Name Changing Options
Contributed by M. Elizabeth Hunter, with input from Sonja Kueppers
This thread has come up several times on alt.wedding, so I thought I would
just summarize the options I've seen debated there. I've tried to put in
some of the major pros and cons for each one. The thing to remember is that
everyone has their own priorities and sense of what is right for them.
In no particular order:
Whatever the couple choses, let me suggest At Home Cards. These are small
cards that can be enclosed in the invitation or in the wedding program (I've
seen both), which say "Bride's Married Name and Groom's Married Name will be
at home at Address after Date." These are useful in a number of different
ways, as they advise the wedding guests what the couples' new names will be,
where they are living after the wedding, and when they will be back from the
honeymoon. They fell out of use for a long time, but I have noticed them
making a comeback and approve wholeheartedly.
Wife Takes Husband's Last Name (Jane Smith becomes Jane Brown when she
marries Michael Brown) This is pretty much the tradition here in the US,
everyone's used to it. Some people see it as a sexist tradition smacking of
patriarchal property. Some see this as the easiest way to go. Some people
really like the symbolism of the whole family having the same name. Some
women don't like the idea of losing their own identity. If you chose this,
you also have to decide if the wife is going to be Jane Brown or Mrs.
Michael Brown. (Mrs. Jane Brown implies that she is divorced, although many
people do not follow this rule anymore.) Many people will tell you that
this is the One True Option for religious reasons...you have to decide if
their reasons are yours. The wife has to be sure to change her name on all
her documents (drivers license, credit cards, passport, etc.)
- Wife Hyphenates The Two Names (Jane Smith becomes Jane Smith-Brown). This
maintains the woman's name, while adding the husband's. The wife will have
to be very careful to *always* use the hyphenated name. Many women find
that otherwise, their name slowly slips away. Some people find this overly
complicated, others find that the combination is not euphonious. If there
are children there is the option of either hyphenating or using solely the
husband's name for them.
- Wife Uses Birth Name as Middle Name (Jane Smith becomes Jane Smith Brown,
with no hyphenation) This avoids what some see as the awkwardness of
hyphenation, while keeping the woman's birth name. Again, the woman has to
be very careful to always say "Jane Smith Brown" when anyone asks her name.
Many women find that their birth name slowly disappears anyway.
- Husband and Wife Keep Their Own Birth Names (Jane Smith stays Jane Smith)
This can lead people to believe you are not married. The issue of what the
children are named remains open. The wife keeps her own identity. People
will call Jane Mrs. Brown unless corrected, and some will not take
correction well, nor remember from time to time. It is important to bear
in mind that there are many possible attitudes you can take when people
refer to Jane Smith as "Mrs. Brown". Some people think of "Mrs. Brown" or
"Mrs. Michael Brown" as a title, meaning "wife of Mr. Michael Brown", and
are not offended. Others think of it as a title, but are offended by the
notion of being identified as someone's wife, rather than as their own
person. Still others think of it as a name, and are therefore annoyed at
being called by the wrong name. This approach has several advantages, among
them the fact that no one has to change their name on all their documents
and identification, and that if one spouse should die or the couple
gets divorced, there is no concern about whether or not to retain the
married name. This factor is particularly important for people who have
established a professional reputation while married, which makes it more
difficult to change their name when they are no longer married.
- Wife takes Husband's Name Socially,
Keeps Own Name Professionally
(Jane Smith is Jane Smith at work, but Jane Brown otherwise)
This is a very traditional option for a woman who has a professional
reputation, but wishes to share her husband's name outside of the professional
world. Usually, a woman who uses this option will change her name legally,
use it when enrolling the children in school, etc. but will continue to
publish papers, perform, etc. under her original name. For simplicity,
it might be a good idea to retain her original name in her legal name,
either as a middle name or hyphenated, in case work-related situations
arose in which she needed her legal identification to match her work name.
- Husband takes Wife's Name (Michael Brown becomes Michael Smith) This is
fairly rare, but not unheard of. Reasons range from the husband simply not
liking his name, to the wife feeling more strongly about her name, to
wanting to make a socio-political statement. In some states the man has to
legally change his name and pay the fee to do that, separately from the
marriage procedures. His family may react badly --women's families are
often braced for their daughter taking on a new name, whereas men's families
rarely expect it. There may be some confusion at first, but genrally people
will get used to it. This does maintain the single-name family.
- Husband and Wife Both Hyphenate (Jane and Michael become The Smith-Browns)
Again, check your state laws about the man changing his name. Both partners
must be careful to always use the hyphenation. Maintains the single-name
family, while using both names. Some people are concerned that the
children will then have to decide what to do about their names when they
get married. On the other hand, if they are old enough to get married,
they are probably old enough to make their own decisions about their
names. When the time comes, it might be helpful to emphasize to the
children that no matter what they choose, you will not be offended if
they end up deciding not to carry your birth name into their married
- Husband and Wife take Each Other's Names as Middle Names (Jane becomes Jane
Brown Smith, Michael becomes Michael Smith Brown) - last names are still
different, but there is the symbolism of having taken each other as part of
themselves. Most people will probably never realize this, unless the couple
makes a point of always using their full names.
- Husband and Wife Pick a New Name - This can be a combination of their two
birth names (Jane and Michael become the Briths or the Smowns), a jumbling
of the letters of both names to make a new name (I can't think of a good one
from my example, but I have seen this done), or an entirely new name that
either has significance to the couple, or that they just like with their
first names. This avoids the whole issue of whose name to take and who is
going to change their birth name, maintains the single-name family, and puts
both partners through the name-changing hassle. However, families may be
The Mexican Tradition
Contributed by M. Elizabeth Hunter, with
corrections by Vilma Irizarry
The Mexican (and most Hispanic countries) naming convention is as follows
(I'm using an example, to make it easier. A
graphical representation of this example is available):
A woman is born and named Marta Alicia Marquez Contreras.
Marquez is her father's father's last name, Contreras is her
mother's father's last name.
A man is born and named Pablo Patricio Garcia Nogeira.
Garcia is his father's last name, Nogeira is his mother's father's
When Marta marries Pablo, his name remains the same and her name becomes
Marta Alicia Marquez de Garcia, although she will often just use
They have a daughter and name her Maria Isabel Garcia Marquez.
This, as you see, is her father's father's last name and her
mother's father's last name.
If she marries Jose Antonio Vasquez Sanchez, her name will become Maria
Isabel Garcia de Vasquez.
So by now, the Contreras and the Nogeira are gone. So this system holds
onto the name of the mother's father, but only for one generation. It's
still a patrilineal naming convention, but the woman's maiden name is a
With the North American
cultural influence, many people are dropping their mother's last names
altogether and going with the one name.
An interesting side note: Pablo Picasso chose to use his mother's last name,
rather than his father's. I forget what his father's name was, but it was a
more common surname and Picasso thought it was more interesting to use Picasso.