Friday, August 31, 2012

Name notes

I get asked sometimes about my decision not to change my last name, or from well-meaning family and friends, "wait, what is your last name actually now?" because while I had plans to change it (that did not involve taking my husband's last name), and while I batted around the idea of swapping one of my hyphenated names for his last, I ultimately decided that I would just keep my name.  So I wanted to check in and talk about how it's worked out for us to have three last names for two people.

I feel like lately, it's gotten so much more common to take your husband's name.  And frankly, I find this disappointing, not in a "that's so un-feminist" way, but in a "there's nobody here at the keeping-my-last-name party but me!" kind of way.  Simply put, I feel a little left out.  I feel a little stodgy and old school and second wave feministy about it, like I'm clinging to an antiquated notion that not changing my last name is the only way to keep my sense of self.  

Objectively speaking, I know that isn't why I kept my name.  I kept my name because I never ever thought I would change it.  I think ultimately that is what it came down for me.  I was raised to never change my name, and frankly, I approached name changing like a man (why would you suggest I change my name? That's ludicrous.).  It never occurred to me to change it, and therefore changing it wasn't really an option.  I only thought about changing it when I realized it would make my life easier, and then I battled with it a lot. 

For the most part our family has been pretty good.  Every year, I sort christmas cards into, "like", "annoyed with" and "can no longer be friends with" piles. Anything addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast goes in the "can no longer be friends with" pile. The jury is out on people who call us Mark and Ellie Hislast.  I recently sent a package to my sister in law and forgot she changed her name, so I can certainly understand somebody who didn't grow up in Bethesda forgetting I didn't change mine.  I don't think that they are passive aggressive attempts to remind me that I'm a bad woman for not changing my name, and I make gentle reminders.  I also keep my rants about incorrectly addressed mail to myself, my husband, and my other friends who kept or will keep their names.

I did want to touch on being a professional with a hyphenated last name.  When you are an attorney, your last name is what you practice under. I have to use my full name in court, and I have started to get a sadistic thrill out of being in front of new judges who struggle with it.  Some of them learn it, some of them call me Mrs. Secondlast, and some of them just call me Counselor.  I haven't yet figured out how to correct them about calling me Mrs. Secondlast (Mrs. Secondlast is my grandmother, mind you), politely, in open court.  My business cards say Eleanor Firstlast, because I believe it is easier for my clients, but I will use my full name with them on the phone sometimes if I forget.  Some of the judges clerks and the courthouse staff is a bit confused about my last name because of this decision, and despite the fact that I just got another brand-new box of business cards with just my first last name on them, I think next time I will put the full hyphenated name on them.

Once I started practicing under just one name, I thought it would be so easy.  Turns out I was wrong.  I realized that it's not just having a hyphenated last name that makes my name difficult - using just my first last name is really difficult!  It ends in "f" and no matter what, it sounds like "s".  I cannot enunciate it properly.  I was listening to my husband spell his name over the phone recently and realized that every single letter was easy to hear, and was overcome with jealousy.  My second last name is not much better, thanks to an uncommon spelling featuring a double "n" that sounds like "m" over the phone.  

One thing I realized that was hard was that I really identify as a person with a hyphenated last name.  My last name is arduous, but it is distinctive.  People remember me because of it.  I don't get lost in a shuffle of other people's last names.  People don't always remember my last name, but they remember that it's long.  It's weird because in many ways, I curse my name and the way I was raised.  Why couldn't I just be one of those girls who is so happy to be Mrs. John Smith and eagerly trots off to the DMV with nary a second thought?  Yet here I am, relishing being Ms. Firstname-Lastname as I get older, although I can't fight the need to clarify to people that the whole thing is my maiden name.  

Another issue is that I was concerned that people would think it was weird to have three last names for two people.  That people wouldn't believe us when we said we were married.  I have not had this happen, ever.  I have a friend whose had some issues, but here in Baltimore, last names do not a family make.  Hyphenated last names aren't that weird.  Kids with different last names aren't that weird.  Married couples who don't change their names aren't that weird.  And nobody that works for the city really cares that much anyway.

The biggest advantage of my name lately has been a certain amount of privacy.  Things like our car and our utility bills are registered in my husband's name.  Even if somebody tried to figure out where I lived through those means, they would have a difficult time.  This is good when you work in an industry where people kill people when things don't go their way.  I'm trying to figure out if I can register for my hockey team using my husband's name or something, to try to better cultivate a public/private persona and hide my name from the internets a bit.  Has anyone had any luck using a married name socially without making a legal change? I would especially like to do this with kids, because I would be worried about my kids safety and privacy (if I keep this job.)

Do you have a hyphenated last name? Did you keep your name? Change it? How has the process been for you?  


  1. A's dad apparently just realized that she didn't change her name... we were doing some real estate paper work and he kept writing Mr. & Mrs. C, and I finally corrected him, but really now!

  2. I had a lot of angst over my name. I legally changed my last name to my maternal grandfather's when I was 18, and I was (still am) very attached to this name. My grandfather died 7 years ago, and my grandmother and I are the only ones left with that name.

    I ended up hyphenating legally but, initially, going by my name professionally. And then I got a professional certification, and they made me do it with the legal last name. So I started professionally using my maiden name (I hate that term) as my middle name. I found I actually really like that format.

  3. My wife and I got married two years ago, and we decided at the time that she would eventually take my last name because it is important to both of us that our kids and the two of us all have the same family name. (It's important to say, I think, that I would have been delighted to take her last name instead but she doesn't like the famliy connection with her father too much, so we opted for mine.) Since gay marriage isn't legal where we live, we have yet to go through all the rigamarole of changing her last name the complicated legal way, so she changed her last name socially to be hyphenated(her last-my last) and will eventually drop her last name and legally take mine. Whoa, that sounds complicated! Basically, she's changed her name socially but not legally, yet, and it's worked out just fine.

    As for Christmas cards, we get them addressed to Helen & Lindi Mylast, and Helen & Lindi Herlast-Mylast, and Helen Mylast & Lindi Herlast. Hah. It's a mix. But since we don't really have the societal pressure, it doesn't matter as much to us, I think. (I can't imagine anyone ever sending us a card addressed to Mrs. & Mrs. Helen Mylast, for instance...)

  4. "I approached name changing like a man"

    That might be the best way to sum up how I approached the name change thing, too: I like my last name, why should I change it?

  5. I decided to change my name legally but keep my birth name professionally. This comes with a whole bunch of minor annoyances, like having trouble getting my pay stub (addressed to legal name) delivered to my office mailbox (labeled with professional name). I actually feel like my life would have been easier if I hadn't changed! If I had it back to do over, I wouldn't change. Very few things are worth standing in line at the DMV or driving 45 minutes to the nearest Social Security Administration office.

    1. If you are going to keep your name professionally, you are actually better off not changing it legally but using your spouse's name socially, for exactly this reason.

  6. I kept my name and I too find it disappointing that changing one's name is generally the thing to do these days, but I'm not as nice about it as you are (good for you for respecting choice). It actually really irks me how so many of my peers seem to march down to the Social Security Office within a day or two of getting married, as if it's the number one priority and with seemingly no hesitation (Facebook can be blamed for this - otherwise, I probably wouldn't even know about the enthusiasm with which some of my acquaintances take their new husbands' names). But, come on! It's weird! We're not that young when we get married any more. By the time we do, our name has been our name for, statistically, 25 years or more. That's a long time to get attached to your own name! And most men would never consider changing their names. At the same time, I am not exactly heartened any time I hear about that happening, even if it should be an admirable thing. You keep your name and I'll keep mine. I too just wish more people felt the way I do and that I didn't have to look like some some second-wave stick-in-the-mud. I hope I haven't offended anyone.

  7. "I feel like lately, it's gotten so much more common to take your husband's name. And frankly, I find this disappointing, not in a "that's so un-feminist" way, but in a "there's nobody here at the keeping-my-last-name party but me!" kind of way. Simply put, I feel a little left out. I feel a little stodgy and old school and second wave feministy about it, like I'm clinging to an antiquated notion that not changing my last name is the only way to keep my sense of self."

    That is exactly how I feel! You really nailed it. I never ever thought that I would change my name, because even though I don't have any attachments to what the name represents, it most definitely is MY name. But I sometimes get a little, I don't know, wistful (?) when I think about female friends who have taken their husband's last name. Like they're any more of family than we are.

    There were also a lot of weird unspoken feelings that I was a disappointment or potentially just a weirdo to my husband's family for not changing my name. Of course, I'm hyper-sensitive and I'm sure I've given it much more thought than anyone else. But I'm literally the first person ever in their family to not change names upon marriage. I guess someone had to be first, right? Ha.

  8. I am really behind here but still wanted to throw in my two cents..

    No one who knew me expected me to change my name, including myself. This means a few of Nick's relatives have to be gently corrected. It hasn't been a big deal. Nick's brother got married 7 years before we did, and his wife (my SIL now) kept her name, so everyone was primed.

    Nick's family is Spanish and he has a Spanish last name. Because of the way immigration waves worked in this country, no one assumes much about my background when they see my German last name. However, people do assume you're first or second generation and definitely Latino if you have a Spanish last name. I would have felt like a fraud having his last name?

    I know what you mean about feeling lonely. One by one my friends have married and kept their names, to my incredulity. They've been downright breezy about it, making me occasionally feel like a humorless old second-waver prattling in the corner about the perils of choice feminism. Mostly, though, I'm glad. Nick and I were at a party the other week and I overheard him saying "no we kept the names we came with" to someone and I beamed.