I Changed My Name When I Got Married—and Now I’m Changing It Back
February 12, 2016
Four years ago, I got married and took my husband’s name. I did so without hesitation. Every other woman in my family had done it—women whom I love and respect greatly for their accomplishments inside and outside the household. Although the nature of my relationship has been relatively “progressive” (we lived together for six years before marriage, he assumes a large portion of parenting duties), the formalities of my marriage were absolutely motivated by tradition: the name change, the church wedding, the china, the diamond ring. Changing your name is how my family rolls, and I was cool with it.
Timing also played a part in my decision to change my name. Going through the legal name-change process gave the big event some extra oomph, which I needed after having shared a bathroom with this man for the majority of my twenties. We were also in the throes of a major life shift: Within a month of getting married, we put down our geriatric dog, moved across the country, and underwent a lifestyle change as my husband became a full-time student. It felt very natural for me to think, “Here’s my new life—and here’s my new name!”
When I made the decision, it was also motivated by an urge to become more unified with my partner once we got married. Sharing a name gives both players a “team mentality” and an accountability for the name. Marriages need all the help they can get; and small, somewhat inconsequential things (such as a name change) can help foster a feeling of togetherness.
But four years after getting married, I started waking up in a panic. Why on earth did I change my name? I didn’t have to! I feel like I’ve let down my own family’s name by absentmindedly nabbing another. My marriage is thriving, our daughter is a blast, I adore my in-laws, but I feel a little bit in limbo. I’m not quite sure who this lady with the new name and the grubby ponytail is. Oh wait, it’s me!
As a result of this limbo, I started to fantasize about changing my name back. During this process, I thought about the reasons why women do and do not change their names.
Approximately 20% of women married in recent years choose to keep their maiden names after marriage according to a Google Consumer Survey. This decision is often based on a feeling that the patriarchal, heteronormative tradition of a woman taking a man’s name is outdated. After all, many of the traditional aspects of marriage in the United States are starting to fall by the wayside, so it makes sense that a woman keeping her maiden name (or a man taking her name, or the couple creating a new name) would become more mainstream.
For many women, the decision to keep their names entails a mix of practicality, principle, and professional identity. Many of my acquaintances who opted to stick with their names did so, simply, because the practice of taking their husbands’ names seemed antiquated, and they didn’t want to deal with the bureaucratic hassle of a name change. Others cite professional reasons—either because they are older with a well-established reputation, or are building momentum and don’t want to start over with a new name. One friend said, “I started under one name and wanted to continue as that same ‘self’ who had earned that degree and logged so many hours training and working to get where I was going.”
There’s also the question of precedent. While many women change their names because their mothers did, the opposite is also true. “Since my mom never changed her name, I knew from the earliest age that retaining my last name was an option available to me,” one friend told me. “There was sometimes confusion from school administrators [about why my mother and I didn’t share a last name], but the confusion never felt overly burdensome… and I think I probably enjoyed correcting certain adults.” While deciding to keep your name in 2016 may not have the political gravitas it did for women in the ’60s and ‘70s (when some states upheld laws requiring women to change their names), it’s still a way of telling our patriarchal society: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
So after six months of mulling it over, I recently decided to begin the process of transitioning back to my maiden name, the prospect of which brings me great relief. It’s comforting to realize that my name is still there for me—all I have to do is start using it again! Once I’ve switched back socially and professionally, I’ll reassess and see if I want to trek back to the social security office to make it official—or maybe not. Perhaps I can find a happy existence with two different names: One who does nifty things outside the house, and one who pays the Comcast bill. As my husband said when I nervously broke the news to him: “It’s your name; you should do whatever you want with it.”
Luckily for all of us, this topic of changing your name after marriage is neither right nor wrong, but a truly a personal choice that women should make for themselves. When it comes to your name, it’s up to you. Change it; keep it; or change it, and then panic and change it back even though you’re happily married. To each her own.