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Top Reasons to Take Your Husband's Name

Vivia Chen

May 20, 2013

 

Kate and William - Courtesy of the British MonarchyI must have touched a raw nerve, judging by the volume of comments and emails I got about my last post ("Women Are Now Taking Hubby's Last Name"). As you might recall, I expressed chagrin at the latest marital fashion: Women are opting to take their husband's surname. I saw it as a regrettable, regressive trend.

Woe to me for taking a position on that sacred topic! Some readers accuse me of being the one with the hang-up. There's nothing antifeminist about taking your husband's name, they tell me, arguing that it's an exercise of a woman's free will, which is itself a feminist statement. Others accused me of being antifamily and unromantic.

Well, readers, I hear you. Believe it or not, I'm not doctrinaire. I'm a pragmatist. I believe in breaking rules, including my own.

So, after pondering the issue further, I've now come up with a list of reasons why you might be perfectly right to dump your maiden name:

1. When you've been indicted or convicted. You need a clean start to launch your career and life, so hook that unsuspecting sucker and take his name as fast as you can!

2. When your maiden name is a spelling nightmare. Let's face it: Names like "Jones" or "Baker" are better for your brand in the corporate world than "Konekhamsompnou" or "Oubonlamphanh."

3. When your maiden name has an unfortunate connotation. Can it be easy to ascend the social or career ladder with a last name like Coffin, Rat, Falik, Smut, or Turd? Don't think so.

4. When your maiden name is notorious. I don't care how much family pride you have, I'd ditch any name associated with major dictators, serial killers, terrorists or assassins.

5. When you despise your father. Actually, quite a number of people told me they have daddy issues, and would happily erase any paternal connection, if given the chance.

But even if you don't suffer from any of the above, there are still compelling reasons to take your husband's name. No, no—not because of those tired middle-class reasons—like how wonderful it is to wave the family flag or how proud you are to bear the last name of the love of your life. Puh-leeze. Let's try to be a bit more imaginative.

The top two reasons to change your last name in my book are:

 - When you marry royalty. I don't blame Kate Middleton one bit for dropping her last name to take on the the title of "Duchess of Cambridge." Hey, I'd do it in a flash.

 - When your husband's name will get you a table at a popular restaurant. Maybe this is just a New York thing, but I suspect that a name like Rockefeller, Forbes, Trump, or Lauder will get the maître d's attention real fast and put you on top of that wait list.

Hey, who says I don't see both sides of an issue?

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Comments

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Why did I take my husband's name? None of your above "reasons". It was my choice.

What's embarrassing is that people like you try to shame women into making a different decision because YOU - some bitter stranger on the internet - feels it's regressive. Get off your high horse.

"What is the difference between taking your husbands name or your fathers name? Either way you get your name from a man!"

I hate that argument! No, you got your name from your parents, who decided to name you together based on their decision.

Your first and middle names were chosen in relation to your last name. They gave you an identity, they named you.
Yes, your surname is most likely from your father, but your father produced you with your mother, who also had her choice to take your fathers name or not.

Your PARENTS named you and decided on a full name for you. You are a product of both of them, so you get given the name they choose for you.

First off, I'm glad we're having this conversation rather than wasting time and energy trying to solve world hunger or some other inconsequential matter...

Seriously though, this business of what surname a woman or man uses is no more a thing for public debate than if a woman decided to all herself Jen over Jenny. Weigh in if you'd like but please keep in mind that what anyone chooses to call herself or himself is no concern of the public's.

One last note: Keep your maiden name or take your husband's name, you've gotten your name from a man either way. Should the husband take his wife's surname, he is just taking her father's name.

I think the issue is why doesn't he take her surname?

Interesting article. 25 years ago, although a staunch feminist, I asked my soon-to-be husband if he cared - he said he did not, so no further discussion (I had a list of reasons why it was a pain in the @#$ to change and was prepared for a long discussion). I love my Spanish surname that reflects my father's flight from a civil war, although I am the spitting image of my "Heinz57" (as we always said) mom. Over the years my husband has taken great offense to being called Mr. HerName. My response is always "I understand, I guess I am equally offended to be called Mrs. Hisname" which results in no complaints for a number of years at a time. Calls to our house asking for Mr. HisFirstname HerlastName are met with "no one here by that name" and cut off. Similarly, calls to Mrs. Hisname are "she is out of the country" since we presume they are looking for his mother. Once, a car rental company did not want me to list him as a spouse second driver without proving we were married (I slapped down the wedding photos we were taking to my father's funeral and dared her to pursue the argument). And, once, a client, embarrassed by his presumption to call my husband Mr. HerName, chastised me for keeping my own name, asking if I did it to embarrass folks like him (the world being as it is, revolving around him). However, My daughters (teens now) take great pride in the fact that their mom is a professional with her "own" name... Makes it all worth it.

I agree with Carol. What is the difference between taking your husband's name or keeping your father's name? I would think both would be sexist by these standards. Personally I don't care what name you have or take, nor do I think the children necessarily have to have the father's name or a hyphnated name (which only gets worse down the generational line if you keep hyphenating). And it's only tradition in some countries. There are EU countries that do not allow the changing of a last name for any reason. I think the choice to change your name or not is as arbitrary and personal as anything else. I have friends where the man has changed his name to hers, and gay friends who flipped a coin. I think the best were a couple who put all the letters of their names together and created a new name they both took. Why does it matter to anyone, and why is it anyone's business but the married couple's. They don't get to make these decisions for me, and I don't get to make them for them. It's not feminist or anti-feminist, it's personal. I swore when/if I got married, I would not change my name (although my father's name wasn't particularly important to me either). When I actually did get married at the age of 38--GASP!!!, I did decide to change my name. Not because anyone wanted or expected me too, but because he had a really cool last name, and I really liked how it worked with my first and middle name. BTW, it is only my middle name that I value and will not get rid of. It is mother's birth name (sort of), and I'm the last of them, and it's also cool sounding to me. I also decided several decades ago that I would not have children of my own, and I am constantly harrassed over that decision by people that for some reason think it is their business whether or not I have children. Like my choice of name, none of it is anyone's business but mine. And to say otherwise is the truly sexist and insulting thing. These are my personal choices, and I don't have to explain them or justify them to anyone, and I shouldn't be expected to.

I believe surnames are all men's name and shouldn't be on as a topic the reason why?
Surname was never surname before in ancient time there was no last name our father took our forefathers last name as reputation and memory. So whether we are sexist or feminist it doesn't matter because whether you change it or not Surname doesn't play a huge role like in ancient time of higher class fathers name and middle class fathers name. What we should really consider though is the important of whether we want our kids to remember us as the fathers last name and mothers last name. That's why I have my wife still keep her maiden name and just add my last name to hers.

Perhaps these reasons were meant in jest and I'm just not feeling it, but...implying that someone with a long or difficult last name won't get very far in their career is completely insulting, especially to people from certain cultures that have longer last names. I couldn't give a rat's ass if my colleagues found my last name difficult to pronounce - it speaks nothing for my professional abilities. A company that appreciates that would make the effort to get my last name correct.

I don't see the problem with a woman taking her husband's name. If she wants to, just let her! This is the problem I have with many feminists. Maybe if we stopped getting hung up on little issues like this, we would actually be more successful! Maybe if we stopped vilifying other women for their choices, we would get somewhere! You're upset that there aren't enough women in the workforce? Oh, maybe you should actually encourage them to get a science degree instead of one in English.

I'm getting a little off-topic. I will be taking my fiance's name, because I like it. That's a good enough reason for me.

The lack of respect shown in this echo chamber for other women's choices is pretty appalling.

I love your response! Some women argue that it's very feminist to have a choice. But choice isn't the be all and end all of feminism when some of the options are sexist. The tradition of a woman giving up her name to take her husband's name is sexist so - unless you missed the last half decade or more of feminism - don't do it.


I'm amused by people who argue that women should change their names so that people don't get confused when husbands and wives, and mothers and kids, have different names. Often not a peep from these people about the confusion created by a woman changing her name in her 20s, 30s or later. (Good luck finding some of your old school chums online if they've changed their names.)

Very amusing. Sorry to have missed the first installment. I agree with you, taking one's husband's name without a good reason is regressive.

Great comments! I've been accused of not loving my husband because I kept my birth name. And when asked why I didn't take my husband's name I merely reply that getting married didn't change who I am as a person so why change my identity to the world? My husband is awesome about it too--when someone calls me Mrs. X (my husband's last name), he sometimes jumps in and says no this isn't my mother, this is my spouse. We always chuckle over the confusion and the shock that we still encounter because I retained my birth name and/or because of my husband's reference to me as his spouse rather than his wife. And when I'm referred to as Mrs. Y (my own last name) I politely clarify that its Ms. Y since I didn't marry my father or my brother either.

I have taught in a graduate-school setting for many years and have kept a running tally on this issue.

When I ask married or soon to be married women the question about whether they are taking HisName, the answer at least 90% of the time is, "Yes." The reason 99% of the time is, "It's really important to him and it doesn't matter that much to me."

Ah, young love. . . young, naive, disappointing love.

They're all men's names.

As someone who legally uses a hyphenated name, but uses my BIRTH NAME (thanks, Charlie), for everything else, I wish more women would keep the name they were born with. That being said, until law school I was going to be "Ms. HisName". So glad I didn't!!!

I'm always surprised when people ask why I have a different last name than my spouse. My standard answer is that he and I have different parents.


While we're on the topic of feminism, let me weigh in on behalf of the PCC [Politically Correct Constabulary]. Use of the term "Maiden Name" is, at a minimum, dated, and, more likely, sexist. The preferred term is "Birth Name."

Vivia, this is great! I agree, and think these are the only reasons to assume another person's name. I've been married for 32 years and have never changed my name (and neither has my husband). Yes, I've tolerated being called Mrs. HisName (subject to prompt, polite correction), and he has occasionally been addressed as Mr. HerName. There's nothing pro-family or romantic about taking someone else's name. It is, however, finding comfort in convention and being able to brandish that ultimate female accomplishment: being married and branded with another person's name.

Hah! Good follow-up.

Now that's logic - rather than thinking that hubby's name is more important and worthy ... which men, obviously, do not think of their wives' names.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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