You’re Getting Married: What Do You Do With Your Last Name? June 3, 2009

You’re Getting Married: What Do You Do With Your Last Name?

Reader Josh is getting married in a few weeks. He and his fiancé are both atheists. Her brother (also an atheist) is officiating. All the plans look to be on track.

So what’s the problem?

Josh writes:

The only issue we have left is what to do about our last name. We are both progressive and trying to break away from some of the social and religious traditions regarding it. This is proving to be rather difficult as we don’t want to take my last name or her last name.

We have talked about hyphenating our last name but my fiancé doesn’t like that. We have also talked about combining our last names to form a new name, but I don’t really like that idea either. We are at a standstill and we are wondering if anyone has any suggestions?

I suppose they could just keep their own last names, but that’s no fun.

Are you allowed to create a new last name?

What do you think Josh should do?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Here’s an idea. Say it’s Josh Doe and Jane Smith. Why not become Josh Smith and Jane Doe? What better way to symbolize an equal partnership (instead of the subservient symbolism of Mr. and Mrs. Josh Doe), than by an equal trade?

  • georgie

    No fun to keep your own last name? I disagree. I say keep your own names.

  • Sergio Guillen-Pantoja

    In Spain we keep our last names, as they are a combination of our parents’ last names (I just hyphenate both so Americans/Brits don’t get confused and think one is my middle name): my father’s last name is Guillen and my mother’s Pantoja.

    Then we pass both (first) last names to our children (i.e. my daughter is Guillen-Allende, Allende being my wife’s last name).

    Confused yet?

    The thing is, neither of us lose our identity or our individual families’ last names, and we pass part of our identity to our children (creating a new identity). That’s the best way I have of explaining it.

    I don’t see why people have to change their last names when getting married. Keep your identity and pass part of that for the most important (to me, at least) part of that project: the children you could have.

    Or, as the previous commenter said: swap them if you’re into the “I’m yours, you’re mine” thing…

  • Tacticus

    Speaking as someone with a rather long hyphenated last name i’ll be taking my wifes name if i get married (then again i will probably take it before then to make life easier)

    in this situation keep your own would work but think about what happens to your children :\

  • Anomuumi

    What one of my friends and his fiancee did was to choose another much older family name from one of the branches of the family tree. Of course, they had do a bit of genealogy before finding a name that both agreed on.

  • My atheist partner and I (also atheist) are getting married in 2 weeks. We’re keeping our own names. The kids though have to be named something though and because my name is always misspelled, we’re going with his. Hyphens are evil. 🙂

  • Sergio Guillen-Pantoja

    Hyphens aren’t evil… they are nice, short and straight liney… 🙂

  • flawedprefect

    We ere both raised Catholic; I now self-affirm myself as an atheist (I think the only way to get excommunicated is by murdering a pope… or declaring I’m gay or something). Nevertheless, we kept our own names not through any choice based on affirmation of progressiveness. Just cos we were too lazy to do the paperwork.

    Just thought I’d share. 😀

  • My wife and I kept our own names. Easier to organize (no changing of licenses or checking accounts, etc)and easy on the memory!

    We thought about making up a name, but my wife didn’t like my choice of Farkelgruber.

    and hyphens aren’t evil, em-dashes are evil 😉

  • Tony

    My wife took my name. I didn’t really want her to but she just said that it’s easier when it comes to dealing with officialdom – they believe that we’re actually married you see!

    I’m an immigrant in Canada so it made that process a bit easier too.

  • JJ

    Well if the idea to hyphenate is out of the question and they don’t want to essentially make up new names for each other, then keeping their own names is the only choice left. Some people do choose sometimes to make their middle name their new last name, but it sounds like this couple doesn’t like the idea of change to begin with.

    Problem solved via process of elimination.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Well, my spouse offered to take my name, but I vetoed that. People were always misspelling my last name, and people who had known me for years would still mispronounce it. His name was shorter, easier to spell, and nobody mispronounces it. And it’s closer to the beginning of the alphabet, which is an advantage as well. So we went with his name, purely for practical reasons.

  • My wife took my last name, though not for any traditional reasons: she just felt no attachment to or desire to keep her maiden name and actually preferred to get rid of it. It’s totally dropped from her name and didn’t become her middle name. It was never even really a discussion for us, she didn’t want her old last name, I’m rather fond of my last name and interested in preserving it. I brought up the possibility of her keeping her old name, or even just changing it to whatever she wanted, but this was easiest and just made the most sense for us.

  • RebeccaF

    What’s ‘no fun’ about keeping your name? For that matter, why should it be fun?

  • Keep own names, children take the mother’s name. After all, you always know who a child’s mother is.

  • Cypress Green

    My friends created a whole new last name, James. It sure beat his last name, Rauchfleis.
    My ex was quite nasty about the issue, insisting I take his name, Lieser. Which everyone mispronounces and mis spells. I wanted us to take my name, as there is no one to carry my family name. This was definitely a sign for the way our marriage was to be.

    He was actually shocked when I took back my maiden name when I divorced him. And I changed my middle name to my mom’s 1st name to be even more ‘family.’ Sadly, my son is stuck with Lieser.

    I already knew I was remarrying, and my new husband couldn’t care less what I did. He didn’t want to change his name to mine though, and that was ok. I kept my maiden name. No way would I take his! I told him Barbie Biggers sounded like the name of a character from a Dickens novel.

  • Just another suggestion: I know a couple where the wife took the husband’s name, and then the kids got her maiden name as their middle name. I thought it was a cool idea.

  • Shae

    Keep your name. It’s your name! It’s a part of you. It’s been with you your whole life and there’s something very sad about losing it (I’ve done both).

    That said, prepare for a lot of rigamarole while trying to pay bills, do taxes, deal with health insurance, get crap done. Especially if you live in a small town.

  • Seriously. Just keep your own name.

    And what’s changing or not changing your name have to do with religion, etc.?

  • I’m not enamoured with my last name, my siblings and I have 3 different last names between us. And my partners last name is boring. I think if we ever get married I’ll talk him into choosing a new last name with me.
    I think that sharing a last name with my husband would make it more real. I don’t care about the history of either of our names. My mum still has history, and she doesn’t have the last name she was born with anymore.

    My only issue with changing my name is the pain of changing it with banks, on my licence, IRD, passport, etc.

  • When two colleagues of mine (a lesbian couple) married a few years ago. instead of taking one of their own names, they found a name that had meaning to both of them and their families and BOTH changed to the new name.

    I thought it was pretty cool. Their son is adorable. 😀

  • Jeff Satterley


    We ere both raised Catholic; I now self-affirm myself as an atheist (I think the only way to get excommunicated is by murdering a pope… or declaring I’m gay or something).

    You can actually request a formal act of defection from the Catholic church by writing to the diocese of the church where you were baptized. See Jim Gardner’s blog: How good is that? I’m planning on doing it as well, once I finish all the craziness that is the first summer semester.

    As for last names, I’m keeping mine, since I will have published with it once my fiancee and I are married. She’s still deciding what to do with hers, that’s completely up to her. I really have no preference, its her name.

  • Brian

    Keep your own last names. That’s the best way to show respect to the other’s identity.

    I totally disagree when the wife takes the husband last name, that’s like the wife is a piece o property.

  • You could always change both last names to something different. Darwin, Dawkins, Mehta. Your choice.

  • Skunque

    My thought had always been if you want to have a common name, take equal numbers of letters from each spouse’s former name and combine to make a new one.

    With the current BF, if we ever got married I’d want him to take my name, because his first name combines with my last to create a hilarious (pronunciation-wise) new name! Not going to say what it is, since I have a very uncommon last name, but trust me, it’s gold!

  • We are both progressive and trying to break away from some of the social and religious traditions regarding it.

    Don’t get married then.

    However there are secular reasons for getting married such as insurance, property ownership, etc but no secular reason to change names. If you want to symbolise the ceremony more than exchanging rings, getting matching tattoos or piercings, or wearing identical hats for a year then make up a new surname.

    My friend and her husband changed their surname to Solace when she married her second husband. It wasn’t his name but they liked the sound of it. Pick a word that relates to you both and adopt it.

    There is a tradition of men passing down “their name” to their children but we shouldn’t really be living in a society where men get to make the rules. My tadpoles all have my surname though but this was a mutual decision based on the utter incomprehensibility of my unwife’s surname.

  • While I’m no where near getting married, I’ve been thinking about this issue. Taking the guy’s name always just seemed like the default to me and I didn’t realize there were other options. Now that I think about it, I’d like to keep my own last name. Yeah people mispronounce it all the time, but it’s a fairly unique name and I consider it part of my identity. That and I think it’s confusing when women change their name – especially in scientific fields, where I’d have two different names on published papers.

    And if the guy had a common last name like Smith or Jones, definitely not. The last thing I want to be is another Jennifer Smith.

  • TXatheist

    There is no easy answer for me to tell you what to do but my suggestion is take the easier name to spell and pronounce.

  • Vic

    We’re keeping our own last names when we get married in October. Many people do create new last names, though, if that’s there style.

  • Abbie

    Coin toss. Make it part of the ceremony!

  • My parents both took the other’s name in a sense. James Martin Hohner and Margaret Ann Schultz became James Martin Schultz Hohner and Margaret Ann Schultz Hohner. I’m Martin Alan Schultz Hohner. I plan to continue this tradition, so if for example I married Atheist comedienne Julia Sweeney, I’d become Martin Alan Sweeney Hohner, which would let me keep my cool MASH initials (and, yes, the Alan is for Alan Alda, mom was a big fan).

  • Tori

    I’m in the exact same position as Josh right now, and we are THIS CLOSE to going to get our marriage license (hopefully it will be this afternoon if we can find a ride!).

    We just can’t decide on what to do about our names. The easiest thing of course would be to just keep our names the way they are…but honestly I’m not fond of my last name (it’s Crum, and I have a lot of bad memories of being made fun of during childhood). And I’m not going to take his name b/c honestly I am not fond of his family members with his same last name.

    I would really like to change both of our last names to something new that we can share. But the problem is I have no idea what to change it to! I want it to be something meaningful, like a word that means “reason” or “inquiry” in a different language. Any ideas?

  • Here’s a thought.

    A family name is part of a history. If you stuff around with names too much you are going to make it much much harder for future generations to track their past. That being said, the conventions for maintaining a family name are cultural, and conventionally represent a patriarchal set of conventions that are thankfully becoming a historical curiousity.

    I have a thought for a new convention. (And of course I expect my descendants will come up with new conventions of their own… any convention can be restrictive.) Still, here goes.

    I like to maintain the old patriarchal family name, since represents a long lineage to my past, up one side only of my family tree. But if you think about it, women play no part in this… and so who cares what they do? … and so why not have a PARALLEL matriarchal lineage in a name?

    I’d think it would be cool of EVERYONE had a name that reflected two genders; a double barreled family name, half from the male side, half from the female side. The female side is passed from mother to daughter, and the male side from father to son… and when you start a new family unit, you make a new family name which still maintains contacts with the past. A guy drops his mother’s matriarchal name, and adopts that of his wife. His wife drops her patriarchal name, and adopts that of her husband. You get a new double barreled name, for a new family unit…. and there’s no problem with exponential explosions in the next generation either. The convention establishes which half of your name you drop.

    In professional life, it could be the convention to use half the family name… that of your own gender, which has been yours from birth — regardless of subsequent partnerships. But in social circumstances where your family connections are important, then you would use both parts of your name.

  • My wife and I did a sort of compromise. She took my surname, but kept her original surname as a second middle name. I kept my surname, and added her original surname as a second middle name.

    The kicker was, as a woman, she could just do it, and didn’t have to do any paperwork at all. As a man, I had to apply for an official change of name.

    Not a very progressive system, for men to be treated differently from women when marrying. But this was Alberta – the conservative heartland of Canada.

    Anyway, it works for us.

    Kids get our common surname; her original surname isn’t getting passed on (which is a shame – it’s unique and characterful).

  • SarahH

    I’ve definitely heard of couples who made a combination of both their former last names, but this only works if you can find something pleasant enough to agree on.

    I took my husband’s last name, in part because I was eager to shed my old one (an uncommon German last name that I was never particularly fond of) and pick up his common, easy-to-pronounce English last name.

  • beckster

    Do whatever you want! Just make sure you can defend what you are doing because no matter what you decide people will criticize you for it.

    For me, I was fine with taking my husband’s last name. It is easier to spell and pronounce. In a woman’s studies class I took after getting married I got grilled for this and I simply pointed out that my maiden name was just another example of patriarchy since it was my dad’s name and included nothing from my mother’s side of the family! I wasn’t expected or forced to change my name, but I am glad I did because it makes things easy and adds to our family cohesiveness, in my opinion. And though it may sound silly, going in and changing my name really made me finally feel like a proper adult and in charge of my own life. I decided to change my name because I had no particular attachment to my “maiden” name, but I do have a particular attachment to my husband and I wanted to do something to represent our family bond. (he got a tattoo) 🙂

    I didn’t think the paperwork to change my name was complicated at all. I just took my marriage license to the ss office. Once I had a new ss card, it was simple to get a new license and a new passport. No problemo and I am sure it has saved us a ton of headaches with things like taxes and our kids(biological and adopted) Now of course this is likely a completely different story if you are gay or lesbian and don’t have the right to get married in most states. (another argument for marriage equality, easier paperwork)

  • What’s in a name. That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.

  • Howie McCausland

    Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I once got married. We both kept our names as they were. The more interesting question is what to do with KID’S names. Back then (mid 80’s), the fashion was to hyphenate. Clearly, this isn’t a, ah, sustainable solution. When hyphenated-name kids marry hyphenated-name kids in the next generation, we’d end up with grandchildren with names that resemble law firms.

    We dealt with this by agreeing that any sons would get dad’s last name, and any daughters would get mom’s. Haven’t ever had any problems…

  • Well, when I got married we both kept our respective last names, there’s nothing boring about it… and our child is going to get them both, since he’s actually a combination of us =)

  • Isn’t the whole “change your name after getting married” deal such a huge bureaucratic nightmare? Why not just remain who you are? After all the marriage certificate would list them as married, no one can change that. Of course this is what I did when I got married, I remain me, he remains himself, and we have a certificate that says we are married.

  • My husband and I both kept our own names.

  • Alice

    I kept my last name. I would have been a total nightmare to change it.

    Trust me on this, you may have to explain yourself to a few people: banks, if you go rent an apartment, credit card companies, ect… but it’s worth not changing a thing.

  • Jason R

    My suggestion is to find a scientist, philosopher, that you both admire and change your last name to his/her’s.

    Sagan, Darwin, Dennett, Dawkins, Carroll, Greene, Witten, Hume…

  • Tori

    To those keeping your own last name after marriage: What name are you giving your kids (if you have any obviously)? If you’re giving them both yours and your SO’s isn’t that making things a PITA for them?

  • My wife and I (we’re both women) each kept our own last names. Our son has my last name as a second middle name and my partner’s last name. If he ever wants to, he can pull his second middle name over and hyphenate, but I didn’t want to give him a super long name to begin with.

    My last name is very Jewish, and I didn’t want him saddled with a religious identity before he had a chance to make up his own mind. Also, I bore him and he looks an awful lot like me, so I didn’t feel the need to have my ‘branding’ on him.

    We’ll do the same thing with any subsequent children.

  • Cunning Monkey

    We kept our own last names. That we would do that wasn’t in question, but how to name our children has been the subject of much more discussion. To make things even more interesting, there are 3 of us involved – we’re in an exclusive poly marriage (2 women and one man – the women have been together for 11 years, I joined 3 1/2 years ago) – so we’re thinking of including our last names as middle names when it comes to passing on names to our children. We’re 2 atheists and one very privately religious adults (and she’s not at all involved with organized religion, having seen some craziness during her childhood from her religious-when-it-suits-them family).

  • Of course, you can start in the US the same thing that is being done since quite some time in Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries.

    Here we have two last names, the first comes from the father, the second comes from the mother.

    Traditionally, when people get married only the woman changes her “last” last name (her mother’s last name) to that of her husband.

    And currently, as in my very near-future wedding, We’re both going to keep our names without change.

    And in the case of scientific papers and the like, some authors like to hypertenate them, for that horrible tradition editors have of only publishing the “first” last name.

    And yes, parents and sons will have different combinations of last names, that could be confusing for some when traveling around the world.

  • AnonyMouse

    Maybe they should ditch both their last names and then swap middle names for use as last names. To illustrate, John Tobias Smith and Jane Michelle Doe would become John Tobias Michelle and Jane Michelle Tobias.

    I’m thinking maybe it was cooler in concept, but it still sounds like a fun idea to express your commitment to each other without mucking up someone’s identity more than the other.

    (Though it might get a little awkward for John – Michelle is not exactly a common last name.)

  • Cherie M

    I changed my last name to match that of my husband. Two reasons: I never really liked my last name and it linked me to my father – a prominent doctor and mormon church member. The last name was also associated with a large mormon family in general and I didn’t want the association.

  • Gabriel

    write “heads” and “tails” on several slips of paper. Put all of the slips into a paper bag and shake well. Some one pulls out a slip of paper. Whatever is on that paper “heads” or “tails” is what the person gets.

    Now flip a coin 20 times and track how many times it comes up “heads” or “tails”. When you are done add up the results. Whichever comes up the most “wins” and that is the last name.

    So if the woman draws “heads” from the bag and then “heads” comes up the most during the coin flips then they use her last name as their new married name.

  • I want to keep my own name, since I will have publications and conference presentations under that name. I’ve heard in academia, changing your name is bad for your reputation.

    However, I want my kids to have the same last name as me, or at least part of the same last name. I feel like they wouldn’t feel like “mine” without it.

    I’ve considered taking my boyfriend’s last name as my second middle name and then giving the kids his last name. I don’t think he’s willing to change his at all.

  • chutz

    Here in Quebec, keeping your own names is the standard. The government doesn’t even let people take their partner’s name without going through a full legal name change, which is a royal pain in the ass from what I hear.

    I just assumed that keeping your own name was what most people did in other places as well.

  • I kept my name. It will probably lead to questions, but I don’t like my husband’s last name and it’s not convenient to change it.

    If we had children I would want them to have my husband’s name because his family is small and I want his name passed on, whereas I have brothers who can pass on mine.

  • I really like Duae Quartunciae‘s idea.

  • Adam

    My girlfriend and I have talked about it. We are either going to keep our own last names and then give the last names to our kids based on gender, girls will get her’s, boys will get mine, or she’s going to take mine since her’s is always misspelled.

  • David

    I think there is merit in a newly married couple having the same last name. It’s called “family name” for a reason.

    If they don’t want to take his or hers and they don’t want to hyphenate, they can blend. John Grayson and Jane Markham could become John & Jane Graham.

  • Dex

    My parents kept their last names when they got married. It wasn’t a religious thing, they both just thought the tradition of changing them was silly and unnecessary. My brothers and I got dad’s last name, and my sister got mom’s. When we were young, we thought that was how everyone did things. We didn’t realize it was unusual until my sister started school and the other kids started asking why she had a different last name than we did.

  • Jude

    I was married twice. I kept my own name twice. I’m happy that I never gave up my not-totally-common-but-not-absurdly-unusual last name. From my perspective, changing names is asinine and unnecessary.

  • In Canada, it’s not so uncommon for both spouses to keep their last names. In Quebec, in particular, no one can change their last name because of marriage. You have to go through the same procedures as all other people who want to change their last name. I guess you can really see the difference when you look at our top political couples. Of the three major parties, only the Conservatives have a leader who shares his last name with his wife.

    I had a friend whose parents had kept their own names. He and his youngest brother had their mother’s last name, while the middle kid had gotten their father’s. So I guess if they want to have kids and they’re planning on having more than one, they can always take turns with the last names.

    Oh and my last name is a pain in the ass to spell and pronounce, which is why I’m keeping it, if I ever decide to get married. 😀

  • Ettenaej

    I had this issue a few years ago when I got married. I don’t particularly have any issues with taking my husbands name and I always assumed I would until the time came then I felt I was giving up a huge part of who I am. I was also a few years into my career life and was becoming known under my maiden name and I don’t particularly care for my husband’s name which is an adopted name for him anyway. It just seemed strange for us both to have given up our lineage by having a new name. His adoptive family is awesome and very dear to me; however, somehow taking their name just didn’t fit for me.

    My solution: I kept my name and problem was solved…until…I got pregnant. Then I really felt upset that I wasn’t going to have the same name as my child. To me this is not an option. It just seems strange to go through labor and delivery and all only to have people she meets in the future assume I am her step-mother because she doesn’t have my name. Plus, changing your name in so many locations is just a huge unnecessary hassle that I didn’t want to deal with.

    My next solution: I kept my maiden name and added a fourth name (my husbands) on my driver’s license only (I don’t think this is an option in all states though). My SSN is still tied to my maiden name, my career is under my maiden name (which requires a gov issued id) and my passport is under my maiden name which is the same for all my credit cards, etc… And, after searching for first names for my daughter and not finding one we could agree on, we decided to use my maiden name for her first name and she took my husbands last name for hers. We were lucky with this in that my maiden name is actually a female name anyway…and fairly uncommon which was what we were looking for. I don’t know what we are going to do if we have a second child…hahah…guess we’ll figure that out when/if the time comes.

    I do, however, get a few funny looks from those who know me by my maiden name only when they ask my daughter’s name…they quickly assume we named her “maiden ____ maiden”…hahahha… so, I find myself explaining it often…but I actually get a kick out of it and I LOVE our situation and how we named her.

    Oh, my name is often hyphened too which I hated in the beginning but I have gotten used to it…it is really long though. With it being that way on my driver’s license it has given me the ability to use whichever name or both depending on the situation. And, as far as his family is concerned, I have taken their name so there has been no offense taken on their end. Also, sometimes if I have to sign for my husband on things it isn’t questioned since I can show a valid form of id with his name.

    Good Luck!

  • My wife kept her ex-husbands last name. Her maiden name was not particularly appealing and she was under no circumstances becoming a Smith. Her ex had an exotic sounding Scandinavian surname so she kept that one, heck I was almost tempted to take it as well.
    Keeping your own last names is a good option, but be prepared for a barrage of ‘what about the children’ questions, we stopped them by sterilization.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Heh, this conversation reminds me of what George Carlin said about hyphenated names

  • Melissa

    My girlfriend and myself (both women) are also having this problem. Neither of us want to create a new name or use the dreaded hyphen (shudders), so we are at a standstill with the names we do have. Many people have been saying either keep your own, or pick the name that will cause less of a problem. Well, between the two of us I have a fairly unique last name (that does occasionally get misspelled or mispronounced), yet her’s is fairly common. In addition, being that my brother and sister in law are against having kids, and my future wife is an only child, we are both our parents last hope when it comes to passing on the family name, on both sides! Unfortunately we have yet to come to a conclusion, so this thread is fairly helpful.

  • James

    We each kept our names.

    We dislike hyphenation, so our kid has mommy’s last name as middle, and Daddy’s as last.

    My suggestion had been to make the order of the two names subject to a coin flip, but my wife opted to have her name be the middle name.

  • medussa

    In a past life, back when I dated the opposite sex, I got married to my BF, the reasons are a bit obscure now. Pissing off my mom was definitely part of the equation…

    Anyway, my husband had been disowned by his right wing, politically aggressive family, and also had a very common last name. My first name was also very common, and had I taken his name, I would have been one of three women with that name in my circle of friends.
    And while my last name reflects my patriarchal, evangelical, American family, I do love them and don’t mind carrying the name.

    At the time, it was law that we had to agree on the same last name (this was in Germany in the early 80’s), so we went with mine, giving him a very unique name (my last name is very uncommon there).

    I guess what I’m saying is take into account how the 2 fiances feel about their families of origin.

  • llewelly

    They should sell their last names on Ebay.

  • Herk

    If they really don’t want to be old-fashioned or conventional, why get married at all?

  • llewelly

    Then we pass both (first) last names to our children (i.e. my daughter is Guillen-Allende, Allende being my wife’s last name).

    Confused yet?

    The thing is, neither of us lose our identity or our individual families’ last names, and we pass part of our identity to our children (creating a new identity). That’s the best way I have of explaining it.

    Doesn’t that mean that your daughter lost the family names of both her grandmothers?

  • Dallas

    I kept my name when I married 14 years ago. The custom of a woman changing her name to her husband’s name has ownership connotatons related to the early history of second-class citizenship for women. (When my mother was born in 1917, women still did not have the right to vote.) In addition, I had a fully formed, lifelong identity under my own name. My college degree, employment history, professional reputation, credit history, and so on were all established under that name.

    A few months ago, I received an invitation to a high school reunion and was asked if I could supply contact informaton for any other classmates. When I attended the reunion, I was disappointed to see so few of my female classmates there. Most of the women had married and disappeared behind names that no one knew. I am sure some of them would have loved to attend if we’d been able to find them.

  • absent sway

    Taking the man’s name need not be patriarchal even though the origin of the tradition is. I took my husband’s last name to simplify my life (yay, now people can pronounce and spell one of my names), although the documents, etc. are a real hassle. I kept my family name as a second middle name and although the situation isn’t perfect, it’s a satisfying compromise. I get progressive points for keeping my own bank account 😉

  • I eventually gave up and took my husband’s name. When I had my first child I was still using my maiden name, and the hospital assumed we were unmarried. So before we could leave the hospital, my husband had to sign an affidavit of paternity and show identification before we could take the baby with us and have his name on her birth certificate. When we had the second, I had switched to my husband’s last name, and there was no requirement for us to sign the affidavit before he could be listed on her birth certificate or leave the hospital with her. I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere, however, but it is something to consider.

  • Robyn

    I like the way last names are handled in Spain and other areas, myself. My only complaint is that it’s VERY hard when ask a Hispanic kids for their last name! (I volunteer at an elementary school library and it’s how I find their profiles.) And I don’t want to be insensitive and ask for their last “names”. They could not go with that convention. 🙁

  • Erik

    They should change their last name to Atheist!

  • llewelly

    Now flip a coin 20 times and track how many times it comes up “heads” or “tails”. When you are done add up the results. Whichever comes up the most “wins” and that is the last name.

    Why 20 coin flips? Why not just one? Whether you choose the winner of 20 flips, or the winner of one flip, both names have equal chances of winning. The only differences are that with 20 flips, you do at least 20 times as much work, and there is a small (about 17.6%) chance of a tie, making you do it all over again!

  • Richard Wade

    Now flip a coin 20 times and track how many times it comes up “heads” or “tails”. When you are done add up the results. Whichever comes up the most “wins” and that is the last name.

    So, they would be either Mr. and Mrs. Heads or Mr. and Mrs. Tails?

  • John Larberg

    “Here’s an idea. Say it’s Josh Doe and Jane Smith. Why not become Josh Smith and Jane Doe? What better way to symbolize an equal partnership (instead of the subservient symbolism of Mr. and Mrs. Josh Doe), than by an equal trade?”

    This is a great idea. My girlfriend and I have often pondered the same issue. I guess as long as we have last names this will be an issue.

  • I don’t know if anyone else has said this:
    Josh could take the surname of his wife & hyphenate it w/his own, & she could do the reverse.
    Josh Smith
    Jane Stanley
    Josh Smith-Stanley, &
    Jane Stanley-Smith.

  • Kayla

    My boyfriend already came pre-hyphenated. A three-way hyphenated name would just be..too much. At the moment, I think it’s most likely I’ll take his two last names and ditch my own. I never liked mine anyway.

  • Anna

    I kind of resent the idea that taking your husband’s last name disqualifies you as a feminist. I plan to use my maiden name as a middle name and my husdands surname as mine. because my surname sounds like a first name anyway, I plan to continue to family tradition of imparting it as a middle name to any female progeny. simplicity has a lot to do with me taking my husband’s name. If I had a strong professional identity attached to my maiden name, I would retain it. If anyone attempted to pressure me to change my name, I would keep it. I have no objection to keeping one’s maiden name, but I don’t feel the need to prove the equality of our partnership by doing something that will ultimately just confuse everyone.

  • My wife and I kept our names, but our (as yet unborn) children will take the name of the adult parent with the same gender. Boys get my last name, girls get hers. At least, that’s what we’re telling her mom in order to get her upset…

  • GreyTheory

    Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his wife combined their last names. Unfortunately they divorced after he boinked a reporter from the local Spanish-language network, so it’s on the way to becoming the bureaucratic version of a tattoo.

  • Stephan Goodwin

    My wife and I are keeping our last names…of course that then raises the question of children…what would his/her/their name(s) be?

  • Stephan Goodwin

    My wife and I kept our names, but our (as yet unborn) children will take the name of the adult parent with the same gender. Boys get my last name, girls get hers. At least, that’s what we’re telling her mom in order to get her upset…

    Interesting…we are considering doing the reverse just to make it interesting.

  • Should I ever get married I have no intention of changing my name. Part of it is because I’m very close to my family and my name is such a part of my identity (also because I’m an artist changing how I sign pieces could be a problem).

    My brother’s wife did take his name. Neither are atheists though they aren’t very religious, but they went with tradition. She liked the idea of becoming part of this big extended family when she doesn’t have that since most of her family still lives in Peru.

  • Maseca

    I took my husband’s last name when we got married, and use my maiden name as my middle.

    I’ve always been anxious to get rid of my maiden name. It was unpronounceable, constantly misspelled, of an ethnicity to which I’m not related, and not technically a “family” name.

    As a kid I said I would marry someone with a boring last name, and luckily my husband’s name is definitely boring. I’m happy to be un-Googleable.

  • beijingrrl

    I took my husband’s last name when we married because I didn’t want to be associated with my father and my husband has a really cool last name. Also, I had done some modeling in the past under my maiden name which led to a few a creepy letters finding their way to me, so it was a bonus to have a new identity completely disassociating me from that. I’m also happy that the kids, my husband and I all share a name.

  • Cris

    My parents both kept their last names. However, my last name and my siblings’ last name is a hyphenated version of my mother and father’s last names. I feel it’s a nice median because my parents keep their names, but still get to do something fun with their kids’ last name.

  • ThatPirateGuy

    They should go with Voltron.

  • bigjohn756

    Just keep your own names. Why is that a problem? What is the big deal about names anyway? You’re getting married not cloned. Give the kids a hyphenated last name and let them choose which one to use.

  • adventuresofj

    my sisters and i all have two last names (depending on the system it is typed into it may or may not be hyphenated). My parents did not change their names.

    The only issue that this has caused is that in school i never used both names, but once in the real world i use both. 1 sister only uses one last name and the littlest one uses a weird abbreviated hyphenated version. I

    No idea what i’ll do when I get married.

  • Amber

    My husband and I were recently married last month, and the discussion came up as well. Our solution was simple: we stay the same. Neither of us changed our names and felt no reason why we should. As for our children, they’ll take whatever name sounds the best with the first names we give them.

  • I got married about 3 weeks ago. My husband kept the same name, and I added his last name onto mine. My maiden name became my second middle name.

    Hyphenated names are just awkward, IMHO.

  • magdalune

    If gay marriage is eventually allowed in one of the states I live in, I’ll probably take the name of my partner, unless she has a more unfortunate surname than mine. 🙂 My last name could be worse, but it … could be better.

  • DeafAtheist

    I think both partners should keep their own last names. Doing that does create a problem with the kids tho… which name do the kids get? Hyphenated?

    However, if I end up marrying my son’s mother she’s already said she’d take my name. My son shares both my last and middle names. She’s a divorcee an still carries her ex-husband’s last name mostly for identity with the children she shares with him which is understandable, but if she were to keep her own name if/when we got married I’d naturally prefer it if she reverted back to her maiden last name than keeping her ex’s. Her ex isn’t in our relationship so in the event of our marriage his name wouldn’t belong in it either.

  • stephanie

    I kept my last name when I got married. It’s been a good name, I remember to answer to it so what’s not to love? As an added bonus, it serves as an early warning system against closed-mindedness. Very useful!

  • Eliza

    Echoing some of the above:
    Marriage optional. Name change optional. Name change can occur without marriage, if those involved so decide.

    I never considered changing my name, when married 15 yrs ago. The name I’d had for 30 years was/is part of my identity. It’s who I am, since I’ve had it since birth – even though it came about because of the standard patronymic lockstep that is still the norm in the US. Besides, my father’s generation only had daughters, & I wanted to keep that name alive for a bit longer. Half of us have kept our own names, and the other half have hyphenated (with various arrangements for the kids’ names).

    Most of my friends kept their own names with marriage, but I know it’s by far the minority approach in the US. True, it’s not uncommon for people to be confused about my name being different from my husband’s & my son’s, but that doesn’t bother me. I figure they’re just lacking in imagination if they can’t figure out that, yes, we’re related. (I have occasionally had to remind the bank that ours is a community property state, when they refuse to give me information & say they have to give it to my husband. Bah.)

    My mother still uses her married name, though has been divorced from my dad for far longer than they were married. I think that’s weird, but it’s her choice (professional reasons, & to have the same name as her kid, I’m sure).

    I work in a Women’s Clinic. Inexplicably, our electronic medical record can’t handle hyphenated names, though many of our patients’ names contain that little dash. The EMR usually runs the two last names together, but sometimes it only uses the first, or the second, name – without rhyme or reason. Bah.

    Our EMR is loaded with our (staff’s) FULL names (first, middle, last), which is a pain because my middle name is an old family name, so it looks like a last name, so many times people assume I have a hyphenated last name: First Middle-Last. Bah.

    Final thought: I like the Icelandic approach, of giving girls their mother’s FIRST name + “dottir”, and boys their father’s FIRST name + “son”. Of course, this approach won’t work in a large country, and it’s totally insensitive to children born with indeterminate gender. Nor will it work smoothly when same-sex partners have (or adopt) a child of the opposite sex. (Donald Susie-son? Hmm – NO.)

  • Erp

    Actually I think the Icelandic approach is children take the father’s name plus either dottir or son so, for instance, the current Prime Minister of Iceland is Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Taking the mother’s name is also possible but rarer and again both sons and daughters can use it (e.g., Heiðar Helguson).

  • AnonyMouse

    As for me, I will (probably) more than happily ditch my surname at the first opportunity. I don’t particularly care whether I take his name or we jointly change it to Witwicky or whathaveyou; I just really don’t enjoy the association it gives me to my crazy relatives.

  • I do not have any kids yet, but am thinking that when we do, they should take on either of our NAMES, not last names- last names, Indian ones are very caste and region indicative, i do not want my kids to carry on that legacy or remember some ancestor neither of us know anything about. Our own names, well the paper work is so hassling, we will keep what we are inflicted with.

  • Anne

    We each kept our own names. My sisters-in-law were horrified, btw. They didn’t know until the wedding and the kind of made a fuss.

    My husband, also, is still a little unhappy that I didn’t take his name. But at 40 something when we married, my name is a part of me. I suggested he take my last name, or we hyphenate our names and share both, but neither suggestion was taken well.

    Maybe all this says something about our marriage, or maybe it’s just that he’s older and more conservative in some ways. (he thinks he’s liberal but it’s all relative, isn’t it?)

    Anyway, my first choice would be hyphenated last names, as the children will then have the same last names. Second choice is what we did, each kept our own and our child has both our last names.

  • Do nothing. My wife kept her maiden name. It is not actually that unusual. However, it does trip up traditionalists because when they know her full name and then are introduced to me they assume she has taken my last name and address me as Mr. .

  • tamarind

    I’d like to take my boyfriend’s last name because I like it better, plain and simple.

    I’m all for a “survival of the fittest” with last names. Shitty last names–and there are plenty of them–should be weeded out in marriage, preventing them from being passed on. If only I ruled the world.

  • Eliza

    Erp, thanks for correcting me – somehow I’d mis-learned, or mis-remembered the matronymic as being the system for women. (Glad to hear it is an option, but that’s not nearly as cool as it being the standard.)

    The wikipedia page on icelandic names also brings up some important considerations in choosing last names which haven’t been brought up yet in this discussion: “…they must contain only letters found in the Icelandic alphabet and second, they must be able to be declined (that is, modified according to their grammatical case).”

    Which would make it all that much harder… 🙂

  • Sergio Guillen-Pantoja

    Doesn’t that mean that your daughter lost the family names of both her grandmothers?

    Sorry for the late answer… different time continents and all that 🙂

    No, because we have another curious custom (which I thought too complicated to explain): we USE two last names, but we keep all (and try to remember them as far as we can). It’s unwieldly for everyday use, but it’s a fun game to play with the children, reciting the last names.

    For example, my name would be Sergio Guillen Pantoja Lopez Cuesta… (and many more): my dad is Guillen Lopez and my mum is Pantoja Cuesta.

    My daughter is Guillen Allende Pantoja Rodriguez (etc… she knows a few more of the last names).

    I admit we give a traditional preference to the father’s last name, though it’s changing in some cases (very few still) where they use the mother’s last name first.

    When we were living in a dictatorship (not that long ago) people weren’t allowed to use the mother’s last name first. Thankfully that has changed now.

    As another curious note, at the beginning of being a democracy (again), people weren’t allowed to name their children with a name that wasn’t the name of a saint… thank goodness THAT changed before I had my daughter 🙂

    So we don’t lose the grandmothers’ family names. We remember them, we just don’t use them on a daily basis (it would be unwieldly).

    Did I write all that? I think I’ve spent all my words quota for a year…

  • Kiera

    I guess I’m the odd one out since I’m looking forward to being traditional and taking my fiance’s last name. *shrugs*

  • I’m in a common-law relationship by choice (we see no need to get married since we’re not religious and since Canada has such a favourable common-law status) but I decided that I wanted “family” name.

    So, we’re not married but I changed my name from my boring maiden name to “hubby’s” cooler name via a legal name change. Most people just assume we’re married anyway since we have the same last name, so it has made life a little easier too.

    I definitely wanted to make the statement that we were a family without getting married. We’ve been happy with our decision.

  • Grammar Police here — is Josh marrying a dude? Not that there’s anything wrong with gay marriage, but if he’s marrying a woman, she’s his fiancee (2 e’s), and he’s her fiance (1 e).

    As for the name thing, maybe they could both take “Hyphenated” as their last name. Then they could have lots of fun when someone asks their last name and they say “it’s Hyphenated.” — “Yes, but what is it?” — “I told you, it’s Hyphenated.”

    And then they could name the kids Who, What and I Don’t Know and start a baseball team. 😉

  • Calvin

    I had a friend in grad school who got married and both he and his wife took a new last name that meant something to both of them.

  • Will

    My parents each kept their names; I got my mother’s name as a middle name and my father’s name as a last name.
    Unfortunately, this means of naming me set up in advance that only my father’s name will be passed on to any of their grandchildren…

    For people who don’t want to start a whole new name altogether, I really like the idea behind Duae Quartunciae’s suggestion for dealing with kids – all we need is hyphens and a balanced system. There’s no reason to keep adding on hyphens, nor to throw out the lineage aspect of names, nor to throw up your hands and declare it unworkable. Just to illustrate how smoothly it could work:

    Jane Doe + John Smith => Billy Doe-Smith
    Holly Birmingham + Ben Watts => Tina Birmingham-Watts

    Then, if Billy and Tina have kids, Billy merely passes on his father’s contribution to his name, and Tina passes on that of her mother:

    Billy Doe-Smith + Tina Birmingham-Watts => Gabriel Birmingham-Smith

    So we can preserve both patriarchal and matriarchal lineage without unduly favoring one or the other. Better yet, the system isn’t heterosexist. It works just as well for Billy and Tina as it does for Billy and Timmy, or Betty and Tina.

    I have been assuming here that people keep their names, but it also works for people who’d like to hyphenate their own names: you both can just take the name your kid would get.

    The only remaining question, really, is whose name comes before the hyphen. Rock-paper-scissors?

  • huyen

    has any one thought of each using the other’s surname as their middle name? that is what we are thinking of, so that we both keep our surnames and the identity we have created with them throughout our public lives, but that our full name will still reflect the other. any thoughts?

  • Taymount

    My boyfriend and I often talk about marriage and the only thing that is putting me off is the fact that he expects me to take his surname. (He says that it would be ‘unusual’ if I kept my name and that it would confuse people. Which is a lame excuse if you ask me.)

    I have always said that my birth name is my birth name and I am not changing it. It is who I am. I hate all this reference to maiden name – as you only have a maiden name if you then have a married name.

    I like the comments here about using your partners name as a middle name. I will suggest it to my partner – as hyphenation is horrid and wouldn’t work with our names. I doubt he would have my surname as a middle name – but I will ask him. It would mean more to me than exchanging rings and vows if he took my surname as an additional middle name.

    As for naming children, if we ever have any, I think I’d give them his surname as my name is really common and his is rare. But I would give them my surname as a middle name. That way the child has the identity of both parents – keeping their heritage and would make it easy for them to trace their family history.