When I got married last May, I chose to take my husband’s last name. I want to explain that decision. But most of all, I want to affirm that choosing how to deal with the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s last name is, in fact, a decision. A woman does not have to take her husband’s last name any more than he has to take hers. At the same time, all of the alternatives have their own disadvantages and complications. I am all for people who choose to take on those complications in the hopes of making a statement about being their own person (or… just because they want to). It’s just not an endeavor I chose to undertake.
There were many considerations that went into my decision to change my last name:
- The main one was practicality. I didn’t want the hassle of hyphenation, plus adding my name onto my husband’s name would make his being a “III” complicated. I also didn’t want to add confusion for our hypothetical children, especially with what to do if/when they decide to marry and already have two last names to add into the mix. Also, as a teacher, my last name is my name. It’s easier for me just to pick one and stick with it.
- In my mind, keeping my last name in some form didn’t do much to address the issue of patriarchy. My “maiden” name was my dad’s last name. I loved my dad, but he got it from his dad. Who got it from his dad. Who got it from his dad. And on and on–you know how it works. Most (if not all) last names in existence in our culture at some point came from men. It may be at least personally better to go into marriage keeping the name that has been mine since birth, but it’s still a remnant of a male-dominated society. (As an aside, I still do consider my “maiden” name as part of my full name. Growing up, I thought of my mom’s maiden name as part of her full name, so it felt natural to me. My maiden name just isn’t part of my name in a legal sense. Making it my legal middle name would be complicated in my state. Plus, I am attached to my current middle name, and wouldn’t want to replace it).
- Least importantly, I like my husband’s last name. It’s of German descent. I was born in Germany (and know a fair bit of German), and I like that connection.
Now that I’ve lived with my name change for several months, here’s some of what I’ve found:
- At the outset, changing my name has been way more hassle than I accounted for. I have been regularly surprised how poorly systems are set up for name changes, especially since the overwhelming majority of women do still change their name when they get married. My name change has also resulted into me splitting into two different people in an office’s record and getting extra screening at the airport (complete with a pat-down) because I have a name-change update card for my license. (It’s a government-issued update card that, in combination with my license, clearly shows I am the same person single or married, but whatever). Hopefully as time goes on I will reap the logistical benefits of having the same last name as my husband (and our hypothetical children), but that hasn’t been the case so far.
- I try to state my name change in a way that makes it clear the concept is a choice. I try to avoid saying, “I got married, so my last name changed,” as though it’s an obvious and natural course of events. Instead, I say, “I got married, and I did take my husband’s last name,” or “My last name is different because I decided to take my husband’s last name.”
- Sometimes it’s nice having a different last name. As a teacher, your last name is special because it’s how your students know you; it can also be incredibly irritating because you hear it constantly. While it felt strange having a new last name to start the school year, it also felt kind of like a free fresh start. Also, for now, I am using “Dause” for my writing and my married name for teaching. It’s a helpful way to keep the two separate (makes me a little less Google-able).
I don’t in any way want to minimize the way the woman-takes-man’s-last-name custom plays into the ways women are treated as lesser beings than men. The way most men react when considering taking a woman’s last name is proof of not only how ingrained the custom is, but how rarely men actually have to think about what things are like for women. When my husband and I were engaged, I asked him how he would have reacted if I had wanted him to take his last name. Even though he knew it was hypothetical and I had already decided to take his last name, it was still very difficult for him to think about. Women are expected to do take their husband’s last name by default, while men are shocked (even repulsed) at the the thought of replacing their current last name with their wife’s family name. It’s a huge issue, reflecting how taken for granted sexism is in our society.
I’m not proud of taking my husband’s last name. I’m not ashamed, either. It’s just what I chose. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. There will probably be times I think about it a lot and time I don’t think about it at all. Regardless, it was my choice. I’m all for women (and men) making the choice that seems best for their personal circumstances. I just want women to be fully aware that they have a choice to make.