Taking Your Husband’s Last Name

I want to start with a confession.

Being a product of this society; being of a certain upbringing and weakness of character periodically, I succumb to the very conventions and behaviors I criticize. So with this disclaimer, let me get on my soapbox and state my dislike for the custom of taking your husband’s name.

There are some exceptions, of course, that can present some mitigating circumstances. For example, if you always hated your last name with a passion, for instance, then this might be a great opportunity to create a change. If your parents were infamous criminals and you had to bear that cross throughout your childhood then that’s another excuse. If you were molested by your father, I can understand your need and desire to distance yourself from tangible reminders. But otherwise – WHY?

If your husband’s last name is Mandela or Einstein and maybe you’ve struggled with some inferiority complex about your self-worth, and having such an illustrious last name will make you proud – this I understand. But if your husband’s last name is just what it is a last name, why would you take on his name?

More broadly, I often wonder about the unexamined hundreds of actions and decisions we make on a daily basis that we choose to do without even pausing to consider. I see taking your husband’s name as one of those.

The irony, of course, lies in the fact that so many brides dislike their inlaws!

 So we women get married and the next day we have a different name that we adapt to ohsoquickly, but how many women even ponder the possibility of asking their husbands to take on their last name?

And, why is it so easy to let go of the word that used to define and symbolize who you are and the place and family you come from?

There’s an additional irony, of course.  With today’s society and our rate of divorce we’ve created a situation where a woman may have a good number of last names in her life, yet none are really hers And yet, moving  from one husband to the other, the thought about holding on to one’s familiar and familial name does not even enter the picture.

Why are we content to become Jones after our wedding and stop being Smith a name that was ours from birth? Is it because we are not content, or simply not thinking?

Or, perhaps we just do what everyone else does.

Rachel Bar nee Ezrachi

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About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in DIVORCE, last name, Marriage, Relationships, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Taking Your Husband’s Last Name

  1. WOAH!!!.. I guess this really is a soap box issue..(red letters and all..you go girl)..but yet a yummy one to have..so while you on it and let me offer you a piece of the Doughnut to bite..I for one believe that the last name issue is one that should be decided by the couple..for they are the ones becoming ONE..which i find kinda funny..but that’s another thing..So it’s their thing to do..there are so many reasons one would want their spouse to have their last name..especially a male, but for me I wanted my Doughnut holes to have my last name.. especially the male one..For I wanted him to carry the burden of being the next generations and increasing the notoriety (famous or infamous). I also wanted this not to be a choice as I “have”..willed it.. that his next male offspring would bare this name as well.. now does the females have to carry my name..nope..they probably would loose it when they become ONE..but if they choose to keep it I would be just as happy…

    I feel the last name does have a meaning whether its the males or female..it hold history..so loosing it could be a lost for some, but to other’s it’s Freedom..and obtain their surname after a divorce was like my mother, a sign of closure and independence again..

    But when you think about it..Do one really ever loose their last name? For you can marry all you want..if your a Bumpkin by blood you will always be a Bumpkin..no matter how many Uppies you hitch up with..

    to answer you question though..people are sheep..and will do what the Shepard says..for if you go astray..you will either get, beaten, eaten, or force to live a hard life…

  2. Nick says:

    A lot of women used to do it so their children…who bore the husband’s last name…would have the same last name as she did. Different last names wth the mother were seen as a stigma on both the children and the mother. That’s really no longer the case in our society in the last 20-30 years thanks to the high divorce rate, and the spread of women’s demands for their own independence. With respect, I actually think your post is less important now than it would have been 20 years ago. But then I’m a man, so my perspective may be wrong.

    • rachel bar says:

      You will be surprised, Nick, by the amount of emails I privately received this morning, from women who are bright and professional and still intend to take on their husband’s last name, because it makes them more comfortable, and gives them a sense of “belonging”. 😦

  3. Margot says:

    I went by my “maiden” name for years into my marriage; I had degrees and a career that all knew me by that name. Why change it? Then the kids came along. I was concerned that they would have enough issues — being adopted — that they didn’t need the additional issue of confused last names. I’ve kept my name as my “middle” name instead.

  4. Barbara Cooper says:

    As one who changed her last name long before marriage for show business reasons, I happily took my husband’s last name while keeping my made up for show business name in the middle.
    I never liked my maiden name and felt it had no marquee value (easy to remember, easy to pronounce) My own father always used a made up name whenever he made reservations at a restaurant for dinner- it was just easier than having to spell our last name and then having it mispronounced when we arrived. When I married a Cooper, I thought it was nice and easy- easy to pronounce and easy to spell. I was wrong, I all too often say “Cooper” and watch whoever is writing it down write Copper. I say, That’s copper, now do you want to try for Cooper?” God knows what these morons would write if I attempted my maiden name.
    On another note, many years ago I dated a man whom I would have liked to marry simply for his last name. It was Shopper. I would have enjoyed going through life entering stores and hearing said, “Here she is, Mrs. Shopper” How wonderfully appropriate that would have been, but alas, not a reason for marriage. I don’t in any way feel that I have given up my identity or anything else of myself by taking my husband’s last name. I actually enjoy it. But that’s just me. An actually, at this point in my life I’ve been Cooper longer than I ever was my maiden name. But I’ve no problem with women keeping their own names if they so desire. To each his (or her) own!

  5. susan says:

    This is an interesting issue for me. I happened to come into this world with a wonderful last name. Not many call themselves a “Hollywood” and it served me well for 23 years. Nobody ever forgot me, I was asked constantly about it, and I had a lot of fun with it. At the time it never occurred to me to not take on my husband’s name….I guess I was a traditional girl and maybe it had something to do with my upbringing and age. After all my father was born in 1897 and I wasn’t instilled with too many modern values in the beginning of my budding young life. Now, many years later, I’m finding that I miss being Susan Hollywood…..although I do use it as a middle name. My husband could have cared less whether or not I took his name so it had nothing to do with him. Maybe some day I’ll change it back. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it….but now that you bring it up….I was probably a little crazy to give it up.

    • rachel bar says:

      I loved your “Hollywood” name, and was surprised when you changed it. Knowing your husband, I know that he is the kind of guy that would never make an issue of it. He does not strike me at all as someone whose ego depends on symbols such as this.

  6. Martha Carr says:

    Hi Rachel! Amusing and provocative in your straightforward style as usual! I got married 33 years ago when taking the husband’s name was still the thing one usually did and before hyphenated names became popular (which I personally dislike because I always think about what will happen if their children have to hyphenate their hyphenated names and then their kids, etc etc!) Anyway, I digress! At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of losing my name (it was a weird thought to me and felt at first like a loss of identity) BUT after sitting with it for a while I realized my new name gave me an opportunity to become whoever I wanted to be, as that person never existed before. So it felt expansive and I felt proud to be Mrs. so and so. (and it would be easier for our kids)…. I also played with using my maiden as my middle name but then didn’t want to give up my real middle name so dropped that too. I noticed when my father died, and also when my brother recently died, I very much wanted to be associated again with my maiden name. It’s a living and evolving thing I guess!n Plus, it’s easier to address envelopes!:)

    • rachel bar says:

      I do think that taking someone else’s name is a statement, when we stop to think about it. I believe that most women do not think about it at all (but that does not include you), and most importantly, it is very hard to project to the future, and think through all the things that may make us regret it. A little bit like having a tattoo all over your face, and not thinking that you may get tired of it, or that the symbols painted will cease to have the same significance.

  7. Truett says:

    Rachel, I know of a gay couple who, some 25 years ago, took each others last names, hyphenated. They are no longer together and unlike a facial tattoo have little to no remains of their hyphenated names. I was irritated when they took each others last names because I thought they were following a heterosexual tradition that came about because men used to “own” their wives. I knew that women were not always allowed to own property and that being married and taking their husband’s name was seen as adding to their power and status. I thought the only explanation for two gay men to do this was because of the most powerful and dangerous drug known, LOVE.

  8. Annie says:

    I still use my maiden name on stage, but I did take my husband’s name. Why I traded Box for the difficult to spell and pronounce Marggraf? A lot of it had to do with my brother’s infamy in our community.

  9. Interesting post. I readily took on my husband’s name – whereas some friends in my era did not. It created a better feeling of bonding and togetherness. Our family was united and as the children became adults, all together we were a strong team. now that illusion is shattered, so too the feelings for the name. I am no longer the person who was half of the couple. Yet it is the name my children bear so to break away from it would mean losing part of that which is also shared with them. To go back to my maiden name is not an option for me as I am no longer that person either. This is one dilemma that is not yet solved in my mind. But you have definitely made me think!

  10. rachel bar says:

    I know the feeling. I stayed with my ex husband’s name because of the children, but sometimes it is quite uncomfortable. Especilally since we’ve been divorced for so long. I know someone who simply changed her last name to a new name that she loved, once her children were in college.

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