Why Some Guys Take a Wife’s Name at Marriage

After writing about factors in choosing a joint family name, I found an article about a couple who gave their child her last name, not wanting that situation:

“when a couple decides to use both names as a last name, [but] usually the woman’s last name gets tucked between her child’s and husband’s, and usually that’s the one that falls away around school age.”

I shared the article with my guy. His response was that he wanted to hear more from the husband. So below are stories I found from guys who took their wife’s last name, sometimes thinking of it before she did:

Zoe and Marco Saldana, he took her last name

Pictured above, Marco Saldana ( Perego)’s wife Zoe tried to talk him out of taking her name, warning that other Latino guys would try to make him feel like less of a man. His response: “Ah, Zoe, I don’t give a s—!,” and “What are you so afraid of?”

Comic artist Zach Weinersmith (Weiner) thought his new name was funny, and his wife Kelly Smith needed a more unique name to publish scientific research under.

Michael Bijon (Buday) took his wife’s name to honor her family. But while she could easily change, he had to pay hundreds of extra dollars, advertise in the papers, and file in court. IN response, the ACLU sued California for violation of the equal protection clause, Article 14, US Constitution. They argued that this unequal treatment is gender discrimination against men.

Joshua Erixon (Walker) similarly had problems when he tried to “do what women in this country do every day” and take her last name.

(As sociologist Laurie Scheuble notes, TV never features strong guys who change names; we don’t encourage boys to imagine it; and we mock guys who do. For this reason, many guys didn’t even tell their wife until they’d decided to change, so they could claim it as his decision without pressure from her.)

Artist Kevin Carter became Carter Kustera after giving his old name a funeral and mausoleum … leave it to a performance artist! His children have both names, with his wife’s name last.

Jack White (Gillis) took his wife Meg White’s name, forming the band The White Stripes.

James Talalay (Cohen) found his wife’s name more aesthetically pleasing, yet they had to go from Florida to New York to get a marriage certificate with a space for the groom’s new name. Legal restrictions mean that as few as six states let guys to change married names as easily as women: Hawaii, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, and… North Dakota!

Singer Todd Fink (Baechle) took his wife’s last name to support her solo singing career, while keeping a family under one name.

Jacob Desjarlais (Smith) liked the sound of his wife’s name, which “rhymes with Chevrolet and is French and full of tradition,” more than his Smith, “the beige of last names.”  He notes that she never pushed the idea, but he did it because “it was important to me.”

Chris Schryer (Smith) took his wife’s name because he wasn’t attached to his stepfather’s name.

Josiah Neufeld (Thiessen) suggested to his wife that he take her name, because he didn’t want her to be anyone but herself, yet wanted a joint name. He reflects:

“Of all the independences one sacrifices at the altar, a name might seem like a small one. Women have been leaving theirs there for centuries… For now, I’m content that Mona feels loved, because whether or not anyone else understands, my new name is a declaration of love. And it’s a choice I made because I’d rather learn to give my power away than wield it, oblivious, until it’s too late.”

Aryon Hopkins (Hoselton) married a doctor who needed to keep a professional name. When he suggested taking her name, he found that:

“Everyone was supportive of us keeping our own names, choosing a new name or having Olivia take my name. But the option to take her name was not allowed… Choosing your last name through marriage isn’t a choice that can be made equally with your partner if you’re a guy, apparently.”

So Aryon searched genealogical records and internet fantasy name generators for a good name: King Veiljackal? Violet Witchlady? His wife nixed those, so they looked more closely at their family names. He took hers for the deeper heritage on her side, and a friend responded online that she loved:

“that you are willing to stand in the face of expected masculinity and be like F–K YOUUUUUU I LOVE MY WIFE. That makes you more of a man… than anyone who will give you sh-t about it.”

Ben Martin (Coghill), a Scottish music promoter, liked how his wife Rowan Martin’s name sounded, and didn’t want her to change it.

Alex McKewen (Mackenzie)’s wife never even asked “until I came to her and said, ‘hey, I reckon I’ll take your name.’” He felt like she went through pregnancy and labor for them, so he could take a new name:

“I’ll be honest, I pitched for Awesome. Alex Awesome sounds pretty cool. But the wife wasn’t into it. She said she’d feel like a dork applying for jobs with the last name Awesome. I would definitely hire someone with that last name, but that was that. Awesome was off the table.”

After his choice, she was criticized for being a “ball-buster”… but a few years into marriage under her name, folks are back to assuming that she took his name!

Writer Aaron Grunfeld (Leichter) didn’t want to call his kids Grunter, and he wanted a good pen name. Marriage seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Greg Nemeth (Brown) was startled when his fiancé started contemplating whether to keep her name, take his, or mix the two. Why did she have to change? he wondered. It was a good name, and she was the last in her family line. Also, he had a generic name:

“And not to lie, but gregbrown.com? Not available, since that damned folk singer took it while I was in high school. Gregnemeth.com? Oh yes, still open.”

Mark Tyler (Harper) married an attorney rising in her career, while he is happy parenting at home. He surprised her at Christmas by saying he’d decided to take her name; she urged him to reconsider. He doesn’t regret it, but was surprised by his feelings as he changed his legal documents:

“One of the last documents I received was my re-named college diploma, and for some reason this had a greater effect on me. . . it probably has something to do with the fact that I graduated years before I ever met Carol, and now my marriage to her had reached back and literally rewritten the name on my diploma. This is awesome and cool, but it still feels a little odd.”

Trevor Morrison didn’t tell anyone his plans until introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Morrison” at his wedding; his parents were shocked. His wife has previously wanted to honor her grandmother by taking her maiden name, so they did it together.

Mike Salinger (Davis) also surprised people at his wedding… then spent most of his reception and honeymoon explaining why.

Mark L. Kemp (Layten) took his wife’s surname to more easily take his kids to school or the doctor without questions. He also wanted a stronger bond with his wife. When they divorced, though, he was faced with the decision many women face. He kept his new name to stay connected with his children, while she remarried and took another name.

Australian Justin Beverstock (Hosa) changed his name because he had never been close to his family.

Lazaro Dinh (Sopena) took his wife’s name as an “act of love” to honor her Vietnamese family. Yet a year later, the Florida DMV suspended his driver’s license, accusing him of obtaining it by fraud. Even when he showed his marriage certificate and passport in court, it took a month for the DMV to admit their mistake and promise to train their staff better.

Lawyer Christopher Rhee (Chris Schlafani) added his wife’s name after his own, yet people kept dropping his name from the middle, not recognizing his “two-part last name.” Eventually, he just went with Mr. Rhee.

Kris Myddelton (Dyer) chose his wife’s name because “my surname was rubbish and hers wasn’t” …in what Lea Verou calls last name eugenics. He wanted to carry on his wife’s family name, as she was an only child. Yet “people seemed vaguely disapproving, as if we were breaking a sacred rule.”

Lawyer Neil Popovic (Friedman) wanted a common name with his wife, finding it odd that feminist women change their names while supposedly progressive guys rarely change theirs.

James Kosur (Johnson) didn’t know his father or step-father, and credit agencies kept mixing up his name with deadbeats. He also found that e.g. nurses didn’t believe he was the father of his daughter, who held his spouse’s name.

Fabien Strawbridge took his husband’s name in England, sad to lose his name but figuring it was more his father’s than his.

(Often, gay spouses face less social pressure for the guy to keep his name, although both families may hope the couple adopts their name. Interestingly, one GLBT couple invited their families to a soccer match on the day of their rehearsal dinner, in a fierce competition to choose which name the newlyweds would adopt together!)

Robert W. Lore wanted a shared name for a family, but rejected hyphens because “I wanted a family, not a law-firm.” When folks called him emasculated or joked about his maiden name, his own resolve and sense of self got stronger:

“The puzzled looks and opinions against taking Grace’s name seemed to have the opposite effect in the end; their arguments were based on beliefs that simply did not reflect my values. It was assumed that I had some power or privilege to lose in changing my name that my wife did not and that my masculinity rested in a continuing tradition of superiority over women in general and my wife in particular. But it does not.

“My masculinity, my own power and strength comes much more from standing up for what I believe in and demonstrating the strength of conviction. Perhaps best of all, I was reminded of a younger version of myself who was interested in challenging the way things were done and living my way in a life that pushed boundaries, made others think, and was inspired by ideals. In the end, I remembered that this is how I want to live my life. So I did it. I took my wife’s last name.

… Truth be told, however, the honour in wearing the Lore name, comes not from identifying myself as a social critic, but from upholding the duty I have to protect, provide for and love my family unconditionally.”

And finally, Martin Willey was eager to change his name because… uhh, his last name is Willie.

Reflection

Many guys above wanted the chance to trade in their name for a more interesting name, a more professional one, or a more elegant one. They wanted to support or stand up for a partner in her equality, career, or family heritage. They wanted a shared name with their wife and children, and perhaps were less attached to their family or to a common name. Many are confident in who they are; others just enjoy flipping a middle finger at society.

When searching for these examples, I also found many counter-arguments, especially on religious websites. Mary Kassian urges women to take their husband’s name as an expression of unity, commitment, fitting underneath his public identity, or submission to complementarian gender roles.

Yet among egalitarian Christian couples, it would be just as easy to use the Bible to defend a man who chooses to take his wife’s name: it could be a symbol of how he is expected to “leave his father and mother and be united to his wife” (Gen 2:24) and “submit to one another” while “giving up his life” for his wife (Eph 5:25). It could even show his commitment to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov 5:18) for the long term.

Few of these reasons apply in our case. My husband I are both proud of our unique names, our families, and our cultural heritage. His name is beautiful, and we’d love a shared name.

Yet I resist the pressure to give up my name because he’s the one with a male body. It’s odd to face expectations that are different from what our gay married friends face.

So at this point, neither of us is changing. Instead, I see this as a interesting set of stories about how American (British, Canadian, Australian) guys are choosing to take a new name at a new point in life.

5 Comments

  1. Names are so emotional, they are such a key part of a personal identity.

    In my mother’s country the tradition is that the woman keeps her maiden name but puts her husband’s name before it. Typically (but not always) the husband’s name is the only one of the two actually spoken. Some women, on being widowed, keep the two names but use the maiden name in speech. The tradition is so strong that some women I know who married men with the same last name as theirs double barrelled the name to become (eg) Mrs Smith Smith.

    I had no intention on giving up my family name, it is mine, it is a part of my identity but on marriage my husband’s name became important too. I kept to my mother’s tradition. It confused people in the UK (where we were married) no end as the tradition there is the same as the US with the woman’s name going first and the man’s last. My poor husband has been referred to as Mr Maiden Name more times than I can count. It also confuses more elderly friends and relatives who cannot address me as the (old fashioned and traditional Mrs Husband First Name, Husband Last Name). The children use only my husband’s name (and I used only my Father’s) but I would be disappointed if the girls gave up their family name on marriage it would feel like a rejection of their father and of me although I would not articulate that so baldly and I doubt my husband, steeped in UK traditions, would feel the same. Interestingly someone I know who married in the UK last year tried to do the same as I did but encountered legal restrictions similar to the ones you list above for men. I am not sure if the rules have changed or if I just managed to get things changed unobtrusively. Having married after establishing a successful career she has gone for the other compromise of having one name for work and another for social and official use.

    Congratulations once again on your marriage, I hope the two of you will have many many years of happiness ahead of you and good luck deciding on the naming tradition that is right for you.

  2. Wow that was longer than I thought.
    Ersatz Expat also wrote…Travel At Home 11My Profile

  3. One name for work and another socially is something I thought was getting more common… although I’ve seen from several sources that American couples are reverting to be more conservative, if they don’t keep separate names. It’s challenging to deal with multiple considerations (heritage, religion, careers, pressures on guys, shared family name) at once!

  4. Marilyn R. Pukkila December 21, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Think of the Icelanders! Their last names change with each generation; they may be Erikson or Hildasdottir, depending, and the phone book is organized by FIRST name! Or so I was told when I traveled there several years ago.

  5. By first name! I guess it helps to have a unique first name then 😀

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