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To Change or Not to Change Your Name – That is the Question
Being a bride means making decisions, literally hundreds of decisions, both large and small. One decision that every bride must make is the choice to take her husband’s name or keep her own.
‘What’s in a name?’ the immortal question asked by Juliet. Shakespeare tells us that our name does not define us, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but as any bride can tell you, this is a big decision.
As a bride myself once, I wrestled with this choice. Many brides describe this as one of the most stressful decisions that they had to make. The choice of changing or keeping a name is highly personal and multifaceted.
What would you think if your soon-to-be spouse wanted to create a new name for the two of you?
Many brides describe the idea of changing their name as traditional. One bride I spoke to explained that changing her name was, “Just like our rings, I thought it was part of showing our commitment.”
Another bride explained, “Doing the name change is psychologically a way to confirm that yes, indeed, I am married to this man.” There is a lot to be said for tradition.
If you are leaning toward this choice, you are not alone. Approximately 60-80% of all brides do choose to take their husbands name in some form.
The tradition of brides changing their names dates back to the 18th century in America. We can all remember back in junior high, as young girls we were writing down names on our notebooks as Mrs. Latest Crush, practicing the various ways our names would change.
As women, we have become accustomed to the idea of changing our names with marriage. For many brides, this choice is a simple one, follow tradition.
For some brides however, this decision can be more complicated. The choice to take your husband’s name is much easier if you aren’t happy with your own name or if his name is much easier.
Of course your husband-to-be is always a big part of the decision. Most brides said their husband was comfortable either way.
But one bride shared, “My hubby is very traditional and told me that if I wasn't going to take his name, then there was no point in getting married. It mattered way more to him than me, so I took his name.”
Having the same name as your husband can make life easier. Monogrammed gifts, travelling together, dealing with schools, even dinner reservations are simply easier if you both have the same name.
As you may have figured out when addressing your own wedding invitations, it can be complicated when spouses have different names. Everything is less complicated when there is only one name on the mailbox.
A single family name is also an outward symbol for most brides. “I am becoming a part of his family, and I like the tradition of it.” Most brides can vividly recall the first moment they were introduced as Mr. & Mrs. As one bride explained, “For me it was an easy decision to make. It was a feeling of unity.”
And Baby Makes Three
As any mom will tell you, children can and often do make things complicated, and this is never more true when deciding to keep or change your name. Add a previous marriage and the name conversation can get tricky very quickly.
As one mom explained, “I've found that it just makes things a little more difficult that my child and I don't share the same last name.” Second marriages present even a larger host of unique challenges.
Another mom, that had been married previously, shared that, “This was a hard decision for me, and we had to have a considerable discussion between my kids, my husband, and me.” In the end this mom chose to keep her last name the same as her children, and her new husband supported her choice.
Putting the Past Behind You
Embracing a new name can be exciting for a bride, a way to embrace her future with her new husband. But for some brides it can be a way to leave the past behind them.
A challenging past or a difficult relationship with your one or both of your parents may provide a good incentive to make a name change. One honest bride described, “I didn't have a good relationship with my father so keeping the name really didn't hold value for me. It was an easy thing to change.”
Another bride shared, “I had no plans to keep my maiden name because it belonged to my father, and I didn't care to have any connection with him.” Making this break can be a healthy way to enter into your new future.
This was the situation for me. My last name, and even my middle one, connected me to the sordid past I had with my parents and the rest of my “family.”
I Don’t Want to Lose My Heritage
While some brides are eager to let go of the past, for others it can be a difficult choice. Several brides I spoke with discussed being the last person in their family to use the family name.
There is some sadness and regret about being the last in a line of descendants, as one bride explained, “It's very possible my last name will die out if I change it.” Many brides have chosen to address this concern by using their maiden name as their middle name, thus keeping the name alive in some fashion.
One bride shared, “I think it's important to think about the lineage of your last name, when it will end, and to consider what last name your future children will have should you keep your maiden name.”
It is common in other cultures, and other countries, for brides to keep their family name. In China, for example, brides rarely change their family name. Although with the adoption of western culture, Chinese brides in this country are more likely to adopt their husband’s name.
I Am Fine Just the Way I Am
Not every bride is eager to embrace a new identity. Around 35% of brides today choose to keep their name for a wide variety of reasons.
For quite a few women, their adult identity is already established well before getting wed. One bride explained, “I had already established a career when I got married, and didn't want to change my name.”
Older brides are more likely to have strong business or professional reasons for keeping their names. Another bride described, “I took my maiden name professionally and so legally my name is hyphenated.”
Beyond just professional contacts, many brides described challenges in changing their names, including investment holdings. One bride described a resident status in a foreign country that she would lose if she changed her name.
Many brides agree however, the older and more established you are, the easier it probably is to just keep your maiden name. One bride explained, “You're getting married, not becoming a different person. Changing your last name may feel like a loss of self or a loss of identity.”
Sometimes being successful can make it hard to change your name. If you've become known in your career field, it may be hard to reestablish your reputation with a different last name.
There are many important implications for name changes.
Finding the Middle Ground?
Many brides have discovered that there are options besides just taking their husband’s name. One of the obvious options is hyphenating your last names.
This then becomes a choice about whether just the bride hyphenates, while the groom stays with his last name solo, or both the bride and groom using the hyphenated name.
As one bride explained, “Initially after getting married, I kept my maiden name. But three years later I decided to hyphenate, and I love it. It really respects both of our family's lineage.”
Another bride shared her reasons for hyphenating, “I like the fact that I am keeping something that I've had for my whole life, but just adding something new to it. I am still me, but I am also embarking on a new life with my husband. “
As times are changing, some husbands are now even choosing to take their wife’s last name. Something that’s even more daring, but still an option for marrying couples, you can combine both of your last names into a new name.
Many couples are embracing this idea, both as a way of compromising on the topic, and of creating a brand-new name for their new life together.
As marriages change in this country, newly married gay couples are also faced with the decisions of changing or keeping their names. While most same-sex couples do choose to keep their names, it is becoming more common for gay couples to choose changing or hyphenating their names.
Some brides have honestly shared their concern about changing their name, “What if the marriage does not work out?” Divorce is a reality today and not all marriages last.
Because of this, brides who are on their second marriage are much less likely to change their name, although a number of these brides are also eager to leave their ex’s name behind them.
Name changes can also lead to confusion in certain families. I have two sister-in-laws with the same first and last name. I have found that I have to use their maiden names in my contact’s list or I get confused.
There are many reasons why brides may choose to change or keep their names.
As one bride concluded, “I think it's nice to have a choice and the freedom to pick the name you like best and want to use, whatever your reasons.” There is no absolute right or wrong decision. Names are as diverse and unique and the families they represent.
Whether your decision is to “doff thy name” or retain your title, remember, that which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
This is a personal decision for each bride and each couple, that they have to make together. It is nice though, that there are so many options for girls making this big decision when getting married.
What are you considering doing in regards to changing your name?
© 2014 Victoria Van Ness