Why I Changed My Last Name — And Don’t Care That You Didn’t

Black and white wedding photo of the author Mariah and her husband.

It’s becoming more and more common for newly married women in the US to not change their last names after they get married. And these days, the reasons tend to be “politically charged,” according to the New York Times.

The same NYT article quoted a sociology professor saying that a newly married woman taking her husband’s name is the “strongest gendered social norm that we enforce and expect [today].”

So, logically, there has been a cultural shift toward brides publically announcing that they will not be taking their grooms’ last names, perhaps in an effort to change this American social norm.

Having gotten married a year and a half ago, I remember a friend assuming that I wouldn’t change my last name and arguing at me all the reasons why I shouldn’t, since I would be graduating with a master’s degree and had published numerous articles under my maiden name.

Being of the Internet generation, I naturally took to the interwebs to check the pulse of the wider public and ended up wading through a large number of soapbox posts about the pros and cons of changing a bride’s surname. A quick exact-word Google search of “didn’t change my last name,” pulls up 347,000 results in .57 seconds.

 There were, in my opinion, some pretty ridiculous reasons against it.

Like, “I was proud of the person I became with my original last name, so why would I change it?”

Or “I didn’t want to ‘start fresh’ or begin a ‘brand new life.’ Why would I erase all of the achievements I’d accomplished under my maiden name?”

And even, “I wouldn’t make very good property.”

And my favorite — narrow-minded commands with a smidgen of angst: “Accept the fact that perpetuating this practice is reinforcing patriarchy, which is frankly more offensive than anything else.”

Surely, not all women who stick with their maiden name supply these backhanded, insulting justifications.

But those that pervade the interwebs leave me with the following takeaways: Because I took my husband’s moniker, (1) I’m a sellout to the patriarchy, (2) I want to take an eraser to the past 24 years of my life and be claimed as my husband’s property, and (3) I’m ashamed of and running away from all of my accomplishments so far, i.e. graduating college, getting a master’s degree, and writing articles for various publications.

Wow, y’all sure hit the nail on the head with those.

But really, ladies. Let’s temper our fundamental attribution error a bit.

As a whole-hearted feminist (a.k.a. I believe and fully support gender equality; let’s make that correct definition normalized), I fully support your right to keep your maiden name, but your justifications speak volumes about what you think of my decision to take my husband’s name.

To immediately jump to those conclusions gives me and women like me very little credit. I did, in fact, put a lot of thought into the issue at hand.

The way in which I mentally prepared for this life-changing event involved meditating on what a Catholic marriage would mean for my husband and me and for our faith. In the Catholic sacrament of matrimony, two become entirely and permanently one, creating “a partnership of the whole of life,” details the CCC (1601).

As an English master’s graduate, I do agree that language as symbolism holds important meaning, and a name can and does impact one’s identity. And yes, it might be harder to find my previous publications or my professional profile on LinkedIn.

But I challenge you who claim I lost/erased my identity when I married my husband. My sense of self as a wife, friend, daughter, and Catholic has only been strengthened as I’ve taken on this new role. And my professional work is still published and available as evidence of my skill, no matter my surname.

Maybe I am one of the lucky ones, as I willingly chose to take my husband’s name, having not felt the unjust pressure from him, family, or society to “stand up” for my fellow women and “push against the patriarchy.” I did make my own choice, and isn’t that what we should be supporting our fellow females to do?

Ladies, let’s shift our focus to that call to action: standing up for making our own choices.

Next time you hear of a woman taking her husband’s name, pause before making a judgment on that decision. She probably made that choice on her own.

My maiden moniker may have experienced a death on paper, but as a female colleague beautifully put it, “that death is so small” in comparison to what I’ve gained — a full and forever union to the man I love, under God, and of which I’m reminded every time I pen my new name.

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