Last names

I was reading a really terrible article on CNN discussing an actor who married a high powered internationally renowned attorney, and how that attorney changed her last name.  The article itself wasn’t that bad, but the comments were. The comments were the same I see on every article or blogpost discussing last names after marriage, and they always include some variation of the following: “She has to, that’s how our society works,” to “I would never marry a woman who doesn’t take my last name” to “If you really love him you have to change your name,” to “women are not possessions anymore, she should keep her own name” to my absolute favorite “but then the children will have hyphenated last names and then when they get married to someone with a hyphenated name their children will have four last names and utter chaos will ensue.” Note to everyone who supports that last comment: when the kids grow up they can choose whatever the hell name they want for the next generation of their family.  They can pick one, use a made up new name, or end up with ten hyphens, and it’s alright, it’s their decision.

Here’s my stance on whether women should change their name when they marry: Make the decision that is right for your family, and ignore the opinions of the unrelated masses who for some reason think they have a right to give you input on your life choices.

Will and I, as you can probably guess, chose to ignore tradition.  I did not take his last name.  Why not?

1) I have my own last name, and I like it.
2) My real last name (not my blog last name) is unique.
3) Will’s last name is one of the ten most common last names in the United States.
4) If I took his last name, I would have the exact same name as several thousand other people. No thank you.
5) Will likes my last name better too, and he didn’t care if I took his name or not.
6) Our relationship is stronger than our names.

I have mentioned before that Will’s paternal grandmother hates me.  My name is one of the reasons.  Clearly, I do not respect him as a man if I didn’t take his name.  For the first couple of years of our marriage, she addressed mail to us as Will and Melinda Hislastname, as though somehow through a trick of the postal system she could impose a name change on me.  She’s given up on that, so now when we receive mail from her, it is addressed to “Mr. Will Hislastname and Melinda” as though I am an afterthought.  I told Will that he should have changed his last name to mine, just to really make her mad.  He didn’t, obviously, but we did briefly consider it.  Ultimately, we decided not to change his name though, because it would hinder his professional career and the name he had made for himself in his field. That’s something women have to think about, but men rarely even consider.

There have been a few minor annoyances in having different last names, mostly from complete strangers – for example the broker doing our mortgage – who seemed to think it was weird and there had to have been some deep meaning to our differing names.  No, this is what worked for us. We like it, and why do we need to answer your questions about it?  There are also some passive-aggressive people who insist on hyphenating my last name no matter how many times we tell them not to, and people who ignore my real name and call me Mrs. Will Hislastname (as though marriage cost me my first name as well).

I’ve also received the comment, usually from some misogynist who thinks they’ve made some great revelation, and they say “I don’t see what difference it makes. Your last name is your father’s name, so you already have a man’s last name. In order to support your right to keep your name, you should have your mother’s name, and that came from her father anyway. The whole system is against you.” There’s something deeply ignorant about that statement.  My name is not my father’s name, it is mine.  Yes, my father and I have the same last name.  Yes, he’s had it longer than me, by about thirty years.  But when I was born, my parents gave me a name.  And it became mine.  And it is my last name, regardless of where it came from or who had it first.  So it is my decision if I should keep it or change it.

When we had kids, people assumed we would either hyphenate, which would give the kids (in my opinion) an overly long and complicated name, or just give them Will’s name.  Here’s the thing though: Will hates hyphenated names.  Hates them passionately.  So after some small discussion (it was a really easy decision) we decided the best thing for our family would be to give the children my last name.  Will figured mine was more unique, more interesting, and prettier, plus he doesn’t have a huge attachment to his name which he quite literally shares with millions.

If you thought grandma Doris hated me before, you should have heard the response when she found out Wildling would not be receiving Will’s last name (though we did use it as a middle name).  Will received a very upset phone call from his father, who gave him a long lecture that culminated with a speech about how we can’t keep ignoring society’s rules and flaunting our violations of tradition.  It was epic.  And Will laughed it off, we named Wildling, and we were (and still are!) happy with it.

When I was pregnant with Mellow, again people wanted to weigh in on her name.  We had to use Will’s name this time, as it was only fair.  Or we had to give her Will’s last name as her middle name, because otherwise only Wildling would have any connection to his side of the family.  Or if she was a boy she would definitely have to have Will’s last name, because boys get the dad’s name and girl’s get the mom’s name (what? when was this law passed?). Lots of people had something to say about it.  Here’s what Will had to say “I regret giving Wildling my last name for her middle, because I don’t want to feel obligated to do that for Mellow.” And here’s what I had to say “My number one choice for a first name sounds awful with your last name as a middle name.  Your number one choice for a first name would be a perfect middle name.” His response: “Let’s do that.” My reply: “Awesome, but you have to be the one to tell your family, because I am not going to listen to Doris and your dad about this.”  And that was that.

I think names are a personal decision.  When you get married, do what works for you.  And don’t judge others for making a different decision.


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