(The Root) —
“My fiancé has become adamant about me taking his last name after we’re married. I’ve always told him that I was keeping my name for professional reasons, which he’s always been fine with, but now he has a problem with it. He says that my unwillingness to change my name implies a lack of commitment to our marriage, which is ridiculous and just is not true. (We’ve been together five years and have lived together for two.) I’m all-in. I just want to keep my name. I can’t believe this is even a conversation in 2013. Don’t all modern married women keep their names? I don’t want to change my name, so what do I do?” –G.D.
I can “hear” the angst in your letter. So you know, you’re not alone on this one. Your concern is one that many engaged or just-married women deal with. Unfortunately, there is no right answer, only what you and your will-be spouse are comfortable with.
If you actually want to be like the majority of modern women, that would mean that you change your last name to his. Despite the extensive (and heated) debate about whether a woman should change her surname once she’s married, the overwhelming majority of women actually change their names. In 2011 wedding juggernaut the Knot surveyed 19,000 married women about their surnames and found that just 8 percent elected to keep their names. That’s down from a whopping 23 percent in the ’90s.
You may be baffled by your fiancé’s explanation, but his perspective on why you should take on his name is actually a pretty common sentiment among men who expect that a wife should take her husband’s name. (To be clear: Not every man cares about this.) Think about it like this: In general, for women, a man offering an engagement ring is a sign of love and commitment. In general, for men, your taking his last name is an outward grand gesture that reflects your love and commitment to him.
Men don’t get the hype over engagement rings. Women don’t get the hype of changing names. Call it even.
There are also a couple of other factors at play. In general, men don’t change their names once they are married. So contemplating the meaning of a name and the identity crisis that can come with a new name is foreign territory to them. Because they don’t have to deal with it, many just don’t understand how it could be a big deal.
And because some view it as not a big deal, the idea of a woman making a fuss over it can come across as being difficult for no good reason. So the name change, or the resistance to it, becomes less about the name and more a sign that the would-be wife will make unnecessary mountains out of molehills.
There’s also a concern about what other traditions the would-be wife will object to. Is the name just the beginning? Is the pushback on changing her name some sign that she’s a raging, ball-busting feminist who is waiting to emasculate him once he says, “I do”?