That’s Not My Name

Name tagWhen I was married, I changed my surname to match my husband’s. I will never, ever do it again (if I ever decide to marry again, which is another subject).

I suppose I did it because we had gotten married on a whim, and I wanted to prove to him that I was serious about our marriage now that we’d decided to stick it out. I also thought it might be simpler if our bills and accounts were in the same name. And it was, you know, what people “did.”

None of these reasons, however, had anything to do with me.

All my life I have been Naomi Lane.  It wasn’t just my name, it’s who I was. I identified with my name, it was mine. Throughout high school and college, people called me “Lane.” “What up, Lane?!” “Nice job, Lane!” “Hey, party at Lane’s’ tonight!”

It was on my birth certificate and every school photo I’d taken. It was on my driver’s license, my passport, my credit cards. Lane. But now, I had to be… Happelberger.

In essence, I gave up my identity and took on that of my husband’s. I wasn’t Naomi Lane anymore, I was Mrs. Happelberger – my husband’s wife.

Does anyone else see the problem here?

If a woman gets married, why must she give up her name – her lifelong identify – because she becomes someone’s wife? Or to look at it from a different angle, because someone becomes her husband?

Time for a New Tradition

Many folks argue that a woman should take the man’s name because “it’s tradition.” In ancient times, human sacrifice to placate angry gods was tradition. I am all for tradition, provided that it makes sense. Tradition, it seems to me, is an excuse people use when they don’t have a better argument.

Others argue that both parents should have the same name as their children. I understand this, but if a child inherits a parent’s name, my vote is for the mother’s.

The mother stores the kid in her womb for nine months, endures the worst pain of her life through hours of labor, gets nipple rash from nourishing the little bugger — and her body is never the same for it. Mommy deserves to stamp her name on that baby.

Ask any man to change his name to that of his wife’s and he would scoff – after he finished laughing. Why should society expect any less from a woman? For the sake of patriarchy?

Upon the dissolution of my marriage, I changed my name back to Lane. The day I received the confirmation from the court, I felt liberated. I was myself again.

Maybe if my maiden name were Yuckybutt or something equally embarrassing, I would consider taking my husband’s name. But it’s not. My name is cool. And more importantly, it’s me.

(Of course it’s a fake name, silly buns. Did you really think I’d give it up just like that?)

43 replies

  1. When I got married I took my husband’s name and I was really happy to do so. I’d been bit of a wild child in my youth and felt that people still weren’t exactly taking me seriously, so I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself. Plus my new surname is super-cool (my old one was the same as a tv character’s). Just over a year on from the wedding, I’m just about to finally receive my new passport in my new name and the transformation will be complete! My career’s going really well now and I work in a nationwide company, where all of the senior management and what-not across the country know me by my new name, and I see it as sort of a ‘brand’ that I’ve created now. Oh and my husband often affectionately refers to me by my old surname, which I think is rather sweet because it feels like we’re back to when we first met.

    • Glad it worked out for you. I’m a huge proponent of choice. If you want to change it, change it. And if you don’t, don’t. But do it because you want to and not because you feel obligated – and it sounds like you did. Cheers!

  2. I never changed my name. Getting married at 31 and changing my name to someone else made me wonder what would happen to the person I was. Explaining the reason why I didn’ t change my name is a question I get asked very often.

    Thankfully it didn’t bother my husband and at my children’s school I use either name depending on my mood.

    In the past we changed our name because we became a possession of our husband’s family. That was the past and I didn’t see a reason to change it. If it works for others great but it didn’t work for me.

  3. I will not change my last name either. I’ll just go with two of them.

    And I also think that the kids should take on the last name of the mother, which they do not in this country.
    I just remembered that I know a dude that took the name of his wife, btw. So, sometimes it happens in this modern society 🙂

  4. up here in Queerbec (Quebec Canada) we’re not allowed to change to our spouse’s names, the government lists everyone under maiden name and that’s it that’s all. Rest of Canada you can or can’t.

    I dunno. When I was married I kept my name, so I’m not sure how I feel about it. I do know how I feel about hyphenating. I HATE IT!!

  5. I’m Chinese, and in my culture, it is /not/ tradition to change the woman’s last name. So from my point of view, I never considered “it’s just what people do” as a reason. It’s what some people do, sure, but I never really did understand why. I mean, back in the old days (of some cultures), the woman would “leave her family” after she got married and live with the husband’s family. In that case, I guess taking on their family name was a way to be included. Nowadays, husband and wives usually start nuclear families of their own, so there’s no reason at all, other than to placate the husband I suppose.

    This also makes me wonder about how children take on their father’s last name. In the old days, it was because fathers provided financial stability and therefore, the inheritance. But nowadays, that’s no longer true. So should the child’s last name still be determined by the likely provider of the inheritance? If not, should it be arbitrary? Interesting things to think about…

    • All cogent points. Funny, I never realized that in some Asian cultures (as also mentioned by singleyellowgirl below) the woman doesn’t take the man’s name. But I like it!

  6. I think this whole changing name after you got married, is common in western world not so much in the part of the world where I come from. Here in Indonesia, when people got married, they keep their own names and more interestingly also that in my country, it is not common even to use your family name as a last name. I know that most of my married friends who have children, they don’t pass their family name to the children. People are superstitious when it comes to giving name to the children, they all look into children names which are meaningful and they give that names to the children in hoping that they become a good person like the meanings of their names and adding the family name just doesn’t fit into the whole meaning of their name. I don’t use my family name also as my last name but I’m still my father’s daughter.. and certainly I don’t want to change my last name to the guy that I’ll be marrying.

    • That is really interesting. So there is no family name? It is so interesting how people become so attached to customs that they automatically think they are “right.” I understand it in some respects – it’s what people grew up believing – but I also think it’s appropriate to question certain customs if they don’t work for you or don’t feel right. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Totally off the point I know…but if I was ever going to marry a man SIMPLY for his name…it would be Mr. Danny DelVecchio Right over there…I mean seriously…blankety blank DelVecchio…has a nice ring to it. Especially since IRL I have an incredibly boring last name. I love it obviously. But it’s pretty common. Now that I’ve rambled off that.

    My thoughts on the whole taking a man’s last name. I won’t lie. I’m all for it. But then again. I’ve never been married. Nor divorced. So that could change my perspective. But in saying that, I’ve kind of always felt that if I was going to get married. That’s a big part of it. Sure if he was an egotistical douche and felt like he was “claiming” me or something (wait…I actually kind of like that…uh…) anyways if he was a dink about it…well I probably wouldn’t be marrying him. But some things. I figure. If you’re getting married. You damn well better share. Like names. And debt. And bank accounts. And the weight of life. And all its joys. But like I said. I don’t know. I’m not really the marrying kind. Well I was once. But not so much now…

    (was that rambly enough for you…fuck time for coffee!)

    • Hayyyyyyy now! That is MY man, girlfriend, so you best step off! I thought I made that clear in my last post. I may be skinny, but I know karate!

      Well, yeah, been there, done that. I shared his name AND his debt. And guess what? I’m still sharing his debt. Yes, we are no longer married but his debt still follows me around. It’s lovely to get calls from creditors saying he’s late on a payment. Well, it was definitely a learning experience…

  8. People should do what they want for whatever reason they see fit. I know plenty of girls who have changed their name and are just as radical, if not more so, than some of the ones who didn’t. And vice-versa. In my opinion, you are so against the idea of changing your name because of who you changed it for, and not the name-changing itself. I bet somewhere out there is a guy you’d change your name to Sally Mushmouth for, if i meant you got to spend the rest of your life with him. You just haven’t met him yet. <—-opinions.

    • Mmm, afraid you’re off on this one, ape. It’s true, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of changing my name for my ex, but I just think it’s a sexist, outdated convention that makes no sense to me. But it’s true, you never know. I’m consistently inconsistent.

  9. Thank GAWD Happelberger is fake…right? I was all, why on EARTH would she willingly swap Votteri for Happelberger?

    uh yeah, I don’t think I could ever go from my “maiden” name to someone elses just because they put a ring on it. Fuck that! Too much hassle changing everything over…I’m lazy, plus I like my surname…it’s uncommon, yet not horrible, and it’s the same as a celebrity’s…but I’m not telling…

    • Well, IMO I did swap my last name for a less desirable name. Maybe not as bad as Happelberger, but it wasn’t good. Never again. And it was a pain in the ass to change, and a pain in the ass to change back (but worth changing back).

  10. Thank you for writing this post! I’m currently going back to my maiden name, and I LOVE it. Sorry Brewers, it is an identity thing. Imagine if your whole life someone calls you Brewer, you always think of yourself as Brewer,etc. Then one day you are no longer ‘Brewer’. You’re some other freakin name that even you have to practice saying (in my case, anyway).

    In my case, I’m using my maiden name in a career wise. So I have the perfect excuse to never change it again. Mwahaha.

    I like the idea of two people creating an entire new name. Although the paper-work would suck. No easy answer!

  11. NICE use of the Ting Tings. Lisa (that’s @lisasonrisa) and I sang that at karaoke recently and ROCKED the house.

    Anyway, back to the post: As someone who knows a lot about names (I chose my blogging pseudonym very carefully) I have a lot of opinions on the matter. For modern girls like us who feel a little odd becoming the linguistic property of a man, there are a few options (should we decide to get married, which is another topic altogether):

    1) Hyphenate. Not so nice if you dislike your husband’s name. Or just dislike having a mouthful of a name in general.

    2) Stay with your own. In Norway, a country I am a citizen of, this is normal practice and not at all confusing. In all my travels, in fact, the ONLY place that seems to be confused over this last-name issue is North America. Women keeping their last names is normal in many European and Asian countries, for instance. But they’ve got their own issues to deal with, so it’s not that simple. For instance, in Korea women are always the “property” of their fathers, so that’s the rationale behind keeping the last name. Children born from that marriage automatically take the father’s name, not the mother’s.

    3) My personal favorite: Make up your own and make the guy change his too. My friends are doing this, since they both have awful / unspell-able last names. Their new name? “Valentine.” They chose it together. I love it.

    • Hyphenating can be a pain if your name is longer than one syllable. Wouldn’t have worked in my case. The property thing is interesting – I think in the olden days a woman was considered “property” of her father until marriage, when she became property of her husband. So I imagine that’s why she took his last name. But that’s an outdated concept now. I dunno about a new name. I’d still have to change my name, which I just don’t want to do anymore. I mean, why change?

  12. I have to agree with @loveinthedumps! Yes! Yes!

    But I know what you mean – I “did it” several times and now I have to carry a stack of papers with me if I need to prove affiliation to my own name. Kind of giggly actually.

    • Well, at least you have a sense of humor about it. I still get irritated when I occasionally get mail with my married name – or I find some department at work hasn’t updated it. I feel like I can’t escape it!

  13. I am no where close to being married but I’ve always hated my last name (ZINS) and wanted to get rid of it. As I grow up though, it’s not only grown on my but has become an identity. As a young professional I am known by name. If I lose it, I have lost what I’ve worked so hard for (name recoginition). We’ll see!


  14. I’m on the opposite side of the argument, I actually kept my exes last name after my divorce. I think it is a personal decision and every person should do what makes them feel most comfortable, no matter what anyone else thinks. Good on you for doing it your way.

  15. Votteri and Happelberger? I guess it could be worse. You could’ve been Julia Goulia’d into April Schmapel or something.

    As far as the liberating nature of the names goes, all I’ll say is that the kid is 50% the father’s too or it wouldn’t exist so unless you wanna complicate a poor kid’s life by having to learn how to spell Votteri-Happelberger in the 1st grade, I’d go w/the “keep it simple, stupid” philosophy which, I suppose to some could be the sexist view of using the dad’s name even if it’s not intended that way.

    I personally don’t see any identity issues in changing your name other than “Oh, you’re married now, okay” responses. Doesn’t change who you are, or shouldn’t if a marriage is healthy. If a woman asked me to change my name to hers I wouldn’t have a problem w/it as long as it’s not any more complex than my four lettered last name is. My ex’s was Van Netta so that wouldn’t have happened but if I met a Smith? Maybe. Perhaps it changes your perception of who you are but I don’t think it will others of you, outside of guys that hoped to date you. But that’s my neanderthal perspective and I’ll stick to it 😉

    • Hey, everyone’s gotta do what works for them, that’s what I always say. I think it’s pretty awesome that you’d consider changing yours. As for me, nah. I’m April Votteri.

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