The Name Game: Should you Take your Husband’s Surname When you Marry?

Jamie Hopper

June 25, 2012

Kathryn Underwood was always last to be called in the school register. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much that I was stuck on the end every time, but it did. I felt like an outsider and I longed to be all snuggy in the middle with the Matthews’ and the Smiths’ and the Jones’. “It’s OK though”, I justified to myself, “when I get married I’ll never have to be at the end of a register ever again…”

And then I married a Williams.

When I married, keeping my maiden name was something I never even considered. I’m actually a little surprised with myself that this was one of the few traditions that I never thought to rebel against! I’ve personally never felt that taking my husband’s name had anything to do with me being an oppressed woman, and I certainly never felt it was an archaic tradition that made me somehow become my husband’s possession (just as I didn’t even consider that my father wouldn’t walk me down the aisle. I actually felt this was a really special part of our wedding). I know many people do feel this, but me? Nah not so much…

I love that we have the same name and we often joke about being ‘Team Williams’. I never felt particularly tied to my old surname. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t define me. I defined me. However I think deciding people should call me Kat instead of Kathryn (when I was about 16) was empowering. I chose to be Kat, just as I chose to be a Williams.

However I really started to think about this topic when I received the following email last week. Charlotte has, without a doubt, the coolest surname ever and is unsure of what to do with it when she marries her boy…

Hello Kat

Firstly may I say precisely how much I love your blog! Barely a day goes by when I’m not pawing over its beautifully designed pages. Thank you for existing!

Now on to my question. I want to make it clear that I’m not expecting a conclusive answer but I want to discuss this issue with someone objective who will share their opinion without rolling their eyes at me and telling me “that’s just the way it is – get over it!”

My fiancé and I planning to get married in 2014. We already have distinct plans and ideas for the day and wanted to get everything sorted as far in advance as possible so we can use our outstanding creativity to DIY the hell out of many many things. However, one detail we’re still confused about is our names. I have a pretty wonderful surname. My surname is Cloud. It makes me smile every time someone tells me how nice a name that is and it’s always bothered me that I’d have to drop it. I decided I didn’t want to drop it a while ago, but my fiancé won’t take mine. Although his argument isn’t that “it’s not the man’s job to take another name” (I have heard this opinion a lot recently!) it still leaves me wondering what on earth we’re to do. His surname (Fleming) is just a general English surname that a good few people will have. It’s not offensive, but it does become so when coupled with Cloud, so double barrelled is right out.

I then thought about each of us keeping our own surnames. I really don’t like this idea. I do feel that sharing surnames is an important part of being a married couple, and if we don’t share surnames then I won’t feel as married as I could. If we have children, I don’t want them to have a different surname to either of us; I want people to know that they’re ours, not just mine or just his.

I have heard of couples inventing their own surnames in situations like this but I’m quite lost now. I’m not really sure what I want to do and the easiest thing may well be to suck it up and drop my surname. Our families will be expecting it and if he drops his in any way they may feel betrayed. This does remind me though that many marriage traditions exist because a woman was property to be traded, and I don’t want to be branded as the property of his family name. I know that attitude might not fit in nicely within the ideals of someone who values marriage, but I’m full of contradictions!

Is this a situation you’ve come across before? I would appreciate some words of wisdom.

Many thanks

Charlotte Cloud

Charlotte Cloud! Yes, she’s right, that is the coolest name ever. It certainly made me smile as I saw it sat there, looking all cute and pretty on the page. Honestly though, I don’t feel well equiped enough to answer her dilemma on my own. My one tiny piece of advice would be that you have to do what’s right for you. In your gut you probably know what the right choice is and just because there are pressures from both camps (to change or not to change) you are the only person who can say what is right or wrong for you. After all it’s no-one’s name but your own!

To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary. When we take away the right to an individual name, we symbolically take away the right to be an individual. Immigration officials did this to refugees; husbands routinely do it to wives. – Erica Jong

Anyway, in order to get a more rounded idea of opinions on this subject, I took to twitter and facebook and asked my wonderful followers to help me out. And oh boy did you! In droves! I had literally hundreds of messages from you all (you can see the ones that were posted directly to facebook here). I wish I could post them all but alas it would equate to the worlds longest blog post so here are just a few of my favourites…

♥ Emily Quinton – I have pretty much always know that I wouldn’t take my husband’s name if I ever got married, and I interestingly so has my sister. I was absolutely sure about it until my little girl asked me why I wasn’t a Lewandowski too and it was nearly enough to make me do it. But no, I have kept my name.

However, we have had several conversations about merging our two names and becoming Quinski. Some of our friends call us the Quinski family and I do really like it. The coming together of two families into one new name. We haven’t done it yet and I’m not sure if we ever will but you never know! There was some objection from family members, so perhaps it might be too political and a step too far. I think the fact I haven’t changed my name is enough for some people!

 Lyndsay Kirkham – I didn’t change my name. Firstly, we were living in Brussels, Belgium at the time and it just isn’t done there, so the logistics of getting name changed on documents would have been a nightmare (and you do not want to do anything administrative if you are an expat living in Brussels).

Secondly, I was pregnant with my son and the idea of him carrying both of our names was really lovely to me. My husband is English and I am Canadian, so I really liked the idea of our son carrying both of his cultures in his hyphenated name.

Third, my name is my own. I have had this sucker my whole life and didn’t see why I should take the name of my husband. It did seem a bit archaic and unnecessary to me. I mean, it is lovely and romantic to think of becoming one family under one name – but that really isn’t what marriage or family is about. It isn’t about the symbols, it is about the day to day respect and love that you give each other and how you treat your marriage in ‘real time’.

Finally, I am a writer and didn’t want to take away the connections to my poetry and articles. Few they may be, I didn’t want to start fresh as a Mrs….

♥ Corinne Hills – When I got married (the first time) I happened to marry someone with the same surname (no, we weren’t related!) so I kept my surname. Now I am remarrying my partner is taking MY surname, this is partly because we have children and I have a son from my 1st marriage so I want us all to have the same name.

Changing your name is a tradition, nothing more and keeping your own name shows no less of a commitment to your lives together. I like that my partner has changed his name, his dad left when he was a baby so he was never very attached to his name which helped. I suppose if you are planning a family it can be nice to share a name.

♥ Clare Waterfall-Hallam – I am a Waterfall by birth. I got stick for it being a child, then Sarah Green (the real one) told me through the telly that it was a lovely name. Something I already knew, but it made a 6 year old me brush off the childish comments more easily. As you can imagine there are not many of us Waterfalls so the name is very defining. On occasions our name ‘sticks’ and can be a hindrance, it can also be a gift.

As a love struck teenager-20 something, I’d practice my then-boyfriend’s surname as my married signature. After all that is what you do, take his name. Then the bastard broke my heart and I spent a long time not knowing who or what I was. After a long time I looked back at the 6 year old me. What did I want to be when I grew up? So I made big efforts, with the help of a great support team and became who I wanted to be. At 32 years old I was marrying my Rob. He is an awesome man but I had taken a long journey to appreciate that I am an awesome person too. I had been Clare Waterfall for these 32 years, I liked her and wasn’t willing to leave her. My Dad has 3 daughters and his brother is in Canada so our line stops here. It’s not an age old lineage, we adopted the name 3 generations ago when the Birches of Waterfall moved to Manchester. I simply wanted to keep something of my Dad and my Grandpa and of me.

Another thing that bugs me is the assumption that a woman ‘should’ take her husband’s name. Like she belongs to him in the same way your mum writes your name in your school jumper, let’s everyone know who’s it is! This opinion has come with time and experience of a shocking presence of latent and sometimes aggressive sexism that runs still in our generation (that’s another story all together). I decided that I should like to double barrel. I want to share a family name with him and any kids. For my creative work and tv credits I retain Clare Waterfall. For school I am just Hallam, it saves the kids doing Facebook stalking etc. and gives me a very clear separation between teaching and making.

My husband initially remarked that I should take his name as it’s commonplace in the UK. I expressed my feelings and he totally got it! He told me he was marrying Clare Waterfall and that was all that mattered. However he didn’t want to take my name, for pretty much the same reasons, all his tv credits are Hallam, plus I think the latent sexism crept in, a proud and traditional man in many ways. With regards our children, Rob was quite insistent that they be Waterfall Hallam over Hallam Waterfall, which was a relief as that is what I wanted too! I cover all bases because ultimately my heart lies in many camps. I do love it when they call ‘Mr and Mrs Hallam’ to a table. I love being Clare Waterfall and I love sharing my name with my son. I am indecisive and greedy. I don’t know why people are reluctant to double barrel. It is not a snobbery or elitism thing. It is pride in both families heritage. I also cannot understand why it has to be an issue. My friend’s country you keep your name, there isn’t even an equivalent of Mrs. Mrs, belonging to Mr.

I’m still not sure what the correct and proper camp is, perhaps I’m straddling the two or perhaps I’ve created my own. Either way I’m happy with my many names! I would just like to add, when facing protestations from chaps over why I didn’t automatically take Rob’s name, I ask them if they would take their wife’s. Most flat out refuse with many a justification, many of them are the same as mine. Sometimes that quells the issue, other people simply don’t get it.

I wish it really didn’t matter, after all, A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

♥ Jill Blanc – I love my surname “Blanc” so didn’t want to take my husband’s name “McDermott” (Ugggh!), and was very adamant about it, which kind of disappointed him. As it was getting closer to the wedding, we were having hassle with family and stuff so wanted to show my love for my wonderfully supportive husband-to-be, so I told him I would take his name… he actually got really emotional and really appreciated it. It made me happy that I made him happy!

I then decided to start designing wedding stationery and Jill McDermott just didn’t have that creative ring to it so I went back to Jill Blanc. Now in my personal life I am known as Jill McDermott… and in my work life I am known as Jill Blanc… I love the separation of it!

Gilly Rosenthol – My fiancé and I started discussing marriage maybe two weeks after we started dating.  A few days later, I turned to him and said suddenly “I don’t have to take your name, do I?”  He said “Good god, no!”  Even as a kid, thinking about my future marriage, the idea of taking my husband’s name never felt right to me.  Why would I suddenly give up my identity to take on his?  I can see that it’s convenient for a family to have one joint name when there are children involved, but I’ve never felt the urge to have children, and since I’m 42 and my fiancé already has a 15-year-old daughter, we’re definitely not planning on having any more.  So when we marry, we will each get to keep our own names, with all of their history and identity, while we join together to create a new identity as a family.

As to advice for someone who isn’t sure she wants to change her name… I’d say, first of all, try to look at the reasons why you feel you should, or reasons why you don’t want to, and explore the feelings behind them.  And remember that the only choices are not keeping your own name or taking his!  You can hyphenate, you can both take a new name together, you can change your middle name, you can keep your names but come up with a plan for naming future children, you can keep your name professionally but change it personally… you can do pretty much anything you can come up with that feels true to yourself and your partner.

♥ Fiona Howard – soon to become Butler I’m sure if there are 10 brides there will be 10 different reasons why they decide not to take husband’s surname. I’m also sure my story will be a little controversial and the truth is I think I didn’t take my first husband’s name because I wasn’t 100% committed to my marriage – or so I realised when it collapsed.

I always said I didn’t want to change my name for reasons like a) I’m too lazy, b) In Japan (where I was born & my Mum is from) you have to change your name and I wanted to rebel against that heritage, and c) I’m an only child so would be nice to keep my surname. And insisted I was called Ms Howard. But looking back I think I didn’t want to change it because I didn’t want to fully be ‘in’ the marriage. I must have had some reservations. We married after being together for 8 years and seemed natural thing to do. I loved him but I guess I wasn’t in love with him any more (cliché but it’s true) Marriage lasted 2 years, and after I told my mum I’m leaving him, she told me that she always knew I shouldn’t have married him. Mum knows best!

I’ve met someone wonderful now, got engaged 6 months after we met and getting married in 3 months time. And I can’t wait to change my name. It definitely feels different from it was with my ex – I will be so proud to be called Mrs Butler.

♥ Audrey Caldwell – I did take my husband’s last name. Here’s why: I liked it and even if you keep your maiden name, the truth is the maiden name is still your father’s name (or Grandfather’s if your mother kept her maiden name, but it comes from a male head of family eventually). If most women avoid taking their husband’s name for sake of feminism, keeping their father’s name – a symbol of paternal familial ownership – is still not any mark of feminist revolt and thus defeats the purpose of not taking a marital name! So, just thought I would share that, as it helped me make my decision when I wed.

The true goal of the feminist revolution is to allow women choices, so choose whenever name you like and want most!

Vicky Holmes – I am getting married in September and it has been quite a job deciding what to do with my surname.

I work in academia, I have publications under my maiden name and therefore can’t start publishing in another surname (although I know others who have). I have the option of having a work name and a personal name.  However, from people I know who have done this it can cause quite a headache. For example, travelling to conferences – you are invited under your work name, but your passport has your married name.

Plus, after 30 years of having this surname, I am simply just quite attached to it (I did consider the double-barrel route, but “Dyson-Holmes” sounds like a hybrid cleaner). Although, I won’t be offended if people call me Mrs Dyson.

People reactions to me not changing my surname has been quite surprising.  While others have said ‘why would you?’, others have implied I am not wholly committed to the marriage if I do not take my husband’s surname.

Asking my students opinion (most of whom are 18), both male and females have said they expect that their wives would keep their maiden name.  However, the boys then added that they will expect their children to take their surname.

My advice is, don’t feel pressured into changing your surname, do what you feel comfortable with.

♥ Mandy O’Hara – After I marry in a little over a month, I WILL be taking my fiances name. I LOVE my family name and I’m sad to see it go, but at the end of the day, it’s only a name. I know I will still be an O’Hara at heart and no one can take that away with a legal document. I take my fiances name with pride not because he “owns me” now but because we love and respect each other and for me personally it’s important that our (future hopefully!) children have the same last name as both of us. It may be an ‘outdated’ tradition but I look forward to the day when I can proudly write Beck behind my first name as a sign of our love.

♥ Lydia Stamps – My maiden name ‘Stamps’ is a pretty unusual name, I love it and it’s such a part of my identity – ballsy and pretty strong. So understandably I was reluctant to change my name, especially as my husband’s name is rather ‘beige’ – Evans. In the end however I went ahead with a name change as it was really important to me that as we go forward we have a joined family identity. We plan to have kids and personally, I want us to be bonded and joined by name, to feel like a unit in some way. We did consider going double barrelled, but our names don’t really work together. My husband and his family are also very proud of their Welsh heritage and for his family it was a big deal that I was ‘becoming an Evans’. While I think this is utter tosh, and hate the idea that I’m now part of some kind of clan I do think it’s great that they are so proud of their family and that’s no bad thing to be a part of.

I did draw the line at a family crest ring I might add, and I have insisted that when my passport needs changing my husband will pay for that entirely! It’s his name after all! I would advise anyone who doesn’t want to change their name to stay strong. I’m lucky that my maiden name is still a part of my identity via my business and I’m proud that I still have that part of my roots present in my life day to day. If I didn’t I would have probably stayed a ‘stampsy’. I don’t think people realise the importance of a name until it’s gone it’s not a decision to take lightly if you’re on the fence.

♥ Caroline Baines – I don’t think it’s a case of possession, I think it more symbolisies you becoming a family. Your dad ‘giving you away’ to me is just “I’ve taken care of her for so many years, please love her, and look after her too” not, “she was mine and now she’s yours”. I love my fiance so much, and even though his last name clashes with my first name (I’ll become Caroline Crilly, it sounds like you have a mouthful when you say it aloud!) I’ll be taking it with pride. I’d like our children to have the same name as both parents. I do see why some people chose to keep their maiden name though, one of my closest friends didn’t bother double barreling, because she didn’t want to lose her last name (it’s a very unusual last name, with not many family members to carry it on).

♥ Claire Jackson – After ENDLESS deliberation (and long, agonising chats with my besties) I’ve finally decided to change my middle name to my maiden name and take my partners surname after all. I’ve already changed my surname since I was a teenager through my parents divorce, so it really was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I sure am glad my ‘CJ’ tattoo will still represent who I am today.

♥ Paloma Murillo Trigo – For me it was a tricky one. In Spain, where I was born, no-one loses their maiden name. Children get 2 surnames, first dad’s and then mum’s (my full name is Paloma Murillo Trigo, Murillo being my dad’s last name and Trigo my mum’s) And this is the way it is, and always has been.

So when I got engaged to my lovely English now husband, it wasn’t an option, I didn’t like the idea of becoming Mrs X, I wanted to keep my name, because this is what I grew up with, this is what I know, and I like my surname (Murillo was a very talented artist!) For these exact reasons my husband was a bit annoyed, as he always thought his wife would have the same name as him.

So I decided to look into it, and see if I could maybe have both of our surnames in a double barrelled one… and it turns out, in Spain, you can only change your name under a number of circumstances, Marriage not being one of them (‘yay!’ I thought perfect excuse…)

Rebecca Paul – I would burn my bra and swing it happily round my head alight, for women’s rights and equality (in both directions, it is a two way street after all), and although I’d have a very cold lady front and be down one bra, I’d do it with the smile of knowing I believed in what I was doing.

I plan to marry next year, and I already know for certain that I will be taking Paul’s (my HTB’s) surname. It isn’t because I feel I should, it isn’t because it is expected of me, it isn’t even because I prefer his surname to my own. It is because I want to, more than anything in the world…

I grew up in a multi-divorce family, my parents are divorced, my maternal grandparents are divorced, and despite that not putting me off marriage, it has meant that I yearn for a single family name. I yearn for my children’s parents have the same surname as they do. Throughout school I hated having to explain that my mother had a different surname, and yes, that my two youngest brothers did too. It made me feel our family was fragmented. My younger brother took it literally and went off the rails, only listening to those in our family with the same surname as us two, clinging and clawing on to his identity, taking years to feel truly like himself. And although I never kicked out, I felt the same.

I want ‘Team Lismer’. I want people to know that we face the world together as a unit, that we are part of something bigger and that we belong to the same family.

So why not have him take my surname I hear you cry? He would in a heartbeat…

But my surname is Paul. And no-one would ever take him seriously again…

♥ Gala Darling – I changed my name to Gala Lumiere Darling when I was 23 years old. The name came to me in a dream, I wrote it down, & made it legal a couple of months later. For me, changing my name was an act of magical transformation. I had never identified with the name I was given at birth, so choosing a new moniker felt like I was establishing my independence, asserting my place in the world. I have always felt like Gala Darling is a big name, one I have to live up to, & I feel like I am becoming that person more & more every day.

I never identified with my birth name. I was always in a class at school with a bunch of other Amy’s, so I’d be “Amy P” or whatever & it was terrible. It just didn’t feel like it fit. I started using the internet in ’96 & the ability to choose your own name or handle was so exciting to me – it felt like I could step into an identify that was more comfortable. I suppose that is what empowered me to make the choice to legally change my name in the first place! Good old internet!

When my husband & I got engaged, I never even considered taking his surname.  Actually, he thinks about officially becoming “Mr. Darling” quite regularly!

I think from these few messages alone, it’s clear to see that no-one can give anyone else a conclusive answer. It’s easy to see why some people find the whole subject such a minefield actually!

What you you think? I’d love to hear more ideas and opinions on this subject especially if you have any advice for Miss Cloud.

Did you take your partner’s name or did he/she take yours? Or did you keep your own individual surnames? Did the thought of having children with a different name to your own have any influence? What do you think about making up your own surname and would you ever do it? (I kinda love this idea…) I’d also really love to hear from any gay couples – what are your plans when you marry?