October 17, 2016

Should You Change Your Name After Marriage?

For many women, getting engaged is like opening the floodgates to an ocean they had never known existed, much less given serious thought.

One issue that I personally hadn't given much thought before getting married was the tradition of taking your husband's last name—a topic that turns out to be a pretty heated issue, at least throughout the wedding blogging community. (But then again, so are place cards, so take that for what it's worth.)

It does make sense, though: there are many factors—some merely practical, some based on deep-seated personal beliefs—a woman might consider when deciding to change her name. So it's not surprising that this issue can become a divisive one.

As someone who has only recently dived into this particular ocean, I find the whole thing particularly interesting (and, of course, relevant). So I'll admit, while I didn't really mean to stumble down this rabbit hole, I'm not doing much to get myself out. The more I read, the more I'm fascinated by what women on both sides have to say.

So if you're interested in coming down the rabbit hole with me, let me give you a crash course: here are some of the things you can expect to hear while you're down here with me.

Reasons women are against name-change

"I don't like the history."
For a lot of women, taking their husband's name symbolizes a history that they're not pumped about honoring.

For example, in the U.S., this tradition can at least partly be traced back to the doctrine of coverture—a legal doctrine where married women had essentially no rights. (Basically, coverture dictated that a married woman was a dependent of her husband, and could not own property in her own name or control her own earnings.) It actually wasn't until 1972 that a woman's right to use her maiden name in whatever ways she pleased was legally confirmed in the U.S.

Understandably, some women find this a bit—well, gross. So for many, keeping their birth name is their way of slapping a big fat "nope" on that chapter of history.

"I don't want to give up who I was."
Another reason women have for keeping their birth name is that they are really happy about who they were before they were married, and they don't want to "lose" that.

I put quotation marks around "lose" because different women seem to view "losing" their identity in different ways. For example, for some women, it is more of a symbolic thing; losing their birth name feels like losing the woman who owned it (and they want to keep her around).

Other women, though, feel they would be literally losing their identity by changing their name. And (especially in the age of the internet), this makes a lot of sense; if all of a woman's accomplishments—career achievements, athletic recognitions, etc.—are tied to her birth name, changing her name risks losing a large chunk of her portfolio to people not making the connection to her married name. This is a risk a lot of women, particularly those established in their careers, don't want to take.

"It's too complicated."
Last but not least, some women opt to keep their birth name to save their sanity. Because, sure, dealing with the Social Security Administration isn't always that bad... but that's only the beginning. Legally changing your last name means you also have to change your name on things like your passport, bank accounts, credit cards, leases, insurance policies, utility bills, student loans, retirement plans, voter registrations, even your subscription to Cosmo.

Of course, getting married is a lot of work too, so if a married woman wants to change her name, this generally isn't going to stop her. But for some women on the fence, this huge snowball of paperwork and seemingly boundless hassle is enough to tip them over the edge.

Reasons women are for name-change

"I like the tradition."
While some women don't take their husband's name because of the tradition's history, some women are able to separate the tradition today from the tradition's historical meaning. To these women, changing your name today has no more to do with coverture than engagement rings have to do with Pliny the Elder, who gave his bride a ring to signify her binding legal agreement to his ownership of her.

And in some ways, this makes sense: many of the today's customs have unsavory pasts, but they've evolved over time to simply be a tradition that we enjoy taking part in. I mean, not many people today wear Halloween costumes to "ward off roaming ghosts." No, we do it because, hello, costume contests.

"I want to have the same name as our children."
An obvious reason many women change their name after marrying is that they want to have the same name as their spouse. And it seems this is even more common when children are involved, since children often take their father's last name.

And this makes total sense to me: sharing a name with your family is a visual reminder that you are a unit and a team. (Plus, making DIY pinecone wreaths saying "The Joneses" is a lot easier than wreaths that say "The Joneses and Betty Garfunkel," if you know what I mean.)

"I like his name better."
Finally, one reason that many women seem to have for changing their name is surprisingly unsurprising: they just like their husband's name better. So cheers to you, Betty Jones. We all had a hard time spelling "Garfunkel" anyway.

Obviously, this rabbit hole has a lot more twists and turns than what you might've imagined. This decision can become a lot bigger than just what letters you have monogrammed on your beer coozies, after all. And what's more, I've only traveled down the rabbit hole relating to heterosexual couples; the name game for same-sex couples can be even more unclear.

But the good news is that it's a decision where you can't really go wrong: if you choose what feels right to you, then you've made the right choice.

What do you think about this? If you're married, did you change your name? Why or why not?