Why I didn’t change my last name when I got married

Look, it’s complicated. There are a lot of reasons. But it’s ok if you have no reason other than “I don’t feel like changing my name; I like it and I’m used to it.” And hey, if you want to change your last name, that’s awesome too – especially if your husband has a badass last name like “Hightower” or “Momoa.” But whatever your decision,  it’s important to consider the reasons why or why not, rather than just blindly following others.

My list of reasons includes:

-       My name is unique. There aren’t a ton of Dutch people in Canada, at least not where I’ve lived. I grew up in a place where everyone I knew had a Mc or a Mac in front of their last name, and no one pronounced mine correctly, ever (even now. It’s not VanHOOten, it’s VanHOWten). So I was kinda embarrassed of it, because it was different and it sounded silly coming out of other people’s mouths. But then I grew up, traveled, and everyone told me how cool my last name was. Once, when applying for a job in New York, the interviewer said they assumed I was “a rich girl who lived in her parents’ place on the Upper East Side,” based on my last name alone—after that, I was pretty much stuck to the name.

-       I’m a writer, so my work is very often attached to my name. I don’t want to have to start all over again, so to speak, with a different name.

-       My husband’s last name doesn’t suit me. His name is Duncan – a strong, Scottish name that fits him perfectly. Just saying the word Duncan calls to mind strong, manly legs in a kilt,  the beautiful wind-swept cliffs of Scotland, and that awesome caretaker from the Simpsons. But I don’t think of me. Changing my last name to Duncan at this point in my life would be as odd and ill-fitting as if I suddenly changed my first name to Laura.

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My husband, pretty much.

-       It’s a lot of effort for me, for no real reason. (TIME TO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE PATRIARCHY.) Marriage, at least in most North American cases, is no longer about transfer of women as property. It’s about two people who like each other having a party and hanging out all the time. As such, there is no formal reason why I need to be considered related to my husband. So why should I change all my email addresses, social media accounts, banking information, government records….you get the idea.

-       No one can give me a good reason why I should. My brothers fall into the traditional camp, strongly believing a woman should take their husband’s last name, but when I asked them both separately and diplomatically, “just tell me why?” they couldn’t give me a reason other than, “because that’s what you do.” Sorry guys, not convincing. Lots of people ask me, “but what if you have kids, don’t you want to have the same last name as them?” There’s more than one answer to this challenge: using both last names, creating some awesome hybrid last name (VanDuncan!), or just, you know, not worrying about it. For most of my life, my mother has had a different last name from me and it made absolutely no difference.

-       I don’t wanna. Look, I love my husband, and when this first came up, he wanted me to take his name. It’s so engrained as a necessary, romantic, “done” thing, and perhaps a part of him thought if I really loved him enough to marry him, I’d want to change my name for him. But when I asked him, “If you want to share a last name, why don’t you take mine?” And he looked at me like I just told him the clouds were made of marshmallows. He immediately, and understandably, thought that idea was ridiculous – why on earth would he change his last name to mine? And that’s exactly how I feel. So there you go! And guess what: we’re a happily married, cohesive unit with two different last names. Go equality!

 

3 Comments

  • Reply January 21, 2015

    monica

    Preach! I support all of those reasons and will add that changing my last name makes it really hard for people to find me. I work for universities and I constantly have people call me trying to track down their classmate from 40 years ago but they have no idea what their married name has been changed to. I like you have a badass last name (Njoku [en joe koo]) so unless my future husbands last name is “Imawesome”, I ain’t changing it.

  • Reply January 29, 2015

    Madeline

    I identify with this article. It had never occurred to me to consider changing my last name. My mother kept her last name, and my older brother was given our dad’s last name but my mom’s last name as his middle name (fairly common). For me, the second baby, they did the opposite. So I have my mother’s last name and I love it. We have a few family friends who adopted my parents’ approach for themselves. It’s what my husband and I plan to consider for our kids someday.

    Names are personal – people should change or keep their last names as they please. It just bugs me when others get caught up on the whole, “what about your kids!?” because there’s more than one way to name a child. And whatever you chose to do for your children, other people will figure it out. It’s not rocket science.

  • Reply January 30, 2015

    Ashleigh VanHouten

    Madeline, thanks so much for the response. I have never heard of the idea your parents used, but I love it! And you’re right – there are so many other, bigger issues when it comes to raising a kid but it can be easy for some to latch onto non-existent problems like having different last names…I think when I have a kid names will be the least of my worries! Thanks for sharing :)

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