changing last names at marriage
July 24, 2012 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Getting married soon (woo!). The plan is to change our names to Me Mylast-Herlast and Her Herlast-Mylast. I don't know much about traditional name hyphenation. Will this be interpreted differently by people who are more aware of the customs? I'm worried about people thinking that my family name is HerLast and her family name is MyLast, etc. Any other advice on the topic would be appreciated as well.
posted by rebent to Society & Culture (76 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know some people have decided to drop the hyphen as a way to avoid just that confusion; for a quasi-Internet-famous example, when SMBC creator Zach Weiner married a woman whose last name was Smith, they both took the name Weinersmith. Obviously this doesn't work as well if one or both last names is three-plus syllables.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do anything other than the standard You Yourlast and Her Yourlast, people will be confused. Don't sweat it too much; you'll need to learn to live with it.

It may be a little over-the-top confusing to have one of you with a last name of X-Y and the other with a last name of Y-X. So you may want to think that through.

Me, I just left my name the same. My wife dropped her middle name, adopted her family name as middle name, and appended my family name as her last name.
posted by Doohickie at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

No matter what you do, people will be confused. My three word, one-hyphen last name breaks databases. Either do whatever you want and just resign yourself to the confusion, or make up a totally new name (as above).
posted by JoanArkham at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

In the US, when someone hyphenates, the prevailing assumption is that the name is actually MotherLast-FatherLast, not MyLast-TheirLast (at least that's my impression).

In my experience, when a couple has different last names, most strangers will assume your family name is whichever they hear first.
posted by muddgirl at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

(so the names look like:

Paul Stanley Doohickie (no change)


Penny Candy Blueyes became
Penny Blueyes Doohickie.

Still a little patriarchal, but we decided all this 28 years ago.
posted by Doohickie at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2012

As an alternative, consider both adopting an additional middle name. Thus, your name becomes Me MyMiddle HerLast MyLast and hers becomes Her HerMiddle MyLast HerLast. Your "everyday names" stay "Me MyLast" and "Her HerLast" and there's no family name confusion. But when you want to break out the full names, both parties are represented equally.

If you have children, well, good luck.
posted by jedicus at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with the others saying anything outside of the norm will be confusing to some. In your case, the big confusion will be people who assume you have the same last name and they are just getting it mixed up. I can envision a situation like:

Rando: OK, Mr. Herlast-Mylast, I have your account information here...

You: No, it's Mylast-Herlast.

Rando: That's what I said, isn't it?
posted by Rock Steady at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

Traditionally the woman's surname comes before the man's, so Jane Jones and John Smith would have children called Jones-Smith. Thus if somebody only knew you or your wife, and wasn't aware that you had differing surnames, they would most likely think that.

Also, be aware that names are often sorted alphabetically, and Abrams-Zyddels comes much earlier than Zyddels-Abrams. That has the potential to annoy you at some point in the future, I'm sure.
posted by Jehan at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you plan to have kids, which version do you plan to give them? What happens when they marry someone else with a hyphenated name? These are the questions that caused my spouse and I to reject hyphenation 15 years ago. Instead, I took her last name and we both changed our middle names to my last name.

To me, it seems like if you're going to have a different order (and therefore different last names), you may as well just keep the ones you have. Personally, I think after centuries of women taking the man's last name we should swing it around the other way for a while, but you have to do what works for you. These conventions have changed so much so fast that there basically aren't any conventions anymore.
posted by rikschell at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the advice so far. One bugaboo is that HerFirst MyLast makes a very annoying alliteration that she wants to avoid
posted by rebent at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2012

Why do you want to do this? I'd find this confusing - not because you don't have the same last name, but because they're reversed. HerLast-HisLast is more common (I've read that HisLast-HerLast is used in some places) but for both parties.
posted by sm1tten at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's really sweet, but don't dick around with your name.

I hyphenated my last name and I promise you, there are days when I wish I had just gone all traditional and officially taken my husband's last name.

I'm known by my maiden name at work and to the feds, my married name to tradesmen and doctors, and my hyphenated name to the state goverment and some credit cards.

It's a total mess, but I'm used to it now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [15 favorites]

I have to tell you one of the best things about my divorce was being able to lose our "family name" We combined our names Hislast O'Mylast, no hyphen. The combination of the no hyphen, the apostrophe, computer systems with no common way to put names in a system and the changing of the name change laws (it used to be that you could call yourself anything now you have to change your SS card etc and then prove to everyone who has something with your old name on it that you REALLY did change your name) The computer systems thing really is what pushed me over the edge. We have two daughters who still have our family name and it is the biggest pain in the ass to figure out how they are in a system. If I were to do it all over again I would do what my friends did and pick a whole other name or combine our names in a way that made no spaces or hyphens etc.
posted by momochan at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2012

Doohickie, I think that's totally standard in the US. That's what every woman who takes her husband's name does.

OP, you might want to consider taking the same hyphenated combo together. So Smith-Jones or Jones-Smith would be your new shared family name (because you are forming a new family together!). I would just order it based on whichever sounded best. That's what the (hetero, FWIW) couples that I know who have done this have done.
posted by amaire at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2012

My full legal name used to be "Malcolm Kendrew Pon" and is now "Malcolm Kendrew Gin-Hopwood y Silva".

I changed mine for marriage. That marriage split up. 15 years ago. The changing of my name was such a gigantic pain that I've been putting off trying to change it again. At least until I sell this house. Then maybe. For men in the US at least, if we go the legal route to change our names for marriage, we can't just easily go back to our maiden names after the marriage breaks up (if it does). So you might want to keep that in mind.

What I wanted to say about the name, though, in general, is that you should be prepared to get flack from all government organizations. Any organization where they have forms not suited to hyphenation will also not support spaces or other punctuation so your last names will be "YourLastHerLast" and "HerLastYourLast". They may also get truncated based on the length of your names. Also, be prepared, if that's the case, to have your names mutated differently by different organizations and be prepared for that to cause more bureaucratic headaches.

For example, my first year in Maryland, I was turned back twice by the MVA (DMV) when trying to get my new Driver's License because I had no two utility bills that used the same formatting for my full legal name that was on my social security card (the only ID I have besides my passport that has the full legal name on it). When I eventually lucked into getting in the right line, the clerk doing the actual processing and issuing was like, "Idiots, any fool can tell that these are all for the same person. You."

So if you do do this, know that this will truly be an expression of your love for each other, because you are honestly asking for a lot of trouble with the government.
posted by kalessin at 12:07 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Doohickie, I think that's totally standard in the US. That's what every woman who takes her husband's name does.

I don't think so. I know lots of women who became the equivalent of HerFirst HerMiddle HisLast, whereas Doohickie's example was HerFirst HerLast HisLast, in which HerLast is now a middle name.
posted by jedicus at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

No matter what you do, people will be confused if you don't do the traditional "husband's name doesn't change, wife takes husband's name" thing. My wife and I didn't change either of our names when we got married and we were referred to as "Mr. and Mrs. Asnider" at least three times within a day of being married. We were also referred to as the Herlastnames a couple of times, too, by people who heard her name first.

Ultimately, some people will catch on quickly and others never will.
posted by asnider at 12:09 PM on July 24, 2012

Hmm, maybe we just know different women. All of my mother's friends have their maiden name as their middle name, and all of my friends who have been married in the last 4 or 5 years took their maiden name as their middle name.
posted by amaire at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2012

Hyphens make life hell and no one will actually use them unless you force it on them. My mother gets frustrated over this all the time. Why not take each other's last names as middle names
posted by MangyCarface at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2012

Doohickie, I think that's totally standard in the US. That's what every woman who takes her husband's name does.

Wow, what a generalization. I didn't do that (I kept my middle name and dropped my maiden name.)
posted by amro at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would be confused if you both changed your names and you still didn't have the same last names as each other. I guarantee I would get your names wrong. Repeatedly. Not out of disrespect.

I have no idea what the custom is for married couples combining names. The only one that comes to mind is John Ono Lennon.

I know a couple that changed their last names to an invented plausible-sounding last name that was personally meaningful to them. I think that's pretty cool.
posted by adamrice at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

this is really confusing. why don't you do either one combination or the other? unless you're cool with spending the rest of your life sorting out your last names to other ppl.
posted by violetk at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2012

If you just want to avoid alliteration, just keep your last name and have your spouse keep theirs. Socially, you can then call yourselves whatever you want but when it comes to filling out forms and IDs you won't have any issues.
posted by mikepop at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2012 [18 favorites]

I got married at 40, and for unrelated reasons was already planning to change my last name to my mother's family name. There's no more males to carry the name, etc.
I was going to keep my "old" last name as my middle name - but then I met Mr. Me and we got married. I took his last name as my middle name - solely based on the way it sounded. Maybe your wife could take your last name as her middle name?
posted by dbmcd at 12:22 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom tried this a different way each time she got married. I think it says something that she decided on HerName HerLast HisLast, no hyphens, on the third and (28 years & counting) final try. Legally, her surname is HisLast.

Oh, and just be prepared, with a hyphenated name, to potentially be in at least four different places alphabetically, depending (*). Every year I went to Comic-Con (2002-2005,) I ended up in a different letter line from the previous year; I have no idea how they could possibly get it a different way each year but that's what happened. I used to pray, annually, that they'd let people go to kiosks and print out their own freaking credentials (do they do that now?) It's also great fun convincing the people at my polling location that my last name really is alphabetized in a very specific way, which is apparently very counter-intuitive. Voting takes me about twice as long because of this; I find my own name in the book most times (they won't let me look myself, but as they turn the pages slowly hunting for it, I can spot my signature upside down and point to it.)

And when you change your name, there are decent odds your taxes will be rejected because the SSA screwed up the hyphenation. The year the IRS started comparing online tax returns to SSA records, I had to a) file by paper and b) go to the SSA and get them to fix my name, which is a gigantic freaking pain even when you can prove (as I could) that it was totally their error and my original birth certificate really was spelled the way I always spell my name. I assume the odds are good the State Department, the BMV, and everyone else are just as high a risk - the reason all those records are fine in my case is because by the time I was getting passports and drivers licenses, I had many years of experience defending the exact spelling of my name with vigor and petulance. I rarely have anyone successfully spell my name correctly just by hearing it, even though all the components of my name are quite easy.

(*) I am alphabetized variously as MomsNameDadsName MyName, MomsName ahead of all the other people with just MomsName due to the hyphen, DadsNameMomsName MyName, and DadsName ahead of all the other people with DadsName due to the hyphen. There's a woman at work with a different DadsName-MomsName, where DadsName is the same as my DadsName, but my MomsName falls ahead of her MomsName in the alphabet. People send me emails for her routinely, plus emails for every other person with the surname DadsName - I'm told she used to get them all before I showed up. Even within my employer's various systems, she and I are sometimes next to each other, sometimes quite far apart, and sometimes extremely far apart because a particular doesn't grasp surnames (it just takes the last "word" in the name and alphabetizes by that) and treats all hyphens as spaces, putting about half of our total number of fellow employees between us.

(I recommend strongly against made-up names and hyphenization and "let's all have different surnames" in basically all cases.)
posted by SMPA at 12:22 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Herfirst Herlast Hislast is very standard in the US. Showing exceptions doesn't make it not standard.

Nth-ing choose a single name that makes both of you happy and use it. Hyphenation just leads to tears and frustration. Don't take my word for it, take everyone else's who is saying the same thing.
posted by Aquaman at 12:22 PM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I hyphenated my last name and I promise you, there are days when I wish I had just gone all traditional and officially taken my husband's last name.

No matter what you do, people will be confused if you don't do the traditional "husband's name doesn't change, wife takes husband's name" thing.

I didn't change my name upon marriage. I have none of these issues. People who don't know us call me (very rarely) Mrs Hislast, and (also rarely) call him Mr Mylast, but mostly get it right. It isn't a big deal. My mother likewise answers to Ann MaidenName, Ann FirstHusband, Ann SecondHusband. All of those are likewise fine.

Additionally, in my family of steps and re-marriages, we hyphenated in all kinds of ways. Our mailbox read:

Ann Smith
Peter Jones
Smith-Jones Advertising Inc.
Sally Jones-Smith
Sandy Jones
Sabrina Dent

It was fine. It remains fine. The world continues to turn.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:24 PM on July 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yes, also, I am sorted generally into either the "M" the "K", the "G", the "H", the "Y" or the "S" bucket. When your name gets sufficiently complicated, folks stop even trying to try to sort you properly. They just close their eyes and toss.
posted by kalessin at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recently got married, and we both hyphenated. We went the route of Mylastname-Hislastname for both of us. We made this choice because his last name did not go well together with mine, and we both really liked the idea of combining names to create a new identity together.

The thing I would suggest, however, is considering the idea of changing them to the same hyphenated name. I think this will get rid of the confusion.

I have not had the same horror stories as other people with hyphenation. I had a different name change years ago when I got married, and I found dealing with that straightforward name change to be excruciating in exactly the same way hyphenating has been.

The other solution would be to keep both of your names the same as they are and just socially go by the same last name.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:26 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, having a different last name than MuddDude has not been a problem in 4 years of marriage, but I don't get worked up when people get it wrong. We even have a third family name we just use socially, and sometimes we get mail/checks at that name, and no one has batted an eye.
posted by muddgirl at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am old so forgive, but I believe the older patriarchal manner still makes sense since I imagine you plan to marr (and old fashioned idea), have shower and honeymoon (old fashioned). Now if you hyphenate, and later have a daughter, does she too add some hyphens?

If you want to be hip, in the present: why not keep your own names? see. you really want what those before you wanted.
posted by Postroad at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2012

We stuck with our names, which appears to have confused only our own relatives >60 (who will be confused by any of these variants). Child has hyphenated name (we wanted to use HisLast-HerLast, but that could be read as an unfortunate participle phrase, so we ended up with HerLast-HisLast), again confusing only to the older relatives (one of whom took a couple of *years* to realize that both were part of the last name, not one just another middle name).

We do get mail to HisLast Family and HerLast Family, but who cares? We also carry a copy of our marriage license when traveling abroad with Child, to verify that we're not kidnapping her, but I suspect most non-morons would figure it out anyway.

Only time will tell about whether Child has lots of misfiling woes -- I imagine the name will exceed the slots on a standardized test form, but so does our city name, so who cares? Really, we have more problems overall with misspelling of the slightly ethnic HerLast (in whatever context), so you know, you can never tell.

Good luck finding the right solution for *you* and marshalling the resources to tell everybody else to suck it up! :)
posted by acm at 12:42 PM on July 24, 2012

The plan is to change our names to Me Mylast-Herlast and Her Herlast-Mylast.

This is fine, if you want to set yourselves up for a lifetime of aggravation while dealing with pretty much every government agency, doctor's office, school, etc.. Make life easier for yourselves, either keep your own names or pick the same last name, hyphenation optional.

My husband and I kept our own names after we married, and like acm says, only older relatives are disturbed by it.
posted by crankylex at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keeping your own names is really the easiest solution. The world's most populous nation manages this just fine.

But they're your names, so you get to do whatever you want with them and fuck the haters.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:47 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pick the last name of a member of your extended family who was the last living member with that last name. Friends of mine did this and its a pretty cool homage.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:47 PM on July 24, 2012

no hyphens will also make life hell for you. my wife hung onto her previous last name (actually her first husband's last name) for recognition in professional circles that knew her by that name. When we got married she became firstname firsthusbandslastname newhusbandslastname. Thankfully all children were adults and we didn't have to impose this on anyone else!

It's been a royal pain in the ass for both of us.

Legally make it simple, informally do whatever you want
posted by HuronBob at 12:51 PM on July 24, 2012

Also, why don't you change your last name to hers if her first name plus your last name don't work together?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Depending on where you live, you may be able to make up a whole new name altogether. In NY, for example, the married parties can pick a new name made of of parts of each spouse's name, so if your names are Jim McDoodlepants and Sally Lovebunny, you could become Jim and Sally McDoodlebunny or Sally and Jim Lovepants. Honestly, I think something like that would be less confusing than having different hyphenates for each of you. Alternately, consider both of you having the hyphenate HerLast-YourLast if she is worried about the alliteration issue.
posted by bedhead at 12:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

About name hyphenation: It actually originated in British aristocratic circles as a way to preserve (or show off) one's heritage. The more recent practice of using hyphenation to express gender equality happened independently, I think, but may have been bolstered by the earlier tradition.

Honestly, I think hyphenated names are a relic of second-wave feminism--just keep your original names. The real thing to worry about is what surname to give your children, should you have any. I'm marrying a woman with a hyphenated name, and she's always had to deal with the associated annoyances that people have already mentioned, and I'd rather not inflict that on any children we have. The most viable solution, I think, would be Middle Name=Surname of Spouse 1 and Surname=Surname of Spouse 2, and you can work out which should be which for yourselves.
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2012

Obviously, this is only my opinion, but to me it makes sense to change names so they match, or to keep them the same for continuity and simplicity's sake. But to change names to new names that still don't match is like the worst of both worlds.
posted by drlith at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [19 favorites]

We decided to say the hell with it and kept our own names when we got married earlier this year. So far, I think my mother-in-law hasn't realized it yet as we've gotten the occasional "Mr & Mrs Hisname" piece of mail. But as I tell people, I'm fine with being "Mrs or Ms Hisname" socially and "Ms Myname" professionally, which just boils down to making sure it's correct on legal documents and not making a fuss of it otherwise. My aunt's done that for years.

We also got a couple of towels monogrammed with the first letter of his last name as wedding gifts. I think we'll get some more with the first letter of my last name and mix them.
posted by telophase at 1:04 PM on July 24, 2012

Following up on bedhead above: Meet our New Name.

I know this is probably heterosexist and whatever of me, but: my God, think of the children! And think of the genealogists!

My mother has a random last name from her first marriage. I have her random second husband's last name. No one has her "maiden" name now. We are living in an era of accidentally inherited names, to which we have no real attachments. What you want to do with your names is charming and lovely, and that's fine (though tricky!)... but it results in some endgame problems, should you have any descendants, for one thing. (Or, SORRY, later marriages!)

I recently got married and we looked at this and decided that we couldn't make anything nice out of our names, nor could we hyphenate them in any attractive, reasonable way. We *COULD* have taken each others' last names for second middle names (penultimate names?). But you know what? I'M ALREADY WEARING A RING and NOT SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, exactly how far does this marriage thing have to go?

I'm an adult. I've been living with my random name all my life. I had this dumb name when he met me; he can enjoy being married to it. Name-changing strikes me more and more now as a strange and antiquated custom that deserves to be retired—particularly if there are going to be children ever. What will the next generation do with these made-up combination names and all these hyphens? It's going to be more complicated than a list of Hungarian royalty!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:07 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I did the Scarlet O'Hara thing and appended my husband's last name (only one so far) to my existing first/middle/maiden names: Mona Eleanor Barkley became Mona Eleanor Barkley Malloy [not my actual name(s)].

Mostly I go by Mona Malloy. All 4 names are on my SS card, taxes, and on our mortgage. Financial and other governmental info (banks, paychecks) either have Mona E. Malloy or Mona E. B. Malloy, depending on the ability of various databases to handle multiple middle initials/names.

I kept my maiden name because my dad is an only child, and was a little sad that his name wouldn't carry on via a son. I also go by Mona Barkley Malloy in certain circles where I was first known as Mona Barkley.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:08 PM on July 24, 2012

I thought it would be pretty straightforward to change my name, but it was super annoying. Yes, getting a new social security and passport was pretty straightforward, but I did not realize how after that I'd have to go through tons of rigmarole with filling out and faxing name change forms with everyone from old doctors' offices to airlines. I had a frequent flier mileage account with about 10 different airlines and each one had a different procedure for the name change. I keep like a million copies of my marriage certificate lying around because there are so many stupid things I have to provide it for. I am also in a career where I have to do professional licensing things on a regular basis that always require proof of a name change.

For me, it was worth it because my old last name was hard to pronounce and spell, and in return for all this headache, I don't have to go through the whole "hi, I'm Dr. Xyzvxc, what can I do for you today? "What's your last name again?" "Xyzvxc" "Can you spell that?" blah blah blah with every encounter. However I would not advise both of you changing your names if it can be avoided because then you both have to suffer paperwork headaches and neither one gets an easier name.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2012

Women have rarely had genealogical connections via family name to their parents, and yet we manage to trace them just fine.
posted by muddgirl at 1:18 PM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

I would be confused if you both changed your names and you still didn't have the same last names as each other.

This is my sentiment. I thought my wife was a little nuts to want to change her name to mine; we were both in our 30s when we married and her professional career included some recognition. Her position was that, for her, a having one name is a nice way to identify a family unit.

You're making a nice symbolic gesture but the end result won't make it clear you're a unit; if I saw your two names next to each other I'd assume you were in-laws. If you're committed to changing them I think you'd be better served (at least in clarity) by making a combination name rather than a hyphenate. Some friends of mine did that 10+ years back and I thought then - and still do - that it was a lovely gesture.
posted by phearlez at 1:23 PM on July 24, 2012

I hyphenate at work, even though legally I just have all four names (first, middle, mylast, hislast). I actually considered dropping the first name (as my parents always called me by my middle name) but that wasn't an option available without going through the court process.

So most of my work-related things are using a hyphen, whereas much of my personal business is without. The without is a little easier. Having the hyphen means that people sometimes just pick one of those names to call me by, or to list me by on paperwork. Either way it's not that much difficulty. Depending on how long your names are, it's easier to start running out of room on things like credit cards or bank accounts when you're used to putting full names, and not initials. In my experience with couples that hyphenate, they each take the same order of hyphenated names, but I've seen the order go either way.
posted by bizzyb at 1:27 PM on July 24, 2012

I did the same thing as Mrs. Doohickie, mainly because I hated my middle name even more than my family name, but in my particular field (academic-adjacent with many non-American colleagues), many people are baffled as to why I would do this.

So no matter what you do, be prepared to offer explanations with a smile.
posted by lily_bart at 1:32 PM on July 24, 2012

my God, think of the children!

We're fine, thanks for asking! Also, ALL OF SOUTH AMERICA and all of Spain and all of Portugal, also fine! Also, all of Iceland, also fine! There are many many many cultures outside North America where children do not have the same name as their parents and wives do not have the same name as their husbands.

Seriously, nobody is going to break anything with a hyphen.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:34 PM on July 24, 2012 [17 favorites]

Genealogists manage to trace family trees way way way back in China, I promise you.

The myth that it is impossible for a society to manage any different type of onomastic customs than the ones most people in the English-speaking world have followed for the past couple of hundred years is nonsensical.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:44 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you both use the same order, either Hers-Yours or Yours-Hers. I now have two middle names (mymiddle and mylast) and it has come in handy having all four names on my license since I didn't get all my credit cards changed right away. Whatever decisions you each make, be patient with people who forget them or express surprise that you're married and have similar but not exactly the same last names. Everyone does it differently nowadays and it can be hard to keep track of who did what.
posted by soelo at 1:49 PM on July 24, 2012

If you have children, well, good luck.

I know a couple that didn't change their names at all when they got married. One son carries his surname; the other carries hers. They are full brothers.
posted by Doohickie at 1:55 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Herfirst Herlast Hislast is very standard in the US. Showing exceptions doesn't make it not standard.

Just as a data point, my mom did this.....and my mom is the only person I know who has done this. (she didn't have a middle name to begin with, so no bigs.) I would not call it standard.
posted by Diablevert at 1:56 PM on July 24, 2012

Doohickie, I think that's totally standard in the US. That's what every woman who takes her husband's name does.

Back when I got married, the wife generally dropped her maiden name altogether.
posted by Doohickie at 1:58 PM on July 24, 2012

Adding to the chorus that if you're going to hyphenate, you should both have the same order. If you're going to have different last names, you might as well just keep the ones you already have. (Additionally, hyphens are a PITA. And more importantly, changing your names on every last dang account and ID and everything else you accumulate as an adult is a HUGE PITA.)

As an aside, this is the first I've heard that there is a standard order in hyphenation of MomsLast-DadsLast. My son is Firstname DadsMiddle DadsLast-MomsLast and my husband and I kept our original last names, so everyone in my family has a different last name. If we had planned on having kids when we married, I think I would have preferred if we all had one name, and that it was the same. Seriously.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:15 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe the etiquette is that the woman makes her dad's last name her middle name and takes her husband's name as her last name. Thus: Hillary Rodham Clinton is correct by etiquette. Hyphenated or made up names will always cause problems, not the least of which is finding room on forms for all those names.
posted by Cranberry at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2012

I accept the argument that "it's easier" in English-speaking countries for everyone in a family to have the same last name, but everyone I have ever met who said that also chose the man's last name. Never the woman's. And I'm talking about dozens and dozens of people. If it was all about what's easiest, isn't it just as easy for a husband to take his wife's last name?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Cranberry, there is no one etiquette. My circle of friends is 90% "everyone keeps their own last name."
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:02 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Huma Abedin is just as "correct by etiquette" as is her boss. Anna Wintour is just as "correct by etiquette" as is Victoria Beckham. Meryl Streep is just as "correct by etiquette" as all her fellow actors who changed their names only to change them back (Robin Wright formerly Penn, Eva Longoria formerly Parker formerly Christopher, et alia).
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

But Sidhedevil, everyone always decides they just like the man's name better...

(To be fair about something I detest, 90% of men are not raised with the notion that they will ever change their name. Conversely, 98% of women are raised with at least the possibility that they may change their names at some point if they choose to. Therefore, when a couple is facing this decision, it may actually be more comfortable for her to agree to change her name than his. I would personally never have married someone who would even have entertained that for a second, and thus reserve the right to be incredibly snobby and dismissive about other people's choices that effect me not at all.)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sidhedevil: If it was all about what's easiest, isn't it just as easy for a husband to take his wife's last name?

When I got married, it was not just as easy to do it the other way around. There was no extra paperwork involved with the woman taking the man's name, you just showed your marriage certificate to all the ID-issuers and whatnot and started using your married name. For the husband to take the wife's last name, it was an extra several steps of petitioning the court for a name change (publishing your intentions for a few weeks, getting an affidavit from the newspaper that you did that, setting up a court date, paying the fees, and going before the judge).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:57 PM on July 24, 2012

Those born at the height of the name-hyphenating craze will be the first to tell you — having two last names can be more trouble than it's worth. There's the perennial confusion at school and at the doctor's office, and the challenge of squeezing your name onto forms. And now that the hyphenated generation is marrying and parenting, a whole host of new tricky situations has emerged.

From NPR: When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up
posted by Snerd at 4:04 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

We have friends who married in the early '70's who did exactly the thing you suggest: She was Lucy Smith-Jones (formerly Lucy Smith) and he was Andrew Jones-Smith (formerly Andrew Jones). To complicate matters somewhat, they both worked for a university.

Functionally, people treated them as though they had simply both kept their original last name -- they basically had two entirely different (although somewhat related) family names. They liked it, they didn't have much trouble with it past what they would have had anyhow for hyphenated names.
posted by anastasiav at 4:27 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

None of the people who have done this ever defended, to me at least, the choice to take the husband's last name rather than the wife's on the basis of it being easier to do the paperwork, though I agree it is shitty and sexist that it's easier to do it one way than another.

Note that I don't go around criticizing people's choices of surname, because they get to pick. I just am surprised by how many women who chose to change their surname to their husband's feel some kind of need to defend that choice to me, simply because I didn't make the same choice. The preemptive defense always surprises me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2012

My surname is an Irish one with and apostrophe and two capitals (O'Blahblah), which is nothing like as complicated as what you are suggesting, but oh my god is it a pain in the ass!

No one can get their heads around the punctuation or the capitalisation, internet pages won't accept 'special characters', and I am pretty much unfindable in any database because who knows how the person chose to enter my surname? Is it O'Blahblah, OBlahblah, O Blahblah, O ' Blahblah, just Blahblah? Now, Imagine my husband's name is John Blahblah'O, and that just adds a whole other level.

For the love of god, don't complicate your lives like this! You're only going to be able to use the '-' sometimes, no one is going to know how to deal with your names, and you're going to spend all your time spelling out something that for some reason most people still won't be able to get right.
posted by peppermintfreddo at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it isn't a bad idea for the woman to keep her surname when she marries. It precludes thing like this:

Two guys were discussing popular family trends on sex, marriage, and family values.
Stu said, 'I didn't sleep with my wife before we got married, did you?'
Leroy replied, 'I'm not sure, what was her maiden name?'

posted by Doohickie at 5:24 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

No woman I know who has taken her husband's name has kept her own last name as a surname, including me. But I also know a lot of women who kept their own last names.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2012

For everyone who mentioned that a name change for a dude is going to be a bigger hassle: that depends on the state. I've seen marriage licenses that include lines for both parties to request a name change due to marriage. In that case, it's just as easy for him to change as it is for her.

Personally, I'm a fan of everyone keeping their original name. Hooray for simplicity! That said: I think you can probably tell from this thread that a lot of people feel strongly about the issue. A lot of those feelings are grounded in gender stuff and traditional stuff and ethnocentric stuff and so, frankly: I think you shouldn't give a shit. Do what you want, and then own it. Your name change would not strike me as bizarre or confusing, at all. This is especially true when you consider how much his varies cross-culturally, so...obviously, there is no one "right" way.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:23 PM on July 24, 2012

Thanks for all the advice in the thread everyone. We've decided to have the same last name (herlast-mylast) but I am still a little worried about all I have heard about hyphens. I guess we'll see how it goes!
posted by rebent at 7:13 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You asked for advice, so here it is: just keep your last names. Hyphenating names is unnecessarily complicated and kind of pretentious. Getting married doesn't change your family history - which is what your last name reflects. People won't think you're any less dedicated to each other because you didn't merge your names. Merging your lives is quite enough.
posted by Dasein at 8:42 PM on July 24, 2012

I like the scheme where everybody gets to keep their own name and kids get one or the other depending on gender.
posted by flabdablet at 9:35 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was gonna mention the NPR story too. It's worth a listen, and pretty entertaining in and of itself.

I should add that, as someone who works on customer accounts, work would be a lot easier if everyone just had one last name, and kept it after getting married. But that might just be me being selfish...

Although I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of daughters getting their mother's last name.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:39 AM on July 25, 2012

Another logistical bit: while not changing your name might confuse some relatives, *changing* anybody's name is a pain -- not only in the short term, with all the forms, but in the middle term (divorce, anybody?), and even in the way long-term: there's an elderly lady leading a Voter ID court case near me who has a birth certificate but no offical document linking her to her maiden name. (She's 90, so those records are hard to come by.) Imagine having to jump *that* hurdle, and suddenly having to make occasional explanation to your great-aunt doesn't seem so bad...
posted by acm at 8:42 AM on July 25, 2012

I like the scheme where everybody gets to keep their own name and kids get one or the other depending on gender.

You potentially run up against someone feeling left out on this. We had friends who intended this way but when their second child was also a girl they ended up using dad's last name for her. Which everyone seems cool with, but I do wonder if they'd have felt a little torqued if life had changed their plans and they'd only had one child.

Vivid Postcard is right on the depends-on-the-state thing. Part of the reason my friends who both changed their name did it was that New York made it easy. I think they'd still have done if if it had taken more work but the NY process made it just one form for the legal name change for both of them.

Be prepared for some surprise pushback btw; the groom's parents were very passive-aggressively pissed off about him altering his name or perhaps just the hybridization concept in general. Your hyphen may be less startling but you never know what will twist someone's shorts.
posted by phearlez at 9:16 AM on July 25, 2012

You potentially run up against someone feeling left out on this.

Yeah, but that's true of any method that doesn't involve an exponential explosion of hyphens. The tree of names is always going to need pruning at some point.

I'm just fond of the idea of consistent family names for Y chromosomes and mitochondria.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 PM on July 25, 2012

just wanted to follow up with this and say what we did.

we haven't changed our names legally, but we now both go by HerLast-MyLast. I'm surprised by how little attention it's gotten by anyone anywhere, and I'm also glad we don't need to worry about forms and bureaucracy.
posted by rebent at 8:43 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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