Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What's in a Name?

There is a hole in our culture that has yet to be adequately filled.

How should women handle their last names when they marry?

I kept mine, and while I am happy I did, it is not a totally satisfactory solution. One, you give up that symbol – the same last name – for your family. Two, my last name is not going to keep going since my children have my husband’s last name. In fact, as he points out, of the six names we gave our children (first, middle, last X two kids), I only got one of them, my daughter’s first name. (She’s named after my mother, while my son is named after my husband, who is named after his father, that continuity through the generations is nice – and my daughter’s middle name, well, my husband’s family has a cool one, with a rocking story behind it, that I couldn’t resist using.)

If we gave one child my last name and the other my husband’s, I think my kids would wonder how we decided who got what and what that said about them. Names are powerful, and while I see drawbacks in how they are traditionally handled, I also hesitate to screw around with them on the fly.

Hyphenation is also not a good long-term solution. I once met a young girl who sadly pointed out that her hyphenated name was 26 letters long.

My friend’s sister kept her last name because, she said, whatever she accomplished in life was because of her parents, the people who raised and educated her. Nice.

And whenever I see a situation where the boss (always a man) is Mr. So&So, but the employees (always women) go by just first names, I am reminded of the power in last names.

What did you do?


  1. As a same sex couple, I was for some reason surprised when asked at city hall if either of us would be changing our last name. It hadn't occurred to me, but then for a second I thought it might be nice. Having had my name for 50 years prompted me to keep it to avoid confusion. I often think I would have liked to be hyphenated, as long as it would have been, and to have a change. We have no children but refer to the dog as hyphenated, although she somehow just ended up going with his last name at the Vets. I admit that makes me feel just a little left out. Names can't help but carry some sort of power.

  2. I did not change my name and I'm glad. My kids ended up with their dad's name, but in retrospect, I wish I'd have demanded my last name for girls, his for boys. It would be fairer.

  3. I was talking about this topic just today with a friend of mine from Spain. She said that women there usually keep their last name when they get married. Also, her full name is a combination of her father's last name and her mother's, i.e. "Gonzales-Rodrigues," but she goes by just the first name. It did present a bit of a problem when she first came to the U.S. twenty years ago, especially when enrolling her kids in school, but she thought now that there are more women keeping their names, it probably isn't such a big deal anymore.

    As for me, I've been through THREE last names: maiden name, first marriage, second marriage. I'm surprised I even know who I am, although this last name change has lasted for almost 40 years now. I always envied men because they got to keep their birth identity throughout their lives.