Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's In a Name?


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when a woman becomes engaged, many people will ask her if she plans to change her name. My short answer: no, thanks. If you want a longer answer, keep reading.

I could tell you all the usual reasons, and they'd all be true. I think it's an archaic tradition. I don't feel like I need the symbolic umbrella of a singular name to feel bonded to my partner (isn't marriage symbol enough?). I think it's unnecessary. I think it's unfair. I think it's a tradition rooted in sexism. I'm attached to my name (Hennessey is pretty bad ass). I have published writing and articles under my name. I have degrees in my name. I am the first result when you Google "Christine Hennessey," and I worked long and hard for that distinction. I don't want to become a different person - even if it's only in name - just because I decided to get married. 

This is not to say that other women who choose to change their names are giving up their identity or letting the patriarchy win. I have many friends who have changed their names, for their own list of perfectly valid and respectable reasons. I love that they can choose a new name, and I can choose my old name, and we can all be happy with living life on our own terms. 

There are, however, two people in this relationship. My dear fiancé also has some opinons on this topic, and - surprise! - they're not the same as mine. Nathan wants us both to change our name to a new hybrid - Hennward. Henneward is the pretend last name we've been using for years - it's a portmanteau, it's the last name we gave the dogs, and we even get mail addressed to the Hennewards. To Nathan, Henneward is a great compromise, a perfect symbol. We'd both change our names - equality! - and our old joke would be even better.

And while I like the idea of Henneward, I like it as just that - an idea. A joke is funny only if it remains a joke. When it comes down to my name, that thing by which I am recognized and acknowledged, I'm stubborn. I like my name. And I don't want a new one. 

Whether you're married, plan to get married, or are waiting for the laws to change so you can get married, I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Would you/did you change your name? Why or why not? I think this topic is so interesting, and that people from both sides often have excellent reasons for their choices. I'd love to hear yours.


34 comments:

  1. I think about this a ton. I used to think I wanted a hyphenated last name. Two things changed that. First, I dated a guy named Sparacino for a couple years (and Katie Jeffries-Sparacino is a disgusting number of syllables). We aren't together anymore, but I also realized that it would make things tricky for our kids. Either they would take his last name (I want the same last name as my kids, so not a fan of that) or they would keep the hyphen - but what about when they get married? That seems to really limit their name choices.
    I love my name, and don't really want to lose it. However, I like the idea of being Mrs So-and-So, and of having the same last name as my husband and kids. I don't really like the idea of making up our own name. Not sure why, just not for me. So.... I think I'll probably take on his last name. It's not ideal, but it's the least problematic solution for me. I used to be afraid people would think I'm not a feminist for doing that, but I'm obviously a feminist in so many more of my actions. Plus, I suppose it doesn't matter that much what people think.

    To be fair, none of this matters that much, seeing as I don't even have a boyfriend, let alone a husband.

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    1. I agree that actions speak louder than... well... names. :) I also know that it's important to be comfortable with your choices. "It's not ideal, but it's the least problematic solution for me." I think that's a great way of looking at a complication decision.

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  2. I changed my name, but the decision was definitely my own. I wasn't particularly attached to my maiden name, and although I had my BA in that name, I wanted to get my MA under whatever name I planned to use professionally (I got married mid way through grad school). It honestly wasn't a big deal to me, but I understand and respect that it is to some people. The only time it was an issue was when my younger and obviously less mature brother said (and at my MA graduation no less) "Family hug time! Everyone except Laura because she's not part of the Maiden Name family any more." Needless to say I was not amused and my father had a little chat with him about not being a jerk.

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    1. Funny how our own families can sometimes be the least understanding! I'm glad it wasn't a big deal for you - I tend to over think a lot of things, which is probably pretty clear from my blog. :)

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    2. Certain people in my family refuse to acknowledge the fact that I kept my name, and send me mail as "Allyson [Jon's last name]." And they don't understand why it bothers me.

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    3. Count me in on this 'club.' my husband's family (who is admittedly very traditional and didn't even attend our wedding-which is a whole other story) refuses to acknowledge the fact that I did not take his last name. Sometimes I find it laughable and sometimes I want to call them out on it.

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  3. Dory and I were just talking about this the other day, though our conversation was largely unrelated to marriage. We were talking about hyphenated names, family names, and different ways people decide to name their children. I really like the solution one of my best friend's parents came up with: both her mom and dad kept their own names. Evelyn's middle name is her dad's last name and her last name is her mom's last name. Evelyn's brother shares his dad's last name, and his middle name is his mom's last name. A lot of people would ask "but isn't it confusing?" and "what about family unity?" but it isn't confusing at all when you really think about it. I mean, they all know that their parents are married and why they chose that method of naming their kids, and it only takes a few seconds to explain it to nosy people who ask.

    I like the tradition of hyphenated names, and like portmanteaus even more, but I personally prefer solutions that allow everyone to keep their own names. I do understand that some people take their husband's name to liberate themselves from their past, but I think it's important that people make the decision with the full knowledge that it *is* a patriarchal tradition. Even today, a lot of people make that decision without even being aware that it it's a decision at all. As a default position, that's very problematic, especially when there are so many creative ways to go about names.

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    1. I agree 100%. I think it's good to think about this, even if someone ends up going the traditional route. It's the default thing that annoys me, as well as the assumption that I'll change my name just because I'm getting married. Though to be fair, most people ask me if I'm changing my name and don't assume. Maybe they know better!

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  4. Hennessey is a rockin' name!

    I have a few friends who have made hybrid last names or who have just picked a random one they like. It works for them, but I'm not sure it'd be for me.

    I've toyed with the idea of legally changing to a hypenated name but keeping my publishing name the same, but who knows what I'll actually do when it comes down to it. I have a troubled relationship with my father's side of the family, so I always thought I'd want to get rid of the name as quickly as possible. But I've really come to love it! Such a tricky social-cultural-personal issue, right?

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    1. I definitely understand when people want to shed their old name for some reason, more so than people who want a new name just because their getting married.

      It's definitely a tricky issue, and I love hearing everyone's take on it. There are only two or three options, but a million different reasons/opinions/ideas. So fascinating!

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  5. Good for you, Chrissy, for keeping the Hennessey. The choice to keep or change your name is one of the gifts that feminism has brought us, and I for one am just grateful that we have options now. I think the name thing will remain controversial for a long time.

    As for me, if and when I ever get married, I'm keeping my name. I'll be too old and established to feel comfortable taking his name, and I'm a bit too skeptical about the longevity of marriage to think that the marriage will last until one of us dies. But my favorite anecdote about last names is when people call me "Mrs. Meissner." First of all, that's my mom. I'm not married to Mr. Meissner. Second, I have a PhD, so it's Dr. Meissner, not Miss, Ms., or Mrs. I'm not a very formal person, but if we're using formal titles, I expect to be called Dr. I earned it, dammit!

    (Whew, end rant!)

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    1. Sometimes my students call me Dr. Hennessey, and I'm just a grad student! Though I had to admit, that's one mistake I don't always bother correcting. Fastest way to a PhD ever! :)

      I agree that I'm just too old and established to change at this point. That's definitely part of it for me. I've been Christine Hennessey for so long, that it would feel strange to change that now.

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  6. hey commenting worked! yay.

    i like interesting names. i always wanted a shorter more unique name. that had a lot to do with it for me. i don't think i would have been comfortable taking my husband's name though, no matter how cool it was, and he wasn't comfortable taking mine. either way just seemed too family-bound, like we were choosing a side and getting a lot of baggage. since we didn't particularly like either of our last names, the decision to start a new family name was pretty easy for us. i haven't regretted it. i like feeling like a new person post marriage. since not much changed in our relationship when we made it legal, i kinda like that at least our names did. it sort of feels like that's when we became grown ups and got our new identities together.

    i think it's awesome that women have a choice nowadays.

    -finn

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    1. I like what you two did, and Nathan often uses y'all as an example when he's trying to convince me to become a Henneward. :) I'm not sure how I'll feel post-marriage (like a new person? like the same person? like a stressed out grad student?) and maybe I'll change my thinking at some point. For now, though, this is what works for me.

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  7. It never occurred to me to change my name when I married. My husband and I always intended to have no kids, so that was never an issue, and I felt strongly about holding on to the identity I'd built up for thirty-plus years. My husband loves my name, and I love him for feeling confident enough to be glad that I kept it.

    Having a different last name from my husband has never been problematic or confusing, and we've moved around a lot. Occasionally a receptionist will call me Mrs. So-and-So, but who cares?

    Bottom line: Do what makes you feel most comfortable.

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    1. We also don't plan to have kids, and I think kids tend to complicate the issue for most people, understandably so. I sometimes get called "Mrs. So-and-so" and it doesn't really bother me - it's just kind of funny.

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  8. Haha I love the combined name! Eric and I actually have one too...Greennutt. Or Chesberg. Haha. Neither I would want for an actual last name.
    I don't think I will change mine. And that is mainly out of laziness. I just don't feel like going through everything and legally changing it all. And I just can't imagine myself with a different last name. I grew up HATING my last name, but have come to love it in the past few years (it's Chesnutt, FYI. And no one can ever properly spell it).
    Plus, I checked gmail recently and lauren.greenberg isn't available, and that is VERY important.

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  9. Hi Chrissy,

    I just got married in June and i haven't changed my name...yet. I do plan to change it. For me it comes down to having a family name. I want to have the same last name as my kids, and that is just my preference. Also for us, being a same-sex couple, it feels more uniting than keeping our names separate. But i'm with you, i think wmoen should use any name they choose.

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  10. We both added the other's last name to our own. We did this for a few reasons, mainly because we really wanted a family name and neither of us were comfortable with me taking his. I was also published and had a few degrees under my maiden name. My name comes first so new publications are right after my pre-marriage ones on a citation page. Also, he's the only one of his siblings who will have children and all my other siblings with kids are women who changed their names. Our duel last name allows both family names to be passed on at least one more generation. It can get annoying sometimes. There aren't too many southerners who have seen men with two last names (or women for that matter) but we're happy we did it.

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  11. I could have gone either way. I ended up changing simply because a) Kohler is easier to pronounce/remember, b) and as silly as it sounds, I kind of liked the idea of growing into a new me with a new name. You have to do what's right for you and in the end what works for you both.

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  12. I did not change my name for many of the same reasons you list here. Luckily, the person that I married never had any expectations that I would change my name, so there were no controversies about it.

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  14. Chrissy, I think I'm with Nathan on this one. Combining your last names would be revolutionary, unique, clever, and fun. I met a kid whose brother wanted to change his last name, so he and his fiance came up with a name together. "The Giant" was the new last name they were going to take. The moral of the this story is Henneyward might of started out as a joke but it isn't as ridiculous as changing your last names to The Giant.

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  15. I got married 6 years ago at 25 and I didn't even once consider changing my name. Partly because of all the reasons you mentioned. Plus-simply-the idea of it felt very weird to me. It's the name I was born with and the one I'll go out with!

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  16. I did not change my name for a few reasons. I felt strongly that I had established my professional identity already under my name. I also felt that my parents considered how my first name paired with my last name ... Not some future unknown last name! My husband and in laws were fine with my decision but asked about what we planned for kids. Since my husban's last name (which is a mouthful!) was long and complex, I felt strongly about NOT hyphenating. I was ok with giving our chikdren my husband's name. It was my mom who put up the most resistance. She felt that our children would be confused to have a different last name.

    Maybe my son is a genuis. He has never seemed bothered by our different names. :-) His friends at school ask each year when I visit class for his birthday. They just ask why we don't have the same last name, but they never seem confused when I tell them I simply kept the name I was given at birth. Many of his friends call me Mrs jakovac (my husband and son's name) and I don't correct them ... It is just easier for them. I am glad about my decision 12 years later!

    Best wishes to you in your marriage!

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  17. So great to hear others opinions! I've decided not to change my name (when and if that time comes) because I have been my name for so long it would just be weird to be something else. PLUS, my prospective fiance/husband has a sister with the same name as me; hence it is already taken and I'm not about ready to be a copy cat. My last name is much more unique than his which is also a deal breaker. I like being unique and I like that when people search for me on the internet, I am the only one out there :)

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  18. When I was getting married, I knew right off the bat that hyphenation would have been cumbersome with our last names. What I really wanted was a blending of our names that we'd both take, but after months of trying, I had to admit there was no way to make our names blend elegantly.

    So I kept my name. Honestly, I am not in love with it. But it's mine. Keeping my name wouldn't make us less married (although certain people in my life seemed to think that would be the case). If I couldn't have a blended name, I was keeping mine.

    I also admit that there was some degree of laziness involved. I didn't want to have to update my drivers license, or stand in line at the social security office, or, cod forbid, get a brand-new email address and merge everything over. I mean, these weren't my primary motivations, but being able to skip these things helped.

    There have been some aggravations. Like how the health insurance company removed me from the plan Jon gets via his job, because, since we didn't have the same last name, we were not married. I was obviously some freeloader bilking the system. When we got it straightened out, the insurance card was issued as "Allyson [Jon's last name]." When we called to get THAT straightened out, the call had to be escalated to a supervisor, because the person on the other end of the phone could not wrap her head around the fact that Jon and I were married but did not share a last name.

    Still. Aggravation aside, I am happy with the decision I made.

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  19. I totally get what you're saying Chrissy. I love my maiden name-May. It's so easy, simple, and memorable. When I got married, I decided to legally take my husband's last name, and add May as a middle name. Professionally, I still go by May though. I thought it would be easier if legally we had the same last name as each other and our children, but socially I'm known as Mrs. May. I like it that way :)

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  20. Love this post. I was recently married and i am keeping my last name. we've toyed with creating a hybrid or hyphenating and in the future who knows. all my friends ask me what my new last name was and some people were disappointed that my name was going to stay the same but hey, it's our life and it doesn't bother us. @ariel, i will keep in mind the insurance thing and i've also heard horror stories from people with kids. i think people need to open their minds and realize that folks do marriage in all sorts of ways.

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    1. I kept my last name for a long time after getting married and we didn't have a problem adding me to my husband's insurance with the different last name. We have BCBS.

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    2. Adding me wasn't the problem. But at some point, somewhere in the bureaucracy chain, someone realized, "Hm, they have different last names, they must be lying!!!111!" and bounced me. We did get it straightened out, but I was without coverage for a good 3 months...and meanwhile, the full rate for both of us was still being taken out of my husband's paycheck. So obnoxious.

      This is with United. And switching coverage isn't an option since I'm unemployed and private insurance is completely unaffordable. *sigh*

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  21. I changed my name, but perhaps not for a "good" reason. The simple -and difficult- truth is that I have always wanted to change my name, married or not, because I have a very strong dislike for my father and the person that he is. Marriage afforded me the opportunity and justification to finally change my name without making any enemies or being guilt-tripped by family or hurting my grandparents' feelings. For the record, I like Henneward but I think Hennessey is more badass a name. :)

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  22. I didn't change my name (and this was back in the 70s)....When my parents asked my husband-to-be what he thought about that, he replied: "Oh, I'm not going to change my name either." End of discussion... (The kids ended up with hyphenated last names...one has since dropped one of the names)

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  23. I changed my name and I regret it. Granted my maiden name is very difficult to spell and pronounce (at least the correct Czech way), but it was a major hassle to change my name on everything. It really should be a custom that we do away with. There is no point in it.

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