To Change or Not to Change: How Couples Navigate Last Names

Holiday engagement season is upon us and although the pandemic may have postponed or altered some couples’ plans to marry, others are still making plans to tie the knot soon. Previously I wrote a guide to egalitarian engagements and weddings, but I left out one big question many egalitarian couples face: how to navigate deciding whether to change last names.

The tradition of wives taking their husbands’ last names began in twelfth century England when women were considered property. Assuming their husbands’ last names signified ownership, as women had no legal identity apart from their husbands. While our society no longer considers women to be property, some are still critical of the symbolism and history of this tradition. With our commitment to mutual submission and shared leadership in marriage, does it still make sense for an egalitarian wife to lose her maiden name and adopt her husband’s name?

Today my article “To Change or Not to Change” was published on CBE’s blog Mutuality. This is the guide I wish I had when I was engaged and making this decision!


If you’re engaged or newly married, you’ll also want to check out my article published by CBE in 2019, “Egalitarian From the Start: How to Have an Egalitarian Engagement & Wedding.”

egalitarian wedding engagement
Photo credit: Lisa Price Photography

Main photo of author and her husband by Lisa Price Photography.

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2 thoughts on “To Change or Not to Change: How Couples Navigate Last Names

  1. Hi Camden,

    Re:last names after marriage:

    My Husband and I married in 1999. We considered the whole last name issue. Several options were considered, many of which you mentioned in the article. My first choice was to both change from our original last names to a shared married last name, as this would be symbolic of leaving your parents and cleaving to each other. Of course one could keep their original last name as a middle name. The brand new last name could be a name incorporating letters or elements of both original last names. Then children could all have the same last name as the family. However, my husband wasn’t comfortable giving up his original last name. I wasn’t willing to make any changes that he didn’t similarly make, again symbolic, So I did not choose to hyphenate both last names. Hyphenation is not a long-term solution for children, quickly becoming cumbersome if they continued in that manner when they marry.

    So here’s what we could both agree on. We each kept our original last names, then added our partner’s last name as another middle name. This way each of us was making a change, each of us had each other‘s name, and our signatures didn’t have to change. In terms of children, we decided any boys would have the same middle name and last name as my husband, So the family line and name could be continued. Any girls would have the same middle name and last name as me, continuing the mother’s family name. We’re proud of our creativity.

    We ended up only having one son. The only thing our families still struggle with, even now after 20 years, is my not changing my last name to his. Even though socially I’ll answer to his last name, usually with school or church, or other places where there are lots of acquaintances and it’s just simpler. I still get mail and even checks written out to me from my family with his last name. This, despite my dad and stepmother being very progressive in terms of egalitarian ideology for their generation. One thing I don’t like about our choice, is that it leaves it open for people to assume that we’re not married but living together, which is so common in our culture. I suppose if we had a girl, it would be a little more confusing with school. It can be a little difficult with some legal forms that only give you space for one middle name, but that’s not so critical.

    It will be interesting to see what my son does if he gets married when he grows up. We don’t happen to follow gender role stereotypes in our house. I am the handy person. I have the reliable FT job with benefits, so most years I am the primary breadwinner. However, my husband still earns a higher rate of pay than I do hourly, but his income varies drastically. Since the pandemic, my husband has had less work, and mine (not remote) has increased if anything. So he has taken on the lion’s share of the cooking and laundry, while working from home. Due to his visual deficits, I am the only driver, so do all the bricks and mortar shopping. I pay the bills and manage the money since that’s more my strength, and he focuses on retirement and investment choices for us. Each of our careers happen to be more stereotypical for our genders.

    Feel free to share our story with others.
    Robin

    1. That’s such a great example, Robin! Thank you for sharing with me! I do agree it can be tricky with different last names sometimes. Like you, I use my husband’s last name along with my own at our daughter’s school and at church. I was also concerned about people assuming we were not married. Fortunately it hasn’t been a problem!

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