When You Say “I Do,” Does That Mean “I Do Take Your Name?”

For women, a name change after marriage went from being an assumed practice to a contentious subject in the past few decades.

Following the feminist foment of the 70s, many women opted against a name change after marriage. Now in the first few decades of the 21st century, the issue is unclear. Some women elect to change their name while others come up with compromises such as hyphenation or decline altogether.

When I envisioned marriage, I had always assumed that I would take my husband’s name.

I hadn’t spent a long time thinking about weddings. It was always a passing thought as I imagined what it would be to take my then boyfriend’s name. However, as I was planning my wedding, the choice didn’t’ seem so clear.

There were certainly advantages to taking my husband’s name. My maiden name “Shoenberger” was constantly misspelled and a perennial issue my entire life as I have to check under both Shoenberger and Schoenberger. Moreover, when I was a child with a learning disability, the length of the name certainly made my life more challenging. My fiancé’s name was a mere four letters.

On the other hand, I had seen women around me go through the process of changing their name.

Coworkers went through the painful process of getting their identification cards, credit cards, and other signifiers of the modern world changed. I watched them juggling birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificates and even a misspelled new driver’s license.

The worst case scenario was when I heard about an acquaintance who had missed out on a prestigious scholarship in the 70s because there was confusion over her maiden and married names. I also knew of several women who had gotten divorced but decided not to change their names back to their maiden names.

In a few instances, I had heard stories of acquaintances and friends around me that told me that taking their husband’s name was a deal breaker. If they didn’t take the name, their husband-to-be wouldn’t proceed with the wedding. The prospect of having a showdown like that was daunting.

But it was more than just the hassle of changing one’s name. There was a matter of legacy.

I know that some women had taken the custom of taking their maiden name and making it their middle name. However, I didn’t relish this.

My grandfather did not have any male children so his name is only passed on through the middle names of several grandchildren. I was immensely proud of bearing his name. As I thought about it more, I felt the same way about my last name. I wanted it to go forward, (even though I had a half-brother who also bore it). I realized how proud I was of it, misspellings and all.

After the engagement and the ring, are you considering a name change after marriage?

I decided to keep my name.

Thankfully, my then fiancé, now husband, had no thoughts on the matter. It was up to me, he told me. Which is exactly how it should be. My parents felt the same way as did my in-laws.

My grandmother, however, was aghast. For months up to and after my wedding, she’d bring it up every time I’d see her, making a face. She would always say, “I was proud of taking my husband’s name.” She strongly disapproved. But she was the only one who has overtly commented on my choice.

I talked to two other women about their decisions to take or not take their husband’s’ names. The first decided against it.

She told me, “I kept my name first and foremost because I have a professional standing with my unmarried name and my professional life would become disjointed if I changed names.”

Another reason she wanted to keep her name was to also keep her autonomy. She feared “that the second I became a wife, suddenly what I had done with my life no longer mattered.” In keeping her name, she felt it valued her and her husband as separate and accomplished people.

When I asked her how her decision was received, she told me: “[My husband] and his family were not happy. [He] really wanted me, at first, to change my name. That it was the “right” thing to do and that this is just how it is done.

“His family was not pleased either. They thought it was an affront that I didn’t take his name. I told them in no uncertain terms that if their son loved me and I loved him, that it didn’t matter one iota. This wasn’t the dark ages, and I have a career to myself under my given name.

“My friends really don’t care. All those people that have known me since high school, college, masters, law school, they just saw it as me being me… His friends, however, are far more traditionalist… I don’t want a traditionalist role, why should I have to have a traditionalist household? If there’s no law against it, it’s my life. I get to make the rules.”

I talked to another woman who did change her name.

I asked her why she made the decision and she said that the biggest factor was that she felt her maiden name was very generic. “My last name was shortened,” she said. “It’s an immigration thing. A lot of names were shortened to the same syllable… My name is the Jewish female equivalent of John Smith.” She added, “[my husband’s name] is pretty. It has a musical sound. If I had married someone else [with a different last name], I would not have.”

I asked what her family or now husband felt about the issue. She said, “The most important thing was that my family didn’t assume one way or another. Probably thought I wouldn’t. It was just completely my choice. If anyone had felt one way or another, I would have done the opposite. [My husband] didn’t care at all. If anything, he was surprised. Didn’t think I would actually put in the effort to do it.”

She said she didn’t face any personal backlash for changing her name, but she did encounter a lot of negative opinions online about the practice being anti-feminist — a viewpoint with which she disagrees. “As long as it is a choice, to make a choice is feminist,” she said. And then she added: “You can’t say it makes me the property of my husband any more than my maiden name made me the property of my dad.”

Ultimately, considering a name change after marriage should be one’s own.

That’s what feminism is really supposed to be about. Choice.

Beyond the Gender Norm: Taking a Married Name

I realized that there were far more stories to tell about this, especially beyond the heterosexual continuum.

When a person gets married, they are presented with a choice: do they take their spouse’s name or not? How does gender and societal expectations play into it?

Several months ago, I reported on my own experiences when I got married and the decisions of two women who made their own choices about taking a married name. I elected to keep my name in part to honor my own family, a disinclination for the process and a few other reasons. For the two I interviewed, their decisions had little to do with tradition.

When the article came out, I was astonished to find out how many people responded. People I hadn’t heard of were telling me about their experiences. It was more than an either or: take the name or not. There are many more additional possibilities  including combining names, and even creating new names.

I talked to three more couples about their experiences when they married. Names have been changed for anonymity.

Her husband decided to hyphenate his name too.

On a bright Sunday morning in October, I met with a lovely couple in a local coffee shop: “Samantha and Lawrence.” Lawrence had made the decision to hyphenate his name with Samatha’s.

“I had been given my grandfather’s name as my middle name because my mom very much valued her family name. I didn’t,” he said.

He went on to say that he comes from a very large family.

“While I love my mom and dad, I didn’t have an attachment to that idea.,” Lawrence continued. “So, when I got married, I just figured I would change my name. I think that hyphenating my name has made me closer to [her] family, which I really enjoy.”

Lawrence told me that he’s heard of those who take pride in their name.

“I know a lot of guys feel that they have to spread their name, but I have no intention of having children, I think helps part of it,” he said.

When I asked how his family handled his decision, he told me his parents are in denial.

“My mom still writes checks to me under my [old name],” he said.

When I questioned  Samantha about how her family reacted to his decision, she said they loved it.

“My family really likes that he’s into the name,” she said.” I think my dad really likes it a lot. Not in ‘you have to pass it down’ but as a gesture, you’ve become part of this. It feels more inclusive.”

Lawrence noted that the federal government makes it easy to change your name. “It takes about 15 minutes,” he said.

However, the state they live in is a different process. “I have been trying for three and half years to change my name on all documents… the State of Illinois refuses to do it unless I provide a marriage license, proof that I have changed my name with the federal government, three pieces of mail and some other stuff.”

His former colleagues at the company he worked when they got married were fine with it. His friends don’t call each other by their last name.

“With Internet culture, it’s much easier to have a different last name then you actually have.” his wife added. “We have a shared name on Facebook, so we have the sense that we are totally together without having to jump through any of the bureaucratic hoops.”

I asked Samantha about her decision not to change her name and she told me, “I never thought I would change my name.

“I never had any intention of doing so from an early age,” she said.” I decided I would never get married. If I got married by some strange coincidence, I would stick with what I liked. This is partially based a lot on feminist ideal.”

She explained that her mother didn’t change her name and was a model for her.

“It seemed difficulty to functionally change your name in society,” she continued.The bureaucracy of it. As [my husband] was going through it, I was like this was as terrible as I thought.”

There are  also professional considerations to take into account.

Lawrence and Samantha did note that they considered creating a new surname entirely.

“I believe we were going with Bloodaxe for a long period of time. Because it sounds real badass…I pulled back,” she said. “We both decided this was not, perhaps, how we wanted to be known at age 75.”

At the end of our interview, Lawrence indicated  it’s something he thinks more men should try.

“It’s one of the few pieces of toxic masculinity that I kinda find surprising in people.,” he said. “Some guys are just really resistant against this when they would be otherwise great feminists. It seems like one of those things: ‘Why would I even do this?’

He explained that, for him, it wasn’t a hesitation. “I wanted to be part of this family and I had in a way make myself closer to it. So I did it.”

Deciding which last name to take after the wedding might be easier for two men.

Newlywed Gay Couple Dancing on Wedding Celebration

A young gay couple in a bustling sandwich shop explained how things are easier for them.  Nearby us, a guitarist crooned classic folk and rock and roll songs.

I asked “Walter and Mark” about their decision not to change their names when they got married two years ago.

“We benefit in this regard from the same thing that our wedding benefited from, which is nobody has any preset expectations about a gay marriage,” Walter explained. ”In fact, it’s because of that. So far, we have not changed our names because people do not expect men to. We just figured it would be much more of a hassle than it would be for a woman, who people expect to have a maiden name or a hyphenated name.”

He said that for a man to change his name he thought people would find it suspicious or confusing. But there were other considerations. Mark is not currently a US citizen and explained, “That really complicated things. Changing your name whilst applying for your permanent residency.”

“My parents hyphenate our names when they send us packages.,” Mark said when explaining how others respond respond to their decision. “And our dogs have hyphenated names but we don’t.”

Walter noted that his father had a different reaction. He was offended Walter’s sister-in-law didn’t change her name when she and Walter’s brother married.

“I was talking to him about us doing it. He said, ‘Yeah, it would be silly for two men to change their name,’” Walter said.“Which is kinda sexist. I then I said, if we did change it, [we would hyphenate it one way]. He immediately said, ‘That sounds really cool. You should change it.’ Because it’s an aristocratic sounding name.”

At the end of the interview, Mark noted that no one has ever asked him about their married name before.

It felt very heteronormative to ask Molly to change her last name.

My final interview was with a young lesbian couple who just had their first child.

“Molly and Megan” decided what made them hyphenate their names when they married.

“I didn’t want to lose my last name.,” Megan said. “I had a lot of identity wrapped up in it. Ironically, I am more connected to my mom’s side of the family, but the last name is very Irish and I connect with my Irish roots.”

She explained that it felt heteronormative to ask Molly to change her name.

“We also knew we wanted to have kids and we wanted to share a last name with them, especially since I wouldn’t be connected genetically to them,” Megan continued. “Molly’s last name is already hyphenated and I certainly wasn’t going to have a triple hyphenated last name! She had a connection with [one of] the last name[s] so we hyphenated [with that].”

Neither of their families had a strong reaction and friends don’t care much either.

“The public in general is very confused by hyphenated last names and online forms often don’t let you add special characters,” Megan said. “So my name is now constantly being butchered, which is annoying.”

Sometimes the way a last name sounds determines

From these interviews, similar themes arose from my original interview. The issue of bureaucracy was a major one.  Changing names has implications for one’s career or even citizenship. There’s the bureaucratic hurdles of simply getting a named changed, especially in Illinois.

I was also struck by the issue of aesthetic of the names themselves. There was a sense with almost everyone about how certain names sounded better together, whether it was a first and last name, or the order of hyphenating names. There was simply a more harmonious way to combine names.

I briefly considered hyphenating my name with my husband’s but recalled how complicated it was to spell my last name as a dyslexic school child. As for creating a new surname, my husband and I considered combining our names in interesting ways: Shiz, Shoenpriz, Prizenberger…but none seemed to satisfy either of us.

One interesting theme that came up was the issue of children. Both Megan and Molly and Mark and Walter mentioned that they wanted to change their name if they had kids while Samantha and Lawrence specifically mentioned they were not.

That became the problem with my own long last name as a child. My mom told me that was part of her rationale for changing her name. My husband and I haven’t really discussed how we’ll handle this possibility but it’s an important consideration. Especially in light of my own experiences as a dyslexic child.

I was interested in how society approached the issue of gender when it came to the names. As Mark and Walter noted, no one had any expectation of them to change their names; no one had even asked. Lawrence noted how few men even consider changing or adding their wife’s name to their own.

These contrast with the viewpoints of all the women in my little study. We all had thought about the possibility. As women, we had grown up in a society that expected it. We all just had strong decisions or attachments to our names.

Of course, I should talk to my husband about the possibility of changing our names to the Bookaxes.

Puns, Regicide and Snowball Fights: One Couple’s Celebration of St. Valentine’s Day

Some couples have romantic dinners or go on exotic vacations for Valentine’s Day. We took a different route.

My husband and I find something decidedly unsexy to celebrate this day in February. Even from the very beginning, we’ve found creative ways to play with the concept of the day.

Nothing says I love you like Shakespearean regicide.

Shakespeare's for valentine's day

Our first Valentine’s day was spent seeing A Year in Magical Thinking by Joan Didion that was her true story of her attempt to deal with the death of her husband and daughter in the same year. Sexy, no? It still remains one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

The following year, we made a point of seeing Shakespeare’s Richard II that deals with a man child whose bad decisions end up resulting in the loss of his throne and his life. Not one of Shakespeare’s better known romantic plays. And so on and so forth.

Two times, we’ve done crisis rooms as Valentine’s day adventures. The first was part of “The Last Defenders” where we had to dress in orange jumpsuits and work with 15 other people to try to prevent a nuclear holocaust. Sadly, we failed and everyone died.

Last year, we gathered a group of friends together in order to solve a crisis room, one of those new interactive puzzle rooms where you have an hour to solve a problem. We succeeded in escaping from a runaway train car through a combination of collective problem-solving and inspiration.

Another year we were teetotalers for the Chicago Poetry Bordello, waving signs against the forbidden drink and protesting outside the venue in a snowstorm. But that’s an entirely different story.

For me, Valentine’s Day was always a little silly.

valentine's day children

I don’t mean that the holiday is silly in itself. I have yet to shake the initial meaning of the day as a child. In grammar school, I loved Valentine’s Day since it meant punny valentines and candy. Think “I Choo-Choo Choose You” valentine from The Simpsons.

 It felt like a lesser Halloween but in the middle of the winter. Sometimes, I would even hand make the valentines because it was good to make things by hand.

Even later on in my life, I still found myself drawn to the joviality of the day. I felt disconnected from the romantic overtones, the marketing that said that you were less than fully in love unless you bought them XYZ.

Even in college, I remember buying ridiculous animal valentines with punderful sayings and giving them to my friend. I even sent one in an envelope to a friend in another state.

I learned in college that not everyone felt the same way.

Everyone had a ticket on the Anti-Valentine’s Day Train. It was everyone. It didn’t matter your gender or your relationship status. I heard nothing from my friends who I sent valentines to in other states. Talking to folks in college, Valentine’s Day was perceived as this Hallmark holiday, another mark of our over consumptive society. It was a holiday to make single people feel bad.  If it was noted at all, it was with a groan. And maybe a shopping spree for discount candy on the 15th.

Even my then boyfriend was vehemently opposed to it. I asked him about it and his reply was “Shouldn’t you be treating your loved one well everyday?” I had no response to that. So we didn’t do much for the day.

In graduate school, I once asked a friend to dinner on Valentine’s Day. I remembered that it was the holiday since I bought her and her boyfriend silly Valentine’s day gift. It was two of those biting sticks with dinosaur heads. The ones where you had a head on a long stick and pressed a button to open and close the mouth.

Only after dinner, did it even occur to me that perhaps they wanted to have a romantic night. (She was delighted at the gift and clearly did not have strong Valentine’s Day opinions.)

Things changed delightfully when started dating my now husband

valentine's day ride

My now husband didn’t seem to have the same strong opinions about the day. And I still enjoyed the wackiness of it.

We treated most of these special events as a bit of a lark. Two weeks before our wedding, we had a joint bachelor party playing laser tag where we were on opposite teams. It made sense given the nature of our relationship. At karaoke, we sing classic love songs like “This is Halloween” or the Clash’s “London Calling” or on very special occasions “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols.

Naturally, our Valentine’s day would continue our strangeness.

This year, as we begin planning for Valentine’s Day, we’re going in a slightly new but entirely appropriate direction. We are thinking more combative…like a snowball fight. But that depends on snow. Or perhaps laser tag like our joint Bachelor’s party.

Either way, we are going to celebrate Valentine’s day in our own way.

Looking for more adventures for Valentine’s Day? Check out The Best Unconventional Date Movies For Your Valentine’s Day or look for ways you can show your community love with How To Show Love By Making a Difference This Valentine’s Day.

Handling Living in between Two Places in a Relationship

Who Stays Where, When, and Why

I was at the stage of a relationship where I was spending most of my time at my boyfriend’s apartment. We had been dating for almost three years and it happened naturally. I simply found myself spending more and more time at his place.

There were obvious reasons why it happened. There was the issue of space and privacy. I shared an apartment with three roommates while my boyfriend lived with his dog in his own place.

And there was the issue of location. I was in the middle of my evening MBA program while working full time. The commute to my neighborhood was not ideal. Things got dicier at night. I only took the train in the early morning due to the number of shootings that occurred near it at other times of the day. Leaving class at 9pm meant a very long bus ride or taking the train and then transferring to the bus. Coming home was stressful and exhausting. His place was easier to get to from school; it was simply a shorter bus ride into a neighborhood that had fewer problems.

But these reasons weren’t consciously on mind. We were simply getting used to another’s company on a day to day basis. We liked being around one another, even first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Decisions Around A Drawer of My Own

Couple On Kitchen

While our relationship was going in good places, the stress of living between two places was rising. I had to be strategic about the clothing I was going to wear, the books I would need, and even the food I ate. I constantly had to think ahead: what was I going to need for the next few days? It was a 20-30 minute drive from his place to mine, not to mention the parking situation.

I began perpetually carrying around a blue bag that contained a few pairs of clothing for the week and my phone charger. I remember how nervous I was about asking to keep a toothbrush and comb and having my own drawer for clothing. But these were the practicalities of our living situation. Clean teeth, tamed hair (sorta) and not wearing clothes twice in a row to work have real impacts on your mental and physical health.

However, some of these caused their own issues. Having a drawer of clothing meant that I had to find a way to clean that clothing. No one does my laundry for me! Therefore, there was sometimes a lot of carrying of dirty clothes around town.

On the textbook side, I had a lot of online textbooks which made it easier as long as I had my iPad. However, I did have to be conscious of where my computer was just in case I had to write papers.

Food was a real bee in my bonnet. Buying a gallon of milk became foolish. I would use a tiny portion of it in my morning tea. I tried to convince my roommates to use it so at least the milk wouldn’t spoil but they didn’t use it enough. I started only buying food and drink on an as-needed basis, very French, I suppose. The boyfriend would stock things I liked to eat in the fridge, which helped extensively.

Negotiating Roommates Feelings

I interviewed several other women about their experiences in this liminal stage of their relationships.

In an interview with Samantha (not her real name), she told me, “I actually pretty much lived over at his place for 2ish years… and I didn’t mind that both my places were kinda like closets. My first roommate was kinda annoyed by it, but my second roommate didn’t really care.” For her, she explained, “the hardest part to navigate was making sure to spend time with my…roommate so she wouldn’t feel alone.” I asked how she tried to handle the situation and she told me, “I tried to make sure at least once a week that we had spent quality time together…I wish I had been better at balancing my roommate’s needs and that crazy falling in love phase. I am sad we kinda grew apart.”

Samantha also mentioned her concerns about his roommates and their view of her. She said, “I wish I has also been less of a scaredy cat when it came to his roommates. I was always scared they didn’t like me and I didn’t feel comfortable whenever they were home. I wasted a lot of mental energy over nothing.”

Happy mixed race couple making smoothies, using blender

Making Decisions for Financial Reasons

Brenda had a more cautionary tale. Sometimes the in-between stage is necessary to figure out oneself and your relationship with your significant other. Brenda moved in with her ex-boyfriend after four months for financial reasons. I asked her about the mechanics of her situation and she told me, “He would drive me to school in the morning (we lived about 15 minutes from us) and I would shower and grab more clothing there. We mainly hung out during the evening. Food wise, we were fast food people. I would buy groceries and then they would spoil them because I was never home. I saved a ton of money on toilet paper, that’s for sure.”

I asked her what she wished she had done differently. She explained that she wished she hadn’t moved in with him for financial reasons. Her advice to folks in a similar situation was ““(H)ave a handle of their [situation] before moving in with someone that quickly. It definitely impacted our relationship and it made me feel like trash. He was a good guy though, but it definitely took a toll on us.” While living in between is a cause of stress, moving in too early or without resolving issues might cause different stresses.

Moving In For Keeps

Like everything with relationships, negotiating this in-between stage is tricky and dependent on the dynamics of the relationship. Dealing with practicalities of daily life, feelings of roommates and financial decisions are important in the success of relationships.

For me, I had a happy ending. After about a year, my then boyfriend, now husband, asked me to move in permanently. It was a godsend. One it meant that he felt strongly about our relationship. And two, I wouldn’t have to carry around dirty clothing anymore.