Should it stay or should it go?
January 8, 2006 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Is it weird to keep your married name after you split?

When I married a few years ago, I took my husband's name, which happens to be somewhat distinctive -- I'd always liked his last name, and I was born with a very common one (think Smith or Johnson). Now that we're divorced, I'm rather at odds on whether to keep his last name or revert to my original name. We've no children, neither of us are famous (although his line of work makes that entirely possible eventually), and I currently use my married name professionally. We're by no means enemies, but my relationship with my ex currently ranges from warm to tenuous. My relationship with my parents is great. Future work internationally prevents me from taking a new name altogether -- it adds a prohibitive amount of time to the already lengthly clearance/visa process.

If you changed your name, did you change it back? Keep it? Feel weird if either of you remarried? Wear it like a glory badge, or like an albatross?

(I already understand most of the legal procedures / credit card processes / feminist implications involved with both keeping the name and swapping it back.)
posted by mochapickle to Human Relations (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend, who's been divorced for 12 years, still has her ex's last name. It bugs the crap out of me.
posted by neuron at 11:00 PM on January 8, 2006

I'd say it doesn't matter... unless you're going to date again. If you date again, it'll bug the crap out of people. (see above)
posted by eleyna at 11:01 PM on January 8, 2006

I have an aunt who kept her ex-husband's name. It was mainly for professional reasons as she'd established a nursing/teaching career under that name and didn't feel the need to change it. I never thought it was strange and don't know of anyone else who did either.
posted by bruceyeah at 11:03 PM on January 8, 2006

btw. this phrase out of context somehow sounds hilarious to me...

"I already understand most of the legal procedures / credit card processes / feminist implications"
posted by bruceyeah at 11:05 PM on January 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I know a few people who've kept their names. Although it's possible that it bugs the men they date, I haven't heard that.

If you've established your career with this name, I'd strongly consider keeping your married name. Your name is like a brand identity and you'd have to go to considerable lengths to re-brand. Sure, the people in your office might remember your new name, but people further down the hall, on a different floor, or in a different company may have a hard time remembering. Upon seeing your name change, people may ask or simply wonder why. You're basically advertising your personal struggles (or perhaps triumphs?) to the world. People might think they should cut you some slack, not give you big assignments, ponder your loyalty to the position, etc. All the stuff people think about when they hear the D word.

FWIW, those are the very reasons I kept my name when I got married. (Although I didn't mind people hearing that I got married. That's not really negative. However, people start assuming you'll be pregnant in 5 minutes.) Your name is your brand. You've invested a lot in it. If it's worth going to the effort to rebrand, then change it. But if you're worried about people being able to find you in their contacts database, consider carefully. Maybe you could become Mochapickle Smith Jones, instead of sticking with Mochapickle Jones or reverting to Mochapickle Smith. After you've been Mockapickle Smith Jones for a while, you could just drop the Jones. And you could decide whether to change your personal documents in the meantime.
posted by acoutu at 11:16 PM on January 8, 2006

Pretty much the norm is that when there are kids involved, the woman keeps the name the same. Less confusion for the kids. I have yet to see a woman who didn't have kids keep her married last name.

However, your reasoning seems perfectly rational. Keep it, and when those people that are having the crap bugged out of them complain or ask why, tell them you already had an established business and clients who easily recognized the name. You would have lost business and needlessly complicated your life by doing so. It would be great if you could quote a nice, round, large figure for potentially lost profit.

'Why did you keep your X's last name?'
'Because I was already established with it, and I could have lost 10k-20k per year due to the confusion of changing it back.'
posted by Phynix at 11:20 PM on January 8, 2006

My mother kept my father's last name after their divorce, perhaps to ease the transition for me. She's still legally using it (over 15 years later), although she recently started using her maiden name informally... She hasn't really dated anyone at all since then, although I doubt it has anything to do with the name.

It helped that she has an incredibly close relationship with my father's side of the family. Her folks live on the other side of the country, so holiday dinners are with my dad's folks... whether my dad or I are there or not. What is your relationship like with your ex's family? It seems to me that should carry some weight.
posted by brundlefly at 11:25 PM on January 8, 2006

Both of my father's ex-wives, my maternal & fraternal grandmothers, and my partner's mother kept their married names--at least until re-marriage.

My partner and I have been together longer than any of their relationships--take that Robertson/Reed/Bush/Santorum/et al. :)
posted by nenequesadilla at 11:47 PM on January 8, 2006

It's not normal at all, esp. after several marriages. My mom, for instance, I guess finally decided after husband No. 2 that it wasn't worth changing back to her maiden name AGAIN.

I, on the other hand, will have been married for about three years before I officially change my name to my husband's (which I can't wait to do). People always ask why I still use my maiden name: we moved to Korea three weeks after we got married, and by that time I already had my passport, visa, etc. and it was too late to change everything. I'll officially become his Mrs. once we move back to the States.
posted by Brittanie at 12:01 AM on January 9, 2006

I kept my married name for a few reasons:

- it's the name I'm known by professionally
- my unmarried surname doesn't 'scan' well with my first name and people never, ever got it without my having to spell it
- my unmarried surname, being my father's, had unhappy connotations for me, having had a difficult childhood. I did not want a reminder of it.
posted by essexjan at 12:36 AM on January 9, 2006

FWIW, my ex-wife kept her maiden name when we married. She has since re-married, and hyphenated. Our daughter has my last name, and her mother's maiden name as one of her middle names.

It's a complicated world and you should do what seems best to you without regard to what other people think. To the extent that it's weird, this may even be an "branding" advantage if you play your cards right.

Hell, you've split from this guy; just think of the name as part of the settlement.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:40 AM on January 9, 2006

A guy with whom I worked took his wife's surname when they married - she refused to take his, as (a) it's quite common here, and (b) it's rather taunt-worthy, in a school playground kinda way.

They divorced, and he kept the surname (i.e. didn't revert back to his own). This is IMO pretty weird.

He's now engaged to someone else... and we're all secretly wondering what name they're going to get married with!

The fact that you use the married name professionally will most likely cause a hassle if you decide to change, but I suppose that the main deciding factor has to be whether you're going to be in any situations where you're working with your ex, or with people who know/deal with him - i.e. situations where there could be ambiguity or confusion. If so, change back.
If you're planning to ever move across country, or perhaps internationally, then I suppose that you could do whatever the hell you want...
You say that your relationship with your parents is great - are you certain that they won't be hurt if you choose not to revert back to their name?
posted by Chunder at 1:13 AM on January 9, 2006

yes it is weird, but that doesn't stop people from doing it.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:41 AM on January 9, 2006

My ex-girlfriend kept both of her ex-husbands' last names. I think the first was to keep things simple for the kids. The second was because she had established a name for herself as an artist under that last name and had a small but international collector base - changing her name would have made it all but impossible for her to maintain that growing base.

So now her legal name is something like Susie Marie Smith Jones Johnson, but she just goes by Susie Johnson professionally.
posted by bedhead at 4:41 AM on January 9, 2006

I kept my married name after my divorce because (a) I didn't feel like dealing with what I perceived to be the annoyance of changing it back; (b) I didn't want to have to go by a new name professionally; and (c) I liked it better than my maiden name. I also had made my maiden name my middle name, so I was JustOneGirl MaidenName Husband'sLastName. I didn't do a ton of dating in between Husband #1 and Husband #2, but no one seemed to mind.

When I married Husband #2, I definitely wanted to take his last name, so that left me with three last names. So I swept house and dropped the maiden name, Husband #1's last name, and now am back to JustOneGirl MiddleName Husband#2'sLastName. Getting a driver's license with this change was ridiculously easy; I have lazily not gotten my Social Security information changed.
posted by justonegirl at 4:42 AM on January 9, 2006

I don't know any women who have given up their own last name for their husband's, save for a great-great aunt who kept her ex's name after they divorced. I thought that was very weird but probably something particular to her being from a very old and backward era.
posted by zarah at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2006

I was lead into a minor faux pas by a friend who kept her divorced name. She has remarried, and still has the divorced name. The reason, it turns out, is quite sensible -- she had made quite a name for herself in her feild, and she didn't want to lose that "Oh, FOO is working on it? Excellent" factor.

The faux pas is I'd met both members of the former couple in different areas (indeed, continents) and had pegged them (since she was obviously married-with-kids, and he was obviously hooked-up-with-someone else) as brother and sister. Oops.

I blamed it on the fact I hadn't gotten a decent program book in years.

But seriously -- a woman who has gained a reputation in her field may choose to keep her own name, or an old married name, simply for the goodwill involved (economic goodwill, that is.)
posted by eriko at 5:42 AM on January 9, 2006

I also kept my married name primarily for professional reasons and also because I prefer it to my maiden name. When the divorce was almost final, I asked my husband if he would mind if I kept it (he was still a little angry because I was the one who left him) and he told me he was honored that I wanted to.

I didn't realize it was weird to keep it.
posted by superkim at 5:52 AM on January 9, 2006

If keeping the ex's name worked for Tina Turner, it can work for you.

If you want to keep the name, keep it. And you can keep the explanations to a minimum by.... not explaining. There's no need for acquaintances and those you work with to know. The only people who are going to figure it out are relatives and those close friends and boyfriends who meet your parents and realize they go by a different name.
posted by orange swan at 6:12 AM on January 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

ok, after a very bitter divorce, myu ex chose to keep my last name, for reasons unknown to me. I got married again, and my new wife didn't take my name. Hence, when I hear the reference to 'Mrs. Lester', I always associate it with my ex.
posted by lester at 6:16 AM on January 9, 2006

When I got married, we combined both of our rather short names into a more robust 3 syllable name.

When we divorced, she got rid of it, and in fact got rid of her last name altogether, keeping her middle as her last.

I kept mine. I'm the only person on earth with my last name.

I think that's pretty cool.
posted by jaded at 6:21 AM on January 9, 2006

FWIW, the very old-fashioned (well, as old-fashioned as divorces can get) method was to use both names and be called Mrs. MaidenName MarriedName. But I've NEVER met anyone who did that, that's for sure.

I changed mine back because there were no kids. If there had been, I might have kept it to avoid confusion -- I can understand how someone might want the same names as her children. Changing names is a big big hassle in terms of how you're on file with this company or that utility, so I don't blame anybody who doesn't want to change hers.

As far as dates being "bugged," the only recourse for anyone bothered by what last name I use is to try and persuade me to change it through declarations of undying love and proposals of matrimony, heh.
posted by JanetLand at 6:33 AM on January 9, 2006

my unmarried surname, being my father's, had unhappy connotations for me, having had a difficult childhood. I did not want a reminder of it.

I have a close friend who kept her married name, for this just reason. Her deadbeat ex-husband's name still had more happy conotations for her than her alchoholic father's name. Go figure.

What I find to be most interesting though, is that most people who know her now met her and her mother and her sister at the same time, and they have three different last names, despite none of the three being married at this time. No one bats an eye at this.
posted by anastasiav at 6:40 AM on January 9, 2006

It's quite normal.
posted by cribcage at 6:40 AM on January 9, 2006

If it's good enough for Christine McVie, it's good enough for you.

Seriously, the only thing that matters is how you feel about it. If you want to keep it, keep it. Like i_am_joe's_spleen said:
It's a complicated world and you should do what seems best to you without regard to what other people think.
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2006

My friend kept her ex-husband's name after her divorce. She wanted to keep the same last name as her son so it would be less confusing, and she wasn't particularly fond of her maiden name.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2006

As someone on the other side--I took my husband's last name when I married him (partially because I liked the "team" aspect of it, and partially because I never liked my original name and wanted to get rid of it). His ex, who is still dedicating a huge amount of energy to making his life miserable, kept his name. I suspect it was so no one would think their kids were born out of wedlock; that would be a no-no for a good Christian.

I hate the fact that she has this name. I realize it's somewhat irrational, and I do sympathize somewhat because of the kids, but frankly, I know plenty of kids whose parents have different last names and it doesn't seem to bother or encumber them. My ex also hates it, because he doesn't want to be associated with her any longer and feels like it taints his own name (and mine, especially when she's referred to as "Mrs. Lastname," which we both hate). The last time his father was here, he said, "she's not really a [Lastname]." I wish there was a way for him to sue her to get his name back, although I don't think that's possible.

I don't know if I would feel differently if his ex was a decent person or they got along (I suspect I might, as I get along fine with the mother of his other child, but they were never married so the name thing was not an issue). Mochapickle, given that your relationship with her ex sounds much better than my husband's is, she may not bring this baggage to any future partner of your ex, but it might be worth keeping in mind. Have you asked him about it?
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:46 AM on January 9, 2006

When my mother divorced my father, she kept his name for professional reasons as well. My father was unhappy with this, and pettily tried to "force" her to revert to her maiden name by using it on all the child support checks and referring to her by it whenever he got the chance. She never had trouble cashing the checks, and we knew he had finally mellowed a couple of years ago when he used the married name to refer to her.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:39 AM on January 9, 2006

I don't understand why so many women would keep their married name because of their kids. Having a different name as your children doesn't make you any less their mother, and unless your children are total idiots, it won't confuse them, either. (My mother divorced my father when I was 7, went back to her birth name, then took my stepfather's last name when I was 11. I never accidently went home with the wrong woman at the supermarket out of confusion, and nobody ever teased me or asked she was really my mother.)

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague whose main objection to my keeping my birth name when I got married was that I might have a different last name than any hypothetical children, thus making us less of a family.

Anyway, I don't think it's weird to keep your ex's last name, and I agree with the poster upthread who said that the best way to handle it is just not to mention that it wasn't the name you were born with. Who's going to know/care/demand an explaination? The more cavalierly we treat these name changes, the less people who have odd notions of women with last names different from their childrens' not being proper mothers.
posted by jennyb at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2006

Oh, I do think it makes perfect sense to keep a name that became associated with success in a professional career - I am just kind of befuddled at this notion that women must have the same last names as their children so as not to confuse people.
posted by jennyb at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2006

I am just kind of befuddled at this notion that women must have the same last names as their children so as not to confuse people.

The possible confusion comes from people outside the family, such as schools, hospitals, banks, etc. Explaining, "I'm Darla Cornwinkle's mother, but my last name's Welch" doesn't bother some people, but others find it tiresome, especially if it has to be said frequently. And then some people just like the idea of having the same last name as the most important members of their family. It's not necessarily a "must" thing.
posted by JanetLand at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2006

I am just kind of befuddled at this notion that women must have the same last names as their children so as not to confuse people.

Honestly, I am too. My mother has not had the same name as me for some time, and it's never been a problem. Of course, now I'm getting to the age where people might assume that my maiden name is my married name and my mother's name is my maiden name, which is not true.

Also, my mother, who's a librarian, has worked in libraries under her original married name, her maiden name, her maiden name hyphenated with another name, back to her maiden name, then another last name entirely.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:31 AM on January 9, 2006

My mom kept her married last name, even though she despises my dad. Now that's especially weird.
Susan Sarandon kept her ex's name (Chris Sarandon). I agree with other posters - if you're in new relationships, drop the ex-name, it would probably be troublesome.
posted by Radio7 at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2006

Wow, it's amazing that people have such strong feelings about what others call themselves!

Honestly, call yourself what you want to. I truly believe that your feelings about your own name are much more important that what potential future dates might think, what in-laws think or what exes think. Whose name is it anyway?

If you like your legal name, keep it. You don't need to apologise or to explain to anyone. Just liking the sound of it is a good enough reason.
posted by ask me please at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

How does one wear an albatross?
posted by ori at 11:39 AM on January 9, 2006

I have no idea what it's like to be attached to a surname; none of the ones I possibly could wind up with have any meaning other than convenience.

Mine (which sounds English) came from my mother's ex-husband, who was not my father; my mother and father never married. My mother kept her married name after divorce because she was working in journalism at the time and it made a better by-line.

My mother's maiden name had nothing really to do with her family; it was one of those common immigrant swaps around the 1920's; in this case, Estonian to English. (My grandmother told me they kept the first letter because everything was monogrammed already. Ha!) Added to that, my grandfather was universally regarded as a psychotic asshat, so I wouldn't want to go back and take that name.

For what it's worth, my father's surname had nothing to do with him either. Another immigrant swap; Swedish to English. He and I have had no contact since I was five years old, so I don't really want his name either.

My boyfriend went through two names as a child; his father's, and then his mother's new husband's name. When he got married, he took his ex-wife's name, since neither of his previous names meant much and there were a few people from his past he wanted to dodge. (His ex, ironically, had picked her/their surname at random since she didn't like her original one.) If he and I were ever to get married, I've no idea what we'd call ourselves. I don't particularly want his ex-wife's name, but I'm not attached to my current (mother's ex-husband's) surname either.

No matter what, I wind up sounding English when (as far as I know) there's not a bit of it in me or any of the people who had such names... except for my mom's ex. Go figure.
posted by cmyk at 12:19 PM on January 9, 2006

Although my daughter, my degrees, my industry awards and my work history has my married name, I'm going back to my maiden name. I don't think that's any more weird than keeping it.

It depends on who you think of yourself as and who you want to be. That's it. If you want to signal a break from your married life to yourself, change it. But if keeping it feels right to you, why not?

Me? I was sick of being asked if I was Dutch everytime I introduced myself. I, for one, welcome back my nondistinct, easy-to-spell, ethnically vague last name that has no bearing to my genetic past. YMMV
posted by Gucky at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2006

I kept my married name because it just didn't seem like a huge deal to drop it. =shrug= I guess I feel defined by so much more than my last name.

dlugoczaj - I have couple-friends in your situation, and I once referred to the lastname-clinging ex as "The Artist Formerly Known as Mrs. Lastname". Now their shorthand for her is "The Artist", which amuses me to no end.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:07 PM on January 9, 2006

Wow, lots to think about. It helps that my ex is genuinely supportive of whichever name I take on.

It's hard to know what either choice will feel like a few years from now -- I'm stuck between a name that I chose myself (I wouldn't have changed names in the first place if it it had been something awful) and a name that signals a break. But a rose is a rose, right?

Thanks, everyone!
posted by mochapickle at 6:32 AM on January 10, 2006

You could pick a new name altogether. Something fun. Verblagasmicz!
posted by Jonasio at 1:48 PM on January 20, 2006

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