This decision is NOT one size fits all.
What's in a name? A lot, actually. Our identity, family pride, career considerations, past and present relationships, ideas about feminism, and love are all wrapped up in our names.
When I got married the first time in 1994, I didn't give it a moment's thought. Of course I would take his name!
It was tradition, after all. (OK, I will be totally honest. I was ready to shed my maiden name. Due to a certain popular movie, I was really tired of hearing "May the Schwartz be with you.") I didn't really think it through at the time. But later, when I got divorced, I didn't know what to do … I certainly didn't want to keep his name, nor did I want to return to my maiden name. I felt a little lost. In the end, I legally changed it to a new name.
When I found myself engaged again in 2011, I faced the same question … his name or mine? The second time around I was much more thoughtful.
I still have mixed feelings on the subject. Turns out, I'm not alone. I was curious to know what other women thought about this question, so I did the obvious thing of course, and I asked my "Facebook family." Within the hour, close to 70 women had responded to my question, "Should a woman take her husband's name when they get married?" No two answers were alike.
Several women who responded to the post sent me long emails, explaining their thinking and essentially, defending their decision.
Some felt that if you were going to have kids, then you should definitely take his name. While others said that if you had a career, you should keep your own name. There were women who felt that their name was so closely linked to their identity, that changing it meant fundamentally giving up a part of themselves.
A handful of women gave up their maiden names because they had troublesome relationships with their fathers and wanted to disassociate from them. Others changed their name because they liked the feeling of being part of a clan. There were even some who expressed regret about changing their name because they later got divorced.
Three women expressed exasperation about the fact that once they changed their name to his, their first and last names rhymed. Yikes!
Several people felt that the tradition harkens back to a time when women were once viewed as property — and that we shouldn't perpetuate this antiquated ritual. One person even declared the tradition dead.
But the question remains ... is it really?
I don't think so, and personally I don't think it will ever fall away completely. I think the tradition is still going pretty strong, but I definitely think it's changing.
The older women that responded to my survey said that they took their husband's name because it was simply what everyone did — one woman admits, that she didn't even know she had a choice back then. That's definitely changed. It isn't what everyone does, and women, today, certainly know that it's a choice — not a requirement.
Everyone who responded to my question was in agreement about two things: It is a personal choice, and there are options.
For example, hyphenating the two names is very common practice, as is replacing your middle name with your maiden name and taking his last name. A new option, becoming more common is the practice of combining names to create a new last name, like Ms. Black and Mr. Sock becoming Mr. and Mrs. Block.
Someone asked me if I'd ever heard of a man taking the woman's name … I hadn't — until ... I heard about actress Zoe Saldana and, her husband, Marco. I loved her reaction on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and her follow up Facebook post, where she writes, "Fathers, sons, brothers, men everywhere: Your legacy will not perish if you take your partner's surname, or she keeps hers." Well said, Zoe.
In my work as a divorce coach, I often have this conversation in reverse but the same issues come up. What about the children, with whom she's always shared that name? What about the career she's built? Does she really want to share a name with his new wife? After a divorce, women often want a fresh start and that often means either going back to her maiden name, or deciding upon a new one. But, it's not easy to figure out what that name will be.
Bottom line? This is a hard decision to make. It's complicated and deeply personal. And it's not a decision to take lightly.
So couples, listen up. It's important to have a thoughtful, open-minded discussion before you tie the knot. You might be surprised to find that one or both of you have strong opinions on the subject. Be open to creative solutions, if you don't readily agree at first. It's a big decision for both of you and it deserves considerable thought.
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