(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"?
Right or wrong or even ridiculous or old-fashioned, this is a common point of view among some men, and although you don't quite get it or agree with it, you still have to deal with the outlook, since it's causing strife with your fiancé. Dismissing his perspective isn't solving the issue. In fact, brushing off his feelings may be exacerbating the problem.
We know why he wants you to take his name, and if you want him to consider backing down again, you're going to need to come up with a better reason than "Everyone else is doing it, so I should, too." Make it logical. What are the "professional reasons" you mention for keeping your name, and how will your bottom line be affected if you take on his name?
For instance, in some capacity, I've been a writer for the last 13 years. I'm known and paid for my byline. At this point in my career, to suddenly replace my surname with my fiancé's would be professional and financial suicide. If you're in a similar situation where you have made significant career strides under your current name, explain that to your fiancé. That argument will go a lot further than your current one.
Lastly, consider the compromises available. You don't have to delete your last name. You can always hyphenate your current surname with his. You can also use your first and middle name, take on his surname and use all three names so that anyone who encounters you won't be confused by who you are, and your husband gets the validation that he's seeking. This is the compromise that my fiancé and I have made.
Finally, while you're discussing compromises on this issue — a great start to your marriage, because by and large this is what marriage is: compromise — you need to talk to your fiancé about where this sudden adamant stance has come from. If you've insisted on keeping your name for the last five years and it was never a problem, something has occurred recently to make it an issue for him. Maybe he's always thought you were joking and would come around. Maybe he's feeling a little insecure about his role with you and wants to assert some dominance. Or maybe there's something bigger at play.
Whatever's going on, you can't brush it off because you don't get it or don't want to. That won't bode well for you keeping your name or for your pending marriage.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.