I have always had the same last name. When I had a crush on Tim in 6th grade I wrote my first name over and over with his last name. He didn’t know I existed.
In the 1960’s when I was in the midst of defining who I might possibly be when I “grew up”, the hippie era was born. Back then I had long straight blond hair like my idol, Joni Mitchell. I wore bell-bottom jeans (now called wide boot cut, how boring) embroidered with flowers, I painted matching daisies on the little mole on the left side of my face. I joined hundreds of thousands of baby boomers in challenging the accepted roles and sexuality of women. These challenges affected men’s responsibilities. More and more stay-at-home Dad’s staked their claim to raising children. A new definition of being strong and the breadwinner began forming.
Usually a love-in hippie, I demonstrated to end the war in Viet Nam. Many of us balked at the atrocities of war. We learned a hard lesson by mistakenly blaming soldiers for carrying out the war machine’s bidding.
On the other hand, I saw my share of the era’s great musicians, including Jim Morrison and the Doors, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Eric Clapton; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Rod Stuart and yes, Joni Mitchell (four times!!!). I ushered at the famous John Lennon and Yoko Ono “Free John Sinclair” benefit in Ann Arbor. My greatest musical regret from my hippie days was not seeing Janis Joplin in person.
Back then, we asked the question about whether a woman should change her last name when she got married. We challenged the expectation a woman should automatically change her last name to her husband’s. We argued that the husband was not her new owner like a slave took the “Master’s” name. Gradually more and more women were able to choose whether or not they wanted to change their surname in marriage. At the same time, the laws changed so women could get a mortgage and a credit card without a man’s signature. Such progress! Yet 50 years later 70% of women still change their surname to their husband’s last name. Not a good idea to change last name? Or not?
Hyphenating Your Last Name
Sometimes, women decided to hyphenate their last name. When Joan Scrumptious married Allan Delicious, she became Joan Scrumptious-Delicious.
Combining Last Names
But when Phyllis Greyson wanted to marry Gordon Cabernowski, she was faced with an insanely long name. Writing it on checks and signing notes to friends would get old sooner than later because it was so cumbersome. Plus Greyson-Cabernowski was a name she didn’t like as much as her relatively simple maiden name. Whatever decision she made about her last name, it could be made into a testament to her commitment or lack of it to Gordon. The truth is her last name was a choice she made about what she wanted to be called.
More so today we accept that Phyllis is no less loving or devoted to her husband, nor he of her, because she chooses to keep her own surname.
Sometimes I joke with my couples that they could blend their last names. But no one has done yet. Gordon and Phyllis could have become Greyski or Caberson. I like that idea but as yet the practice hasn’t caught on. Then both parties have to go through all the trouble of filling out paperwork instead of just the spouse changing his or her name.
He Takes Her Last Name
Two couples I’ve known have taken their wife’s last name. One was my cousin. Her second husband changed his name to hers. Then Spouse #3 offered her his last name and she took it. “Names don’t really matter to either of us,” she said. They are still married 25 years later.
This year, Michael took Jessica’s last name. “We talked about last names fairly early on in the engagement. As a lady with many friends, Jessica was known among a fair number of them only by her last name. She was also a published author and did not want to become disassociated from her works. She offered a hyphenated name as a solution. I wasn’t very happy with the idea; I’d never really liked hyphenated names and mine was long enough already. Part of being married, for me, was readily identifying with your partner. The name was a signifier that we were in love and walking the same path together. So, I did what made sense: I took her name, and we’re both happy.”
I asked what Jess felt about taking her last name.
Jess says she thought my decision showed a lot of respect for her and for our relationship. It made her feel that I was becoming a part of our family; we became our own ‘team’ so to speak.”
There are other reasons a spouse wants to keep their own surname. Familiarity. Convenience. Milestones.
Consider this as well: When anyone changes their name, whether it’s their first or last name, there’s a change of energy that accompanies the new name. Some people live with names they hate even though it doesn’t reflect who they are, or makes they feel they owe it to their family to keep the same name. Others love their name or love the name of the person they marry. Best to have the energy of love surrounding you and enfolding your decision. There’s no valuable use in pretending to feel what you do not.
If you are getting married, thoughtfully consider whether this change of energy and name is right for you. Focus on your shared love and mutual respect. These qualities are so important in the success of a marriage. Support the decision that is made and move on. Whether or not changing your last name helps you know more who you are and what you want to be, let it be done without harsh judgment or regret.
And besides, you can always change your name again later.