The Life-Changing Question You Need to Answer Now That You’re Engaged
As embarrassing as it is to admit, you probably spent at least some time as a young girl doodling your future name — you know, the one you’d have when you finally married your celebrity crush, or that cute boy from algebra class — in your Trapper Keeper.
“Mrs. Donnie Wahlberg,”, you’d write, dotting the “i” with a little heart. Perhaps you’d even try a few different versions, imagining every possibility your fantasy future life held.
“Ms. Wahlberg. Ms. Jones-Wahlberg.”
But now you’re a grownup and the days of scribbling fantasy monikers in your schoolbooks are long gone. Now that you’re actually engaged or hoping to be married in a few years’ time, there’s one life-changing question you need to ask yourself: what am I going to do about my last name?
Since you’ll be signing your name on the dotted line of your marriage license (in real life), here are seven last name options you might want to think about before walking down the aisle.
1. Take your husband’s last name
This is by far the most traditional and popular route to take. Around 86% of women decide to adopt their husband’s surname.
Back in the day, for most of the 1800s and some of 1900s, a thing called coverture existed. This was a legal doctrine which stated that a husband and wife were legally one person. Once a woman decided to marry, all her rights were taken over by her husband. Getting married and taking your husband’s name just went hand-in-hand.
Coverture meant women couldn’t own property or make binding contracts. Remnants of this law existed until the 1960s and 1970s when women weren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts or apply for lines of credit in their name.
Women decide to take their husband’s name for many reasons. Some women find their husband’s name easier to pronounce or spell — or it may just sound cooler. Take Kate Winslet’s husband’s surname, Rock’nRoll. Kate Rock’nRoll? Pretty badass, right? (Note: Kate still goes by Winslet professionally and we’re not sure if she’s officially taken Ned’s last name.)
Besides potentially getting a wicked new last name, you also get the added bonus of everyone in the family sharing the same name. This includes your future kids if you plan on becoming parents.
Despite these benefits, there’s still one looming, guilt-ridden question many women have when they consider taking their husband’s name: are you a bad feminist because you want to have the same name as your partner? The short answer is “nope.” Like all the options out there, it’s up to you. It’s a decision that should fit with your own beliefs and with your partner’s beliefs.
A drawback of taking your husband’s name is the confusion you may face. For women who have a web presence or who have personally branded their products or services, there’s the problem of recognizability. Some women, like bloggers, journalists, or business owners, have personally branded themselves, their products, or their business with their maiden name and the transition to their new last name can be time-consuming and tedious.
If you’ve built up a readership or client relations, your new name may cause confusion. Readers or clients may have no clue who you are. To combat this, some women legally change their surname to their husband’s, but continue to go by their maiden name professionally to avoid confusion and keep their emails from being forwarded to people’s junk mail.
If it’s good enough for Michelle Obama, Jessica Biel and Jennifer Aniston, then it can’t be all bad, right? Even though many celebrity women adopt their husbands’ surnames, very few of them change their professional names. Although Jessica is now wed to singer Justin Timberlake and Jennifer is about to marry Justin Theroux, it’s unlikely the change will be noticeable unless you get a glimpse of their marriage license.
2. Keep your name
Nowadays, the percentage of women who are deciding to keep their last names is decreasing, but a notable 18 percent of women have still decided this is the best option for them. This number has dropped since the ‘90s when 23 percent of women kept their last names, according to a 2009 study published in the journal of Social Behavior and Personality.
However, the study, which looked at data collected between 1971 and 2005, found that far more women keep their name nowadays than in previous generations. We’ve come a long way since the ‘70s (when only one percent of women kept their names) and the ‘80s (when nine percent of women upheld their surnames).
There are many good and sound reasons for wanting to keep your name. Many women want to maintain an identity that’s separate from their husband’s. Although marriage is a union and the joining of two lives, some women want a non-relational identity where they’re not defined solely as someone’s partner.
Other women decide to keep their name for the same reason many men prefer to keep their names — to carry on their family name or to show familial respect, especially for those of immigrant ancestry.
Yep, it’s 2013, but we still live in a time when many people still think a woman should take her husband’s name. If you encounter anyone who still lives in the stone age, you may be faced with some judgy stares and small-minded comments about keeping your name. Our advice is to brush your shoulders off and not take it to heart.
Besides people not fully understanding why you’ve decided to forgo your husband’s name, there’s also the issue of naming your kids. You’ll have to decide if your child(ren) will have your last name, your husband’s last name or a combination of both. This means there’s a chance that either you or your husband won’t share the same last name as your kids.
From a feminist perspective, is keeping your father’s name (a.k.a. your current surname) any different from taking your husband’s name? For some women, it’s a huge difference. Many women prefer not to part with a name they’ve had for more than two decades. Others argue that if your last name doesn’t really belong to you since it’s a product of patriarchy, then the argument can be made that no one’s surname really belongs to them, including men such as your father and your future husband. In that case, what’s the big deal about you keeping your last name?
Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award recipient Alice Walker kept her name even after marrying (and divorcing) civil rights lawyer Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal. Walker was the first black woman to win a Pultizer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Color Purple. Another wicked author to keep her last name is Joyce Carol Oates. Oates, who won a National Book Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, decided to keep her last name after her marriages to Raymond J. Smith and Charles Gross.
Some women decide to either hyphenate their last name or to make their maiden name into their middle name and take on their husband’s last name. For example, if Jane Alice Doe married Tom Stone, she could choose to become Jane Alice Doe-Stone or Jane Doe Stone. The last example doesn’t include a technical hyphen, but we’ll include it here for simplicity’s sake.
This process is similar to legally changing your last name. You’ll have to petition the court, post notices in the paper, go to court hearings, and pay up to $400 in fees. Once that’s completed, you’ll go through the last name process by changing your ID, credit cards, and voting registration.
Hyphenating your last name with your husband’s is a good compromise for both parties. It may also keep the in-laws happy and it’s a lot more palatable for your potentially judgy friends and family members. It’s a literal sign of the symbolic joining of your two separate lives. What could be more romantic and equality driven, we ask.
Hyphenating your last name is a good compromise for both yourself and your husband, but it can get tricky when it leads to long, cumbersome last names. Sally Lexington-McAlister doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Also, what happens if your child marries another person with a hyphenated name? Olivia Lexington-McAlister Porter-Clarkson is even harder to grasp, and there’s a likely chance your kid will be cursing you out when he or she is learning how to spell their name in kindergarten.
Beyonce is calling her upcoming tour “The Mrs. Carter Show,” but she goes by a different surname in private: Knowles-Carter. Beyonce and Jay-Z are only one of many celebrity couples who decided to hyphenate their last names. Another notable figure in the past was The Beatles’ John Lennon, who later went by John Winston Ono Lennon after marrying Yoko Ono (now Yoko Ono Lennon). Former Secretary of State and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is a badass example of a woman who paired her name with her husband’s surname. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who was voted the greatest female athlete of all time by Sports Illustrated, decided to hyphenate when she married her track coach Bob Kersee.
4. Mesh or portmanteau
Some couples have decided to get creative with their last names by “meshing” or combining their last names. For example, if a woman with the surname Green was marrying a man with the last name Sanderson, the couple could choose to change their last names to Greenson. Sometimes, the combinations aren’t as seamless or as harmonious as that, though.
Meshing first showed up in the 1970s, but it gained national attention in 1992 when a couple name-meshed in a wedding announcement in the New York Times. Valerie Silverman married Michael Flaherty, to become Valerie Flaherman.
If you’re worried your future kids may not have the same last name as both you and your husband, this option solves the problem. Also, you and your husband are starting a new chapter in your lives with literally a whole, new name. This can be exciting for some newlyweds.
You’ll no longer share a last name with either your family or your husband’s family. This may result in a few raised eyebrows or the cold shoulder from family members that just don’t understand you young people nowadays. If you’re concerned about honoring your family name or keeping your family’s name alive, this may not be the best option for you.
This meshing or portmanteau last name option is hella popular among British newlyweds. Over 800 couples have name-meshed in 2012, according to the UK Deed Poll Service. Even Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa decided to mesh his former surname Villa with his wife’s last name Raigosa. Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, also decided to combine her last name with her husband’s: her former last name Wilgoren was combined with Ruderman to become Rudoren. Bridesmaids and Girls actor Chris O’Dowd also decided to combine his last name with his wife Dawn Porter, who’s a British TV personality. Dawn now goes by O’Porter.
5. Create a new last name
This option involves rolling up your sleeves and getting all inventive. There’s no meshing and no trying to figure out which is the best combination of Salvador and Estonia. There’s just two people who want to join their lives together and come up with an awesome new name.
You really get to put your creative hats on with this one. If you’ve always hated your last name or were turned off by your partner’s unfortunate surname, then this is a great option for you. Try finding names that have significance or meaning to you both — or, ones that just sound cool. The possibilities are endless.
While unlimited possibilities may seem awesome, you may have a hard time choosing just one. There’s still the issue of offending your family members by creating a whole new name. Not everyone is so progressive or understanding — especially your Gram, who’s turning 208 and recalls the day they invented the airplane. But if you’re willing to take the brunt of the evil eyes or quizzical questions and looks, it’s a great way to show your love for each other with a brand-spanking new surname.
However, like all name-changing processes, the task can be tedious. You’ll have to appear in court, pay a few hundred dollars, and make a speech to a judge. So, it could be a few more steps than what you’d take if you hyphenated or just changed your name to your husband’s.
One “frisky” blogger decided to adopt a whole new name, which was created by herself and her fiance (now her husband).
6. Take your mother’s maiden name
Instead of taking on a whole new name or creating a name from scratch, many couples have decided to pair their first names with the surnames of people they admire. Some choose to take on their mother’s maiden name or their grandmother’s maiden name.
You get to honor someone who has a special place in your hearts. You’re not just inviting them to the wedding, but taking on their last name. The person may also be deceased, and what better way to keep their memory alive than by linking your name with theirs?
If the reason you’ve taken your mother’s maiden name is as a bid to battle patriarchy, ask yourself where your mother’s maiden name came from. It came from her father, who is – gasp – a man. Some people wonder if taking your maternal grandmother’s name is any different from taking your husband’s name. That question can only be answered by you and your future husband.
One scholar decided to take on his wife’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name. William MacAskill, an ethicist at Oxford and Princeton, thought, “Why not?”
Instead of keeping his former surname, Crouch, MacAskill took the plunge and became, well, a MacAskill. His wife’s grandmother holds a special place in their hearts and the name is associated with a long line of badasses, including the strongest man ever. So who wouldn’t want that last name, right?
7. Husband takes your surname
It’s pretty rare for a husband to take his wife’s name, but it’s slowly becoming more popular. Some husbands say they prefer their wives’ names for aesthetic reasons, while others do so to preserve a sense of family lineage or family heritage. Oftentimes, a man may not have strong ties to his last name or the last name may drudge up bad memories of an absentee father. Husbands may also wish to honor their wives in the same way wives want to honor their husbands by taking their surnames.
Similarly to adopting your husband’s name, you now share a last name — your last name. This will make it easier if you decide to have children. There will be no arguments over whose last name little Johnny will take.
Many of the cons for all of these last name options are related to what other people will think or how they’ll feel. What will your family think? What will his family think? What will your friends think? The same questions come up here. If your husband isn’t friends with a bunch of dudebros, he should be fine when it comes to changing his last name to yours. It’s about what makes you happy as a couple and not about other people’s two cents.
You might also face some legal issues if your husband takes your name. In a recent story, one Florida man was in the headlines after he was accused of fraud for adopting his wife’s last name. Lazaro Dinh’s driver’s license was suspended after he presented his marriage certificate to Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles. He wanted to help his wife Hanh Dinh preserve her family name. Hanh had experienced the hardships of living in refugee camps and being estranged from her father for many years. The DMV later issued an apology and the suspension was lifted.
Believe it or not, Jack White and Meg White from the White Stripes aren’t brother and sister. When the two married, Jack (formerly Jack Gillis) took his wife’s name to become Jack White.
Todd Fink, who’s a musician with the indie band The Faint, decided to give up his last name. Fink, who formerly went by Baechle, decided it was the best option for him to change his surname to his wife Orenda Fink‘s last name. She was in the midst of launching her solo career.
“I just thought she should still be Orenda Fink…” says Todd. “It’s easier to spell and say Fink than my name. I couldn’t think of any reason except for expectation to change my name instead of hers. So I did. I like change.”