Changing my last name at 40? As a guy?
January 8, 2019 2:57 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have different last names but are considering changing them to another name we both like that we think is a bit more fitting. I know it's generally expected that women will do it at some point in their life so it's socially accepted, but I'm wondering if it'll have more implications since I'm a guy?

I've never been the biggest fan of my last name, and we'll be changing it to something more common and (we think) fitting. I'm approaching 40 in a couple of months and am mid career but don't have much of a public face in what I do. Other than close friends going "that's weird" and occasionally having to tell people what my old name is (for job references, etc), I'm wondering if there would be any fallout I'm not thinking of.

-We won't be having kids even though I'm the last of my current family name.
-I doubt I'd offend my father.
-If ever pressed for an explanation, I'll just say my wife and I decided to do a new name rather than continue the patriarchal ownership tradition inherent in married names.

Anyone ever do this and run into something I haven't expected or is it mostly a nonevent?
posted by mikesch to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Run it by your family before you're sure they won't be offended? My ex-husband had a kind of funny last name, and mine's blandly pleasant, and while I was clear I wasn't changing mine, I was kind of surprised when he said he'd like to change his to mine. So we filled out the wedding certificate at City Hall memorializing the name change, and then three days later at the actual wedding it turned out he hadn't mentioned it to his family. The resulting emotional stress led to his sister vomiting in a shrub outside the wedding reception venue, and he ultimately retracted the decision to drop his birth name and we both ended up hyphenating.

You probably wouldn't do anything without breaking it gently to your family ahead of time, but just in case, that's a thing you should do.
posted by LizardBreath at 3:05 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]

My parents both changed their last name to a completely new name several years after marriage. (Not to escape patriarchy, but a really ungainly name) My dad says it’s one of the best decisions he ever made. No regrets, and people got used to it quickly, probably because it was so much easier to pronounce and spell. He got around the “offending family” issue by choosing a new name that incorporated his father’s name.
posted by oxisos at 3:49 PM on January 8 [5 favorites]

I didn't legally change my name after I married (I'm a woman married to a man) but I do use my married name (my husband's name) socially. There were *reasons* not to make the legal change and my husband was completely in agreement, but the boundary for me was that I felt that it was perhaps disrespectful towards him to not use his name socially.

So, the option totally exists where you could just try it on for size for a while without making a legal change. As long as the checks clear then it doesn't really matter what you call yourself in public.

Otoh, you could change your name legally and not make a big production of telling anyone. Who will know the difference until Christmas card season comes around again, right?

I guess how public you want to make it really comes down to what your motive is for making the change, and how much it will or will not bother you if people don't adopt the change.
posted by vignettist at 3:51 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

I know a few couples who changed their name together (to a new name) upon getting married. Some of them did it before getting married, some after. Nobody remembers what their names were before.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:24 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

A couple of my acquaintance merged their surnames, from Newport and Greatbatch to Greatnews. They are Mr and Mrs Greatnews. It's sweet.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:25 PM on January 8 [16 favorites]

I know a guy who merged his last name with his wife and made a new name. For instance, his name was Haverford and her name was Northrup and together their name became Northford. Something like that. He's very proud of it - when they did it, they had never heard of anyone doing it. When I've asked him about it, he never expressed any sort of regret or troubles from it. That said, he's had it for like 40 years.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:28 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

My ex and I chose a common name when we married so our kids would share a name with us both. He got some flak for it but otherwise it was a non-event. However, he left me 20 years later for another woman, who decided to hyphenate that name with hers. This was incredibly hurtful to me, with my only options being to share the name we chose together with her or to change it, which would mean not sharing it with my kids. So since no one can guess what the future might bring, I advise agreeing in advance that no other partners will take this name without both of your agreement.
posted by metasarah at 4:34 PM on January 8 [14 favorites]

Not sure if you're in the US, but if you do change it, keep documentation (see (c)(2)) if you even want/need a REAL ID compliant license.
posted by MikeKD at 4:59 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]

I have a bunch of friends who have done combined last names. They are all happy with it.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:12 PM on January 8

I know people who have done this (either to match a spouse's name, or both spouses coming up with a merged name). Agree with letting your family know -- not asking their permission, you're a fully grown adult, but just as a courtesy heads-up -- but otherwise for most of them it was a non-event socially. I run in pretty progressive circles, so YMMV. One female friend did complain about the number of things that needed to be changed (SSN, passport, drivers license, work ID, work name in the computer system, W2/tax stuff, credentialing stuff, etc) which all had to be done in exactly the right order.
posted by basalganglia at 5:33 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

Citation for earlier answer. Note this is in New Zealand, where the rules about legal name changes may be different from where you live.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:39 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

With the qualifier that I've always thought the tradition of women being the only one to change their name upon marriage is foul, I would look very positively upon a man who was confident enough to change his name along with his wife so they both had a new shared name. Even if you do get any negativity from some people, there will probably also be people who think positively of you. Yes, it's kind of a pain to go through and update all your documents (it took me quite a long time to get around to updating all of mine), but you do eventually get through it. I suppose my only suggestion might be to keep it relatively short - my wife's and my combined name is fairly long, and even though it's pretty phonetically easy to pronounce, the length seems to trip people up in interesting ways. We're still both very happy with it.

I hope you both go for it!
posted by DingoMutt at 6:46 PM on January 8 [4 favorites]

We merged two one-syllable surnames to create one new one. No issues except when people decide they want to insert a hyphen. I think choosing a name together is excellent. Bye bye patriarchy!
posted by stellathon at 6:49 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

I used to work with a really cool gentleman who had a very common first and last name, think John Johnson. He changed his last name to his wife's which was more unique. I hadn't heard it before or since and I thought it was so awesome he did that. Didn't realize at the time it was an option for men, which seems silly now. He was incredibly happy but a few guys at the office asked about it and he just shrugged it off.

He moved and I'm sure continues being awesome. Go for it.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:53 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

I'm an assigned-female-at-birth person who didn't change their name and found it perplexing that anyone would ever expect me to, honestly, and who also ended up giving their daughter the same last name (we decided if we had a child who was AFAB they'd get my name, AMAB his.) One thing I didn't anticipate was how many people just don't get it--even a close friend of mine was going on the other day about how he thought that you just weren't allowed do to that when you got married, like you were legally obligated to take the male-partner's name. This friend is in his 30s. Confusion was the general reaction of people older than us, too. Some relatives still send mail to "Mrs. Hisname" even after correction. Ick.

So just know some people might not get it--but it's the right name for you, you should most definitely, 100% go for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:20 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]

I've had two female friends tell me that when their husbands did this (one took her last name, one took a new shared last name) the men get all kinds of "you're such a good man!" praise for it, from bank tellers and the like. (It's actually a bit irritating to the wives.)

This is in Seattle; you might get a different reception in a less liberal area.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:33 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

As long as you're thorough about updating everyone who needs to be updated, I can't think of any major issues. It used to be part of my job to maintain a statewide database of teachers for their professional association, and the majority of the female membership failed to notify us of their name changes upon marriage and divorce, which caused us a bunch of confusion and extra work.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:02 PM on January 8

I’m a man and I changed my last name a few months ago at the age of 37 and no one batted an eye.
posted by Automocar at 8:25 PM on January 8 [3 favorites]

When my first husband and I got married, he was about 30, and we both changed our names, but not to the same last name. He changed his first name from a diminutive version of his birth name to an adult version, such as Tommy to Thomas, and we shared the same middle name. Since we both got names that pleased us so much, our friends and familes were mostly accepting and some outright enthusiastic. I think his elderly parents found it a little odd but they thought he was odd anyway and they got used to it pretty fast.

We a legal name change and the papers made it simple to change our other documents.

We didn't have kids so our different names made no difference and when we got divorced, neither of us had to change our name again. It has been a 100% positive experience for me and every time I hear my name I feel happy. Go for it!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:23 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

My wife and I recently changed our last name to a de novo name upon getting married. Worked great. No surprising hassles yet. We turned our old last names into middle names.
posted by value of information at 3:05 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

People you meet after the name change will assume that the name was yours first and your wife and took it.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:25 PM on January 9

One of my coworkers changed his name a few years back, not discernibly related to marriage as he was already married. It was a nonissue.
posted by Sublimity at 3:02 PM on January 10

Most married women I know (early 30s, living a coastal city) who took their husband’s name also keep their maiden name as a middle and use both on Facebook, LinkednIn, email, etc. If you do the same, you’d go from John Doe to John Doe Smith. It will help people who are acquaintances and professional contacts recognize emails from you, etc.
posted by amaire at 11:12 AM on January 21

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