Friday, March 13, 2009

Last Name Change Game

I think it may have been our third date when I said, "by the way, not changing my name."  I may have never needed to say it, because it's pretty obvious that I am not the type of person to do that (although...I've learned there is no "type").
Part of my reason for not changing my name is because it is a hassle.  I'm a busy person and do not feel like standing in line at Social Security, the MVA, or anywhere else.  Southwest won't change the name on your rapid rewards account unless you send them a certified copy of your marriage license.  Plus I go from the front of the alphabet to the back - not cool, especially if I need to put my name in a phone book for my legal practice.  Another reason is because I'm proud of who I am, of what I have accomplished as me, and some of that does disappear.  The last reason is because I do think its patriarchal.  Usually the name change is a shift from leaving your father's house to your husband's house.  I do want us to be a family - so I do kind of want to share a last name, but neither of us are willing to take the other's. 
I should say though - I do plan to change my name - just not to his. 
I suppose I should start at the beginning.  My mother didn't change her last name when she got married, and when they had children, my father suggested giving us my mom's name.  She was worried that people would think he had kidnapped us when he took us places.  So they hyphenated.  I have two last names.  When I say my last name, people think I'm joking.  (Now that I'm older, they think that I'm married.)  One of the names is 7 letters long, the other is 9.  There's a hyphen - it's not like I have two middle names, which people think sometimes.  My driver's license number starts with D, just like my first last name (they filed me under B originally and my mother threw a fit.) 
People ask me whether I'm married, which last name is my "new" last name, what my parents were smoking, what I'll do when I get married, what I'll do with my kids.  I love the people who are all "what are you going to do, add another hyphen?" 
Most people have a really hard time believing that my names have always been that way, that I have carried this mouthful my entire life.  It has been both a blessing and a curse - I know what a hyphen is, nobody ever asked either of my parents whether I was actually theirs, and I always had this sense of pride in where I came from and I feel solidly grounded in my heritage.  I get a little self-righteous when people talk about how they have to choose between their father's name and their husband's, therefore it's still the patriarchy.  Because that's not the choice I get to make.  My mother's name, even if it came from my grandfather, is a name my grandmother chose because she thought that if she and my grandfather were both going to be publishing in science, she wanted the name to be well known in the field, so she thought it would be best for them to both publish under that name.  I don't think of my name as steeped in patriarchy.  It was a decision made by my smart, sassy, Ph.D having-Grandma, who I never met, and I am proud to carry the name she chose. 
As I have gone through law school though, I am steeped in a desire for simplicity.  I get giddy as I dream about only having one name.  I also worry a little about being married and people thinking I'm divorced or thinking Mark's last name is my second name.  So about six months ago, I made a decision to change my name.  I am choosing to keep my mother's name, and to use that.  It's the shorter one, and it is the one all of my records (driver's license, passport) are filed under.  My father is fine with it, and my mother's reasons for hyphenating are no longer particularly valid, as I am old enough that nobody thinks my dad kidnapped me, and nobody thinks its weird when a man and his adult daughter do not share a last name.  I'm not sure whether I have to go through all the paperwork to change it legally to be able to use it in court - but I'll find out eventually.  I may wait until after the wedding, because we have discussed taking each other's last names as second-middle-names. 
As for the kids, I think we're gonna hyphenate - and just make their first names really short.  Maybe then they can fill out a form without wanting to die. I am reserving any decisions about our children's last names though, until I have them, because I have heard that most women feel like, "I don't need this child to carry my name for me to know that it is mine."  It is similar to my current feeling that I no longer need to carry my father's name to know where I come from.  But I did really like it at as a child.  So we'll see. 



  1. So I just wrote a long comment and it disappeared into cyberspace! Sheesh! Anyway, I have this same struggle. I am attached to my last name and do not see why the female should be the only one who has to go through a name change and the crap tons of paperwork that entails. I was also attached to my last name because my family is tiny and dominated by females. I thought McMellen was going to die with my generation until my cousin married and had a son with another son on the way. I fear less that McMellen will die, but should I give it up? Matt and I want to make babies so that is a consideration. I kinda want a connection to my kids, but do I hyphenate their names? I am so glad that is a choice, but . . . ugh . . . as if picking a venue, caterer, dress, and invitations was not enough work now I have to decide about my name.

  2. I do not support your name change. You are gonna leave me?!?!?!?! We are in this super long name BS together!

  3. I have the interesting situation in that my boyfriend's (probably going to be fiance) last name IS my mother's maiden name. No relation. So, even if I took his name, I'd also be rejoining my mother's clan ... which my tri-lingual college-attending granne thought was good enough for her.

    On the other hand, my boyfriend's/mother's maiden name is a very common last name and my current (father's) last name is unique. Sometimes it's a pain because I constantly am having to spell/pronounce it for people ... so maybe the common last name would be a better choice? But then I lose the awesomeness of the unique name.


  4. @ Angela - What about giving the kids your last name as a middle name? Or fight Matt for right to give the kids the last name (selfishly, I want him to win, cuz he is actually the only Brannigan to pass the name along), but I will warn you that McMellen-Brannigan will be a bitch, because it is long, with a lot of syllables, and I feel like having a hyphen plus three capitals will be complicated. If your last name is their middle name, you won't have a problem when you travel, etc. with people knowing they are your kids. I had a LOT of friends growing up whose mom's kept their last names and gave it to the kid as a middle name. I can think of like, 5 off the top of my head. I would embrace this as a solution if I didn't have two last names. I might still do it. You can also give them two middle names.

    @Anon - it all comes down to what you feel comfortable with. Go with your gut over whether you want to keep the long last name or not. Is hyphenation an option? Or a combo name? Or keeping your name as a middle name? How common is your first name? Are you going to go from being "Jill Plotkentimeyer" to "Jill Brown" or is your first name Ethel and you'll be fine no matter what? Also, when you have kids, how important do you think the same last name is to feel like a family?

  5. Ellie: First, this blog rocks. You guys rock.
    Second, I totally recommend the kid's-middle-name-is-mother's-last-name approach, since that's what Todd and I did for Mr. Tobin Lau Longsworth! --Jannie

  6. Oh, and to elaborate, I kept my last name and never considered changing it--for all the reasons Ellie mentioned and also because my Chinese self couldn't really bring herself to go around introducing herself as "Jannie Longsworth."

  7. And I just realized that I'm about a month late to this conversation!! Doh.