“If I marry, should I change my last name?”
It’s a question that has become a part of women’s* culture in the English-speaking world, and one that some would say has no right answer but only wrong ones. (Because I’m talking about established traditions, I’m talking only about cis-het marriages.) (* Men can opt in but usually don’t.)
In this culture, the most common choices are: she keeps her last name; she changes her last name to his; she hyphenates the names. Other options include: he changes his last name to hers; he hyphenates the names (probably only if she does too); together they pick a new name that they’ll share.
I kept my name. When I was a child, I never expected to get married. My names — first, middle last — range from very unusual to unique, and I’ve always felt very attached to all of them (except when I was little and found my first name to be burdensomely weird, but I’ve grown into it). I’m an atheist and a feminist. Wolf and I were together for years in a common law relationship before we got married.
My mom changed her name at first. At the time, the law required women to change their names, and it was a legal hassle to keep your own name. She went back to her maiden name while she and my dad were still together, though they subsequently divorced. (Pretty sure the name thing wasn’t a factor!) She always felt that her own last name was part of her identity and resented being forced to change. (Also, her first name + my dad’s last name had an awkward rhythm.) She’s an atheist and a feminist. She’s married again now and kept her own name.
An acquaintance changed her name. She had been teased about it as a child and positively jumped at the opportunity to be rid of it. She married again, changed her name again. She’s now single but still keeps that second married name. As I understand it, the decision was primarily aesthetic.
My (half-)sister changed her name. I was very surprised, frankly, given our non-traditional, extended, blended family. I asked her why but her answer didn’t make a lot of sense. Her maiden name was her father’s (he and my mom never married, and it was mom’s idea to give her his name), so she argued that it was one man’s name or another’s. Perhaps, but only one of those names had been hers since birth, and our mother’s last name had belonged to our grandfather. Her answer struck me as justification rather than the real reason, which I suspect was that she simply wanted to change it but hadn’t really figured out why. She then got divorced and bemoaned the hassle of changing all of her ID and everything back to her maiden name. Even though an “I told you so” was hovering about, I wisely said nothing. She has just gotten remarried and this time kept her name, which I think suits her personality and worldview better. She’s also an atheist and a feminist.
Among my extended family (including relationships in which the woman is related by marriage), there are four women who kept their names and two who changed. There are no hyphenated names among the women but some among their kids.
I grew up with the idea that a woman deciding to keep her name was the new default. No one questioned my choice not to change my name, which I attribute to the fact that people either didn’t feel challenged by it or knew better than to say anything.
I have more thoughts on this topic, but they will have to wait.