Should You Change Your Last Name After Marriage? | Different Bride Perspectives
A question popping up more and more is whether or not a bride will change her last name to her husband's after she gets married. Though 80 percent of brides still choose to change their names after the wedding, both professionally and legally, this trend has been on the decline according to The Knot.
Between the options of a new last name vs. hyphenating vs. maiden name changed to middle name vs. no change at all, some women are left wondering: HOW TO CHOOSE?!
But let us first establish the fact that this topic, unfortunately, is inherently divisive. And yes, often political, though I wish it weren't.
"There is no decision that a married woman can make about her name that won't have someone, somewhere judging her for it — if she keeps her maiden name, she must be a man-hating feminist, and if she changes her name, she must be a slave to the patriarchy, right? (Clearly, we would all be better off if we could simply stop judging people for the choices they have every right to make)." - Laura Rutherford-Morrison
That being said, I think it is important to focus on understanding all the pros and cons of each option before a bride makes her decision. When surveyed this question in a wedding Facebook group, one bride said, "I’ve never considered anything but taking his name until I got engaged and realized I was losing my name ☹️"
This is a sad realization for many of us, and it is completely normal to feel these emotions. It's the name we've identified with our entire lives. And the later you get married, the harder, and more complicated changing your name can be (especially if you have established your name professionally or as a personal brand).
But we need to first step back and examine the purpose of a last name — aka a family name.
How Family Names became the Norm
If we do a little history lesson on how family names came into existence, English Heritage states that surnames actually didn't appear until after 1066. "Surnames were originally added to people’s first names to distinguish them from other people who had the same first name locally e.g. Robert the baker or Robert at the wood. Initially, they were changed or dropped at will, but were eventually passed on from generation to generation, so that by Richard II’s Poll Tax lists of 1381 most English families had adopted the use of hereditary surnames."
This is why the most popular last names still today are names like Smith (Robert the Smith), Miller (Robert the Miller) and Johnson (son of John), etc.
And now, over 600+ years later, our culture still recognizes these last names as hereditary "family names".
This is the cultural norm.
So all that to say, us women have spent our entire lives with the first name that we were given at birth. We didn't choose this name, it was chosen for us by our parents. Our last name was also not chosen but has been passed down through our family lineage.
Why it's Important to Have the Same Family Name
So, I can understand why some women may feel it isn't fair that the tradition in western society requires women to "give up their identities" and take their husband's last name (more on that later). But what I find hard to wrap my mind around is when a couple doesn't see the importance of having the same family name.
Isn't the purpose of marriage to leave your parent's "family" and create a new family with your husband?
Whether couples choose her last name (only a mere 3%), or change it entirely to something new (if they're really looking to confuse people), or even possibly combining both their last names (complicated in real-life application)— I find it extremely important to at the very least come to a decision on the same last name. Because that is the purpose of a family name, to indicate you are ONE family.
No, if you don't have the same name it doesn't mean you'll necessarily have marital problems or that you're any less married. Buuuut — consider the beautiful symbolism of "oneness" that sharing a last name brings — not to mention how practical it is to live in a society where families are clearly distinguished by this name apart from all other relationships.
Why Most Women Change their Maiden Names
BUT WHY WOMEN? Is it really necessary for women to have to be the ones to change their last names?
Well, the answer is simple. Yes, it is necessary if you don't want to make things complicated — especially if you are planning on having kids. Consider how this bride simply stated it:
"I want to share a family name with my children, and so does my husband. It's just easier for me to change my name culturally and financially (wives can change for free, husbands no). I don't understand the women who cry "But it's my name! It's my identity!" I feel like if you are secure in yourself, your name doesn't matter. Plus it's not really "your" name, it's your father's name. My dad could have been anyone, but *I* chose my husband. I think taking his name shows the importance of that decision."
..."BUT IT JUST ISN'T FAIR!"
Yeah, well it isn't fair that women have to go through childbirth either. Clearly there are inherent differences between men and women.
It's these differences that have led women historically to take their husband's last name instead of vice versa — because, at the end of the day, women and men have different needs: Women need love and men need respect.
Don't get me wrong, women want respect, but this is only secondary to love. Women can't function without feeling loved. And men feel the same way, but towards respect. Every man needs respect in order to have a happy marriage.
Because let's face it. The real way to a man's heart is through his 'ego' — not his stomach. He craves your flattery, honor, and respect. He absolutely NEEDS to feel respected by you.
I highly recommend watching this video by Sarah Therese, "10 Things Every Wife Needs to Do for Her Husband" in order to better understand why it's important to make your husband feel like a man.
Applying her wise wife advice, I truly believe that taking his last name is a clear way you can show your husband that you honor who he is as a man and that you respect him.
Again, I understand that this position is polarizing. But this is MY perspective and will continue to provide other perspectives to offer opposing views.
Since the tradition is that women take their husband's last name, this especially strikes a chord of discomfort in most men if the role was reversed. For example, check out this video, "How Men Feel About Taking Their Wives Last Name."
One of the men surveyed stated, "There's something so emasculating about the notion of a man washing away his name altogether. The thought makes me uncomfortable, and kind of angry."
Though there is valuable dialogue of differing opinions stated by the female talk show host in this video, I think the most important point that stuck out to me was actually in the comments: "We either have to keep all the traditions or remove them all, they're all unfair, can't get rid of the last name tradition and keep the "pay for the first date" tradition."
The Bottom Line: Most Men will Feel Disrespected
Unless a man hates his family lineage, the overwhelming majority of men will feel disrespected (the equivalent of a woman feeling unloved) if you don't want to take his family name, especially if he would have to give up his family name for yours — not to mention it's inevitable that a lot of other men will view your husband's name change as emasculating. Watch this YouTube video by "King Will Says" to have a much better understanding of this issue from a man's perspective, he says: "Not taking his last name is the ultimate sign of disrespect to a man and his manhood."
However, Do What's Best for You as a Couple
At the end of the day, it's important to just simply talk the issue out and choose what is best for you and your future husband. Because every couple is different! As one bride said, "I love him, and I love his name, but it’s not who I am. I was open to us coming up with a new last name all together but he wasn’t having it. He is very supportive of me keeping my name though."
There are legitimate reasons that women still choose not to change to their husband's name and they DO NOT do this with the intention of disrespect. All that to say, here are some other opinions to give you a full range of perspectives to consider.
Why Some Women Keep Their Maiden Names
At the heart of why some women choose to keep their maiden names, many choose this path for 3 reasons: identity, professional reasons, and out of practicality. As one bride said, "I’ve already established my career with my maiden name. I’m not willing to start over and make people remember me by my married name."
She makes a valid point. Even though I've changed my last name, many people still call me by my maiden name because that's how they've known me for years. However, it's important to note this will happen both ways. No matter what decision you make, it's not reasonable to expect everyone to remember regardless. As one bride noted, she understands that many people will naturally assume to call her by her married name. "I'm keeping mine, but not correcting people if they call me by my married name."
However, just because you have a brand or you are well known professionally doesn't mean you can't legally change your maiden name to his and just go by how people know you in the workplace. Even celebrities like Jessica Beil have legally changed their names to their husbands and just go by their maiden name in their careers.
You can check out how other celebrities, like Priyanka Jonas and Hailey Bieber, are just two of the Hollywood wives taking on their husbands' surnames after tying the knot:
As for heritage, some women simply want to retain their own family heritage — especially when their family has no males to carry on the family name.
Another bride said, "I kept mine, it represents my heritage. We're still just as married and just as much a family as couples that share a name. My mother never changed hers and is still married to my father. It wasn't any "harder" growing up. My parents own property together, bank together, and my mom has traveled internationally with us kids without him."
If you know Colleen Ballinger on Youtube, she also didn't change her last name. Her answer to why she didn't change it? "Because I didn't want to change my last name, and it's that simple... I just didn't see the point in changing my last name and Erik was even the one who originally looked at me and said "You're not going to change your last name are you? That would be weird. Like why would you change your last name?".. I just don't understand why this is such a big deal, everyone is all up in arms and pissed that I didn't change my last name... I don't think I have to change my last name to show that I'm proud and in love with the man I'm going to be with forever. I don't think that has anything to do with it."
You can watch the full section on this starting at 10:53:
Why Some Women Hyphenate their Names
When it comes to hyphenation, I can understand the sentiment. As one bride said, "I want to add his name to mine without losing my identity." But when it comes down to practical application, it almost never makes sense to include the hyphen. Instead, it makes way more sense to just legally move your maiden name to your middle name without the complicated nature of a hyphen (more on that next).
Check out this real-life example of how hyphens can become a legal headache:
However, as quoted earlier before, Laura Rutherford-Morrison offers an opposing opinion and some further advice on what you can expect to happen if you choose to hyphen your name. Even with some of her negative experiences, she still thinks it is totally worth it. However, she does want every bride to know these 7 things you should expect if you're considering adding a hyphen:
Spelling your name over the phone is a huge chore.
Computers (and humans) really struggle with the hyphen.
For convenience, you often end up just using one name or the other, and everyone is confused (including you).
People make assumptions about you based on your name.
People act like you chose your name specifically to inconvenience them.
You sound like you’re a character in Downton Abbey. (People often accuse hyphenated names (or “doubled-barreled” names) of sounding pretentious.)
But even with all the negatives, she says it's all worth it in the end because of this last major point:
7. You get to have both names.
She says, "I’ve written a lot about the hassle that goes along with a hyphenated name, but there is one thing I quite like about it: Every time I use it, I am reminded of my two families — the one that raised me and the new one I’ve made with my husband. Even with all the headaches the name can cause, it feels right to me to retain the name with which I grew up, but at the same time call myself something that reflects a major milestone in my life. And that’s enough to make me want to keep my name, all bulky 19 characters of it. For now, at least."
Why Some Women Change their Middle Names to Their Maiden Name
As mentioned briefly before, I think moving your maiden name to your middle name is the perfect solution for brides who truly want to keep their maiden name in their legal name. If you haven't heard of this as an option, you're probably not from the South — the common practice amongst Southern brides.
So instead of dropping your maiden name entirely from your legal name, you could just drop your middle name instead, and replace it with your maiden name. For example, instead of changing it from Kailey Anne Smith to Kailey Anne Johnson, it could be Kailey Smith Johnson.
You may think, "It's not the same, no one really uses their middle name." But that is entirely up to how YOU market your middle name. On social media, you have the option to list your middle name. When you introduce yourself to people or when you sign your signature, it is YOUR decision if you want to use your full name or not!
I considered this for a long time, but then I realized that I love my given middle name way too much. Plus, 'Hannah Grace' is what I named my business after. Though I could have added a second middle name in order to keep both, I just chose to drop my maiden name entirely for simplicity's sake.
For me, growing up in a fairly traditional household, I always knew that I was going to change my last name and take my future husband's — this has been the best decision for both my husband and I (and eventually for our future family). But I do understand that every couple is different and needs to work this out for themselves. Hopefully this research has helped you better understand the pros and cons of each decision!
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