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[Guest Post] Shut Up Juliet: Why This Rose Is Thinking of Keeping Her Name

2012 February 21

In the second of my guest series on the trials of being a feminist while getting married, I’m going to take a look at dealing with people’s expectations when you’re not going along with even the most mainstream of wedding traditions. For example, not taking his name (or hers).

Photo by flickr user ninasaurusrex, shared under creative commons licence. An orange and white name label sticker with 'HELLO, MY NAME IS:' hangs in a shop display in its cellophane packaging.

Photo by flickr user ninasaurusrex

Oh, it’s a little thing, I grant you. One word. And it’s so innocuous that most people don’t even think it’s an issue. When we got engaged, we got cards addressed to ‘The Future Mr & Mrs HisLastName’. One friend remarked she couldn’t wait to address her first Christmas card to ‘the HisLastNames’. Another asked if we were looking forward to be announced at our reception as ‘Mr and Mrs HisLastName’. Each time, I’m afraid I’ve shot them down brusquely – even though I’m still deciding what to do.

Why? Well, for starters, I’ve had 30 years of being Lizzie MyLastName, not Lizzie His. It sounds weird to me, like I’m playacting someone else. I’d have to change my passport, my bills, my driver’s licence, my personal emails, my work email, my Facebook – it’s too much damn work. And the biggest reason for my uncertainty: why should I have to literally rename myself to my husband’s last name when I get married? What’s so special about him? (Note: Obviously he’s very special or I wouldn’t be marrying him, yadda yadda don’t take the ring back).

The looks and comments I get when I say these things are rooted in blustering British patriarchal tradition. I’ve had ‘But that’s just what you do’, ‘Just change it in your personal life, you don’t have to change your professional name’ and ‘But don’t you want the same name as your husband and children?’.

Um, maybe, if I planned on having any children. But he could change his name. My name is perfectly lovely. And quite frankly, if we did have kids, plenty of people would call me Mrs HisLastName without me ever having to change it. And for the person who said ‘But that’s just what you do’ (hi, mum! I forgive you because you gave birth to me), we used to put lead in cans, but hey, we changed our way of doing things! As Lucy Mangan said, “I’ve only known him six years. How come he gets to obliterate my history?”

So, what to do? If I don’t want to change my name to his, equally he doesn’t want to change it to mine. People have suggested hyphenating, which is what we would usually do – but alas, our name is a spoonerism that equates to ‘a bird’s balls’, so that’s not the ideal option after all. I quite like the idea of portmanteau-ing our name because it sounds like ‘Baroque’; clearly the most awesome outcome. But he thinks that sounds a bit fake. So, future husband and I are on a quest to find a new name that we can both change to. And in an example of patriarchy working for women instead of against them, this is easier and cheaper for me to do. He has to change it by deed poll – I just have to sign my new name on the marriage licence.

I’m secretly convinced that this will not happen. Family pressure will mean he keeps his name – plus, his profession of author spills into his personal life, so changing his surname is not the most sensible thing to do. And my name actually sounds great with his last name. But while it doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense to insist on keeping one man’s name (my father’s) instead of taking another’s, equally I don’t want to have a visible sign that I am subsuming my identity into his and becoming ‘the wife’. I’m sure we will make a decision – but more late night discussions and trying out new signatures may be required.

  • Lizzie is getting married in 2013 and has already planned roughly 5,748 weddings in her head. You can find more of her musings, wedding-themed reviews and rantings at Wedding Belles UK.
12 Responses leave one →
  1. Rai permalink
    February 21, 2012

    I decided a long time ago, in my early teens, that I would never forfeit my surname for anyone. Not for any noble feministy reasons; just because I think my surname is awesome. My partner knows this but he also know I’d hyphenate for him (as long as mine is first).

  2. Beth permalink
    February 21, 2012

    There’s really no advantage to sharing a last name: it’s a hold over from the time when YourCurrentLastName indicated which father you belonged to.

    You could always take some 3rd name all your own. Like Awesome, or Commet or The Fantastic. I hope that someday marriage becomes a ritual of agency and independence, as declaring a partnership ought to be, rather than a social transfer of identity.

    You could also point out that if he changed his name before the wedding you’d be technically changing your name to match, thus satisfying all the hide-bound folks and ensuring he actually would change it. There’s no reason he can’t keep publishing under his old name either, just like there’s no reason you couldn’t keep using your old name professionally.

    • March 8, 2012

      Yup, this was the original plan – although his family would go nuts about him chnaging his name and it might get a bit confusing for the invitations. There is so much family pride and tribalism associated with last names that I never appreciated until I got engaged. It’s all got a bit weird.

  3. Cluisanna permalink
    February 21, 2012

    My parents aren’t married (but together more than 20 years) and don’t have the same name, and I got my mother’s name. I don’t want to give it up and I’m pretty sure I am not going to. My father was often called Mr. [my mother’s surname], because people thought my name had to be the name of the family. Irony, I guess.
    Also, I think this is again one of those signs that equality is far from achieved. If husband and wife keep their original surnames, this is seen as unequal in favor of the wife – although it is as neutral as possible.

  4. wererogue permalink
    February 21, 2012

    I really like that my whole (nuclear) family has the same name – I think that it will help to bolster our kids’ sense of identity, and it makes it clear to me every moment with whom my priorities lie. It also often makes filling in paperwork easier (although not in Quebec).

    But I took my wife’s name, since I could think of a half-dozen reasons why she’d want to keep hers, and a scant one why I’d want to keep mine. We didn’t want to hyphenate (don’t like how it sounds, can spiral out of control after a few generations), and all in all it was an easy decision.

    It wasn’t expensive or difficult. I made the deed poll myself with instructions (from http://www.gorge.org/experiences/deedpoll.shtml ). I had to pay for a new passport, but pretty much everything else was free, and most didn’t even need to see my documents.

  5. Bacon permalink
    February 22, 2012

    I don’t think you should Hyphenate, ‘cos I’ve never met a single hyphenated name that didn’t sound a bit silly (sorry hyphenated people!). I changed my name when I married solely because my old name was hilarious, and I wanted a regular boring surname that didn’t make people smirk when you had to spell it over the phone. However, I now miss my hilarious old name, and I think it might be worth braving the opposition and hanging onto your own name just so you don’t regret losing a little part of yourself.

  6. Becky Shepherd permalink
    February 22, 2012

    My surname is my identity, people use it more than my first name and it’s the basis of my nickname; Shep. I don’t know if it comes from being a tomboy or years of playing sport/being a cadet as a kid but it’s what I’ve always been referred to. I’d feel robbed if I didn’t have that clear sense of who I’d been born to be.

    Plus I think if I changed my name my friends would continue to call me Shepherd/Shep anyway!

    Very funny – really enjoyed this!

  7. Althera permalink
    February 24, 2012

    My partner and I decided that if we were going to change our names, that we’d pick a new name and move to for both.

    But as we drag our butts about planning the wedding we’re equally thinking that we’ll just keep our names. I have professional ties to my name now and his family would go crazy.

    • March 8, 2012

      That’s pretty much where we are now. Except I’ve started thinking that if I keep my name, I’ll be Mrs B – and my mum is Mrs B and so is my step-mom. Whereas there isn’t a Mrs P because his mum passed away.

      Then I go back to bein lazy and indignant!

  8. May 2, 2012

    Certainly every person is entitled to make their own decision on this, but when I got married 5 years ago I explained politely to my husband that a name change was not going to happen.

    I am with Lizzie on this – everyone knows me, and if I added on my husband’s surname Rodwell, they would really start calling me Hillary Rodwell Clinton (if they don’t already as a joke! – no I know her name is Rodham).

    Actually my Mother is the only person upset about this, I don’t know why. Perhaps she really did not wish to give up her own name, and is jealous that I can?

    • Miranda permalink*
      May 2, 2012

      My mum’s mentioned to me before that she reckons I should keep mine, though she didn’t keep her own – it just wasn’t the done thing where she was living and at the time.

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