessly, lay awake at night thinking about it – it has thrown up all sorts of issues that I thought I had worked through, to be honest. Turns out I was wrong! Unless someone posts all of that on Facebook – and let’s face it, who would?! – there’s no way to know whether or not the person who has changed their name has been through a similar process. The author isn’t a friend of mine, but now I’ll be wondering whether my friends are working on the assumption that I’m just going with the default and judging me for it. I am already judging myself, every step of the way.

            I suppose my point is that there’s no way to know what someone’s motivation is without asking them, and to me it’s pretty arrogant to assume you know.

            Also, parental issues are a bitch. Philip Larkin was bloody right!

  15. Thank you for this. I recently got married and kept my name and was shocked by the reactions of all my family and relations, which was almost unanimously “what a slap in the face for him!” I could not believe that this was still a viable opinion in the 21st century and if my husband had held it, chances are I wouldn’t have been marrying him in the first place. Name changing is so assumed even now that we need more articles like this one to stimulate dialogue and stop women feeling being judged (as I was) for the entirely reasonable decision to keep their own identities when they get married.

  16. I think if I were committing to spending my life with one person (I’m not really big on marriage on the whole), I would quite like us to have the same name. Their surname or mine, depending purely on which surname was nicer, or maybe a new surname for us as a new family. I do think a surname should be pretty arbitrary though, if you assign a lot to it, it can be meaningful, but I hate to be judged on something I had no control over.

  17. This is a brilliant article! I’ve been thinking a lot about that sort of thing recently since I saw my mum writing the address on a postcard to my aunt and uncle as “Mr. & Mrs. R. Surname”. The ‘R.’ being for Robert. Taking someone’s surname is a personal choice and fine if you want to but “Mrs Robert” is not a real person – nobody chooses to give up their first name when they marry too!! Also, it’s my auntie who’s the blood relative not my uncle (she’s my dad’s sister), and knowing them she’s also the one who will actually read the postcard! Mum was even referring to it as the postcard for Auntie Jane (not Uncle Robert!) so I just found it really odd that she would write that.

    When I pointed it out she said she hadn’t even thought about it and it’s just what she’s been programmed to write all her life because it’s ‘official’. I’m pretty sure this will die out very soon though as it’s very uncommon nowadays, especially among those younger than my mum!

  18. I decided a while ago to change my surname because I don’t agree with the tradition of a woman having either her father’s or husband’s surname. I didn’t want to pluck a name out of thin air though because that would have felt weird to me so I turned my middle name into my last name, since it’s always been my name. My boyfriend thinks it’s cool but my family don’t approve and think it’s disrespectful. Interestingly, if I were to marry my boyfriend and take his name (neither of which I would ever do), they wouldn’t find that disrespectful. It’s apparently just disrespectful to not have a man’s name…even though it’s my name and my choice. Even my sister thought I should’ve considered my father’s feelings regarding my name. And my family didn’t see how sexist they were being.

  19. I personally will retain my own surname but I can see there are many reasons why a woman wouldn’t want to.
    - There are places where racism is still rife, perhaps a parent would want to opt for the more European sounding surname in an attempt to get their child’s foot in the door instead of negatively judged on a name.
    - Not everyone feels especially close to their family
    - Not everyone is entirely happy & may see this as something close to reinvention
    I found this post way too contrived & judgemental for a Vagenda piece.

  20. My partner and I have been together for a long time and we often talk about what we would do name-wise if we decided to marry. He is very against the idea of me taking his name and while I understand and support women taking their husbands name I too feel that isn’t right for us. Instead we felt that a last name that reflected us both but was one name would be ideal: a new name for a new family. We decided we would blend our two last names names to make one new name. This idea may have stemmed from the fact I am an English secondary school teacher and was teaching etymology that week!

  21. Please note that in Greece it has not been made illegal to alter your surname. What did in fact change, was the obligation to change your surname upon marriage. You are now free to opt for either option without the imposition of the law.

  22. While the author is careful to say that every woman should be free to choose for themselves, including the choice to change their names after-all, she still admits that she is disappointed and annoyed when she sees a friend who changed her name. And a lot of women in the comments too admit that it bothers them and that they wonder “why would any one do that.” Well, just because the reason why hasn’t occurred to you, doesn’t mean people don’t have reasons. As many others have already said, not every woman is particularly attached to their name, or even their family. Some people may have a family history of abuse or estrangement. I am an out-spoken, argumentative, card-carrying feminist, who has gotten into heated debates with other women about whether or not they really “choose” to shave their legs– so I know the question of whether something is really an autonomous choice can be tricky. But for the record, when I got married, I knew all along I would want to change my name. Almost no one else in my family shared my maiden name anyway; only my mother, and she and I have a complicated relationship and she has a bad past, all of which made me comfortable with distancing myself from that last name. Also, my husband’s family was large and loving, and I was excited to officially be a “theirlastname” with everyone else. I think that if you really love someone, and plan to spend your life with them, it makes sense to want to share a name. The author pointed out that sharing a name can’t guarantee everlasting happiness, but of course neither does marriage, nothing can. She asked why to people can’t just unite, instead “becoming the same person,” but I think a lot of people think of marrying their true love as becoming one unit, one family. A name is a very special thing, as the author states, which also makes it a very special thing to share. It just feels nice, symbolically. You don’t stop being who you are, just because you changed your name—but even if it does imply a shift in identity, why is that so offensive? Isn’t committing to someone for life a pretty big shift in identity? I don’t think it should always have to be the woman who changes her name, of course. But I know more than one couple where the man changed his name– I think it is becoming more common. So questioning the pressure on women to always be the ones to change their names is good. But questioning the tradition of name-changing itself, and any women who choose to do it, seems unnecessary.

  23. I took my husband’s surname when we married a year ago because it’s awesome and unusual (and have in the past year had more compliments on my cute name than I’ve ever had in my life). But I find myself missing and reverting to my old initials. My office has a system of signing off files, identifying people in meeting minutes etc by their initials and I’d been unconsciously using my old ones and it was only when a new colleague asked who KH was that I realised I was doing it. It’s strange the little things that identify you. I’ve now decided I’m going to carry on using KH and anyone who gets confused can just stay confused!

  24. I got married 2 years ago and took my husband’s name. I wasn’t really a fan of my own complicated, unusual, double-barrelled maiden name, so I was happy to make the change to a single, simple name. I have a brother who is carrying on our unique name so I didn’t feel any conflict about it dying out and to be honest I was glad to be rid of it.
    I now don’t have to spell out my name to everyone or contend with people who can’t cope with a double-barrel (‘what’s your last name?’ ‘Xx-Yy’ ‘Yy?’ ‘No, Xx-Yy, both are my last name’ ‘How do you spell that?!’) or not being able to fit it on forms!
    So I’m happy with my choice.

    Another factor in it was that the first part was my mother’s name and the second part was my father’s. They divorced when I was little and things have remained contentious between them. I’m closer to my Mum and liked her name better, but wouldn’t want to offend my Dad by dropping his / only keeping hers as a middle name. So I kept neither.

    On a related aside, when my parents divorced, my Mum went back to her maiden name right away. As a woman in the UK, it doesn’t cost anything to change your name at marriage or divorce (other than the cost of new documents, but no deed-poll fee) but for men it does. My Dad had taken my Mum’s name as a double-barrell with his when they married, and changed his name by deed-poll, so when they divorced he kept his as it was. He’d built his career with that unique name too, so I think he just wanted to keep it.
    But here’s the kicker. He remarried a few years ago, and his new wife took his name. So she now has my Mum’s name!! I just find that so weird. She took the name of his ex-wife as well as her husband. I wonder if she knew beforehand.

  25. I certainly agree that we should all have a choice on name changing after marriage and choose the option that we feel is best. I would disagree that I feel “disappointed” when scanning facebook and seeing my married friends change their name. What does it matter to me, they’re still the same person.
    I took my husband’s name when I married and am proud to be Mrs xxx. For us having the same surname was important because we feel that we are one family now and having one surname reflects that. I didn’t mind following the tradition and being the one who changed, I don’t feel all that attached to my name, it’s just a marker so people know who I am. My names are frequently spelt wrong but I know that it still means me, and I feel that I’m still me despite having a new surname (albeit with a variety of spelling). Besides, I won’t be a Mrs xxx for much longer, I’m in the final year of my PhD and, once I’ve finished, will be known as Dr. xxx so letters addressed to us will be Mr and Dr. xxx

  26. Interesting article! :) I really like the name I was given and with which I identify myself with. I have no plans to change that even if someday I sign some papers…
    By the way, Portuguese tradition (and likely Brazilian as well) is that the father’s name gets passed on. Family names are just placed in a different order than the Spanish. And more than one family name can be passed on by each parent…

  27. Very interesting post! I’m engaged to be married and, although I’m not crazy about his surname, I prefer it more than my maiden name. So I’m changing it and have been asked a few times if I am changing it, to which I reply “yes” . It’s controversial enough that we have chosen to be child free (oh the shame!) but I wonder what people would say if I said I wasn’t taking his name. By the way – the future groom doesn’t care AT ALL what I do which I love!

  28. A nice, funny, thought-provoking article. I chuckled at the ‘Mrs. Justin Timberlake’ line, although in my case it was probably ‘Mrs. Keanu Reeves’!
    I got married 4 years ago and didn’t change my name. For me, my name is so wrapped up in my own personal identity – it is so much a part of who I am and my connection to my family that to change it to something else would feel utterly wrong. My husband, who is also my family, never questioned or challenged my decision, but the more we talked about it, the more he was against the idea of me changing my name, to the extent that now he is vehemently against it. He would never change his name, so why should I?
    I was very, very surprised at how much I was challenged by other women about my decision not to change my name. Many people have strong views on this, which I appreciate and enjoy discussing, but I found it ridiculous that some women were offended and outraged by my choice. (Strangely, I received similar responses to my revelation that my husband doesn’t wear a wedding ring). I’ve also been asked many times how I plan to deal with the inevitable confusion that others will experience when they see that my son and I have different last names. My response? If someone can’t get their head around a mother and son having different surnames, then they have much, much bigger problems on their plate.
    To this day, we still receive things in the post from a few people we know addressed to ‘Mr and Mrs X’ which frankly kind of aggravates the shit out of both of us. But there are far more things in life worth spending your energy stressing about.
    I don’t want to sound glib, but for many women this comes down to personal choice – if no one is being hurt and lives aren’t being lost, then can’t we just let people do what they want to do and move on?

  29. Hi,

    A couple of things – I don’t think most people “shuffle off into marriage”. It’s generally seen as a joyous occasion, with more celebrating and less reluctant feet-dragging. :-)

    Secondly, I don’t think the reality is women “accepting so easily the concept of becoming Mrs Someone Else, without ever questioning why”. I’m currently engaged and I’ve said from the start I want to keep my own name. However, my future mother-in-law takes this very personally and cannot understand why I wouldn’t want to take the name of her only son. You could argue that this is not her fault but patriarchy at work, in terms of the society she was brought up in, but the fact remains I’m subject to emotional blackmail/societal pressure from her. I’m now forced to weigh up having a positive relationship with my fiancé’s family with my beliefs, which I hold very dear.

    I’ve been sticking to my guns so far as I view my name as my identity – it’s also a reminder of my grandmother and father’s family who I loved very much. Your article is a thoughtful one but it doesn’t even touch on the societal pressure often brought to bear on the woman. It’s really depressing to think my fellow feminists assume women who change their names are “accepting this so easily”. You talk about the twinge of disappointment when you see a new name in your Facebook feed – you shouldn’t be so lofty as to assume that woman unthinkingly made the decision, or that it was an easy one.

  30. I am due to be married, and after a discussion with my husband to be, I have consented to take his name in addition to my own, on the basis that he would like our children to bear his name, and I for them to bear mine. Which after 30 years…I’ve grown fairly attached to, along with my identity in general. Furthermore, as a made up surname (Anglicised when my immigrant Dad arrived in the UK), my Dad feels very strongly about keeping the family name going, as he came from a broken home, and often says that with the new name we adopted, a new family was born, which was not broken, was full of love instead of hate and bitterness, and something to be cherished – although he has no view on whether I should change my name in marriage. But for me, the sentiment behind this encapsulates what I want for my own family. For them to feel part of something that is whole, loving and something to be cherished for all of their lives.

    As a family unit, myself and the as-yet-hypothetical kids, will have the same surnames, however, my fiancé won’t accept that following this logic perhaps he should consider (only consider mind, choice is the right of all sexes!) adopting my name too. But simply for fear of ridicule from others, it’s something he won’t even contemplate. Which I think is very sad for him. And less a reflection on him, than on the society in which he has grown up, where the very idea of a man adopting his wife’s name in addition to his own is emasculating. How does one go about showing the world instead of being a threat to masculinity, that this kind of step alongside marriage can be a sign of unity, equality and a partnership? If we were a lawfirm…nobody would quibble!

  31. I got married at 35 and didn’t change my name. It wasn’t an issue. I come from a very “normal” Christian family. Still, I never for even one second considered changing my name. All of the talk about changing names is ridiculous. Don’t marry a man who insists that you change your name. The list of things he insists will never stop. People sometimes address my mail to Mrs. (his name). I ignore it. I don’t care what other people think. I like my name and I’m not changing it for anybody. For those of you who don’t think there’s a serious societal problem that your father walks you down the aisle and hands you off to another man, whose last name you will soon take, you are sadly mistaken. You are property and all of your lames excuses about why you have chosen to change your name are just that: lame. You are doing it because you have bowed to social custom, misogyny, sexism, and being viewed as “other” to man. Stop making excuses. It feels good to keep your own name. It has never caused me any problems. I’m just me with my own damn name. Thanks.

  32. Great post!
    Just one small correction though:
    “interestingly, the Portuguese/Brazilian system does the opposite in that it is the maternal lines that are passed down” – this is actually not true. In Portuguese, we just reverse the order of the names compared to the Spanish system: e.g. if the fathers last name is X and the mothers last name is Y, the child’s name is “first name” Y X, and the name that gets passed to the next generation is the second name i.e. X i.e. the fathers name. So not quite as “matriarchal” as it sounds in the post!

  33. This is a great article with some brilliant comments, I do think this is an important conversation to have between men and women, feminists and non-feminists. Ultimately a persons name doesn’t make a lick of difference to who they are, but it is important to challenge the default of woman taking mans name, even if that ends up to be the best decision for that couple, that’s fine but I think it’s important that this is something couples consider and discuss rather than just following the tradition unquestioningly. Although Bianca comes across a little judgey in this, I think that is her ultimate message, which is a good one.

  34. This is exactly how I feel about changing my last name. I like my last name and don’t intend on removing it. I will probably double barrel it, as it’s a joining of the two families, quite literally. I don’t know how I feel about my dad walking me down the aisle either. The idea of it screams ‘exchange of property between men’ but I don’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings. I have considered asking both my parents to do it; when I told my mom she seemed to really love the idea. Whether we’ll all fit down the aisle is a different story.

  35. When my husband and I married almost 30 years ago, we BOTH changed our last names, to a family name we selected from out family trees. It was symbolic of forming our new family-unit together, and our choice as to which name had the most emotional resonance (and logistical simplicity, as we’d both had hard-to-spell-and-pronounce surnames). Most of all, it was completely equivalent: we both did Exactly The Same Thing.
    I can’t take credit for the idea, as I’d read this suggested in Ms. magazine. It worked great for us, and we still love the family name we chose. Interestingly, no one thought it odd that I would change my name with marriage – but my husband got LOTS of questions. Fortunately, he is a very confident, strong, equal-rights man, and he handled the questions and curiosity with real grace.

  36. Before reading these comments I have to admit I was a bit (ok, perhaps more than a bit..) judgemental about women who changed their names. These comments have opened my eyes to the various reasons why a woman might take that decision, so thank you!

  37. I enjoyed the article and comments, and found it interesting to read the many different opinions.

    I kept my own surname for the first year of marriage as neither of us felt it was important. I briefly tried using my name at work and his at home but found it too much hassle so I took his name, mostly because it’s a few letters shorter and easier to type. Now I’m Dr W at work and Mrs or Dr W outside work depending on my mood.

  38. I have to say that I am quite happy with the naming system that we have in Mexico (the same as in Spain). My name is A and I have both my parent’s surnames (dad’s goes first and mom’s goes second). I live in the UK since 2007 and got married two years ago with an English guy (well, he’s half Greek). First of all, Mexican law does not allow name change upon marriage so I used it as an excuse as to why I kept my name. Even if that was allowed, I I wouldn’t have changed it anyway. I’m so proud to honour both sides of my family by carrying my two surnames (truth is, my parents will be my parents from birth till death). Some people have made remarks about the fact that I don’t have my husband’s surname but I simply say that “I got married NOT adopted.” If we have children, they’ll also be entitled to have the Mexican nationality and, therefore, they’ll have two surnames. In the end, if my husband’s name is important so is mine :)

  39. Gosh, interesting set of comments!

    Like a couple of people here I’ve got a bit of a complicated Daddy history. My name on my birth certificate is different to my name now. My Birth Father left when my twin sister and I were very young, and my mum and dad married when I was 7. My name was changed by deed poll to match his at the time.

    Since then, mum and dad broke up, and Dad and I don’t see each other very much. If I was totally honest with myself, I would like to be called Layton – my mum’s maiden name. I know most about this family, they were involved in raising me and they were very dear to me.

    But my name is not Layton, and I won’t erase my complicated and not always ideal history by changing to Layton. Nor to my fiance’s name when we marry next spring. Life is complex and leaves its traces on you – I don’t want to remove any of those. My name is my name, there it is, and there it will still be next year.

    As for kids, well who said anything about them? We’re getting married next year, that’s what we’ve promised to do, not get me knocked up. We’ll make that decision when it’s relevant.

    And don’t get me started on the Mrs and Miss thing! I changed my title to Dr this year – now that’s the end of it!

  40. It is soooo pointless now, not being indicative of male property anymore. The Hispanic system sounds ace, though maybe the child’s surname should be made up of one paternal surname from one parent and a maternal from the other!

  41. Great article. Unfortunately, in Brazil the surname that prevails is the father’s: First name + mother’s surname + father’s surname >>> the last one is passed on to the children.

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