There are a lot of expectations when it comes to getting married, and many of those expectations rest on women’s shoulders. One of the most infamous is the idea of giving up your last name and taking your husband’s, which is an idea that many modern women struggle with, myself included. Here’s why I decided to keep my own name regardless of my relationship status.
Growing up, I never gave changing my last name a second thought.
It was just what you did. It didn’t really seem like something that was a matter of preference or choice but rather something required of a married woman. Even when I met my now-husband, the idea of changing my name seemed like a given. I would doodle my “married name” in my college notebooks and think it was so romantic. It wasn’t even something I was passionate about seeing, through; it was simply a subconscious thing that seemed to come along with the idea of getting married.
I came up with a compromise once we got engaged.
Things became a lot more real when my actual wedding was looming closer and closer. Naturally, planning a wedding in itself is a stressful and exciting time, but I couldn’t shake the lingering fear that soon I would have to change my name. It wasn’t some far-off thing I could romanticize, it was a reality. As it became abundantly clear that this was making me uncomfortable, I came up with what I thought was a fair compromise: I would legally change my name but keep my “professional name” as Tessa Newell. That way, all my freelance writing could be linked back to me… and other lies I was telling myself.
After we married, not even my compromise sat well with me.
Despite the idea I had come up with, the notion of changing my name weighed on me more than I ever thought it would. Every time I would begin to research the process, I would get uncomfortable and sad. After a few times of hitting this emotional roadblock, I knew I had to talk to my husband about it.
A tough talk with my husband clarified my feelings.
When we did sit down to talk, it became clear that this wasn’t something I was willing to do after all. This came as an emotional surprise to both of us. I always considered myself somewhat traditional and I knew that taking my husband’s last name meant a lot to him, but I couldn’t ignore my feelings. My husband is a very forward-thinking guy but I could tell he was grappling with supporting me and feeling disappointed. As tough as it was, there were a few reasons I had made up my mind.
There actually are professional reasons
. Okay, this is 100% the BS line modern women give for not changing their last name. It might be 2020, but there’s still a lot of judgment surrounding this decision, and sometimes it just feels easier to, well, blame it on work. And while I definitely used my career as a scapegoat for a while, there is some legitimacy to it! Not only would keeping my last name make sure all my work leads back to me, but it keeps all my social media and professional documents (my business cards, resumes, etc.) consistent. I started my career with this name, so it only seems right that I would see it through with the same moniker.
It seems unfair and yes, sexist.
I’ll be honest: the more I thought about the idea of changing my name, the angrier I felt. I didn’t blame my husband or my parents but I did blame the patriarchy. Why was it that in 2020 I’m still expected to change my last name, just like back when entering into the institution of marriage meant you were your husband property? That is not the marriage my husband and I signed up for (no one advocates for an equal partnership more than he does), and that being considered, this tradition seemed a little archaic for my taste. I was slow to come to this realization. I think all along I was discomforted by the name change because of feminist reasons, but I had been nervous to vocalize this. I didn’t want people to think I was “being too extreme” or “taking myself too seriously.” Those fears are still there deep down but I’ve made my decision and I’m sticking to it.
I have respect for my family and my past.
Growing up, I was privileged to have the family I did. They kept me safe and comfortable, they taught me valuable lessons and helped shaped me into the person I am today. It seems a little irrelevant since everyone in my family was expecting me to change my name anyway, but keeping my last name seems like a sign of respect for the people who raised me.
I love my husband with all my heart but I’m still me.
All in all, the biggest reason was that I didn’t want to lose any piece of myself in our marriage. I am truly, truly blessed to have found my life partner, especially one who loves, respects, and supports me like mine does, and I am thrilled for the next chapter of our lives. However, I personally feel like changing my last name would mean losing a part of who I am and no healthy marriage should leave either partner feeling that way. Being married (or being in a committed relationship) is a give and take; there’s a physical, emotional, and mental back-and-forth between you both. However, I don’t believe I could boost my partner up and thrive in this relationship if I’m not 100% myself.
It comes down to your choice.
These are simply my feelings about my specific relationship. What you choose to do with your name is a deeply personal choice and it varies from person-to-person. There’s a real beauty to be found in taking your partner’s last name or hyphenating your names or doing something totally different! At the end of the day, the most liberating and feminist thing you can do is to decide what choice makes you feel most like yourself.
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