Ask A Woman: What’s in a name?
If you’ve got a question that needs the female treatment, chances are you’re not the only one who wants to ask it. Beth is our source for the answers. From opinions on men’s style to decoding the sometimes mysterious ways of women, she’ll take on a different question every Thursday. She also might provide an answer without waiting to be asked. That happens from time to time too. Click here to get to know Beth, then get in touch with her by sending your question to: email@example.com .
So I’ve been dating my girlfriend for a few years now and we’ve started talking about marriage. One disagreement we have is about is our last name, whether she keeps hers or adopts mine. We’re both pretty traditional, except she wants to keep her last name. She’s going to be a doctor in a couple of years and it’s apparently a big deal with name recognition in the medical field.
My question is, how big of a deal is this? I would think that’ll cause confusion in various social interactions or even official documents. Then there’s the question of hyphenation. Would I then appear weak for “giving in?” I may be overreacting to a simple issue, but I clearly need advice. Thanks in advance!
It sounds like you probably don’t know many (or any?) couples in which the spouses don’t share a last name, and that’s why this is throwing you for a loop. That’s fair. We bring to relationships—and marriage—the sum of our experiences. Those experiences then form our expectations for how we will negotiate our lives with our partners.
Let me just assure you—this is very commonplace. Many women in high-profile professions (doctors, lawyers, executives, professors, entrepreneurs, politicians) keep their names when they marry because it’s easier to avoid confusion if you’ve already begun to establish yourself. Imagine publishing academic articles as Jennifer Bartlett, then marrying and trying to transfer the reputation and acclaim of Jennifer Bartlett to Jennifer Jones. It would be like starting over, reputation-wise. Many more women choose to keep their names simply because…that’s their name. They were born with it, they like it, it’s what everyone knows them by. If you put yourself in this position, thinking about how you might feel if you were expected to change your name when you got married, it might be easier to understand the reservation to do so. I know that many people turn to the argument of tradition—women have always done this, they should continue to do so—but it doesn’t hold water if you look at why the tradition existed in the first place. We changed our names–in part–because women used to be property of their husbands. This is no longer true (though I’m anticipating the jokes in the comments section along these lines) so the tradition may be thought of by some as antiquated.
She’d also have to sign checks differently when paying her… bills, bills, bills.
This will be a big deal to the people who have a big opinion about it. Perhaps your parents are horrified at the thought of having a daughter-in-law who wouldn’t share their name. Perhaps your girlfriend’s colleagues are horrified that she would even consider using a name other than her own, considering how hard she’s worked to get to this place in her career. The bottom line, though, is that this should be your girlfriend’s decision–really, how will it affect other people? It probably won’t. It’s reasonable for you to express, calmly and respectfully, that if she kept her name you would feel bummed. But that’s where you should leave it.
As far as confusion—I think there will be less than you envision. Some people might assume you’re not married because you have different names, in which case you just let them know, actually we’re married, but my wife kept her name. I don’t think you’ll get the blank stares or gaping mouths you imagine. If you don’t make a big deal of it, no one else will. Any official document will clearly indicate whether you’re married or not, regardless of your name, so that’s not really a concern. Banks, insurance companies, hospitals—they’ve seen this before.
I’m sorry, my darling Will, but I have to take you out to the woodshed for a moment and whack you for asking if you’d “appear weak for giving in” if your wife did not change her name. Despite what comedians and people who talk about Venus and Mars may have you believe, marriage is not a power struggle. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Marriage is hard as hell but it’s also rewarding as hell, and it becomes that way through respect and kindness. This is an issue that primarily affects your future spouse—it’s her name. So it’s not a matter of “giving in.” Bros think you’re “weak” because your woman didn’t take your name the way she “should”? Oh well, boo-hoo. I would encourage you to not spend much time worrying about how your marriage or manhood appears to other people; you’ll soon find that it’s not an accurate reflection of the actual quality of your marriage or manhood. You and your spouse–not other people–get to decide if you have a good marriage that works for you.
Give yourself some time to think through this issue. I think eventually you’ll find it’s not as big a deal as you thought, and you’ll find some peace with whatever your girlfriend decides.
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