Keeping my last name

envelope photo (2)
By Dani Addante

It was two months before my wedding, and my fiancé and I had gone to get our marriage license. The woman at the county office explained what I had to do to change my surname. I listened closely, since I was planning to change my surname after I got married.

Later on came a nagging feeling. I started feeling horrible about the idea of changing my surname. My surname is Italian and I absolutely love it. It goes perfectly with my first name. And since I’m a story writer, I want my own name to go on the covers of my books, not someone else’s. So I decided that I didn’t want to change it after all. Also, it’s an Italian tradition for women to keep their own last names.

But I was worried. I had recently read a book in which a woman had married, intending to change her surname, then decided against it, and her husband was sad about this decision. Would my fiancé be upset by this?

“What do you think if I didn’t change my last name?” I asked my fiancé, curious to hear his answer. “Whatever makes you feel better is fine with me,” he responded. Now I knew even more that he was the right person for me.

But I was nervous. What would my family think? What would people in the ward think? I felt a lot of pressure to change my surname, and was reluctant to tell anyone that I was planning to keep my surname.

I live in a pre-dominantly Mormon culture. I hadn’t heard of any other woman who had married and kept her last name. I didn’t know how other people would react or if they would even accept it.

After getting married, I decided to try out my husband’s surname unofficially to see how it went. At church, when I wrote my name on the new member form, I used my husband’s last name. I feared the members wouldn’t accept my decision to keep my surname.

At first, my mother hinted that she wanted me to change my last name. But then she accepted that I decided not to change it. My family was very accepting of my decision. I was surprised because, for some reason, I had expected disapproval from them.

My in-laws later found out I hadn’t changed my last name. They accepted this quickly, and my father-in-law even told me I had made a good decision. Ever since my in-laws found out, they now write my own surname whenever they address a letter to me. A few other people also said positive things about my decision. I was very surprised.

At church they still called me by my husband’s last name. I regretted writing the wrong name on the member form and wondered if I’d be called by the wrong name until I changed wards.

I began writing my own surname at church on the attendance forms and tithing slips. One day, one of the counselors in the bishopric asked me if I went by my maiden name. I said yes. He told me I could get my name changed in the records and told me the name of the person in charge of that. I talked to that person and he went ahead and corrected my last name in the ward directory. I felt so much better when I went to the ward directory online and saw my own surname written there!

I began using my own surname more freely and have been happier because of this. I realized from this experience that my previous fears were in vain. The ward members have accepted me going by my own last name. Occasionally, there is a slip and they accidentally call me by my husband’s name, but for the most part they refer to me by my real name. I am extremely lucky to have wonderful accepting people in my ward.

Dani has a B.A. in Creative Writing and loves to write fantasy and science fiction. She loves to eat anything with chocolate and her favorite animal is a guinea pig.

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53 Responses

  1. Denisse says:

    Wonderful post! I think is great that it wasn’t what you were thinking. Nobody would feel that pressure to keep her last name.

  2. nrc42 says:

    Taking my husband’s last name when I got married is one of my biggest regrets.

  3. Daniel says:

    There are lots of women in our ward who kept their own surnames. I think it is a broadly accepted decision in most places.
    My wife kept her own (beautiful and lyrical) last name and our children have her name too. I never had a problem with her keeping her own name, but at first felt uneasy about the children having hers (which is odd as I have my mother’s surname). Turns out it was a wonderful decision after all, her name suits them better and I feel as though we are creating a unique family tradition of carrying on matriarchal surnames.

  4. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I don’t know when taking the husband’s last name started, but it is a tradition like so many others. I don’t think there are any doctrinal taboos on keeping your own surname.

    • Andrew R. says:

      None at all. In fact until 1990 sisters participating in vicarious sealings did so using their maiden name.

  5. Anne says:

    I took my husbands name and mostly like it but I miss mine and almost regret my sister in law for bearing my name when I don’t! I’ve always understood the urge to keep you’re name but not found a good solution for the children. Hyphenation? But then what about their kids?

    I do have a funny name story. My husband and I lived with my parents and attended their ward (my family ward growing up) briefly when we were getting our new home. When they sustained my husband in his new calling they called him brother (my maiden name) over the pulpit and didn’t realize the mistake, although the congregation did. He laughed and blushed a little but it was a good opportunity for him to think about what it would be like to take your spouses name.

    • Dani Addante says:

      That’s really funny that they said the wrong name! 🙂 Yes, it does let him think about what it would be like to take the spouse’s name. I don’t think many men think about that.

  6. Caroline says:

    I’m glad you had a relatively smooth time with keeping your name, Dani. I kept my name — a decision I’ve never regretted — but one of the frustrating things is that I’m listed under my husband’s last name in the church directory. And no amount of asking about it will get me my own listing, under my own name, since apparently the software is set up so that the woman has to be listed under the man (who is considered the head of household). This is a problem since people then can’t find me in the directory. It sounds like you haven’t run into this problem… so maybe your membership clerk has found a way around it? I wish mine could. Thanks for this post. It’s been 16 years since I married, so it’s been interesting to reflect back a bit on that decision I made so long ago.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Well, it hasn’t been a smooth time. Now it is, but not at the beginning. Most of our wedding gifts had my husband’s last name on them. Anyway, I am also listed under my husband’s last name in the ward directory. If someone clicks on my household, then it shows my real last name, but for the household name they use my husband’s. I don’t like the system they use. But I don’t take it too personally, because in our family, both of us are heads of household, and nothing the system says is ever going to change that. But I agree with you. It does hurt a little to see the system favoring the man’s last name. I hope they will change the system pretty soon.

      • Jen says:

        You just need to ask the clerk to change the “household name” in the directory to both of your names. He will tell you it’s not possible and then tell him yes it is and he needs to look harder and that he needs to do it on a computer not on the app. Then keep following up with him until h gets so annoyed he will actually take the time to sit down and figure out out and amazingly enough he will realize it is possible.

        My husband and I have our “household name” as both our last names and then when you click on the household it shows each of us listed with our own separate last name. (Incidentally the household phone number is also my cell so I get calls from people looking for him all the time because they assume that’s the man’s number)

    • Jen says:

      Caroline, your clerk can do it too, he just doesn’t think it’s possible or doesn’t want to and doesn’t care enough to try. Keep bugging him enough and he will get it done.

      • Dani Addante says:

        Thanks for the info, Jen! I’m happy to hear that the household name can be changed to both spouse’s last names.

  7. Andrew R. says:

    Caroline, there is a way around it. Ask to be separated. You will both be head of your own home if it means that much to you. You would be two separated households living in one home. Of course your children can only be listed as living in one of the households – although they are still listed as being your children.

    In LDS Tools there are three options for displaying the list. Individual is one of them, so finding you shouldn’t be a problem.

    And let’s not make this about the Church. Most organisation make on the family the correspondent. I belong to the National Trust (UK) as a family. They know who my wife is, but I get the post.

    We also belong to a local Estate park which also operates a shopping area. Again, family membership, they know who we all are, and I joined and set it up. They send the mail to my wife – because she is likely to be most interested in the shopping – now that is sexist.

    • Ziff says:

      “…if it means that much to you.”

      Geez, Andrew. Your every comment drips with condescension and dismissiveness. Did it ever occur to you that this seems like a trivial issue to you because nobody ever asked you to change your name?

      • Kol says:

        Andrew is one of the biggest trolls on this site.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I just don’t get it. I am not a troll. I am honestly trying to understand what makes you all so anti normality. If members can’t find someone in the ward directory because it is sorted by the husband they either don’t know the person very well, or have no idea how to use the system. But it is not the fault of the Patriarchal Church. All such systems, but society’s norms work this way. We can question how those norms became what they are. But sometimes the things you all derive from them make me stare – I just don’t understand.

        The single most important person in my life is my wife. I can not begin to imagine life without her. She does everything she wants in life, and I always defer to her when choices are to be made. If she wants it, and we can afford it, it happens. My will never takes first place because I love her too much for that to happen.

        My wife would also never had wanted to keep her father’s surname, getting a new one was a blessing.

      • AuntM says:

        Andrew R: “I am honestly trying to understand what makes you all so anti normality.”

        Couple of tips:
        1- If you want people to be open with you and share what they think so you can understand, don’t refer to them as “anti-normality.” It’s insulting. And insulted people are not likely to care whether you understand them or not.

        2 – To understand someone, ask open-ended questions and then, and this is the key, LISTEN to them. You seem to do a lot of telling folks here that they are wrong rather than asking questions to understand better. Your experiences don’t trump the experiences of others. Listen to others’ about their experiences to understand them better.

      • Andrew R. says:

        If it looks like I am telling people they are wrong, I am sorry. I do tell people what I believe, as do most here.

        I admit that my views are often in direct opposition (at least on the surface) to those expressed here. But only when I express them do I seem to get the real differences come out.

        My perspective of this is different for a number of reasons.

        Obviously the most obvious one is the positioning of my genitalia.

        Second I live in, and have always lived in, the UK. Those members of the church that I have met from the US are predominantly from the SC, GA and TN where traditional LDS opinions are similar to those in those communities in relation to SSM and gender roles.

        As as result I have not met an open LDS feminist. I have not had the opportunity to have a proper, face to face conversation with one.

        People here are open and honest, and that is good. But you have to accept that this is not the best medium for expressing feelings. The written word is often hard to interpret in terms of intent. So, please don’t be offended by my comments. This community should be no more offended, or put off, by my comments that I should be by yours.

  8. I felt the same way when I went to change my name at marriage but I ignored my feelings and did it anyway. And the process of changing my name was onerous and I hated it and being called “Mrs. Bennett” still makes me feel like I am being called by my mother-in-law’s name. I am not sure I would do the same if I made that choice today.

  9. Big L says:

    I was so sad the day I changed my name. And 12 years later, I regret the decision. Sometimes I wonder if it would be weird to go back? Could I get my diploma and transcripts reprinted in my maiden name if I decide to further my education? Would my in-laws be insulted? Would my parents care? Would everyone who knows me be super confused? I thought I would do it for my 30th birthday, but didn’t then I think because of the hassle and cost. I have been thinking about it ever since. Any advice on this one?

    • Emily says:

      I took my husband’s name and then changed back to my maiden name 6 years later (a year ago). The legal process took a couple months in my state, and once it was done I emailed my family. The reaction was mostly “thanks for the info” and also some “I’m glad you did what was important to you,” although obviously it just depends on the individual people you’re talking about.
      I also worried about friends & acquaintances being confused, but luckily for me, by the time I changed my name, I knew we would be moving to a different town within a year, so I’ve chosen to not change it on Facebook or tell anyone who doesn’t need to know (family and employer) yet, but I will go fully public with it in about a month. I am glad that I have the luxury of a fresh start, but if I hadn’t, I still would have been glad I changed because it feels so great to have my name back, and although it might have been awkward, I’m sure people would have dealt with it.

      I actually needed transcripts this week, so I just updated my name with 2 different schools and it was quite a bit less hassle than changing it at some other places.

    • Emily says:

      No problem. I know you might not see this anymore, but if you’re interested, ask for my email from a moderator and search me on FB so you can see my big reveal in a few weeks and the reactions. 🙂

  10. Ziff says:

    I’m so glad that it turned out that the people around you were more accepting of your decision than you had feared! Also, I agree with your assessment: you have a great last name!

    • Dani Addante says:

      Thanks! Yes, I think that when couples get married, they should go with whichever last name they like better. If they like their own, they can keep their own. And if they like their spouse’s last name and want to make that their own last name, then that’s perfectly fine too. Yes, in my case, my last name goes perfectly with my first name, and it’s very unique. So there was never any reason to change it.

  11. Les says:

    that’s great it went so well. my husband and I have a combined last name. But i do realize that won’t work generation after generation. But it really worked well with our two names, summers and stay.
    This was a really great article. Copy and paste it and take the spaces out of between jezebel. and com to read it
    http://jezebel. com/men-who-insist-you-change-your-name-make-terrible-husba-1446543344

  12. Jamie says:

    I took some time deciding whether I wanted to take my husband’s last name. I decided, ultimately, to combine them (which I love), but without a hyphen (a mistake only because it confuses people). So my last name is actually two last names, which isn’t uncommon in and of itself but I make sure to arrive extra early to airports just in case they have trouble identifying me with my name.
    My children hold my husband’s last name and I love it because it’s unique and foreign.
    It used to bother me that the Church wouldn’t change my name in the directory but as time goes on I think it’s more a matter of convenience than one of disregard for me and my preferences. At my request my bishop includes my correct last name on my temple recommend so I appreciate the little things.
    I have trouble responding to “Sister (Husband’s last name)” only because it is unfamiliar to me, even after 7 years of it. But every time someone learns that my last name is, in fact, a combination, they learn something about me that reveals a little bit of my personality. I like that.

    • Les says:

      People keep saying the church wouldn’t correct their name in the directory. My husband and I both did a combined last name and the church had no problem changing them both, and that was back in 1999!
      I would push to get them to change it!! They can, and should. I think that’s a problem with individual wards and stakes.

      • Jen says:

        Les, I think the difference is that you AND your husband BOTH did a combined last name. The church is much more accepting of name changes as long as the husband and wife have the same last name. You run into problems when the wife tries to keep her own last name or have a different last name than her husband (that’s still really looked down upon in the church). The clerks will tell you that the “household name” is a field that is “automatically generated” from the “head of the household” which is always the man, and so even if they agree to change the wife’s last name in the directory, the household name will stay her husband’s name. It actually can be changed but most of them aren’t aware that it can and don’t know how because they’ve never done it before. So when you ask, you get a lot of pushback.

      • Les says:

        Yes, I think you’re right about the both names or one thing. But I had read in the earlier comments that it can be done with only one too, but most don’t know. I think it would be worth pushing for, despite the pushback. They are just wrong to not do it, and wrong to give problems. It still annoys me that they have the husband first under head of household, but it’s a small improvement that they changed head of household section to include the woman too. When i got married, it just said my husband was head of household, and I was in the section with children (other family members).

      • Jen says:

        I agree, definitely worth pushing for. It took me almost 6 months of consistently pestering the ward clerk before he figured out how to do it (I kind of wonder if he didn’t actually try before then, but who knows). At least they are making progress with the head of the household thing. It used to make me so mad that they would pay lipservice to the whole “husband and wife are equal partners” and then put the wife in with the children under her husband’s name.

      • Les says:

        I know, right?
        now they need to stop always put the man at the top. that still makes a clear hierarchy. It makes me so mad.

      • Les says:

        Actually, the church really really really looks down on husbands changing their names. Majorly. Or at least they did in 1999. But I pushed and insisted and insisted and they changed our names in the official church records in salt lake city.
        BYU never ever got it right. I don’t think they’d encountered many men changing their names.

      • Les says:

        But, bottom line, they really can do anything, even if they don’t like to. And they should. THey really should. Maybe the more they hear from people, the easier it will get for everyone. One would hope.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Without superimposing one name over another one name will always be first. Either on top or left of the line.

        What do you propose? Oldest, longest baptised (which could be a child)?

        I can’t speak for the US. But in the UK even if you keep your maiden name you are still Mr & Mrs HusbandSurname though your legal name as an individual is of course different.

      • Jen says:

        Umm… how about Alphabetically?

        I also highly doubt that “Mr & Mrs HusbandSurname” is an “official” thing in the UK–it’s probably cultural and I’m willing to bet it’s used a lot less by the younger generation. People in the US still write it like that once in a while too but that’s just an old cultural tradition which is (thankfully) dying out.

      • Andrew R. says:

        So the Head of Household for a family should be based alphabetically on their surname. You realise that the hyper-patriarch will just change their name to Aardvark if the wife’s name is alphabetically before theirs.

      • Jen says:

        I highly doubt any man is going to legally change his name just because he doesn’t like his wife’s name being listed before his as ONE OF the heads of household (not THE head as we already established that they put both spouses there, but still list the husband first). You are being ridiculous and I’m not even sure what your point is except you seem to just want to argue.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I just think it is sensible to list the husband (or wife I don’t mind which) first always. It makes it easier to see who is who. Sometimes the name of of an individual can be ambiguous in terms of male and female. If the first person is always the husband or wife it makes is simpler – IMO.

        Having a mixture could be confusing since we do not put anything like Mr, Mrs, Brother or Sister. Just the two names.

  13. AuntM says:

    I always thought growing up I would keep my name or that my future spouse and I would choose a new name for the both of us. My spouse wanted to keep her name. I thought I would just keep mine, but I found I wanted every amount of help I could get in having my community assume she and I were family even if we couldn’t be legally married at the time (same sex marriage). So I did change my name. I haven’t regretted my choice as it has worked to help people treat us as a family.

  14. Best Idea says:

    For those wanting to keep their maiden name — you do realize (in most cases) that you’re using your father’s name, right? If you want to break with all things patriarchy, you really ought to come up with a whole new name that completely distinguishes you from your husband, father and mother (since your mother’s maiden name is her father’s name, too). Then, so as not to perpetuate any matriarchy or patriarchy, you should assign random surnames to your children, too. Problem solved.

    • AuntM says:

      This is a common idea: you either take your husband’s name or you keep your father’s name. However, this idea reinforces that men’s names are theirs from birth (e.g., the husband’s name is his even though it likely was his father’s before him, but the wife’s name is not hers in the same way).

      Virtually none of us choose our names, hence the term “given name.” I see no reason why keeping the name you’ve been known as for your whole life (whether your surname relates to one parent or the other or neither) means you are supporting patriarchy.

    • Dani Addante says:

      Even though my last name was passed down to me from my dad, I consider it my own now. It was my name from birth, so it definitely became my own. I just don’t think people have to change their last name just because they’re getting married. Unless they want to, of course. And, I’m not sure about the idea you proposed. It sounds like it would make things really complicated. Especially the part about random surnames.

      • Jen says:

        I think Best Idea was being sarcastic with the random surnames thing. (s)he sounded a bit trollish.

  15. sylvia says:

    Depending on who asks, either I say (1) my husband is Moroccan and Moroccan women don’t change their names or (2) Eliza R. Snow didn’t change her name and she was married to both Joseph and Brigham.

    But I am still listed under my husband’s name in the directory – and he’s not even Christian!

    • Dani Addante says:

      That’s very strange! I’m assuming that since he’s not Christian, then he’s not a member. So why do they list him in the ward directory?

      • Lisa Noel says:

        My husband is a non-member – and listed in the ward directory under my name. Although he is still listed as the head of household. When people ask, I just tell them that changing my name (25 years, now) was too much of a hassle.

  16. Hedgehog says:

    Interesting, and the reverse of my own experience.
    I had always imagined I wouldn’t change my name on principle, said that I wouldn’t, but then changed my mind entirely the week I married. I like my husband’s name. It’s short and snappy (4 letters 2 syllables), and a good fit with my abbreviated given name. All things my maiden name, hugely cumbersome and long (9 letters, 3 syllables), wasn’t. Additionally I felt more my own person changing my surname, rather than one of the [maiden name]’s – having 6 younger siblings, 5 of them boys – which was suffocating at times.

    • Dani Addante says:

      That is perfectly fine. Yes, I think that when people get married they should go with the surname that they prefer. When you change your last name to something that you want, then you’re making that new last name your own. It’s not just your husband’s anymore, but yours too. For me, my husband’s last name wasn’t a good fit for me, so I kept my own last name.

  17. debo says:

    I kept my name, and I didn’t want my non-member husband being listed in the directory (since that seems to happen, which confuses me), because I don’t want him to be a “project”, and I don’t want our household listed under his name. I preemptively emailed my ward clerk to let him know that I was keeping my name and preferred that my husband not be listed, and he was fine with that, and I’m still just listed under my own name.

  18. Jennifer says:

    I was born with my fathers surname. My father was killed when I was 6 months old and my mother remarried. I was then called by my new father’s surname, but never legally adopted. I got married and changed my name again to my husband’s surname. (It was is so simple and no one ever asks me to repeat it, and it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to change my name.) I’ve been thinking for a few years now of changing my name back to my birth name because of the connection and love I feel for that side of my family. Mind you, I’ve been married for 28 years, so it would be a big change, but a lot has happened in those 28 years. I’m not the same person I was when I got married, and I feel like finally being the one to decide what my name is.

  19. Heather McCloud says:

    I enjoyed reading about your experiences Dani. I did take my husband’s name when we were married–but it just didn’t sit well with me. I really missed my maiden name–and my new last name was boring!!! My maiden name is Scottish, and being of Scottish descent is a big part of who I am!! Something that I wanted people to know about me, even if they didn’t know me!! I ended up hyphenating my last name–I think since we had already had our first child, and he had my husband’s last name (otherwise I may have just gone back to my name alone). Big, expensive hassle to change my name at that point! Later when we had a daughter, we gave her my maiden name–so we have a family of four with three different surnames!! Boy did I have a hard time convincing the membership clerk to change my name on church records when I did the hyphenation!! (Back in the early 90s) And in my ward now (a new ward, after 17 years in a branch) people still call me Sister Justhusbandslastname. Super annoying!!! I just get tired of having to correct people! Your story encourages me that it’s becoming less of an issue, though!

    • Dani Addante says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! This shows that it doesn’t matter what surname people use. A family is still a family even if they have different surnames. I’m glad you were able to pass your name down to your daughter. When I was little, I remember hearing my dad telling my brother that he was the only one of us kids that would pass his name down. I’ve remembered that ever since, and now that I’m married, I’ve decided that I’d like to pass down my name too. So my husband and I are planning to give our future kids both our surnames by hyphenating them into one surname.

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