How do I get my mother-in-law to stop addressing things to my non-existent married name?

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My husband and I have been married for six years now and most of the family is fully aware of the fact that I kept my last name — actually, I’m sure my in-laws are well aware of this. But my mother-in-law keeps addressing mail and checks to me as if I had changed my name.

We’re pretty sure she’s just passive-aggressively expressing her dislike of my bucking tradition. How do I address this issue in hopes of getting her to quit without being confrontational? We have a good relationship otherwise and I’d like to keep it that way!

Thanks in advance! -MonicaBerry

Comments on How do I get my mother-in-law to stop addressing things to my non-existent married name?

  1. I kept my maiden name, and it’s MY mother who keeps addressing letters to my non-existant married name.

    Honestly, I just let it slide. I don’t mention it.

    The check thing would be annoying though, because how do you deposit it?

    • The check thing is super annoying but can be dealt with on the bank end (without involving the in-law end). My 90 + year old grandmother-in-law, who is a very loving and generous lady, mails me a birthday check every year. Which is fantastic. except she always addresses them to ‘Keren husbands-last-name”. Which is not mine. Not wanting to ask this women to change a nearly centeries old habit I took the check to my bank and explained my situation. Luckily, my bank’s policy is to allow any check under 500$ to be deposited in cases like this.

    • Same here! My mom kept sending things to us as “Mr. and Mrs. HusbandFirstName HusbandLastName” (even our wedding gift) because “it’s proper.”

      I was direct about it (because it irritated the crap out of me) and said I did not change my name, and the proper way to address us is “Mr. HusbandFirstName HusbandLastName and Ms. MyFirstName MyLastName.” That took care of it!

    • In my case, its my dad. He knows I kept my last name (HIS last name, may I remind you!), but when he mails things to both my husband and I, its “Mr and Mrs HusbandsFirstName HusbandsLastName”. I don’t even get a first name in that case!

      At least when its just me, he uses the name he gave me 25 years ago.

    • My bank (Wells Fargo) has no issues with this. I went in with my husband to deposit our checks from the wedding, so it might have been a non-issue due to his presence… but the bank was like “whatevs” and I had zero hassle.

      I do have this problem with people addressing things to me as Mrs. Husbandsname. Nope, still not my name, guys… although I shrug it off. I figure I can be Mrs. Husbandsname if it makes people happy, and I do have them both on my facebook account.

    • I have been married to a wonderful man for 38 years and have always used my maiden name. My husband was somewhat taken aback when he realized it was his name I would not be taking, but my father did not approve, and my in-laws (who were old-school Italians) were offended.
      As newly weds in social situations, my husband was reluctant to correct someone’s assumption that my last name was the same as his, so I began introducing myself first, as “Hi, I’m Jane Doe and this is my husband, Bob.” They would invariably turn to the next guest and introduce us as “Bob and Jane Doe.” Done.
      My father eventually [reluctantly] accepted the fact I would always keep my name, but my in-laws were a different matter.
      My mother-in-law always generously sent me a check for my birthday, but in my husbands name. I [politely] declined to cash them, stating the bank refused to accept them as there was no name on any of our accounts. He hated doing so, but I always had my husband return the checks with this explanation, knowing this would be better accepted (but not by much!) if it came from him.
      She also refused to inform friends and family of my correct name, so shower invitations, etc. would come to me as “Mrs [his last name]. My husband refused to deal with this, and I tried subtle hints but eventually just began ignoring them. When questioned as to why I had not responded, I always said they had not been received and asked how they had been addressed? It took a while, but it worked.
      Oddly enough, some of the most unexpected opposition often came from women who were my peers, questioning “What will your children call you?!?” That was easy: “Mom!”
      The best was the woman who triumphantly demanded how I expected to be respected when confronting a rowdy pack of kids in need of a little discipline. “What will they call you?!?” My response: “Probably the same way they’d address you: “That B&*ch down the street”. She shut up.
      Stay strong, ladies.

  2. You say she sends you checks. I think there’s your out. Just say “Hey, I really appreciate this gift, but I’m worried that the bank won’t accept it, since it’s written to a different name than my legal name.”

    • Ed’s paternal grandmother refuses to acknowledge that we both kept our last names, we’ve been married for several years now. I know she knows my last name (There was, apparently, a huge to-do on his side of the family when they found out our decision, which we missed, thankfully by being on the other side of the country), so I think she’s engaging in wishful forgetting.

      She sent me a check this year addressed to the last name she wishes I had, and I immediately wrote her a thank-you card telling her how thoughtful the gift was, how much I appreciated it…but how I couldn’t deposit it because it wasn’t my name and here is it back. But thanks again for thinking of me!

      I felt a lot better once I sent it, because it honestly felt a bit like I had been handed a bribe to just give in and change my name already.

    • Yup, my thoughts exactly! If it was just letters/cards, I’d probably just shrug it off… but if she’s sending checks with the name of a person that doesn’t legally exist, I think you guys can both just matter-of-factly let her know that it’s very difficult to deposit checks when the name is incorrect. Treat it like an honest mistake, rather than acting like you think she’s being passive-aggressive (even if she is).

      I think that’s fairly non-confrontational, since it will sound less like you’re confronting her about her refusal to accept your name and more like you’re just trying to clear up a misunderstanding and make sure there are no issues with her checks.

      • But… it’s not difficult to cash a check. Also, you can meet with your bank to have your non-legal name added to your account or with variations of your name. This is very useful in cases where you’re changing your name legally, but the process of informing people takes time.

        I would be happy they’re supportive of you being part of the family, and thinking of you as such. I have an aunt by marriage who took the family name, but no one likes her, so they keep referring to her by her maiden name…

        Think of the in laws referring to your not-real-name as a nickname, the same as if you called her Mom, you don’t actually think of her as the person that gave birth to you, but you want her to know you think of her as family.

        • Sorry, David, but you’ve missed the entire point. The author doesn’t want to be called this “nickname.” It’s like calling her “gooberhead” – disrespectful especially since it’s a well known fact that her last name is not her husband’s. The whole check-cashing scenario is a bit of a white lie, a kinder way to say “knock it off already.”

        • David, we as a society NEED to stop thinking of matching names making you “part of the family”. Families are created by love and commitment, okay? You should try to adjust your thinking about it, too.

  3. If she’s being PA about this, I feel that it will be the tip of the iceberg. When you put your foot down, she’ll show you a whole different side. So, I’d return-to-sender the letter and see what side she shows you.

    • To me that sounds a bit passive aggressive in itself (??) which is usually not effective against passive aggressiveness.

      I think I would try something along the lines of, “I’m really glad to be part of your family, but I would actually feel more like I was part of the family if you would use my own name and not -name-. I know that might not sound like it makes a lot of sense, but… etc.”

  4. I didn’t change my last name either and I frequently get mail as Mrs. Husband’s Lastname from people who should know better. Mostly I just shrug it off. But you mentioned her writing you checks with the wrong name on it. I think this could be a great opportunity for your Husband to explain to his mother that while you both appreciate the money, it is a big hassle at the bank to cash a check to someone who doesn’t legally exist. But your husband has to be the one to talk to her about it and explain to her that her refusing to use the correct name is also causing him frustration. Not to mention, it is being disrespectful to his wife. Best of luck!

    • I definitely agree with the above comment that your husband handle it — not because he’s the man, but because it’s *his* mother. We agree that we each handle the problems with our side of the family. Plus, it shows solidarity — he’s behind your keeping your last name, and he supports you to his family. Having that strong front comes in handy later down the line!

  5. Unfortunately, no advise here, only commiseration. I probably would totally ignore it, except that it has caused issues a few times at the bank when she’s sent checks.

  6. How about ‘Wrong address. Return to sender’?

    You could tell her you have a new mailman who will only deliver mail addressed to the exact names on the doorbell/mailbox. 🙂

    Or just be honest with her and tell her you’d really prefer if she’d use your name and that this is important to you because… (your bond to your family/father/your identity etc. Everyone has his/her own reasons.)

    • In one of the apartment buildings I lived at, the mailman truly would only deliver mail to the name on the mailbox. When my husband moved in with me and there wasn’t enough space to add his name to the mailbox, a lot of his mail was held by the post office, unless it also had my name on it (but sometimes even then…). It was a huge pain in the ass, but we got it sorted out eventually.

      Another place we lived, we had to register our names with the post office as living in the house. If your name wasn’t registered to the address at the post-office, you didn’t get mail there, plain and simple.

      So… there are places in the world where if your name isn’t on the envelope correctly, the post office might either hold it, or return to sender without you ever knowing!!

      If you don’t want to return to sender the envelope yourself, you could express concern over it happening. Say that some of your mail hasn’t been delivered due to it being addressed incorrectly to your husband’s last name, and you would hate to not receive her thoughtful notes.

  7. Maybe the next time she writes you a check, you could call or write her an email sincerely thanking her but include something like, “Alice, thank you so much for the gift; we really appreciate it. However as you know I kept my maiden name so it’s difficult to deposit this check as it’s not made out to the name on the account.” If that seems to confrontational, I’d ask your husband speak with her. He’s her son, so it might be more his place to say, “Mom, my wife loves you but we both really wish you’d stop insisting that our last names are the same. Her name is Monica Berry. I’m perfectly ok with that and you need to be too.”

  8. I feel your pain! It’s not just my mother in law. It’s EVERYONE. No one seems to get that I just haven’t changed my name. I plan to in the future, but not just now (a new passport is something like $150 I just don’t have right now). Businesses just assume. New people we meet just assume. My mother in law(s) always address things in his name. And it’s hard to look past it sometimes. A few instances such as calling a business for something they just put everything under his last name and I’m just supposed to know. Or if I have to call someone on his behalf and my last name doesn’t match they won’t even entertain me. Even with his debit once I show my ID they shut me down real quick. But they hint to the fact that if I had the same last name it would be a non issue. I correct people all the time, but it never seems to matter. It’s becoming such a thing these days that women just don’t change their last name. It happens. But the general public is not ready to understand that the old traditions are changing. More and more women are opting to keep their names. Or heck *gasp* not have children either! Good luck to you!

    • Oh my god–where do you live?! I didn’t change my name when I married four years ago, and I’ve literally never suffered the least inconvenience. Ladies: YMMV.

      • Same here. Granted, I’ve only been married for 10 months, but I’ve had zero issues, and aside from a few people addressing the Christmas cards to “Mr. and Mrs. Husbandname”, nobody really paid attention to it. When I introduce myself as “Husband’s wife, Margie Myname” people don’t even give it a second thought. Even the bank is cool with it.

    • For me the only issues I’ve had with joint accounts or doing things on my husband’s behalf were with health insurance. They wouldn’t put us on the same account until we faxed them a copy of our marriage certificate. She was ready to put him on the account until she heard his last name was not the same as mine, so I’m guessing that was the issue. Other than that no one has had an issue. With my family I just told them that Ecuadorians don’t change their names and he would have thought I was weird if I wanted to take his last name (even though that’s totally not the reason I didn’t, I just figured it was one of many reasons and it would go over better).

    • Ugh. This happened to me, too. Most frustratinhly, by the freaking people who issue marriage licenses! I had to go down and explain what had happened. After they made sure I hadn’t filled the paperwork out incorrectly, (I hadn’t. I was very careful to be clear that I was keeping my name), the woman who had processed it came up to me and said”honest mistake. Most women want to take the family name.” What? So confused.
      I have female family members and friends that hyphenated, added his name without the hyphen, not taken his name, he’s done one of the above or they just chose a new name together. I get that she probably processes a lot of paperwork, but come on, it’s not like me keeping my name is a rarity!

      • I had that happen to me. The lady at the courthouse actually overwrote what I had filled out and changed it to “will be taking new name”… her reasoning was “just in case I want to in the future, because most women do and this will make it easier”. I was kind of appalled by that, but just let it slide.

    • I agree, its really hard to run errands and call business on the husband’s behalf when you have different last names. I’m fortunate though. My husband is in the military, and I have my government ID card that says “Sponser: HusbandsName. Relationship: Spouse”. I’ve had to take that out to prove to receptionists I’m not a scammer.

  9. My parents totally do this too! It confuses the hell outta me. It hasn’t happened enough for me to have need to confront it though. I think if it did get to that point, I would probably ask gently about it. Something along the lines of, “Hey, I noticed that you send mail to Mrs. FirstName HisLast. Is there a reason for that?” I would probably read some passive-aggression there too, but asking her about it delicately might be effective in calling her out without being too confrontational. If she does tell you that it really bothers her that you didn’t take her son’s name, that might be an opportunity for a dialogue, or it might be a moment to evaluate whether or not the issue is important enough to get into it. She might she you as being not committed (or something equally random), rather than you being true to yourself, etc.

    • And yes, the check thing makes it difficult. We got a lot of checks after the wedding made out to Mr and Mrs HisLast, which meant I couldn’t cash them. He was able to, but it sure made me feel badly.

      • Interesting… I had problems with checks like this. Not because of our last names, but because apparently with my bank at least, checks made out to Amy Name and Brett AnotherName but be deposited to a JOINT account (which we didn’t have). Apparently it is best practice to make the check out to Amy Name OR Brett AnotherName so either person can deposit it.

      • We had the same thing after we got married (our names being written in different ways on the checks). My uncle is a VP of a bank so I asked him how to handle it, and he said the best thing to do is to have both the husband and the wife sign the checks, and in parenthesis after each name print clearly “husband” or “wife”. He also suggested going to the bank and depositing them directly instead of doing an atm deposit or a mobile deposit so that if there is an issue you can talk to a person and the majority of the time you can deposti without an issue. He said that this is extremely common, particularly after you get married since most people haven’t had time to go through the name changing process when they want/need to deposit those checks.

  10. Although I loathe confrontation, and avoid it if it’s not reeeeeallly necessary, I can offer a few items:

    1) Figure out if this battle is worth it. Truly. While I can totally appreciate the “irk” factor here, and you may feel the need to stand ground….at the end of the day, is this fight worth potential unrest? Maybe figuring out the underlying reasons of why it bothers you – there may be another issue there. Is it because she wants control/do you feel not in control? Do you feel disrespected when she does this? Is this a teachable moment for her – to give you the opportunity to show her “I am married to your son, I have kept my name, but it doesn’t mean I love him less/my commitment is less” – which is totally just food for thought. Only you know the severity of the situation.

    Is she kind to you otherwise, or, is she trying to gain some hidden upper hand? If this is one of the smaller battles you are facing with the in-laws, you may consider letting this one slide. However, if you want to speak with her about it, it’s good to have great “I” statements in hand – mulling over why it irks you will help set you up for a potentially awesome conversation.

    2) If this is something that absolutely must be addressed, find some time to gather your thoughts first, and when you sit down, use those “I” statements!: “Hi “MIL”, I wanted to know if I can ask you a question. I got your card in the mail the other day, and I just wanted to thank you for it – it was very thoughtful! But, I just wanted to ask if there was a reason why you don’t use my last name….[LISTENLISTENLISTEN]. Oh…well, I can see your reasoning. I guess it just makes me feel {feeling}, and it has bothered me for a while…I hope you can see my point of view here too. {Cue discussion}.

    Clear definition of feelings felt, and “I” statements will go a long way to help avoid a blow up….I hope that this helps! And if it doesn’t, ignore me. 🙂

    • I love this #2 response. I did take my husband’s name, but my mother-in-law insists on addressing things to both of us as Mr. and Mrs. His first and last, and has even addressed things to me as Mrs. His full name! What is this, 1850? I politely asked her why she chose to address cards, even checks this way, and was shocked to learn that she had put zero thought into it. That’s what she was raised to do, and while she still lapses from time to time, she was very receptive to respecting my (apparently generational) different wishes. I know it won’t necessarily be an easy conversation with everyone, but that conversation actually helped open up some lines of communication between us that we really needed, so I hope it can do the same for others.

      • As a husband, it makes me uncomfortable when people (my grandmother, mother and aunt) address mail to my wife as Mrs. [My Name]. I can understand my 94-year-old grandmother doing it, but I would think my mother and aunt would see that it is an outdated convention.

        • This is also a huge pet peeve to my husband (also named Aaron). It totally weirds him out to see people address me as his full name. In his words: “What? Do people think you gave up your own identity once we got married!? You are not my property. It creeps me out.”

          • I was curious, so I looked it up, and according to Wikipedia, “Mrs. was most often used by women when married, in conjunction with her husband’s first and last names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). A widow was and still is addressed with the same title as when she was married. Mrs. was rarely used before a woman’s first name, maiden name, or before a hyphenated surname her husband was not using. For example, Mrs. Jane Miller (wife of John Smith), Mrs. Jane Smith, or Mrs. Jane Miller-Smith were considered incorrect by many etiquette writers, especially of the early 20th century.”

            So, even though that’s not how it’s widely used today, traditionally “Mrs.” was only used before the husband’s name. Weird!

      • This is my biggest pet peeve regarding my married name – I changed my last name because I liked it, but my first name remains the same!!! It’s a tradition that I truly do not understand.

      • My go-to response when someone addresses me as Mrs. [Husband’s Full Name] is: “Actually, my name is Heather [My Last Name]. [Husband’s Full Name] is my spouse.”

        I’m usually very gentle and polite about it, acting like they genuinely thought that husband’s name was my given name. People have a much harder time being passive aggressive about it when they think you’re innocent and naive. Though I suppose I get a lot more sarcastic about it when I have to use it on my family. (His family—fortunately—has been excellent!)

        • Ooh this could work PERFECTLY for me in a conversation since my husband’s name (Aaron) sounds gender neutral. You know the ‘ol Aaron/Erin thing. Love this response!

        • Actually this is great for another reason…

          What if they forgot your name?

          I suck with names. I ran into a classmate’s wife maybe four times while we were in grad school together. Come graduation, I was exhausted, excited, and sad. I saw Classmate’s Wife. Guess what? Couldn’t even guess at her name. So I called her Classmate’s Wife. I didn’t really need that lecture on feminism. I was just trying to include her in the festivities the best way I could.

          • But there’s gendered inequality there. If you forget a man’s name, most people would be more likely to have to say, “I’m so sorry, but I have forgotten your name. Can you remind me?” Because it doesn’t seem normal to call him Mr. Monica.

      • UGH! THIS is my pet peeve. I had a couple of friends–who are our age, so no tradition/generational excuse–address a wedding invitation to us as “Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast.” I let it slide, as I know this girl was SUPER stoked to get married and change her name so she was probably just putting those emotions onto everyone else, but my husband got to listen to me rant about it for the rest of the night.

        • This is difficult because there are all these mixed messages about how you address stuff. My own wedding was 7 months ago and I know I mist have offended a few couples by doing that, including the wife of a coworker who I did not realize had hyphenated when I addressed it to Mr. And Mrs. His Name.
          Their reply card came back His Name and Her Hyphen-Name so I went and changed it in my spreadsheet for the place cards. And still feel badly because I meant no harm, I was just trying to follow the (stupid) rules.

          • Hi Stephanie, it sounds like you made an honest mistake and then corrected it as soon as you knew, which I wouldn’t be annoyed about. I think it’s only rude if someone has told you her name and you continue calling her Mrs Hislast, which you didn’t do.

          • Also there is a big difference between Mr and Mrs hislastname and Mr and Mrs hisfullname in that the first is annoying to couples who don’t share a last name but is an understandable mistake whereas the second is seriously outdated and shouldn’t be used ever. Perhaps I’m being harsh but I just can’t see any reason for using a husband’s first name when addressing his wife. It represents what marriage was like in 1900, not now.

          • I don’t know Annie… I get for less formal things doing John and Jane Smith as the address, but is that too informal for a formal wedding invite?

            I toyed with doing it different for older/more formal and younger/less formal people, but then there were people I couldn’t figure out which category they should go in. So all my wedding invites to married couples who I at least thought had taken the names went to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

            That said I’m totally opposed to “Mrs. John Smith.” I’m just not sure where I stand on Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

          • I get for less formal things doing John and Jane Smith as the address, but is that too informal for a formal wedding invite?

            I’d say it’s most important to get people’s names right on the most formal of invitations. The point of formalities is showing the utmost respect for the people you’re addressing (pun intended). Incidentally, the MOST formal of formalities would be Mr. John & Mrs. Jane Smith. This of course means that it would be Mr. John Smith & Ms. Jane Brown, in the case their last names are in fact different.

            I addressed all my Save The Dates (and formal invitations) to Jane Brown & John Smith, or Jane & John Smith. Apparently, the fact slipped NO ONE’S notice, and at my sister in law’s baby shower there was much discussion of said STDs. Not that I had put the women first, which was apparently an amusing but passing commentary, but the fact that they were trying to figure out the algorithm for deciding who got paper versus electronic invitations. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that grandparents had gotten paper, moms had gotten paper (so we would know when the invites arrived to people and for keepsakes), and everyone else only got paper if they couldn’t be arsed to have an email address/give me their email when asked. Was it perfectly conforming to gender roles & formality rules? No. Did it perfectly set the tone that our wedding wouldn’t involve that kind of bullshit thank you very much? Yes.

            Of course as a result we’ve had some passive-aggressive backlash about names, but the only issue has come up that the bank is selectively returning checks made out to both of us that don’t have my signature on them. My name isn’t even on the bloody account but they deposit checks with only my name on them. Anyway his mom threw a tizzy about the fact that I’m not taking his name (saying he’d be VERY upset and if he says he’s not then he’s lying to me because HE TOLD HER apparently that he would be. He has no memory of this conversation), and I haven’t corrected anyone because there were internal discussions about what my, his, our names would be, and how we would legally change them. I think we’ve made a decision now, so at least we will BOTH be correcting people.

      • My mother does this. She is an English teacher and goes by standard grammar “rules.” My husband thinks its odd, but it doesn’t bother me. Mom can’t break any rules. It is her own sort of so on beat that she is almost offbeat.

        Oddly enough she had no trouble with any offbeat elements in my wedding or life. But if it is written, it must be in “proper” English.

        <historical gender and law nerdery>
        There is an old English common law called coverture; it basically says that when a woman is married, she legally becomes not the property of, but her husband. No, I did not leave out a word. Legally, her existence was subsumed into that her husband; she no longer existed as independent entity. GROSS, RIGHT???

        But this is why “Mr and Mrs Firstname Lastname” is a thing — one would walk into the church Miss Elizabeth Bennet (for, you know, a totally random example) and walk out Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy. There was no such person as Elizabeth Darcy. Legally, she did not exist.

        So yes: this custom is a hangover from when women were not citizens, and it makes my teeth itch, and there is a historical reason for it, and I wish people would STOP USING IT BECAUSE OH MY GOD HOW WRONG IS THIS WHAT THE FUCK CENTURY DO WE LIVE IN????

      • Ugh, my mom insisted that I had to write Mrs. Dead Husband’s Name for my grandfather’s gf on her wedding invitation because that’s how you address a widow.
        Made me feel so gross. He’s dead and she still can’t have her name back? Super weird. I hope this tradition dies a fiery death in our generation!

        • Did your mother mean you should address her as “Mrs Dead Husband’s Name” as opposed to just “Her First Name”? Cos in that case I agree with you. But I kinda read that as you think it’s weird she hasn’t changed her name back to her maiden name after the death of her late husband? If that’s the case, I actually think that’s kind of insensitive on your part! If you made the decision to change your name when you got married, I don’t think it’s weird not to change it back after your spouse’s death!? I think it’s a huge and very difficult decision that some people just don’t want to make.
          My dad died 10 years ago yet my mum still has the name Mrs Dead Husband’s Name. It’s not that she *can’t* have her name back, she doesn’t want it back – it became her name. Not only was she married for longer than she was ever single, my father’s name is the only bit of him she still has left and it would be a HUGE deal for her to change it back (not to mention the hassle). It was hard enough for her to make the decision to stop wearing her wedding ring let alone going through the upset of calling the bank, the insurance companies, the passport agency etc to erase her late husband’s name from her documents.
          Incidentally, I haven’t taken my husband’s name for exactly the same reason – I still want to keep a little bit of my dad’s memory alive.

          • I think she meant Mrs. Dead Husband’s full name, including first and last. It would be highly unusual to change back to your pre-married name after the death of a spouse at that age, yes, but I can see being uncomfortable having to address people by a deceased person’s full name and not their own first name because of (outdated, sexist) etiquette.


            “grandfather’s gf” Sounds like she was told to address Shannon Smith as Mrs. Matthew Graham. Which … is odd…

    • Deciding whether this is worth it is really the heart of the matter. When people who don’t know me assume my husband and I have the same last name it’s annoying in the way that people being patriarchal are annoying. When it’s someone who knows better, it does sting a little bit. We all want to be called by our right name.

  11. One of the advice columnists I read (which is, uh, a lot: Ask a Manager, Carolyn Hax, Captain Awkward, etc.) says that most of the letters she received are some variation on “How can I get someone to change their behavior without making them unhappy/angry/hurt/etc?”

    Unfortunately, neither part of that question is doable: You can’t really make someone change their behavior, and you certainly can’t control how they will feel about being asked to do so.

    In this case I guess I’d just decide how much it matters to do. If it matters, tell her clearly how you feel and how you want her to behave (i.e., address letters to “MonicaBerry YourName” instead of “MonicaBerry HisName”). If she responds with anything other than “Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course I’ll do that,” just keep repeating what you need from her:

    Her: “Oh, it doesn’t matter, does it? You’re married anyway.”

    You: “It matters to me. Please address letters to me with my name.”

    Her: “But it would mean so much for Gramma if you had Husband’s name. This is the least you can do.”

    You: “I understand, but it’s important to me that I keep my name as it is. Please address letters to me with my name.”


    If it doesn’t matter that much to you? Just enjoy mocking the letters when they arrive. “Hahaha, Mother-in-Law still lives in the ’50s. Good thing she raised a son who respects his wife’s choices!”

    • I’m a big fan of Captain Awkward, and totally agree with the “you can’t control how other people feel” thing here that the Captain so often reminds people.

      LW, you’re concerned about being confrontational, but you can’t actually control whether or not she perceives it as a confrontation. And if you want to be called by your legal name, then it’s better to focus on what you want rather than try to disguise it. My advice would be to say what you want, as nicely and lightly as you want, but keep it short and direct.

      If you are willing to accept cards with the wrong name on them but it is just the cheque thing is anxiety inducing, then your script might sound something like ” Thanks so much for the card and cheque! I am worried though that my bank won’t accept it because of their policy about legal names.” But if you want to be addressed by your correct name at all times (which is fair! I feel that way about my name), Victoria’s script above is more to the point.

      If you have a good relationship with her, then whether or not it stays good shouldn’t hinge on this.

    • …most of the letters she received are some variation on “How can I get someone to change their behavior without making them unhappy/angry/hurt/etc?”

      This sums up 90% of the advice questions we receive on Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Families.

      If you replace “someone” with “my cat,” then it’s 90% of the advice questions we get on Offbeat Home. 😉

    • Great point! That’s exactly what I need to work on–positively stating my needs. Changing another’s behavior/controlling their reaction=not possible. Ok. Got it. (Oh, but it’s so hard! Makes me feel icky inside! Wish I could control everything!)

  12. One of the things I remember mentioning to my mother-in-law is the “you know, I just can’t think of myself as ‘Mrs. Husbandlast’ – that’s your name and I’m completely comfortable with you having that name.” (In my case, she even mentioned that she views that name as her mother-in-law, too. Haha.) But that may be one strategy, to assign that name to your mother-in-law and tell her that you officially don’t want to steal her thunder or share that title.

    Another strategy is to maybe point out the legal side of things? If your legal name is different than, say, the name people write checks to, you’d have trouble at the bank. It could be worth mentioning that having other names on your mail has caused a mixup at the Post Office (even if that’s a white lie) or some other administrative problem, and as a reminder please use your current/correct name.

    To me, I think there’s equal chance that it’s passive-aggressive BS about wanting you to change, but also that your MIL is more traditional and is using your supposed married name out of habit, possibly without thinking about previous conversations you’ve had about name changes. I’d give the benefit of the doubt on the latter, at least at first, and just gently, but straightforwardly remind her that your name has not changed and it makes your life a lot easier to have everything match with that.

  13. I did take my husband’s last name, to distance myself from my crazy family. Now my passive-aggressive mother addresses my mail to “Mrs. Robert Johnson” – so I don’t have a first name anymore. She also writes my birthday checks to “Robert Johnson” so only he can cash them. To control our money and me? I don’t know. She is stuck in some 1950s June Cleaver fantasyland, and I pretty much hate her for it.

    • How badly do you need the checks she keeps sending?

      You could step away from the whole situation altogether by pre-empting the next gift and declining it politely saying you’re both doing much better off financially and would feel badly to keep accepting her donations.

      That way you won’t bear the brunt of her backhanded denigration of your identity in any form or manner.

      I take my independence very seriously and can’t stand tiptoeing around people’s egos when something aggrieves me.

      But I do pick my battles – its all about give & take, so you need to decide how much this issue bothers you & what you stand to lose.

  14. I don’t know that you CAN address it without being confrontational, but you can certainly address it without being rude. Your best bet is simply to talk to her. Either you or your husband or both should sit her down and explain that you would appreciate her sending mail to you by your proper name. Don’t attack or gang up on her. Act as though she’s acting through error, not malice. If you feel the need to explain yourself, go ahead, but I’d recommend against it. You don’t need to justify your request.

    The tricky part is what happens if she refuses or if she says she’ll change but doesn’t. You could refuse to cash checks written to the wrong name. You could put “Return to Sender” on mail written to the wrong name. That gets into rude territory though, and you risk hurting your relationship with her. You’ll need to decide how important it is for you to use your legal name. If it’s worth being rude and hurting your relationship, then there you go. If it’s not, then eventually you may need to just accept her choice and try to find a way to come to peace with it.

    If you don’t like something, try to change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.

    • I had to do exactly this. My Mother-in-Law expressed total understanding about my not changing my name (and even confided to me that she wished she’d kept hers) when we spoke about it in person. However, after 2 years of marriage, she still addresses mail to me as if I’d taken their surname. Our feeling is that she’s possibly hurt/being passive aggressive about the fact that he’d opted to change his last name to mine (he liked the sound of it). Rather than be confrontational about it and repeatedly justify our decisions/remind her of that, we opted to just let it go. Luckily, our bank has had no issues cashing checks for us regardless of the accuracy of the surname written on them. If there was an issue, I’d probably just not cash the checks rather than argue about it.

  15. Maybe I just want to think the best of people, but is it possible that your MIL is just trying to make you that much more a part of the family? If you have a good relationship with her otherwise it just seems like an unnecessary battle. I kept my last name and I get things addressed to me with his last name as much as my own. It just never occurred to me to be bothered by it, except when I am dealing with real life stuff at the bank, trying to rent etc., etc., and people don’t believe we are actually married. Then I get cranky.

  16. I’m looking forward to seeing the suggestions here. I’m currently in this situation…sort of. Everyone knows my husband and I kept our own names (I make sure to stipulate that he kept his name to show equality in our decision because everyone asssumes it was just me “forced” to make the decision, when in fact, we both looked at the option of changing either of our names), except two people refuse to accept that fact.

    1. His father
    2. His grandmother (father’s side)

    Up until recently, I had been putting up with it and jokingly said, “Oh look! Your other wife received a birthday card today!” But it was wearing on me because the rest of his family accepted my name, and my entire family (grandparents included) accepted my name…why couldn’t these two? His father and grandmother are very traditional when it comes to the “family lineage”, and all about “our family name is the best…look at all of this history…WE HAVE A GODDAMNED CREST” and just way to patriarchal.

    I eventually freaked out one day when we received a postcard from his dad addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HisFirst HisLast…I didn’t even get a first name now! I told my husband he needs to speak to his father, because the last time I checked…the name on my drivers wasn’t his – I was given my own goddamn name thank-you-very-much. He spoke to his dad, and his dad has since changed his tune (for how long is another thing…). I’m hoping it’s permanent because his dad knows he’s walking on thin ice with all of the son’s wives (due to his behaviour).

    His grandmother, on the other hand, is another problem. She refuses to address me by my name…including my first name. Not to mention she also hates me (and all of the other son’s wives)…so it makes the situation difficult. We’re expecting our first baby in a couple of weeks, and the baby will have both of our last names. If she doesn’t address the baby properly, I’m going to throw a fit and “RETURN TO SENDER” anything she sends my way or the baby’s way. I can deal with just me (because honestly, she’ll probably kick the bucket soon…as terrible as that sounds)…but it’s unacceptable to do this to our child.

    (long and ranty…I’m sorry!)

  17. Checks?!?! It’s one thing for mail to be passive-aggressively addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HusbandName, but if it’s a check and you didn’t change your name, then how can you even deposit it?

    My married name is Jackson and my maiden name is Barrett. My maiden name is also my legal name, so my bank accounts, credit cards, bills, passport, etc… all say ‘Barrett’ on them.

    I use Jackson for most casual (non-legal) things and answer to both — most people I knew pre-marriage continue to call me Samantha B. and people I met post-marriage generally know me by Samantha J.

    I don’t feel strongly about my name either way, so I wouldn’t make an issue of it if someone opted to call me by my married name instead of my maiden name or vice versa, but I can totally understand how it would be infuriating if your mother-in-law continued to force the married name upon you, especially after you expressed preference for your maiden name.

    Keeping the peace is also important (in most cases) and striking a balance between calling people out on their bullshit and maintaining peaceful familial relationships can be a fine line to walk.

    If your mother-in-law knows you kept your maiden name and still chooses to call you by your husband’s name, she sounds like she’s either dense or super passive-aggressive.

    Assuming it’s the latter, maybe you can bring it up in a non-emotional, semi-casual, matter-of-fact way, something like:

    “I just wanted to make sure you knew that my legal name was still FirstName LastName. I’ve had some confusion from our postal carrier regarding my name and who resides at our address. I don’t want any confusion and I want to make sure that things stay consistent, so I would really appreciate it if you could try to address any correspondence to me at FirstName LastName.”

    Not to encourage lying to your relatives (or anyone) but in this case, a plausible white lie might let you get your point across while not inciting confrontation.

    Of course, there’s always the direct route — but it sounds like you might have already tried that… More than once!

    • Since I don’t think I’ve seen this up-thread, the answer to “how to cash/deposit checks written to your married name, that isn’t your legal name”, is to go to the bank with a copy of your marriage certificate and your ID and explain. It’s usually not a problem to deposit them.

      • Why on earth would you want to have to take in your marriage certificate and ID and explain EVERY SINGLE TIME you get a check? Why can’t the MIL just fill out the check to the right person? I don’t understand why people are so quick to say “just put up with” something that is so disrespectful as consistently putting someone’s name wrong.

        • You don’t even need to take your marriage certificate. I went in with my driver’s license and my account number (and my husband, bc we were opening a joint account while we were there) and the bank was like “k, we’ll just add this other name to the account so you can deposit checks that are accidentally made out to Margie Husbandname”. It wasn’t a big deal at all. No problems.

  18. Yeah, I’ve been divorced for over five years, and my passive aggressive maternal family STILL addresses birthday and christmas cards to me as Mrs. Exlastname. Because this does not effect my life in any way other than an eyeroll, I let it slide. However, a check addressed to a name other than your legal name is problematic, and if I were you I’d make that the focus of the conversation. “Oh, Marge, I really appreciated the birthday check, but you know, my bank wouldn’t let me cash it because the name didn’t match my legal name! Crazy, I know, but apparently they’re sticklers over there!”

    I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but calling someone a name they don’t prefer is kinda douchey. Focusing on the legal issue (checks with wrong name) might be a good way to nip the behavior without coming off too confrontational.

    • My dad and one uncle did this after I got divorced (and went back to my maiden name)–the checks were still made out to Dawn ExsLastName. (Which, to make it extra fun, my uncle couldn’t actually spell correctly either!) I was lucky in that I didn’t have problems cashing them (and I still had a student ID with ExsLastName on it), but still, frustrating.

  19. Like others have said, if it wasn’t for the checks, I would probably just not care. I get the odd thing from one my husbands relatives calling me Mrs. Hisname, but it never seems worth correcting. The ones who do genuinely just don’t know.

    As for the checks, if she lives nearby, I would have your husband (sorry, but it’s his mom) take them back to her every time and say “Mom, the bank won’t let Monica deposit this because that isn’t her last name, so I am returning it. Thank you so much for the help, but can you redo the check?” and just keep doing it.

    It is factual, not accusatory and she will hopefully realize you aren’t changing your mind.

  20. For the checks you can just be up front, the bank won’t take them. If they have in the past but with a lot of trouble on your part you can tell a white lie that they have new staff who won’t make an exception.

    I agree with others that depending on her attitude it might be hard not to hurt your relationship with her, but if she is doing this passive-aggressively then it is she that is damaging the relationship already, you are just calling her out. If that is the case try not to think you’re making a big stink over it, it’s perfectly reasonable to want your name used. Heck, if people call me Jennifer instead of Jen I correct them, if they pronounce my last name incorrectly I correct them. Your name is your identity

    • So much your last point. I correct people when they call me Vicky instead of Victoria because it IS NOT MY NAME. You may as well have called me Sarah as far as I’m concerned.

      I actually disagree about using white lies or using any “excuses” about checks. What she is doing is straight up disrespectful, and she needs to be called on it. I agree with others that say your husband should be the one to do it, but she needs to be told every time she sends something addressed wrongly that it will not be tolerated. She’s been told. What would you do if she started addressing letters as “Veronica Berry” instead of Monica? Same thing applies as far as I’m concerned. And this is from someone who IS changing her surname!

  21. Your best bet may be a very blunt but not confrontational statement that can’t be easily ignored. I kept my last name and thought I had made it clear to everyone when we got married that I would be keeping my name. Additionally, everything ever sent in the mail had both of our last names on it. However, my spouse’s family friends, his parents friends and their children, would address things to Mrs. hislastname. The last name issue irks me about as much as the Mrs. I strongly prefer the title Ms. because I don’t feel that people should automatically get to know my marital status because I am a female. Anyway, I digress, at a group camping trip someone called Mrs. hislastname to come over to the campfire, meaning me. I came over and bluntly simply corrected it to Ms. mylastsname. When they looked at me questioningly I simply responded that a name is not the essence of a family and I happen to like my last name. This resulted in the standard “Oh, I didn’t realize” responses and the group learning that another female (from the older generation) had also chosen to not change her name but had gotten so fed up with being called Mrs. hislastname she just gave in. No one from this group has since referred to me or addressed anything to me as Mrs. hislastname.

    Just as an entertaining side story, I do let some people who make this mistake slide. Particularly my grandmother, who is an equal opportunity offender. I have received letters from her addressed on the envelope to Mr. and Mrs. hislastname and then opened them to see that the letter inside is addressed to Mrs. and Mr. mylastname.

    • I always use Ms. on forms and whatnot, too, for the same reasons. I don’t feel like potential employers, or stores, or whatever, have any reason to know my marital status. But I do use Mrs. for casual stuff if/when we are listed together (i.e. “Mr. and Mrs. [Lastname].”

  22. I don’t know why, but in social situations it doesn’t bother me if people call me the wrong name. But in professional settings… I HATE it. It’s actually damaging- you miss important emails, etc.

  23. My partner’s (committed unmarried) did a similar thing because we hyphenated our son’s name but she always used to conveniently forget to include my name.
    Easy fix? I straight up told her, “My son’s last name is X-Y. Anything you send him that does not have his complete last name will get sent back.”
    hasn’t happened since.

  24. I’d take a passive-aggressive approach right back. Wait as long as you possibly can to cash any checks from her — especially if she likes to balance her checkbook 😉 When she mentions it, just casually explain that it’s just SUCH A PROCESS because the name on the check is wrong.

  25. I did not change my name either, I will hyphen at some point even though I’m not excited to. I have only been married a month and a half so far, so the only issue with checks was from our wedding gifts. I wasn’t thrilled people assumed my name was changing without asking me, so I didn’t know how to deal with the checks. I debated signing it the name that is not legally mine, but chose to sign it in my name since my account has that name. My husband, who is not on the account, took everything to the bank to deposit and they just told him that it wasn’t a big deal, but next time I should sign at least the name that is on the check, if not both. That does sound like a good opportunity to address the situation with her though, as others have been saying.

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