I already have a surname, thanks
March 31, 2010 1:32 AM   Subscribe

Is it considered very unusual in the US for people to keep their own surnames when they get married? Does this lead to misunderstandings or problems in everyday life, or is it totally OK/commonly accepted for wife and husband to have different surnames?

US context only.
I'm not asking what you consider the right thing to do - I'm more interested in general attitudes towards family names. I assume taking your husband's (or in a few cases the wife's) name is the normal/standard/usual thing to do (Wikipedia tells me that "...roughly 90% of American women automatically assume their husband's surname upon getting married") - but exactly how unusual is it to keep separate names? Would people be puzzled by such a choice, or somehow doubt whether you're really married, would they find it strange, or is there general acceptance for "separate" names?

(I'm from Germany, where keeping your name has only recently become a legal possibility, and is still considered quite unusual - I wonder whether attitudes are more relaxed in the US)
posted by The Toad to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
i really think it depends on your circle of friends/family. i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently. none of those that are shocked are from my very conservative mormon family.
posted by nadawi at 1:53 AM on March 31, 2010

I think that it has a lot to do with a person's area and occupation.

I know a lot of female lawyers in New York City who have kept their own names when marrying and probably wouldn't have considered doing otherwise. I understand that many other big-city professionals do the same (and I can think of lawyer friends in Boston and Washington, D.C. who have done so). Certainly in the professional circles in which I used to circulate, nobody would think twice if they found out that married partners have different surnames.

On the other hand, there are parts of the US that are much more conservative, and people (like those that nadawi mentions) who probably would find it very unusual to keep one's name.
posted by sueinnyc at 1:57 AM on March 31, 2010

I think it's more common to keep your name if you're an academic, due to the confusion of having publications under different names. It was a (minor) factor for a friend of mine who got married while in grad school. In the end she just never got around to changing it, despite leaving academia.
posted by serathen at 2:09 AM on March 31, 2010

More traditional conservative regions are naturally more likely to expect women to keep their names, but the vast majority of Americans know and accept that it's a growing trend. Still, I'm sure we're not quite at the point where it's something that commonly goes back more than a generation or two within our own families, so... it might still be kind of unique, but not strange or completely unexpected.

I'm sure gender equality plays a large part, but there's probably the convenience factor too... You don't have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, and with the divorce rate being what it is, it's potentially one less thing to handle later on.

There's also the upward trend of women hyphenating their maiden and married names as sort of a compromise (as someone who processes customer accounts, I'm not a fan). On a similar note, I'm curious what the trends are of female teachers in particular being addressed by "Ms" rather than "Miss" or "Mrs."

As for misunderstandings, you still hear stories about someone meeting the husband of an acquaintance, and assuming she had taken her husband's name ("Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Smith!" "Uh, actually, it's Jones..."). Always good for a few laughs.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:40 AM on March 31, 2010

Yes, it does seem to be very regional/social-circle dependent. Where I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, most of the adult married women I knew had their husband's last name. (Though my mother had not changed her name for her first marriage, and did for her second, so she and I had different last names and she answered to either.)

I now live in a reasonably-sized city, and travel in mostly academic circles, and I barely know anyone who's changed their last names on getting married. Among the people I know, no one would be surprised or puzzled for a couple to have different last names. In fact, people regularly assume my unmarried partner and I are married, despite our having different last names. The only problem I'm aware of that comes up is deciding what to name the kids, which does seem to wind up being a big deal for the couples I know who've gone through it.
posted by Stacey at 2:53 AM on March 31, 2010

No one's ever doubted I or my wife have been married because of our different last names. If anyone did, it would seem a remarkable event, since the practice of keeping separate names (outside of the famous) has been publicly common in the US for at least 30 years now, and probably longer.

However, it's not a rare event that when my wife talks to a businessperson first that I will subsequently be addressed as Mr. Her_Last_Name by that person. Not all the time, and not all that horrible anyway, but it is mildly annoying to have to make the correction. So, automatic assumptions about married last names are still being made by a lot of people here. Note to business people here: don't do that. It's an easy faux pas to avoid.

And my wife gets a minority of family mail addressed to her using my last name after 16 years of marriage, although I suspect the fair number of religious fundies on both sides may skew that percentage upwards. Even among the fundie types, though, the majority have accepted the godless unnaturalness of it and use the appropriate last name for each of us.

Personally, I always thought it was a little weird that so many women in the USA would still take their husband's last name, since it's not a major social issue, at least from what I've seen. But when I ask my friends and family, I'm often surprised that a lot of modern women either don't care and/or said it was easier to change their name, particularly if the couple is planning on children. A nontrivial number of women actually preferred taking on the man's last name as some sort of marital bonding thing, or to symbolicly leave behind their original name's baggage. Contrary to what one might think, quite a few husbands besides me don't seem to care that much, either.
posted by mdevore at 3:21 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to say that we've not had any big problems, though mdevore's experiences are not alien to us either (to include the husband who doesn't care that much). It's probably safe to say that it's considered unusual only in certain demographics.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:59 AM on March 31, 2010

As other people have said, branding plays a part. Actresses, academics, jane smith's plumbing and heating types are more likely to keep their surnames than Jane Anonymous.

i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently.

I find this hard to believe unless there's something about you or these people you're not telling us.
posted by malp at 4:22 AM on March 31, 2010

I live in a small town near a (much larger) university town - kept my name and our kids have my name not my husband's. The latter makes people ask every so often but no one is particularly surprised by my having kept my name. It seems generational - I see more younger women changing their names these days than women in their 40s and 50s.
posted by leslies at 4:27 AM on March 31, 2010

I don't think most people are surprised by wives keeping their names anymore - that said, I also found some people surprised that I didn't keep my name when I married. I didn't have an established career that would be derailed by a name-change, plus I just liked my husband's better.
posted by pinky at 4:40 AM on March 31, 2010

>>i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently.

I find this hard to believe unless there's something about you or these people you're not telling us.

I'm in an urban part of Canada (surely not that dissimilar from the US, culturally) and I have to admit I was mildly shocked and surprised when my friend told me his wife was taking his family name when they got married -- of all my peers to get married over the last 5 years, I think that was the only case where the woman adopted her husband's family name. Most kept their separate names, in one case the couple selected a new third name for them both to adopt.
posted by modernnomad at 4:41 AM on March 31, 2010

It has not caused the least bit of problems for my wife and I. I imagine it may have been even more difficult to change her name through the legal channels, but we'll never really know, will we? We are "big city professionals" as sueinnyc put it, however not even our very conservative relatives have batted an eye at our choice. In fact, one cousin who is, and I kid you not, a tea party member, recently married and his wife kept her name.

Our kids have my last name, but we've chosen family names for the rest of their names to tie the families together.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:53 AM on March 31, 2010

As far as I can recall, in none of the weddings I've been to in the last decade did the woman take her husband's name. I would be mildly shocked if someone in my peer group did so.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:03 AM on March 31, 2010

It seems like one of those things that, while a growing trend, is still relatively rare. And except for family busybodies and well-meaning strangers, nobody bats an eye about it.
posted by gjc at 5:08 AM on March 31, 2010

Something that has become very commmon where I live is unmarried couples with kids living together, as well as common law marriages, both of which typically result in famillies where the parents have different last names. In fact, with people having children with multiple partners, it is not unusual to see 3 or 4 last names in one family.
posted by TedW at 5:09 AM on March 31, 2010

Judging by the contents of my Facebook page, I'd say that only about 25% of the women I know under 40 have taken their husband's name. (I do have one friend who married very young, took her husband's name, got divorced, kept the name, and has continued to use that name although she is now married for a second time.)

So, yes, very common and accepted, in a generational sense.
posted by anastasiav at 5:11 AM on March 31, 2010

And to answer the second part of your question, it rarely causes a problem, and we have to deal with consent forms, insurance paperwork and so on at the hospital. A much bigger problem is when the patient's name is misspelled, birthdate is wrong, or other clerical error.
posted by TedW at 5:12 AM on March 31, 2010

It's uncommon enough for me to consider it unusual. However, I'm from the south, where the 90% number Wikipedia refers to is probably more like 99%. However, my mom does put her maiden name on her business card (like Jane Doe Smith) for networking purposes, since she works where she grew up and people know her by that name.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:44 AM on March 31, 2010

I kept my name--never really considered anything else. None of my peers expected any differently, batted an eye, or questioned it. My Southern coworkers asked (and HR emailed me months after I was married to ask me why I hadn't requested a new email address), and my mother and some older aunts mused that it was "weird to get married and not have a new name," despite the fact that my mother returned to using her maiden name a few years ago because she said she never really felt like her married name fit her.

The weirdest thing, for me, was that I got married in the state of New Jersey, and the paperwork included a sheet of "things for the bride to change after her marriage"--social security card, driver's license, etc. It wasn't presented as if it was optional, though obviously it is. I found that very unusual and wonder how much that kind of assumption influences what women do.

Anyway, I love my name, and am so glad I got to keep it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2010

Maybe it's regional but in Texas, I think it's still pretty uncommon. I can think of only one or two acquaintances that have not changed last names. It hasn't caused any problems for us. I am called by my wife's last name some and she mine. Oh and the bank used to question me when I tried to cash her check, but they don't say anything anymore. There are so many people living together that are not married that most people just assume that's our arrangement.
posted by iscavenger at 5:49 AM on March 31, 2010

Oh, and I'm a writer and was in academia for awhile. If you're publishing, there's a strong incentive for all of one's writing to be under one name. This is one of the reasons (general liberal attitudes in academia are another) that it's common not to change one's name in the academy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:49 AM on March 31, 2010

I haven't had problems with it, exactly, but when my beloved and I cross the border we frequently get asked how we know each other...no eyebrows seem to get raised when we say we're married, though.

We do sometimes get the "Mr. biscotti" thing, but that's understandable. I have encountered very few people who think I'm some kind of feminazi for keeping my surname, even when we lived in Texas, just people who found it uncommon.
posted by biscotti at 6:01 AM on March 31, 2010

Whether or not to take his name, or to hyphenate, or to do something different, is heavily regionally, culturally, and class differentiated. There is simply not one "US way of doing it."

As mentioned above, in academic circles and urban professional settings, where a woman is probably marrying a decade into her career and is known already by her existing name, it's common to keep the maiden name. But I also know couples in those settings who chose to hyphenate both of their names, for example, or who decided to simply choose a new name from scratch.

A lot of the people I work with are the opposite of highly educated and urban, and although my sense is that they are adopting the husband's name at a higher rate, I can still easily think of examples where people have chosen other options.

But for all that people will criticize and question women's name choices, I've never seen anyone actually get confused or lead to any problems. The guys I know who chose to change their names (hyphenated or brand new name) get the most surprise and criticism, definitely. But still no problems.

Unlike Germany, naming in the US has never been centrally controlled. Want to name your boy "Sue"? Change your name to "Freedom Mayflower Liberty Pinochet"? Make up an entirely new name? Change your name every six months to the day? No problem, at least from the government's perspective. So there is a history here of accepting odd naming choices, and as women keeping their names has become more common it is seen less and less as an odd choice.
posted by Forktine at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2010

My wife kept her last name. Other than some occasional good-natured ribbing from my brothers the only time it was ever an issue in twelve years of marriage was last week when I tried to rent a truck at Home Depot and I needed my car's registration to show proof of insurance. I had my wife's car with me and because we have different last names the guy at the rental counter wouldn't accept it.

It's also been an issue for her when she takes my son across the border into Canada without me. She's never been denied entry but she's been giving a Stern Talking To by the border guard because our son has my last name and now she takes a signed letter from me saying it's ok to take the kid out of the country. It's kind of a joke, really, because anyone could forge up a similar letter.

Also she has some old-fashioned relatives who refuse to accept she's not Mrs. James Bondcliff and address all correspondence to her that way.

I'd say our married friends are about 50/50 with keeping names. We also know one couple where both husband and wife took each others names.
posted by bondcliff at 6:19 AM on March 31, 2010

Seconding TedW: all forms and records require us to fill in both names in full, so there's no problem having different last names. Far worse is bureaucratic error that files your papers under the wrong name; once upon a time, my electric company couldn't find my records... because they had filed me as Elsa Middle-LastName, so they couldn't find Elsa LastName in the files.

>>i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently.

I find this hard to believe unless there's something about you or these people you're not telling us.

I admit, I'm always startled when I hear that a female peer is taking her husband's last name... and this must be roughly how staunch name-changers feel when they hear someone is retaining their name.

Would people be puzzled by such a choice, or somehow doubt whether you're really married, would they find it strange, or is there general acceptance for "separate" names?

No one has been puzzled* by my keeping my name when I married The Fella, though reactions differed.

- The Fella himself never even asked; he just assumed (correctly) that I wasn't planning to change my name.
- In my own (not particular radical) family, no one even asked; none of them, including my socially and politically conservative mother, were surprised when I did retain my name, as did both of my sisters.
- In The Fella's immediate family, several people assumed I would change it, and even wrote us notes or wedding checks to Fella & Elsa HisName. The checks were a pain in the neck; his bank refused to cash them, since A) we don't have a joint account and B) Elsa HisName doesn't exist. My bank was happy to take them; we went in with ID and our marriage license, and he made the checks over to me. I remarked to the teller "You must see this all the time." She nodded ruefully.
- Our friends simply asked, so they'd know for certain what my name was. No one seemed surprised, and no one doubts that we are "really married" or finds it strange; it's just a point they like to have cleared up.
- Female friends who had changed their names often spontaneously defended their decisions after hearing I would keep my name. I don't think they were trying to persuade me to change my mind (and my name); I think they felt defensive, though in these conversations I never treated it as anything but a personal choice.

We have plenty of married friends with shared last names (including mingled last names) and plenty of friends who retained their own names. No one is confused or doubtful that they're married. Occasionally, someone gets a little confused over parent-child differences, but because it's pretty common, that's all it is: a little blip of surprise.

Both of my sisters, whose children have their fathers' last names, tell me that they get called "Mrs. HisName" at school functions, because administrators and parents alike generalize from the kids' names. But they briefly correct the error (or shrug and say nothing), and that's that.

*As far as I know.
posted by Elsa at 6:32 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

In The Fella's immediate family, several people assumed I would change it, and even wrote us notes or wedding checks to Fella & Elsa HisName. The checks were a pain in the neck; his bank refused to cash them, since A) we don't have a joint account and B) Elsa HisName doesn't exist. My bank was happy to take them; we went in with ID and our marriage license, and he made the checks over to me. I remarked to the teller "You must see this all the time." She nodded ruefully.

Oh, this happened to us, too--almost singularly from his family. And we don't have a joint account. It was the least amount of legwork for us to just have him cash them and then make a new check over to me for half. On the thank you cards, I made certain to write our names out separately on the return address ("Ms. WanKenobi and Mr. HisLastName") as a little nudge for them, but I'm not really sure it makes a difference.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 AM on March 31, 2010

I live in Texas (Houston, previously, and now in Austin) and have most of my life. The first time around I took his name and gave it back on divorce; the second time (tenth anniversary tomorrow) I kept my own. I would say it is less common for women to keep their names here than in New Jersey, but I've never encountered serious problems. People do call my husband Mr. immlass (which has me looking around for my late father) and I occasionally get addressed as Mrs. Hisname, but nobody raises a fuss or acts as if it's that unusual. I suspect if I lived in a rural area, I'd get more flak, but in the city nobody cares. My older relatives took a while to get used to it, though.

I would say the commonest thing here in my age group is to go by Firstname Hername Hisname, which covers the business people who know her under her own name, the friends who can't remember to call her by her married name (guilty) and the older relatives who still have to call her Mrs. Hisname. I see a lot of this on Facebook, where it also makes you easier to find by your school friends and your husband's friends.

We are in our early 40s and have no kids.
posted by immlass at 6:51 AM on March 31, 2010

Adding a thought on the children here. In Canada at least, I don't there's a single school teacher who would ever just assume that a child's last name was the same as his mother's. And they might be inclined to just double check with the father's last name also, with blended families being so common. In the States, though, it's kind of all over the board, as mentioned above.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:53 AM on March 31, 2010

I've never had any serious problem or horribly shocked response to it (except from my mother, who seems to believe that some sort of mystical legal transubstantiation happens magically at the moment you say "I do"), even in Texas. I think our car insurance company's software - or maybe the user - was not fully capable of handling it for a while, we had sort of a ShmargleFargle last name on the car insurance cards, but both names are in there so it's never been an issue.

I do make a point of introducing my husband by his full name to people who know my name, so that they know what his is. We don't have kids, so we don't have that set of administrative hurdles to deal with, but I know lots of folks in blended families and they do okay most of the time.

That doesn't mean people aren't judging me behind my back, I guess, but I don't care. From Facebook, it looks like just about all of the women I went to high school with changed theirs, but then most of them got married around 22 versus my 32.

I do sometimes suffer my own little kneejerk of judginess when women I know change their names, but then I remember that they are not me and they have their reasons and as long as they don't question the validity or commitment of my marriage just because I didn't, it's cool.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:53 AM on March 31, 2010

There is also the option of legally taking or not taking whatever name you prefer, and then "going by" whatever name is convenient.

For example, it might be expedient to legally take the married name, but continue to use your existing name professionally or even socially. There's nothing that says your business cards and works of authorship can't say "Mary J. Professionalname" while the paycheck says "Mary J. O'Shannessy-Frankenzeitflugelzimmer".

It would be nice if there was a way to have a codified "alias" on a drivers license or passport, so that you could prove that, for example, while your SS card and vehicle registration says that you are "Jane Q. Birthname" that you can also legally conduct business as "Jane Q. Newname". Another reason the government shouldn't be in the marriage business.

Ultimately, it's of course your decision. I'm sure my (divorced) mother would rather not be saddled with her married name in a perfect world. But she made the decision that she had been using her married name for 20 years and everyone she knew knew her as that, and she didn't like the idea of having a different name from her kids. So it ended up being easier to just keep the name. It probably didn't help matters any that her drama-queen sister took great delight in divorcing and remarrying constantly and changing her name around at every turn, and then complaining when the world didn't bend to her wishes.
posted by gjc at 6:55 AM on March 31, 2010

We both hyphenated, and our son is also hyphenated. In New York, we were unusual in that we did anything at all; most of our friends keep their birth names at marriage, and the kids have HisLast or Herlast Hislast.

Now, in Cleveland, most of our friends share HisLast. Now we are friends with the Xs and the Ys, and I guess they know us as the Z-Qs.

Both groups of friends are majority white, politically moderate-to-liberal, typically with graduate degrees.

In both places, it is considered unsurprising that I hyphenated and remarkable that he did. (As I have observed elsewhere, I recommend it for cohesiveness, but not for convenience or ability to pass on to future generations. Jury is still out on whether it's a net win or not.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:01 AM on March 31, 2010

Along the East Coast from Maine (southern Maine, anyway) all the way down to DC, I don't think it's a big deal. I can't speak of other areas. I do know it breaks about even among the under 30s in my family and group of friends as to whether the wife takes her husband's last name or not.

My husband and I have different last names. My son has my husband's last name. So far this hasn't posed any problems beyond what has been stated here (mail in my husband's last name, relatives calling me "Mrs. Dr.Enormous" instead of "Ms. Zizzle"). We've even flown with Baby Zizzle with no problems regarding the last name.

I suspect we may encounter some in school or if I wanted to take Baby Zizzle out of the country, I may need to do some extra planning or anticipating problems that 95% of the time won't arise.
posted by zizzle at 7:07 AM on March 31, 2010

After we got engaged in 2008 - both of us well into our 30s - almost every person we knew asked my darling fiancé some form of the "are you changing your name?" question. She has an established identity in her field but when she talked about how that impacted her decision people often indicated that that concern hadn't occurred to them. Instead it was viewed as just one more decision among many that a woman would make in the time leading up to the wedding... and not viewed by most as any more serious than what flavor cake would be served at the reception.

My wife took my name for reasons primarily about the kind of issues bondcliff mentions - she thinks it's nice for families to all have the same name.

The most surprise we ever encountered was when I indicated that I thought it was somewhat nuts she she would take my name. Even among the folks who believe it perfectly reasonable for a woman not to change her name it seems there's a belief that men are highly invested in having their wife use their name. I can recall at least three distinct events where someone expressed serious skepticism that I did not prefer the name change.
posted by phearlez at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2010

A few of my friends hyphenated, which lets them choose depending upon the context (or in some instances, allows them to slowly phase out the old name)
posted by schmod at 7:24 AM on March 31, 2010

Never changed my name and in the baby sitting co-op we belonged to, out of thirty families only two women had changed their name. These are couples who would be in their forties and fifties now. Urban, educated, etc - married in the 70's and 80's. It never was an issue anywhere.
posted by readery at 7:36 AM on March 31, 2010

As others said, very dependent on region and, I would say, political persuasion. It surprises me a great deal when anyone I know here in New York takes her husband's name. But every single woman I went to high school with in northeast Texas took her husband's name except one. And she did get some crap about it, but not a ton.
posted by Mavri at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2010

My wife kept her name, and I kept mine - we're in Colorado now, though we were living in Boston at the time. I tried to convince her we should both pick a new name (I was pushing for "Mr. & Mrs. Awesome"), but that would have required us both to get court orders, change our professional licensing, SS cards, driver licenses, etc. - way too much work. I've never noticed any weirdness from others about our having different last names, though lots of people in my family address mail to Mr. & Mrs. Dilettanti - or even worse, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Dilletanti, which I think is just obnoxious. We haven't figured out what we'll do when kids come along - I kind of like the Icelandic way of doing things. As others have mentioned, it is more common for both partners to keep their own name among professionals, academics, and others who marry later in life. Few of our academic and professional friends changed their names, and those who did both hyphenated (or in one case, both adopted one name as a middle name and one as a surname). Most of my friends from high school who did not go the academic or professional route did end up changing their names.
posted by dilettanti at 8:13 AM on March 31, 2010

There is also the option of legally taking or not taking whatever name you prefer, and then "going by" whatever name is convenient.

For example, it might be expedient to legally take the married name, but continue to use your existing name professionally or even socially. There's nothing that says your business cards and works of authorship can't say "Mary J. Professionalname" while the paycheck says "Mary J. O'Shannessy-Frankenzeitflugelzimmer".

It would be nice if there was a way to have a codified "alias" on a drivers license or passport, so that you could prove that, for example, while your SS card and vehicle registration says that you are "Jane Q. Birthname" that you can also legally conduct business as "Jane Q. Newname". Another reason the government shouldn't be in the marriage business.

As you indicate in your last paragraph, the idea of having a legal name and a business name is maybe nicer in theory than in practice, at least if you travel a lot and have multiple clients. If you do this, you have to clarify, reclarify, and then reclarify a couple more times, every time someone has their assistant make your hotel and plane reservations, so then the assistant sends a quick email to travel and accounting, and you only find out the weird combination of errors when you get to the airport. Add in international travel where you need a letter of invitation as part of your visa application, and you have the recipe for a serious pain in the ass.
posted by Forktine at 8:17 AM on March 31, 2010

I was married in the Bible belt and now live in a somewhat conservative small city in the midwest. I kept my name when we got married, and I've never had an issue EXCEPT the car insurance company required proof of marriage to get my husband the lower rate. We keep a copy of the marriage certificate handy in the house for that sort of thing. We have a child who has my husband's last name. Again, not really a big deal. (The cats, incidentally, have my last name, since I take them to the vet far more often!)

Oh, wait, I'll tell you the funny story of the one other time it came up. When I first got pregnant and was chock full of hormones, I went in to get the various tests run for blood type and diseases and iron levels and stuff, at about 8 weeks pregnant. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and had my hair in a ponytail and I was busily reading a new textbook that I *teach* from, with the new edition just come in so I was highlighting and so forth while waiting. I'm also not wearing my wedding ring because my hands blew up like little cocktail sausages the minute I got pregnant and it didn't fit. I hear the nurses say, "Where's Eyebrows?" "She's the student over there, studying." But since it wasn't directed at me I didn't correct them because it didn't matter. They consult the chart. "Is John Smith the father?" "I guess so." "But he's not here for the appointment?" "No." Anyway, they call me in and start drawing the blood and all at once I burst into tears because I'm full of hormones and suddenly they're doing Real Pregnancy Things which makes it all Very Real. And the nurse says, "Honey, you're in school, your boyfriend isn't here -- if this isn't the right time to be pregnant, you have choices ...." And I sobbed, "John Smith ... is my husband ... my ring doesn't *SOB SOB* fit because my hands ... got all fat *hiccup hiccup* ... and I'm really HAPPY *SOB* and I'm the teacher not the student and I've been married six years ... but I'm really HAPPY ... he's at work *SOB* and I couldn't move the appoint*HICCUP*ment ... HAPPY ... *SOB*"

Anyway, it was funny. I generally just introduce him as, "My husband, John Smith" and he says, "My wife, Eyebrows McGee" and that way everyone knows we're married and have different last names and nobody seems to mind. Two other points, though -- I don't mind being called Mrs. Smith socially or, like, at a fancy restaurant or whatever. If it's someone I'm going to have an ongoing relationship with, I'll say, "It's McGee, we have different last names," very nicely because it's an honest mistake; but if it's a one-off, or if it's someone's child, I generally respond to Mrs. Smith. (Especially because little kids have trouble with "Ms." and they're trying to be polite as they were taught.) (And similarly, my husband generally responds to "Mr. McGee" in the same situations and thinks it's funny.) The other thing is that in some situations, particularly dealing with elementary schools, I CAN NOT get people to call me "Ms." instead of "Mrs. McGee." Which drives me privately crazy, but they're not trying to be rude; it's just an institutional culture where all adults are "Mr." or "Mrs." that's very slow to change. But it still drives me privately crazy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:20 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

(The cats don't really have a last name on purpose, but the vet put my last name on their charts. So now they have mine, apparently.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 AM on March 31, 2010

In Pittsburgh, most people accept that I haven't changed my last name but there have been a few who throw hissy fits.

There's a small pharmacy in particular which has been repeatedly nasty about it because their computer system can't handle two different last names (we're getting meds for our cat, who has no particular last name). Since we can't drop them, and complaints haven't made a difference, I'm dealing with it by having my husband deal with it. There have been a couple of times where people were a little rude about it, but they're rarely anyone we have to interact with for more than a heart beat. (The mortgage officer who told me to have my husband call back didn't get our business). My mother-in-law refuses to use my proper last name (the bizarre part is that she's been married, and changed her name, three times) but she knows what it is because she uses the right one when she books flights for us. So... it's a pain in the butt, but not a constant pain in the butt. The biggest pain in the butt is that my husband doesn't really understand how much of a pain in the butt it is for me to deal with the rude people - he doesn't get any of it when he tells people we have separate last names. It happens... maybe once out of every three times the issue comes up. I do think it's nice when everyone in a family has the same last name, but I think it's nicer when everyone gets to have their own identity.

When we applied for our marriage license, the marriage clerk in Allegheny County told me I had to change my last name or I wouldn't get a tax refund after marriage and they might audit me, and made it very clear that she disapproved of our religion and I think she came very close to denying us a marriage license between my refusal to change my name, and our religion. She also told us we had to say some magic words or we wouldn't really be married, and I was wondering how the state would know what we did or did not say in our living room during the ceremony. About a year later, she later caused a big court battle for denying a couple similar to us a marriage license. It went all the way to the state supreme court. I'm glad the other couple sued, because if we had been denied, I wouldn't have known it was illegal and we would have happily gone on cohabitating.

I know people in other areas who didn't change their names when they married, but I don't know anyone else in Pittsburgh who didn't change their name.

And to SecretDecoderRing, I ask my students to call me Ms, but don't get upset if they call me Miss or Mrs or Professor or Doctor. They don't really understand the differences and just want to be polite.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:34 AM on March 31, 2010

I kept my name. It does cause confusion with bills and such, but not much. I have had his family refuse to address mail to me properly, addressing me as mrs.hislastname, which I tried to correct at first and now I just ignore. I have had many conversations with people of both sexes and all age groups asking me why I didn't take his name. Most of these were initiated after said individuals knew me well enough to realize that I am hard to offend and open about almost any topic and were just curious rather than shocked or surprised. I have had some male friends tell me that they don't approve of that and even that they wouldn't tolerate it from their spouse or future spouse. I have also had female friends confess that they wish they hadn't changed their names. We have had people doubt that we are married and when the situation warranted it, I have had to provide proof. In my experience it still considered somewhat rare and unusual.
posted by citizngkar at 8:40 AM on March 31, 2010

Does this lead to misunderstandings or problems in everyday life

Nope, none here, in 12 years of different-named marriage, and we have kids. Various accounts (utilities, that sort of thing) might be under one name or the other, but I just say "It's under either Mylastname or Hislastname" and that's it. It's no more of a problem than when I can't remember if accounts have his phone number or mine listed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2010

I'm from the Northeast. My family us Cuban. My wife is from Louisiana. We're both Catholic.

She kept her name. It's never been a problem, in any context. Not when filing taxes, meeting people, being introduced at weddings...it's just a non-issue. The only discussion we ever had about it was that kids would take my name, not hers. I would recommend figuring that out.
posted by kryptonik at 8:56 AM on March 31, 2010

While almost all of the women I know who have gotten married have changed their last names, pretty much everyone I know never assumes as much. When I was getting married, a common question was whether I was planning to change my name, and people often verify with me whether my husband and I share a last name instead of assuming. I think in older generations, it might be different and more expected that a woman would take her husband's last name, but I think for most younger, professional women, it's considered a choice.

Honestly, changing my name was way more of a hassle than not changing it -- in retrospect, I sometimes wish I had just kept my maiden name. My stepmother did not change her last name when she married my father, and really had no major issues with regards to signing for things for me, or my dad signing for things for my stepsister.

As long as you have a marriage certificate, you can prove your relationship to your spouse, and in situations where you'd need to prove your relationship to your spouse, you'd probably still need to jump through hoops to prove your identity anyway.
posted by tastybrains at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2010

i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently.

I find this hard to believe unless there's something about you or these people you're not telling us.

I'm 22. I know two women close to my age who changed their names when they married, and I was shocked and confused both times.

Many of my classmates in elementary school had mothers whose surnames matched their own, but I assumed that they were the last generation to change their names. My mom kept her name and I will always keep mine.
posted by tantivy at 10:41 AM on March 31, 2010

Everyone's free to do whatever they want. Most married women take their husband's last name, but some keep their own last name. A member of my family changed her name to her mother's last name when she got married -- again, you're free to do whatever you want. An American would have to be very naive and inexperienced with the world to be shocked at a married couple having different last names.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2010

It's very rare but it happens. I can think of only two couples that I've known that have chosen this. One couple had two sons. They gave one his surname, the other hers. Two different last names even though they are full brothers.

The other has a daughter that has dad's last name.

There are also numerous cases of couples who "act married" but never tied the knot. This is actually more common.
posted by Doohickie at 11:31 AM on March 31, 2010

i've had many people express shock and surprise that i took my husband's name when we got married recently.

I find this hard to believe unless there's something about you or these people you're not telling us.

well, since i've told you nothing about these people besides that they aren't my mormon family, there would seem to be a lot i'm not telling you about them. i don't really need to prove it to you. i will say that the shock and disbelief has come from a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds and age groups. believe it or don't believe it, but as you don't know me or my friends/family disbelieving on the face of it just seems weird.
posted by nadawi at 12:28 PM on March 31, 2010

"Shock and disbelief" is too strong for me, but I was mildly surprised when my friend took her husband's name a few years ago.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2010

"Shock and disbelief" is too strong for me, but I was mildly surprised when my friend took her husband's name a few years ago.

People have also expressed mild surprise that I changed my last name (I got married in 2006 at age 26), or just assumed I wouldn't. My dad assumed I was going to hyphenate my name and continues to forget (or just be mildly passive aggressive about ditching the family name, not sure).

I don't doubt that nadawi has experienced surprise about not changing her name. It's such a weirdly personal decision and there are so many reasons for doing it or not doing it, and I really don't think there is a "normal" right now. I have had coworkers who I was sure would keep their names when they got married, and was surprised when they changed them. I probably wouldn't express that surprise to them, but sometimes you think you can tell what someone is likely to do and then they go and do the other thing.
posted by tastybrains at 1:55 PM on March 31, 2010

"...roughly 90% of American women...assume their husband's surname... " Holy smokes, can that really be true in this day & age!? I don't know any married women who have taken their husband's last name, but I'm in Canada where that seems to be more common, esp in Quebec. Even both my grandmothers kept their "maiden" names & one of them is an American. I've lived with my fiancé for long enough now to be considered common-law and not once have our differing last names posed a problem. If a friend of mine took her husband's last name I'd be quite surprised & I confess I might wonder if she has self esteem issues.

(Even if it was suddenly all the rage to take his last name, there's no way I would, since we're both hyphenates & I'd end up Zarah Thackeray-Smith-Hella-Longname, lol)
posted by zarah at 2:17 PM on March 31, 2010

I don't know how it works in Germany, but in the US there is no one central name changing authority. I've ended up with different last names on different things, which sometimes causes a little confusion. Generally it isn't a problem, I just say something about "my other last name", and all is well.

I see some married women using one last name in social situations and another professionally. It's not all that uncommon.
posted by yohko at 4:02 PM on March 31, 2010

25, been married a few years. No one has ever even remarked about my not taking my husband's name.
posted by Nattie at 6:07 PM on March 31, 2010

My wife kept her name when we got married. This is where she grew up (we're in the rural Midwest; think Hooterville), and she also had developed a strong professional identity in the region. I didn't care one way or the other but both families were mildly scandalized for a couple of years.
Shortly after we got a joint checking account, I went to pay the phone bill in my new community. The woman behind the counter took the check with both names printed on it. Her eyebrows shot up and she stifled her amusement. I just know she and her co-workers talked the rest of the day about how my wife had shacked up.
posted by bryon at 8:32 PM on March 31, 2010

Just a comment.

I just filled out the USPS move form. You have to pay twice if you don't share a name. Only advantage I've ever seen.
posted by k8t at 10:45 PM on March 31, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone!
posted by The Toad at 6:37 AM on April 1, 2010

I live in Southern California, and only one of my girlfriends changed her name when she got married. Keeping your last name is not really that big of a deal where I live.

I am Ms. X, but I don't care if people call me Mrs. HisLast. I gently correct them but I'm not biting heads off. Head biting only occurs when I get mail addressed to Mrs. HisFirst HisLast. It's like damn, I couldn't even keep my own FIRST name when I got married. He doesn't get mad when people call him Mr. MyLast.

I always knew I wouldn't change my name, but it was cemented when I got engaged. He has a really French last name and I have a really Chinese first name. People can never say my first or his last name correctly. Bonus, if I had, my name would have been rhyming ala "Marcy Darcy".
posted by Miss X at 8:31 PM on April 2, 2010

"Head biting only occurs when I get mail addressed to Mrs. HisFirst HisLast."

If it's from older people, you know, of course, that calling you Mrs. YourFirst HisLast traditionally means you're divorced and, as you are still married, is a suggestion you should BE divorced and a way to be nasty. I have aunts that call me Mrs. HisFirst HisLast on letters, which isn't my favorite thing, but they're trying to be polite according to the standards of their time -- if they were calling me Mrs. MyFirst HisLast, that would be a suggestion they were hoping our marriage would fail according to more old-fashioned etiquette and many older women can't bring themselves to address letters that way even if it's your preference, because it was just TOO nasty a thing to do to someone when they were young married women.

And of course I always send letters to THEM addressed as Mrs. HisFirst HisLast, even though I think it's old fashioned, because I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:07 AM on April 3, 2010

I didn't take my husband's name when I got married about 5 years ago...I couldn't figure out a single reason why it would be necessary, and I like my name. It's caused us exactly zero problems or grief. For reference, we live in Chicago at the moment.
posted by agregoli at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2010

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