Things I Wish I Knew Before NOT Changing My Last Name

I didn’t change my last name when I got married – and there are a few things I wish I had known before making this decision.

After we got engaged, my husband, Nathan, and I were running around like crazy and choosing small details for our wedding; but there was one thing we didn’t put much thought into – whether or not I should change my last name.

We were engaged for about a year and a half, and over that time I had occasionally asked Nathan what he thought about it. Each time I was met with the same answer: “It’s your name, it’s your decision.”

I truly couldn’t gauge his interest on the topic because his interest in it didn’t exist. Finally, I decided that if it was something that I was going to do out of obligation to my husband or to honor some tradition we didn’t even know the history of, there really wasn’t a point. He completely agreed.

Now, this might be the point where it’s important to say that we’re both from the same small town in Georgia. I fully believe that the south is more progressive than people give it credit for — especially in the younger pockets. That said, I quickly came to realize that taking your husband’s last name is a widely accepted social norm.

About three months after my wedding I got a text message from a friend who had been a bridesmaid in my wedding that said, “Hi there, just noticed you hadn’t changed your name on Facebook — is it going to stay that way?”

I was a little caught off guard, but her question seemed harmless enough. I provided some rambling answer about how we didn’t see the point, how my name is tied to my identity and, because my identity wasn’t changing, I didn't feel my name should either. If I had been caught off guard after the first question, her next response sent me reeling.

“I understand not wanting to change your name on the basis of feminism, but I also know that God urges us to be happy and proud to take our husbands’ names,” she told me.

I immediately realized that our religious values were not the same and that’s O.K. While I was shocked that she projected her concern onto me, I do feel like she was doing it out of genuine concern.

That brings me to my next point, which is that I wish I had been more sensitive to her views in my response, but instead I got defensive. I told her that it wasn’t a concern of hers and that names are a deeply personal issue. To be honest, I’m not sure that was the best response for a few reasons, but my real answer about my name was complex.

While I’m not super attached to my name, I do see it as my identity. It bothers me that women are forced to leave a huge identifying factor behind while the same is not expected of men. Both my husband and I were happy with the decision, but if I could go back, I would be more prepared to handle the questions ahead of time.

Since my wedding, I’ve received other responses from people, but none that have felt rude. Of course, we constantly get letters and invitations where my name is incorrect, but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m now happy to explain our decision to people if asked, but I’ve actually found that a lot of people are also shocked that this long-standing tradition is still going strong.

To make people feel better, I used to say that when I have children, I might hyphenate my name, but I know I won’t. I’ve had people tell me that they feel bad for kids who have hyphenated names, but my husband is a teacher and says it’s not only common but accepted. What I’m saying is that I don’t think 5-year-olds are being bullied to death over a hyphen. So right now, that’s what I think we’ll do.

But if that changes? That’s probably O.K., too.

If this is a tradition that’s important to you because of religious or personal concerns, that’s great. If you don’t care — that’s cool, too.

Looking back, I think a perfectly acceptable answer would have been the truth: “Neither of us felt strongly enough about it for me to make the change.”

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