Afternoon InquisitionFeminism

TBT: Does This Last Name Make My Feminism Look Big?

This post originally aired via the intertubes on June 15, 2010. And it makes me smile, a lot. It was one of the first times I ever wrote about anything and technically labeled it as feminist. At the time, we had barely touched on such topics. We were a skeptic blog that focused on women’s issues but I for one hadn’t yet made the connection that we were often writing about feminist issues. I thought feminism was something my mother did. Something for angry women with their bras a-blaze! I had fallen victim to pervasive societal stereotypes. I was a tad bit uninformed.

The original post sparked a great discussion at the time and it had more comments than anything I had written up to that point. In retrospect, it was likely a popular topic because it is something that many of us can relate to and a decision that many people will make in their lifetime. And now that marriage equality is becoming a wonderful reality, it is a question that is even more relevant today.

As a side note, I’m still happy with the decision I personally made and I’m amused that this post was the very first topic that opened the door to a greater understanding of what feminism and gender equality was and is. I had no idea at the time that I had oh so much to learn. In good news, learning is one of the things we do best around here.


Does This Last Name Make My Feminism Look Big?

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m married. Sadly, I am taken. Yes, I know. Try to contain your tears.

The only slightly unusual thing about my marriage, other than the fact that I found an atheist with the patience of a saint (I’m a bit much to put up with at times) is the fact that I never changed my last name after I was married. amy and Johnny wedding

When I first got married I was totally going to change my name to his because I think he has a cool last name and I love him to pieces and because that is what you are supposed to do when you get married. But then when I stopped and really thought about it, I realized that it made more sense just to leave things as they were. I had spent a good long time with my name. I liked it just like it was. And it wasn’t so much that it was my “maiden” name as it was my artist name. I had signed a thousand or so pieces of art with that last name and I just didn’t want to say goodbye to that part of my creative history. My husband had no problem with me keeping my name and without children in the mix it made the decision relatively easy. I saw no legitimate reason to change it. So I didn’t.

Often times people assume that I didn’t change my last name in order to be some type of rebellious feminist, to stomp my boots and to prove a point to society. While I wholeheartedly thank the strong-willed women of the past who stood up and enabled me to make this choice and while I do like to stomp my boots, my personal decision was based more on nostalgia and convenience. I just really like my name. I like my name and I don’t like filling out paperwork. I like feminists too and I think it is important that all women be able to make these types of choices for whatever reason they feel is important to them.

If you are a woman and you get married will you change your last name? If you are a man would you expect your wife to take your name? If you are married did you change your name? Why?

Amy Roth

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab and cohost of Makers' Hustle Podcast Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

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42 Comments

  1. May 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm —

    I did not expect my wife to change her name and actually offered to change mine. Ultimately she changed her name for her own reasons (which are a little too personal to air in a public forum)

    • May 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm —

      I had a similar experience. My wife grew up in a very patriarchical culture, and even though she was very attached to her surname, insisted on changing it. I’m not terribly attached to “Stevens”, but she refused when I offered to change my name to match hers.

      She did use her maiden name when she created her Facebook profile though, so she still has some connection to it.

  2. May 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm —

    My wife didn’t change her name. We had a brief discussion about it beforehand. I said it was her choice but I preferred if she kept her name. The idea of adopting my last name seemed a little unpleasant, like a hold-over from when wives were property and where their identity would naturally get subsumed by her husband. She said she hadn’t really questioned the tradition but once she did, she quickly saw keeping her name as both a time-saver and a small mark of independence which she loves.

    We aren’t certain what we’d name our kids if we have them, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.

    • May 22, 2014 at 3:09 pm —

      What are your thoughts so far on what to do with your kids’ names? I’m getting married in August and both of us would prefer she keep her last name, if not for the “What will we name our kids?” problem. I think the kids should just take her last name, but she has a huge problem with them having a different name than me.

      • May 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm —

        We’re definitely trying for kids (IVF) but haven’t had them yet so this is just speculation. The wife says she’d like the kids to have my last name but I’m not happy with that. I feel it would make my wife a symbolic outsider. My preference would be to either have a portmanteau or a hyphenated name.

        We’ve talked a bit about some of the problems that might arise while traveling but we haven’t looked into it enough to know how big of an issue it is. We’re both pretty stubborn and really don’t want to have some bureaucrat influence our decision here but we’re also realistic enough to know that we’d just be hurting ourselves and our kids for a principle we don’t care much about. So yeah, no firm decision yet :)

      • May 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm —

        I didn’t change my name and we opted to hyphenate my daughter’s name. She is 10 now and it has never seemed strange to her. Interestingly, depending on her mood, she will call herself Girl A, Girl B, or Girl A-B. That doesn’t bother us. We haven’t had a problem with school or doctors or anything. They are used to it. At my daughter’s school, we have a very international student body, and it is quite common to see multiple last names for families from non-US countries.

        It was originally tough with my in-laws. Once my mother-in-law told my then-7 year old her name would sound better if it was just her father’s last name. It confused my daughter and it was so insulting to me that I cried quite a bit. But we didn’t give in, obviously, and my MIL has relented mostly.

        Whatever you both feel comfortable with as parents, the world will adapt. And the kids are alright. (I heard an npr story about grown hyphenates and they seemed unphazed.)

      • May 23, 2014 at 2:09 am —

        I have a co-worker whose parents made up their own last name when they got married that was based on parts of each of their last names. I thought that was kind of cool, actually. I never would have guessed if he hadn’t told me, since the name they chose sounded really natural.

    • May 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm —

      You can always do one last name as a middle name along with the other last name as the actual last name (which order is up to you). My understanding is that this is a fairly common practice in some places where wives taking their husband’s name is not as common.

      • May 23, 2014 at 1:39 am —

        That’s what we did, and it has never been a problem.

        I think the “what about the kids’ names?” thing is really just a way of pushing that anxiety about bucking tradition off a level, with a heaping helping of But What About The Children.

  3. May 22, 2014 at 2:08 pm —

    I changed my last name when I got married, but it wasn’t without a lot of thought. Considerations included: 1. The need to immigrate to another country after getting married – having the same last name as my spouse might make immigration take me more seriously; 2. I’m not very close to my family, and I appreciated the ability to distance myself from them somewhat in a way that was meaningful to me but wouldn’t actually alienate them (they think it’s ridiculous for women not to take their husbands’ names, so…); 3. We want a kid, and would like to all have the same last name to avoid confusion; 4. Both prospective last names were rather long, and his has a space in it, so it would be unwieldy and ridiculous-looking to hyphenate; 5. My siblings are more likely to procreate than my spouse’s sibling, so if we’re going to “carry on a family name,” his is the one that’d need carrying on, 6. My old name was always misspelled and verbally stumbled over, and I thought his would be less difficult to deal with. (I have since learned that this is totally not the case. Alas.)

    My spouse was actually really surprised that I elected to take his name; he expected I would keep mine. He also has said he would have considered taking mine, if I hadn’t wanted his.

    I didn’t end up scrapping my old name completely (ugh, as an aside, “maiden name” is an awful phrase) – it was the name I went by in college, as there were a lot of people with my first name running around in my group of friends – and despite my wish to distance myself from my birth family somewhat, I didn’t want to completely ditch a name with that kind of sentimental attachment. So now I have two middle names.

  4. May 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm —

    For years it never occurred to me that I would change my name if I got married, because I like my last name and I thought the idea of changing your name after marrying was a bit silly. But I was thinking about it a few weeks ago and had the sudden revelation that if I took my prospective husband’s last name (which is fairly short) and did the Hillary Rodham Clinton thing of continuing to use both last names without hyphenating, it would give me an opportunity to get rid of my middle name, which I’ve never liked much. So now I’m an enthusiastic if idiosyncratic convert ^_^

  5. May 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm —

    I remember when you first posted this- it was two weeks after my wedding and I was just getting back from my honeymoon. I just searched through the replies to see if I had commented- my thoughts then are so different than my thoughts now. My plan had been to hyphenate because I didn’t want to get rid of my awesome last name. I decided to hyphenate because I thought my name would be too common and patients looking for me wouldn’t be able to find me by my original name. When I went to the DMV when we moved with the plan to change my name, my new husband had removed all of the marriage license crap from the folder marked “important docs” because he thought I put it there by accident. I got my license in my original name with the plan to change it at some point. Four years later and it still hasn’t happened. I was going to change it when I renewed my passport but my husband looked at me and said “it seems like such a hassle, do you really want this?” And it was done. I’m keeping my name and not looking back.

  6. May 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm —

    My wife changed her last name when we got married, and there wasn’t really much discussion around it. It was far less of a matter of tradition or demands… it was that she didn’t like her last name or the fact that people were almost always mispronouncing it (It was Assing, pronounced “Aussing”… and you can guess what people usually said). My running joke was that she should just hyphenate it, and we could start some sort of luxury label with a name like that.

    Ultimately though, the decision was left to her and what she wanted to do. Neither of us really felt that such a small detail factored in to our relationship or how we felt about each other.

  7. May 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm —

    I’m getting married next month! I plan on hyphenating but keeping my own name for my professional career. So at work I’ll still have my name as before, but out in the world socially I’ll be hyphenated. People were already referring to me as Mrs. Fiance’s last name when returning the RSVPs and the involuntary facial twitch when I saw that tells me I probably wouldn’t be happy getting rid of my last name.

  8. May 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm —

    My wife never changed her last name, because she really did not want to go through the trouble and I really did not give a shit. I just could not think of any reason why I cared. I was actually struck by all the annoying inconvenience that it would have cause and the fact that we were already used to the names we had.

    • May 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm —

      Have you run into any situations where it was annoying having different names? Anything worse than people assuming her name is “Mrs. White” all the time?

      • May 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm —

        Not really annoying. The time it comes up the most often is when we use the supermarket club cards. Sometimes one of us will hand them the card and the other will pay and then she becomes “Mrs. White” and I am “Mr. Kitchen.”

      • May 23, 2014 at 2:13 am —

        I didn’t change my name, have been married for 12 years and haven’t had a single problem ever. My mom had a little bit of a hard time with it and kept appending my husband’s last name to the end of all my names at first. I think she thought I would change it eventually and she would be right all along! She wasn’t. But we’ve never had any trouble in travel or anything else just saying we were husband and wife.

      • May 25, 2014 at 5:20 pm —

        We have a lot of people assume my husband is Mr. Jaunty, but that’s about as annoying as it gets.

  9. May 22, 2014 at 3:01 pm —

    I’m getting married in August and my soon-to-be wife and I are struggling with this very issue. We both disagree philosophically with the tradition of a woman having to take her husband’s name. But she has a big problem with one of us having a different last name than our kids, and her family thinks she’s on a “crazy feminist crusade.” My last name is long, impossible for strangers to spell or pronounce, and has been an inconvenience for my whole life. I don’t want to inflict it on her or our future kids. We’re pretty much stumped. I’ve suggested that we both come up with a totally new last name (“Dragonslayer” has a nice ring to it!), or that we each take the other’s last name as a second middle name. Then our kids can have her “normal,” easy-to-spell last name without totally jettisoning mine.

  10. May 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm —

    I recently got married and my wife kept her last name. But, it’s a little more complicated than most marriages because she is transsexual. She previously had changed her name, including her last name and I’m not going to insist that she discard the name she picked out for herself. I kept my last name for professional reasons and so neither of us changed our names.

    I had had the thought in the past that something which could be done to remove the burden on women is for the couple to swap last names. I don’t really know what to do for the last name of any children, but such a thing is now entirely academic to me anyway.

  11. May 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm —

    My bachelor name was “Cobb.” Took my wife’s last name. She always said matter-of-factly that she had no interest in changing her name. She’s a published scientist in peer-reviewed journals, for one thing.

    I did want our family to have a unified surname, blah blah blah, and okay maybe there was a little bit of feminist rebellion in there. I really didn’t expect it to be a huge deal, even for my relatively conservative Southern Baptist family.

    Holy shitballs was I wrong, my parents practically disowned me. I haven’t been invited to Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter since, about four years now.

  12. May 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm —

    Not sure I’m ever going to get married at all since I’ve never had that as a goal in my life (I’m just not a romantic and if it happens it’s likely to be for practical reasons). However, if I should ever get married there’s no way I’m changing my name. Like Amy it’s part of my brand as an artist but also it’s just a part of me that I can’t imagine changing. Plus there’s the fact that I don’t exactly identify as a woman any longer (never really did but only found the words to express how I feel, gender fluid, in the past few years)

  13. May 22, 2014 at 4:35 pm —

    I remember the first time this was posted. HA! I changed my last name. I wasn’t attached to it as some have stated about it being part of their identity. I followed cultural norm. It communicates to the world we are together in a way that I and my husband are comfortable with. I was perfectly fine with the tradition in my personal situation. The only kicker was when my Grandma sent me a letter addressing it to Mrs. *My husband’s first name* and then our last name. Um we do not share the same first names. Weird. As a twist I remember my dad being irritated when I changed my last name. As if it had something to do with him.

    • May 22, 2014 at 4:45 pm —

      Hey thanks for sticking with us and for commenting! That makes me smile. :)

    • May 23, 2014 at 1:41 am —

      Actually your Grandma was correct. You become “Mrs. John Doe” if you marry John Doe because it’s a title; you’re the wife.

      • May 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm —

        Neverjaunty, I understand the notion of the *title* and can’t/won’t argue with the reasoning. This is why I didn’t take it up with my Grandmother. Custom, title, this is the family way and the life you are apart of type of reasoning…. I was having an on going disagreement with my Dad at the time. I was not allowing him to ‘give me away’ and my now husband had not ‘asked’ him if he could marry me. My husband had asked me alone. Sharing my announcement/joy/choice with my Dad was not enough. He is still bitter and we are now estranged for this and many other reasons. My grandma was helping me find my place. Instead of my place, these interactions, (along with other personal situations, understanding the experiences of others, reading in general, ect.) have helped me to form the foundation I use to support other women and have come to understand feminism.

  14. May 22, 2014 at 5:08 pm —

    Once upon a time, when I got married, we seriously considered making a portmanteau of our two names into a new name: Orlance. It kinda worked because it sounded like a real name and allowed us both to take on a bit of the other, and I liked the cadence of it more than my actual last name.

    In the end, though, we both stuck with our own name. Which, really, is for the best, because that meant a lot less paperwork for everyone three years later.

  15. May 22, 2014 at 5:27 pm —

    I didn’t change my name and neither did my husband. A quick looking up our local (Germany) laws revealed that we couldn’t both hyphenate, so we had a 1 minute discussion about this. We haven’t yet decided what to do if we have kids, but he grew up not sharing his last name with both of the parents he lived with, and that wasn’t too bad, or so his mother says.

    Interestingly, a lot of my older coworkers have applauded this decision, some of the men (I work in a male dominated field) even telling me that their wives did regret that decision later. While people in my generation quite often thought our decision is strange, going as far as questioning why we got married at all…

  16. May 22, 2014 at 6:33 pm —

    My mother (incidentally, a feminist activist back in the 70s) kept her maiden name when she married my dad, so I never really grew up thinking that the wife ought to adopt the husband’s name; I understood that it was a common practice, but not something that should be considered a social rule.

    Naturally, if I were to ever get married to someone, I wouldn’t expect my wife to take my name unless she actually decided to do so without any pressure from me. As for children’s surnames, I have no strong feelings one way or the other; I’d suggest a coin toss if my hypothetical wife were as apathetic as I am.

  17. May 22, 2014 at 8:38 pm —

    I’m not married yet, and my boyfriend and I don’t have any concrete plans. I’m still kind of torn on the issue of last names. On the one hand, do you have any idea how common a last name Morris is? On the other hand… my dad’s the only son of an only son. Even if Morris is particularly common, my sister and I, along with my dad, are the last people to have that name in our family. Also, I’m kind of lazy and hate having to go to the DMV and other bureaucratic offices, so if I kept my name, avoiding all of that would be a plus. And I’m not 100% sure I want kids, either, so there’s that, too. In all honesty, though, my given names mean more to me than my last name, but after almost 30 years of having the same name, it’d probably be too weird to change any part of it.

  18. May 23, 2014 at 1:44 am —

    Interesting that the original post itself asks the questions in a gendered way: it doesn’t ask if men who plan to marry in the future intend to change their names.
    I changed my last name for a lot of the standard reasons (difficult to spell, not all that attached to the family, etc.) when I got married the first time….but honestly, it was because it was just easier and it was a Big Deal for my then-husband. Yes, this should have been a red flag. Didn’t change it when I remarried and it was never an issue.

    • May 23, 2014 at 10:57 am —

      I thought I explained why that was pretty clearly in the intro. This post was originally from four years ago before I had any real understanding of equality or gender issues.

      • May 23, 2014 at 11:35 pm —

        You did. That was a reflection on how pervasive those cultural rules are even today, not a criticism of you.

  19. May 23, 2014 at 3:23 am —

    I’ll keep my last name both legally and professionally as I’ve used it a long time and it’s both unique and cool. But I don’t mind if socially people refer to me with his. We’ve talked about just adding each others names in, but truth is the paperwork seems like a pain for such a minor thing. Kids aren’t an issue for us, I don’t want any and he already has two.

    My ex and his wife did a cool thing, his name is already hyphenated which created the issue that their child would get both of his last names (his parents) but no part of hers. So they just came up with a new last name entirely and both legally changed their names and gave it to their son. I think they kept their original last names as middle names.

  20. May 23, 2014 at 6:47 am —

    Here in Sweden I noticed that even if the cultural norm still is that the woman changes her last name its become more and more common for her not to do it. A trend lately has been that couples tend to go for more unique or atleast uncommon last names, who ever has the most common name changing it regardless of gender. And when they both have rather common names they can make up a totaly new last name (or pick an uncommon one a few generations back on either side) or change the spelling of one to make it more unique.

  21. May 23, 2014 at 7:01 am —

    Just an FYI, in the Chinese (culture) the women does not adopt the name of the husband, the woman always keeps her family name. The children however have the husbands family name.

  22. May 23, 2014 at 9:41 am —

    Like you, my name was already associated with work that I do (I design hand knitting patterns) and it just didn’t make sense for me to change my name. I’m estranged from my biological father so part of me would have been fine starting fresh but the hassle just wasn’t worth it. What surprised me was that my husband decided to take my name. It wasn’t anything either of us had talked about in the nine years we dated before getting married, so I was surprised but it’s worked out just fine.
    It was such a pain changing his name on everything that we joke that if things don’t work out and we ever divorce, he’ll still be stuck with my last name and if he remarries, his next wife just might take my name.

  23. May 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm —

    Marilee Cornelius … Why would I change that? I am very attached to my name. Cornelius is just fun to say, and a little silly. I’d like Barnum to be my official middle name but then again do I really need a longer name?

  24. May 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm —

    We had a long conversation about this when we got married. We quickly established that we wanted to have the same surname (it was important to our personal sense of family). I offered to take my wife’s name. She said she actually wasn’t all that attached to it (it’s her dad’s surname, not her mom’s, and she has never got on with her dad for various reasons). What she ended up doing was taking my surname, and making her former surname her middle name.

    I should stress that this was her decision and I would have been just as happy to take her name if that’s what she wanted. The important thing was that it was a thing we shared.

  25. May 26, 2014 at 11:23 am —

    I will be getting married to my favorite person in the entire world in July, and I will be changing my last name to his last name. When I asked him what he would think if I kept my maiden name, he made it very clear that he would not be bothered regardless of my decision. I spent some time considering it and came to the conclusion that keeping my father’s surname is not really more feminist, in my opinion, than taking my husband’s surname. Also, my maiden name has been the source of many obnoxious puns throughout my life and I’m happy to escape those.

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