Why I kept my last name

Lindsay McMullen

I took my husband’s hand in marriage, but not his name.

When I was planning my wedding, my mom joked that I wouldn’t be changing my name because if I did, she would disown me.

I came at changing my name from a different angle from many people. My mother and her friends kept their names. As a child, this never fazed me. Mom and Dad had different first names and different last names, and that made sense. My mom was more involved at my school than Dad, so no one was confused about who my mom was, or why she didn’t have his name (actually, they gave him her name, calling him Mr. Nancy).

So when my fiance and I were swept up in wedding planning during our five-month engagement, I wasn’t expecting so many people to ask me if I’d change my name. Maybe they expected me to be more “traditional” since I’m religious, or they remembered my mom hadn’t changed hers.

I kept my name. It felt wrong for me, someone who loves the name I’ve had my whole life, to give it up. Plus, while this choice remains overwhelmingly gendered, I felt it was a feminist statement, something that mattered to me.

The problem was, everyone who asked only ever asked me. As much as we like to believe equality reigns—and legally any party can change their name in a marriage—it didn’t seem to occur to anyone that my husband could change his name.

And that bugs me, honestly.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with having a different last name from your partner. No, you won’t confuse your future children. I grew up with parents with different last names, and it never upset me, or hurt my view of marriage (I was married at the statistically average age of 27).

No, we are not less committed to one another. And yes, we feel like a family. We combine our last names in a portmanteau to give us a family name we use informally: Briggbeck. Is this necessary? Not at all. Is it fun and unique? Absolutely. (It was our wedding hashtag! It’s our family email address!)

For some people, having a united family name is really important, and there are many ways to go here; either party could change their name, some people create new names and some find a common last name in their genealogy. But those aren’t the options you find discussed in the wedding Facebook groups. It still falls to women. And that pressure is a problem.

When you get married, you are creating your own family. As you plan a wedding together with your partner, you make choices that reflect who you are as a couple, but you also make choices about the family you’re starting.

So it’s important to consider deeper significance of your choices as you plan your wedding. Invite lists ask, “Who is important to your future together?” Registries ask, “What will family dinner look like day in and out?” Writing a ceremony asks, “Which readings describe the path you’re setting out on?” Name change is one decision, important like any other. Don’t ignore its past or current cultural significance. Consider those and learn what it means to you both.

And no, we haven’t decided what last name we’ll give our kids some day. But we have a lot of options to consider.

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