To take a man’s name or not? That is the question.+comment
When my friend got married last month, I asked if she was going to take her husband’s last name. Her husband has a great last name – no confusion with spelling or pronunciation, and I’d assumed she’d probably take it. But as the only child of a proud Italian-American family, she said she was keeping her maiden name for her father (news that made him cry). And it made me think about the whole name-changing tradition. Our names our such a part of our identity – from aligning us with our family, our family history, it is also a source of nicknames and memories. Some of my best friends I call more by their last name than I do their first. And women used to marry at a much younger age, so I don’t think changing their name carried the impact as it does when you’ve lived with that name for 30+ years. 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 be the women I knew – and that’s with the name I knew. 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.
As a woman who has lived her life with a hyphenated last name, I’ve been forced to think about this for as long as I can remember. People have been asking me if I would drop my last name since grade school. Personally, I don’t recommend living life as a hyphen if you can help it (and no it isn’t my mother’s maiden name and my dad’s – my father’s last name was hyphenated). 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. I went to a dance with a boy whose last name was Key. After practicing writing Claudia Key on my notebooks, 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, and some hyphen it. I started to fear having to choose between names and resent that my family’s name might be erased. My father has passed away, and my older sister and mother have remarried – so I’m the last Maittlen-Harris left. This makes me want to keep my name forever. But then I understand families wanting to have the same name. It does make life easier, and 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? I’m glad men have to think about these things. Those lucky bastards never have had to before.
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 seems weird too. 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?
Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I’m curious. To change your name or not? If so, why?