Posted by: Andrea | April 18, 2011

The name dilemma

The inevitable part of any woman getting married is the big discussion about names.  To change your name or not?  For some women, this isn’t even a consideration, they’ll be taking their new husband’s name.  For me, it was never going to be that easy.  As a feminist, I have a very hard time just blithely giving up the name I have been known by for my whole life.  I also have a real problem with the societal expectation that women should just change their names as if it’s no big deal.  It bothers me that it is so difficult for women to keep their own names in so many little ways.  As a feminist, I find it very difficult to just change my name to my husband’s without any thought.

But here’s the problem.  Ever since I was old enough to start introducing myself to people, I have really disliked my name.  It’s a german name that is strangely spelled and is extremely hard to pronounce.  NOBODY know how to pronounce it when just reading it.  It’s also one letter away from a very well known swear word.  I remember thinking on a very regular basis when I was young that I couldn’t wait to get married so that I could get rid of my stupid name and get one that is easier to pronounce.  I even seriously reconsidered dating a guy in my early twenties because his name was even harder to spell than mine!

Now that I’m getting close to getting married though, I’m feeling much more attached to my name.  As much as I find it annoying, it’s still my name, it’s been a part of me for my entire life.  I also feel like I don’t want to just change my name because it’s what is expected of me.  I want to keep my name as part of my identity.  So what to do?

First, I talked to Malcolm about this and he is supportive of whatever I want to do.  He has said that he would like me to take his last name, but he would never ask me to do anything and the decision is up to me.  I know he would like me to have his name, for a couple of reasons.  Malcolm is the last male in his family that could theoretically have children, so he is the last chance for his name to be passed on.  Ultimately I don’t know how big of a deal this is, but I know that it’s a big deal to him.  He also has said he’s always pictured himself in the future with his wife, ‘Mrs HisLastName’ so I think deep down it’s important to him.  However, he’s let me know the decision is completely up to me.

I know that Malcolm wants us to share a name as a family if we have children and on that I agree.  I don’t want to have a different name than my children (if we have children) and I don’t want there to be any confusion that I’m their mom.  I have never thought it was crucial that the shared name by the man’s name, however, and have always thought a combined last name is the best way to do that.  Either a hyphenate or else a new name that combines parts of each name.  The only problem is that our names do NOT sound good together and there is no way for us to combine our name that would sound good either.  Plus, to combine names into a new name could destroy what was great about the two original names.  Such a problem!

My other issue is that I actually really like Malcolm’s name!  It is actually one of my favorite last names ever.  I can neither confirm nor deny that it is the last name of one of my favorite Newsies and may nor may not have been the last name of my egg baby in 7th grade.  If I were the type of girl who would name their egg baby after a Newsie.  Ahem.

So the problem is, I love his name.  I kind of dislike my name and historically have been awaiting the day when I could offload said name and take on a new and much better one.  But now that the day is here, I feel like I am betraying feminism!  I feel like if I just take on his name, I am reinforcing all the things I hate about what women have to deal with in our society.  Plus, my name kind of feels like that horrible family member that everybody has.  They’re really annoying and you all complain about them and you have these horror stories about how AWFUL they are, but it’s not like you’d ever kick them out of the family, right?

What I want, is to be able to use both my names in my life, without having to hyphenate them.  My solution as of now, is to use my last name in my professional life and to use his last name in my personal life.  So for the sake of this illustration, let’s say my last name is Fox and his last name is Murphy.  So I’d be Andrea Fox at work, which I really like because that way I won’t have to change my name in the middle of my career.  All of my degrees are in that name and people know me by that name.  Also, in social work, it’s not the worst idea in the world to make it difficult for clients to track you down.  Then in my personal life, I’d be Andrea Murphy.   So we’d be Mr. and Mrs. Murphy as a couple and if we ever have kids, I’d be Mrs. Murphy at their school and we’d have the same last name.  I think this is a good compromise because I’m not as bothered by ‘passing down’ my last name to kids as I am with maintaining my own identity.

So after that, here’s my big dilemma.  How to I do this?  I was initially thinking that I’d change my last name to Fox Murphy, without a hyphenate.  I’d have both names as my new last name and I’d theoretically be able to use whichever one I want when I want to.  But the more I thought about it, I’m concerned this may be confusing to people.  It’s not common at all in our society for a person who have two last names, so would people be more confused by this if they saw it on a form or something like that?  I don’t want to hyphenate because I don’t want to ever go by Fox-Murphy together as one name, just to have the option to go by Fox or Murphy depending on the situation.

My other option would be to make Murphy my official last name and to make Fox my middle name.  My concern about this is that I’d have to make sure that my middle name is always used (say on credit cards, etc) when that’s not always the case.  Also, I kind of want my original last name to still be a part of my last name.  I don’t want to make my original last name the secondary name.  On the other hand, who really sees official listing of names anyway?  As long as my work ID and email has my original name on it, it probably doesn’t really matter what I’m called by shopkeepers who read my name off my credit card so they can say ‘thank you Mrs. whatever’ when I pay for something.  I just don’t know what to do!  What do you guys think?


Responses

  1. I like the idea of making your maiden name a second middle name if you’re inclined to keep it but not do the hyphenation thing. My mom’s maiden name is now her ONLY legal middle name, but if you’re attached to your current middle name then adding a second might be the way to go.

    I know some female doctors I work with who started out keeping maiden names or hyphenating for career-recognition continuity, but after a few years I notice their badges all just say “Dr. MarriedName” instead. Maybe that got confusing eventually.

    My last name is boring and common and I am actually quite excited to take my boyfriend’s last name when we get married. I already use it when making reservations at restaurants🙂

  2. I guess what matters is which name do you plan on having on your SSN card? Because that’s the only name you can use on your taxes.

    I haven’t changed mine, but only because I haven’t made it in to a Social Security office to do so, yet.

    Another alternative is to have Malcolm change his name too. It’s not just for the woman. In this day and age, men can change their last names when wed as well. So, you could jointly hyphenate your names, or pick a new last name all together. Your choice.

  3. Hey Rebekah! Nice to see you again! I think I lost you on your last blog-move.🙂 I have considered getting rid of my current middle name (I don’t have a strong feeling about it either way) and making my maiden name my only middle name, so that’s a definite possibility.

    Sunshine, I’ve considered having both of us change our names, but Malcolm is very attached to his name already so that’s not really an option. Plus if I was going to choose a name out of any name possible to have, his current last name would be one of my top choices. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that if either partner is particularly attached to their name then I don’t think they should feel like they ‘should’ change it or ‘have’ to change it. And the problem with my SS card is that I don’t know what to choose! I have to make a decision pretty quickly too, because for a marriage license in Oregon I have to know what my name will be after the wedding in order to get it. So I better make a decision!

  4. Yay my favorite topic! Well you well know what I did, so I won’t explain. But let me just say that I don’t think taking your husband’s name is necessarily a blow to feminism. I think not having the discussion and not giving it serious thought would be the problem, and clearly you’ve done both.

    If you like his name and dislike yours, and if there are logistical and good reasons to take his name, I think that’s fine!

    I like your compromise, although I’ve always thought going by one name professional and another name personally is very confusing. Something I never even considered because it seemed like such a pain. But each person and their best solution is different.

    So here’s a scenario I know of. A woman’s last name was Miller and she married a Smith. She became Regina Miller Smith. She writes that on everything, so it’s almost like two last names instead of a middle and last name. At work she’s almost always introduced as Regina Smith, but people know who Regina Miller is too. And all her friends can refer to her as Regina Miller without being confusing. I’m sure she runs into issues, but overall it seems to work. Just an idea.

    Can’t wait to see what you decide! Also, you should email me and tell me Malcolm’s last name. I’m so curious. I’d be happy to share Mike’s, if you don’t already know it, as a fair trade.🙂

  5. Hey Shannon! I knew this was your favorite topic so I was very curious to know what you think! Your solution is an interesting one, I’ll have to consider that too. I think generally I feel like I’m pretty flexible, I just want to make sure that both my names are used somewhere in my life. I hate that things get confusing and I hope I can try to keep things as straight forward as possible. Seems like anything I do will be confusing though!


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