I’ve been married for three years and I still can’t pick a married last name

Guest post by Amy
I've been married for three years and I still can't pick a married last name
What if THIS isn’t your name future?
Future Mrs Gift from PoppyandErie

It happens all the time. Someone will look at me, ask for my name, and I’ll panic.

What is my name here?

My doctor and my library know me as Ms. My-Last-Name. Our dog groomer and favorite restaurant know me as Mrs. His-Last-Name. My bank knows me as both. And at some point, my gym changed my name to match my husband’s, but I forget and give them the wrong name every time.

Who am I this time?

Three years ago, I married the most wonderful man in the world. Our courtship was blissful. Our wedding was a dream. And then, a few days later, he asked me when I was going to change my last name.

What? If I’d been on a TV show, you’d have heard the cliché sound of a record scratch. I was baffled. What about my personality ever made him think I was the kind of woman who would change her name? We’d never talked about it because, frankly, I never thought we’d have to. We’d already agreed that we didn’t want children, so why on Earth would I change my name?

“Because that’s your dad’s name,” was one of the reasons he gave.

“No, it’s MY name,” I responded, pointing out all the marriages, divorces, and different last names that make up his family tree.

And just like that, my last name became a sore spot in an otherwise easy marriage.

He lives in a culture where every wife he knows embraces her husband’s last name. Except his.

Being child-free, it doesn’t come up very often. But then I’ll call a plumber who arrives and greets my husband as Mr. My-Last-Name and I feel like I’ve rubbed salt in the wound.

So my husband I don’t talk about it. He’s the absolute best, and he loves me no matter what, but he’s sad about it. And why shouldn’t he be? He lives in a culture where every wife he knows embraces her husband’s last name. Except his.

Sure, he could take my name, or we could pick a new one together. But he’s built a great career with his name and doesn’t want to change it for the same reasons I don’t want to change mine. He wants me to take his name. And honestly, I like the idea of sharing a name with him. Some days, that’s enough. Those days, I decide that I want to change my name.

But other days, I love the way my name looks and sounds. Or I log onto Facebook and see my father-in-law ranting about immigrants or Hillary’s emails — and I don’t want to share anything, especially my name — with that. That’s not who I am.

So I make dinner reservations as Mrs. His-Last-Name. I present a credit card as Ms. My-Last-name. And somehow, I feel uncomfortable with both. Three years into marriage, I’m no closer to figuring out which name is mine.

Have you encountered this problem? How did you handle it? What about same sex couples?

Comments on I’ve been married for three years and I still can’t pick a married last name

  1. I kept my maiden name when I got married, and it’s never been an issue. We did talk about it beforehand, but it wasn’t really so much a discussion as “Btw, I’m keeping my last name”, because my name has nothing to do with how I feel about my husband. My name is closely tied to who I am, and I don’t think I should have to give up part of my identity just because I’m married. In the very beginning I hyphenated in public – I never legally changed my name, but my email, FB, etc. had both last names. But after a while I realized that I was only doing that because I was succumbing to the pressure of society to take my husband’s last name. I felt no connection to his name, I was only doing it to make other people happy, and after a time that felt ridiculous. We’ve been married now for 12 years and it’s absolutely a non-issue. Every now and then, when we meet new people, I’ll have to mention that I kept my last name when we got married, but the more women keep their name, the more normal it becomes, and now most people aren’t even fazed by it.

    I think the most important thing is for your husband to realize that you keeping your name has absolutely nothing to do with him. It doesn’t mean you don’t love him or that you aren’t committed to him, it just means that you value your own identity.

    • (I just asked my husband if, even 12 years later, it ever bothers him that I didn’t take his name and he said “No. I know how important it was for you”.)

  2. I love having two names. It’s like I have my own a.k.a. I kept my maiden name legally. My husband would have liked me to take his name, but accepted me keeping my name (he knew who he was marrying). Sometimes I’m Ms. My-Last-Name, sometimes I’m Ms. His-Last-Name. Since I handle the finances and household, sometimes he’s Mr. My-Last-Name (which makes him chuckle). I’ve embraced that I’m both. I don’t have to choose one or the other.

  3. My husband assumed (correctly) that I’d keep my name. It has never ever caused a problem. He’s more likely to be called by my last name than I am by his. He has no ego attached to it. We’ve been married for six years.

    Frankly, I’m sometimes surprised when friends DO change their names. In my office of professionals, three of five kept our last names. But in my husband’s workplace, more women take their husband’s name. I have no idea why, though I’m in a profession that takes years to build and the people in his workplace are a little younger.

    The dogs are hyphenated, and the theoretical kids will be too. It’s up to them to figure out what they want to do going forward.

  4. I kept my name, but I can see why you struggle, and I think I live in a bubble where most of us keep our names. That said I didn’t realize how horrifically attached I was until I needed a pseudonym for publishing. I still haven’t picked one, because at the end of the day I am so attached to my given name, but I want one because sometimes I write things I don’t need the same world as my business world to read (and I’m the only person on Earth with my name as far as google can tell).

  5. I hyphenated. 8 years in, I’m way more comfortable with the hyphenated name than I used to be. I also will go by my last name when I’m out socially in hobbies that my partner and I do not share (4 letters, no hyphen is easier than 12 letters and a hyphen). I never, ever, EVER go by Mrs. Hislastname. If people try that, I immediately correct them to my hyphenated name. I was uneasy with my decision to hyphenate first, but now, years later, it’s easy and I like it. I hope that as time goes by, you will also find peace with whatever your decision is.

  6. I struggled with this too. I knew I wanted to keep my name in some fashion, but wanted to acknowledge the joining of our two families. Initially, I added my maiden name as a second middle name, but informally went by both as a last name. He also took my maiden name as a second middle name. But I found being called Ms. – or worse, Mrs. – Hislastname, as often happened, to be grating, and it was hard to ask otherwise because it technically was my legal last name. So, I eventually legally changed my name to both last names, his snd mine, with a space between, no hyphen. It felt so much better to me.

    The whole thing was hard on my husband. He is an only child and felt a responsibility to continue the family name, and was a bit hurt that I didn’t just want to take his last name. But I tried it and it just didn’t work for me. I wanted my married name to reflect both of our families. In the end, I changed my name twice – once when I got married, and once to change my legal last name to Maidenname Hisname. He kept my maiden name as a second middle name. It felt like a good compromise and a nice acknowledgement of both of our families/identities coming together by marriage.

  7. For me, taking my husband’s last name felt revolutionary. My husband is transgender so the very fact that we could get married and I could change my name to match his with relative ease was amazing. It also helped him feel more traditionally masculine. He had been in a marriage prior to ours where he changed his name and I think going back to his original last name and then sharing it with me felt very affirming to me. There was a time when it felt odd to have his name and especially to sign it but now nearly six years later it is very much who I am.

  8. The only discussion we had prior to getting married was whether we would both hyphenate to MyLastName-HisLastName for both of us, but when he looked at all the paperwork involved we decided that we would just keep our own names. It was never even discussed that I would take his. Ever. We’ve had to remind some older relatives who like sending letters to Dr. and Mrs. HisLastName (which is just infuriating), but that’s really it. I’m Ms. myLastName everywhere, and no one has batted an eyelid where we live. (I mean we are relatively close to Quebec where it’s illegal to change your name when you marry, so that might be why). We do get post sometimes to Family MyLastName, as I tend to be the one to do most of the paperwork for life etc, but he doesn’t really care. He also doesn’t seem to care being called Mr. MyLastName either which happens sometimes.

    If we ever have a kid, they will have my name as I’m the last of my line and he isn’t.

    I think that 80% of my friends changed (in different countries and cultures too), but no one has expressed to us that what we did was strange or pressured me to change my name. Maybe I just come across as one of those people who wouldn’t stand an argument on this topic 😛

    For the OP, I’ve actually had a few friends who after having gotten married did not want to change their names. They thout they would, right up untill the wedding and after suddenly didn’t want to, and were in limbo for a while, so I think it’s more common than not. I also know a lot of people who changed privately but not professionally.

  9. I relate so strongly to the intro to this article- I also have an identity crisis of who I am where! I changed my name- adding my maiden name as a second middle name and my last name to his- We discussed it a lot and we liked the idea of combining our names but it didn’t work well together. After the wedding I went on a binge of changing my name on all the legal stuff at the bank on the insurance… and I eventually got burnt out when I still had more places to call and a few places where it didn’t stick ( my health insurance keeps not fixing it and causing billing issues!). So almost 3 years later I’m wishing I hadn’t legally changed my name and only adopted the new last name socially- it’s been such a hassle and I still don’t feel comfortable with my new last name.

  10. I changed my last name to his when I got married, even though I had built a career with my own name. After 10 years, we got divorced, and we have 3 kids. I have full custody. It’s rough because I most want my kids to have the same last name as me, but it’s a real headache to change it from his name to mine – so my choice is to do some sort of in-between – us all go with his last name legally and mine not-legally, and maybe legally change them if I can get him to agree (the other partner has to agree, even if they don’t have legal or physical custody…).
    Such. A. Pain. In. The. Ass.

  11. The social pressure to take your spouse’s name wholesale is really strong, if you’re in a heterosexual-presenting marriage. When we got married, my wife was still presenting male, and EVERYONE expected me to take her name. All my relatives, some of her relatives, even the Social Security office, where we had this conversation:
    Me: Hi, I’d like to change my last name to Jones-Smith. Here’s my marriage certificate.
    Nice lady at the window (NLW): Great! Let me process that. *processes paperwork*
    My wife: I’d like to do the same thing, please.
    NLW: Okay, here’s your replacement card for Mr. Jones.
    My wife: No, I’d like to hyphenate too. I need a new card for Jones-Smith.
    NLW: …oh. I’ve… never had anyone do that before.
    And so it went. Everyone was shocked that we were BOTH Jones-Smith. Every. Single. Time. Then my wife came out, and we were Mrs. and Mrs. Jones-Smith, and no one is shocked anymore, because it’s perfectly normal for a lesbian couple to hyphenate or keep their own names where we live. I think that’s what really bugs me about the social pressure, because it’s all about making sure that the man is primary in a heterosexual-presenting relationship. Everyone should get to have a name that makes them comfortable, not one that makes your spouse or friends or coworkers happy.

  12. I use his name socially. Too many people can’t get over two last names as a married couple. I kept my name officially. Maybe if I got married when I was 18 I’d change it, but I didn’t. I’ve had my name for more than 30 years. I’m not changing it now because I’m too used to being me and I don’t want to go through the trouble of redoing all my documents. Any time I use his, for reservations, etc., I revert to my name and it gets confusing.
    tl;dr his name when we’re presented as a pair, my name every other time

  13. I personally would go nuts with all that confusion, I think. I decided I’d keep my last name if I ever got married when I found out the amount of paperwork and cost involved in changing my last name legally. At least in my state. I had coworkers who had to do it and they were losing their minds.

    My significant other is totally on board with this. However our child has his last name.

    I have always wondered… if I marry and keep my last name, would I technically be Mrs.Mylastname? Or are you only a Mrs. if you take your spouses last name?

    • I know it should be Ms., but I hate Ms. (it’s so buzzy) so I never use it. I sometimes use Mrs. MyLastName because it amuses me 🙂 If you do that and anyone tries to tell you that that’s your mum’s name, remind them that the traditional Mrs. HisLastName is his mum’s name so what’s the difference?!

    • I had a high school teacher who was Mrs HerName. She wanted to make it clear to her colleagues, parents, and students that she was married. I think it depends on your field and why you are using a title.

  14. I didn’t take my ex-husband’s last name when we got married, much to his chagrin (I really should have paid more attention to that red flag). For a while, his mom would make checks out to me with his last name and I had to keep asking him to tell her to use my name as the bank was giving me a hard time. He tried to argue that, legally, his last name was my last name and I kept having to explain that, no, legally my last name was my last name and if it was just a social thing it would be annoying but not really pose an issue.

    There were a few times when he came to events with me and other attendees had only known me after getting married so they assumed he was Mr. Mylastname. He didn’t like that or see the irony.

  15. I hyphenated and I am hyphenated almost everywhere. A few months before we got married I told my then-fiance that I’d like to either hyphenate or keep my maiden name, and he said he’d thought I’d either hyphenate or take his name, so I said “Well, there’s one thing that’s on both those lists,” and that was that.

    I will occasionally use only half of my last name if it’s somewhere it will create no record whatsoever. If I’m going out with just him and making a restaurant reservation by phone, I’ll give them his last name. If I’m going out with my parents, I’ll give them their last name. But I always use my full last name in writing and will correct anybody who reads it and calls me only half of it. If I didn’t want the whole thing I wouldn’t have put it on my social security card, and it’s only a combined total of four syllables.

  16. Here here, and what about kids? It’s not fair that children traditionally get their fathers’ last names when they’re born. Mom’s the one who carried them AND gave birth!

  17. I agonized over the decision, but it ultimately came down to the fact that I was trying to create a professional name for myself and I had already released things under my own name, and also his name is suuuuuper common and I liked having a more unusual last name. He was sort of annoyed when I told him I wasn’t changing my name, but I said “Well, do you want to change yours to be mine?” and he said “no way, it’s MY name” and I said “exactly” and he said “oh” and that was the end of it.

    We’ve been married five and a half years and occasionally people will address things to Mr. and Mrs. Husbandname, but for the most part people have figured it out. If they mistakenly address me as Mrs. Husbandname, I don’t usually correct them if it’s a random NPC (repairman or something), but if it’s someone we know personally I’ll say “oh yeah, I didn’t take his name” and it’s cool. It was weird to think “eh I sort of want the same name” for a while, but I’m mostly over it. I don’t know what we’d do if we ever decided we wanted kids, but we’re childfree for now, so… eh.

  18. I didn’t want to swap my unique surname for his common one. We were living abroad when we got married, and it was an easy excuse to not want to invalidate my passport by making the change. (I’ve never been good at the hard conversations.) He was pretty upset when we moved to the States and I didn’t change it. He felt that we weren’t really a family unless we had the same name, and felt that he’d given up his home country for me, so why couldn’t I change my name for him? In the end, I gave in. That was six years ago. I kept my last name as a second middle name, and usually present myself as First Maiden His when introducing myself. Sometimes people think I have two last names, but it works for me. (I realized recently, though, that I perhaps haven’t legally changed my name as it was done after my marriage and not through the court, but I have a passport, driver’s license, and social security card in my current name so I’m going to call it good enough!)

  19. When I get married next year, I’m taking his name, but keeping Ms as my title. My trouble is that, as a feminist, when I tell people this I feel obliged to launch into a spiel regarding WHY I’m changing my name, and that it isn’t because I feel I should. I have no love for my current surname. All my family are on my mother’s side, and because she has only brothers, all my uncles, aunts and cousins, as well as my wonderful grandmother, share a name that’s different from mine. The only people with my surname are me, my (abusive and now estranged) father, and my mother – and I have Mum’s first name as my middle name, which I will of course keep when I marry (as well as passing it on to first daughter if there is one). Meanwhile, my fiance is fond of his last name, and given that I want us both, and our future children, to share a name (he really doesn’t care either way), taking his makes sense.

    This has already led to weird paradoxical feelings. When an insurer called me to verify my details for our joint policy, he thought we were already married and said ‘I presume your surname’s Hislast?’. Half of me was excited and a bit emotional to hear what will be my married name, and half of me wanted to growl at him for assuming such a thing. When I have my new name, I’ll have to bite my tongue to stop myself saying ‘well, yes it is, but that’s because my mother’s side of the family etc etc etc. . . .’

    • This is essentially my story, too!! As a feminist, I feel I have to defend my choice. I had no attachment to my original last name, absent father, wanted a cohesive family name, and hubby didn’t have an opinion on whether I changed it. Plus, I like the fact that my new last name is SUPER common.

      As for Ms. vs Mrs., I go by Ms. professionally, and on any legal paperwork, because feminism. But, socially I go by Mrs. for purely pop culture reasons.

  20. I can relate to this so much. When I got married to husband #1, I kept my birth name. It was my name, and there was no reason to change it.

    Fast forward 10 years. I’ve divorced husband #1 and am engaged to a great guy. We were going through IVF treatments together and during one of the egg retrievals I came out of anesthesia vomiting and crying (and apparently delirious!) and this huge rush of feelings came over me. We were working hard to have a family and I wanted our family to have a family name.**

    DH and I went round and round about it until we got our marriage license. I read — probably on Offbeat Bride — that it’s the Social Security Administration that is the agency that determines your legal name. I could start the name change process on the marriage license but still wait a bit before making it legal. But to make it cheaper and easier I had to pick *something* so in a panic I chose Erika MyMiddle HisLast as my new name. A few months later, I went to the SSA and made it official.

    I kept my birth name at work and use my new legal name everywhere else. Sometimes I have to actually think about which name to sign. Four years later, it’s become apparent that the most “me” name is Erika MyLastName His LastName (not hyphenated). So that’s what i use socially now.

    **I know that plenty of families have different last names for different people and that doesn’t make them less of a family. I’m just describing my emotions at the time. 🙂

  21. Been married just a month and have wondered about the Mrs thing for awhile. No way I was changing my name because of all the paperwork and it having been my name since I was born 46 years ago. He won’t be changing to his name because he’s had his name for a long, long time as well. Also I have used Ms since high-school because a women’s marital status shouldn’t matter more than a man’s but, am not sure about even using that. M makes sense as far as all equal in gender and marriage but no title makes even more sense. Seems I read somewhere that Friends(Quakers) traditionally don’t use titles at all and that seems like a pretty good choice.

  22. I had a hyphenated name growing up and that was a bear, so when I was a teenager I decided that if I married, I would change my name if my spouse’s was as cool as mine or cooler.

    My married name is uncommon and just as hard to spell as my maiden name, but much earlier in the alphabet and half as long!

    As someone who works with usernames at work, I actually hate it when people change their names and wish they wouldn’t, even though I did myself! 🙂

  23. Yeah, honestly I’ve never thought about changing my name – its mine, and its been that way for 31 years. My husband actually said that same thing to his mother when she was lamenting the non-change, that we both had names and neither wanted to change it so that was the end of it.
    The only time its been a thing was at the Vet, he took our kitty in for the first visit and I never remember that they have her listed under his last name when I call. I assume I’ll remember when its a tiny human and not a cat hahaha

  24. I took my husband’s last name, and everyone was shocked when I made the decision. There were a lot of assumptions that because I had a lot of “strong feminist tendencies” that I was going to keep my name as an act of rebellion.

    For me it was a hard decision, but ultimately boiled down to wanting a solid identity that unified my husband and I. (We have a daughter now, but when we got married we weren’t sure if we would even have kids, so that didn’t go into my consideration.) Also, hyphenating wasn’t an option for me because it would have been a dirty dick joke waiting to happen.

    I did feel a bit of a loss after I made the transition cold turkey. I was sad when I got my new passport. My maiden name went really well with my first and middle name. But, there was a lot of family history with the people on my dad’s side of the family that I no longer felt compatible with.

    My husband’s last name is much more difficult for me. I have to spell it all the time, and choosing a first name for our daughter was much harder than I thought it would be.

    Best of luck as you sort out your identity!

Join the Conversation