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Should You Take Your Husband’s Name?


A friend of mine recently got married, and I asked if she was taking her husband’s name.  She is in the entertainment industry so I assumed she would keep her maiden name.  But she was excited to change it, and couldn’t wait to become Mrs. XYZ.  I asked about her career, and she said she could still be known by her maiden name professionally (for bookings, credits, titles, etc), but legally she’d have her husband’s name.  For years, I thought I would always keep my maiden name but with my wedding around the corner, I’m starting to have doubts.

Our names our such a part of our identity.  It aligns us with our family and our ancestry, but it is also a source of nicknames and memories.  I use some of my best friends’ last names more than I do their first. While I respect and completely understand taking a husband’s name, part of me can’t give up on the idea of the women I knew before they were married. In my mind, they will always their maiden name. When I recall old college and high school friends, I always use their maiden names.  But times change and maybe that’s life – there is the person you start out as, and the person you become.

But my name has always been complicated.  I’ve lived with a hyphenated last name my entire life.  People have been asking me to explain my name since I was a little girl.  My name doesn’t fit on airline tickets, it’s too long for driver’s license (it’s on two lines), and I can’t even type in my full name on twitter. (Lame example, I know, but it’s true.)  So I’ve been forced to think about the whole ‘do I change my name’ situation for as long as I can remember. Personally, I don’t recommend living life as a hyphen.  It’s complicated.  No one can spell it. I’m misalphabetized, mislabeled and lost in systems constantly.  When I was in high school, I looked forward to the day I could drop my cumbersome name. I vowed I wouldn’t date a man with more than 5 letters in his last name.  Once I went to a dance with a boy whose last name was Key.  After practicing writing Claudia Key on my notebooks endlessly, I thought he could be the one.

Then something happened. Actually, nothing happened. I didn’t get married.  Slowly, I came to like and appreciate my name.  Over the years, I’ve had friends drop their maiden name, some keep it, some hyphen it, and some even make their maiden name their middle name while taking their husband’s name.  Or even the legal name vs. the professional name is apparently an option too.  Frankly, there are more choices than I ever realized.  But I will say it’s not an easy choice.  If I get rid of my last name, will there be another Maittlen-Harris?  My father has passed away, and my older sister and mother have remarried – so I’m the last Maittlen-Harris left.  I may come to resent that my family’s name will be erased. This makes me want to keep my name forever.

But if I have children, will I have a different name from them?  That feels weird. If you’re creating your own family, who doesn’t want the whole family to have the same name?  But then I understand women who are professionals and changing their name would be complicated.  Do men in gay marriages chose one name? Do both retain their original names? Do they hyphen? This is another reason I’m for gay marriage –  men should have to think about these issues too. The feminist in me feels that I already have one man’s name why do I need another?  My mother’s family name isn’t represented anywhere? Will mine be lost to my children as well?

Funnily, I thought I’d already made up my mind.  Once I reached 30, I was convinced I would never take another’s name. I’ve been a Maittlen-Harris for too long, and after this many years, I’ve learned to love it.  But if I get married and my children take my husband’s last name, am I just the odd man out? That doesn’t sit well.  I’ll still be the last Maittlen-Harris if I keep my name or if I lose it.  Will I also be the woman that is correcting everyone about my different last name too?

Recently my fiance asked me, rather casually, if I was going to change my name.  I felt a wave of guilt that I wasn’t.  I explained that it was too hard for me, and if I felt this uncomfortable about it, then maybe it wasn’t the right decision for me.  Confirming my belief that I’m marrying the right guy, he said, “just do whatever makes you happy.”

All I know is being Claudia Maittlen-Harris.  But I’m leaving the option of learning to be a new Claudia, a Mrs Claudia XYZ.  I’m not there yet, but I’m open to getting there.  I’m not changing my name now, but maybe in a year from now, or two or twenty, I won’t feel like keeping it anymore.  Then again, maybe I will.




3 Responses to “Should You Take Your Husband’s Name?”

  1. Elisabeth Fitzgerald September 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    It’s a hard choice, I agree. Personally, I am looking forward to changing my name. My real name is difficult to spell and pronounce and I like the idea of starting our own family unit with the same name. I did have a moment where I thought “Hmm…maybe I should keep my name?” I debated using it as a middle name. I told this to my father, thinking he’d be happy and flattered. His response? “Why? It’s not a good name. You’re getting a much better one.” LOL!

  2. Claudia Maittlen-Harris September 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I understand what you’re saying, and if I took his name it would make life easier. I guess it’s just always been a stickler for me that I was given one man’s name and now I take another man’s name? But I do realize I’m setting myself up for a lot of issues, confusion, questions, etc. Hmmm.

  3. September 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Please accept my compliments on this post. My wife Carol (and I) chose a different option when we were married in January of last year: I took her last name. Carol is well established in her career and I am not. Our plan is for her to be the primary breadwinner and me to be the primary parent. So, “Carol Tyler” is a well established professional while “Carol Harper” (my old last name) is who? I didn’t have the same dynamic going from Harper to Tyler. Shortly before the wedding. I decided to make the change. My birth name was Mark Perry Harper, and I decided to take my last name (my “maiden name” – LOL), and turn in into my middle name and legally become Mark Harper Tyler. I told Carol on Christmas Eve. She was stunned. Actually, she asked me to reconsider, that it was cool with her for me not to change. But I told her it was too late, and then she said GREAT! Anyway, the big day came, I signed the certificate, the minister introduced us to the crowd as the Tylers, and of course the deejay did too. I spent a considerable amount of time doing the paperwork after that, but it’s all over now.

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