The Quandary of Name Change in Marriage

I’ve been with my significant other now for four years. Being that we are both in our late 20s, marriage is not only a topic I think about often, but one we have been discussing as well. We talk about whether we think marriage is necessary, whether or not to get married before it is legalized for everyone in the United States, whether we should try to get pregnant even if we aren’t legally married… One question that keeps rearing its head for me, though, is whether or not I’d keep my own name or take my partner’s if we ever do end up walking down that literal aisle.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I’ve seen more and more people writing about this issue recently. I stumbled upon a great piece by Jill Filipovic in The Guardian this week, entitled “Why should married women change their names? Let men change theirs.”

The piece brought up a lot of good points, in my opinion, including the following:

“Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world. The cultural assumption that women will change their names upon marriage – the assumption that we’ll even think about it, and be in a position where we make a ‘choice’ of whether to keep our names or take our husbands’ – cannot be without consequence. … When women see our names as temporary or not really ours, and when we understand that part of being a woman is subsuming your own identity into our husband’s, that impacts our perception of ourselves and our role in the world. It lessens the belief that our existence is valuable unto itself, and that as individuals we are already whole. It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone’s wife or mother or daughter or sister.”

This paragraph really struck me. As a woman, a feminist and, simply, ME, I feel proud of my identity, my accomplishments and the goals I have for the rest of my life. I don’t feel the need to rid myself of the name I have been known as since birth. While some might argue that I am still being defined as my father’s daughter since I have his last name, that name is still the name of his father, and his father’s father, and so on. Unless we all create our own names, we will always have someone else’s name. That is one option should my partner and I decide to take the plunge and marry one day.

From the conversations we’ve had on the topic thus far, however, I’m not so sure he’d be willing to change his name either — to mine or one of our choosing. In many ways he wants to continue his own family tradition and his family name. While I respect his desire, he must respect mine, as well.

On the one hand, I will always be A.J. Walkley in my writing life. That will never change. But, do I want to change my last name in other aspects of my life?

If children were not a factor, I would have no trouble standing my feminist ground and proclaiming that I will never have any other name than the one my parents gave me. Yet, another part of me can’t imagine having a different last name from my children. If my partner doesn’t take my name, whose last name would our kids have? If we have more than one child, can they each have different last names, going back and forth, child-to-child, with my last name and my partner’s? Would that be even more confusing for our children than if I was the only one with a different last name?

These are not easy decisions to make, at least not for me.

Readers, what do you think? Have you had to make this choice before? Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

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Filed under Politics, Social Justice, Women

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