The name game

August 17 • 2012

Last names<br><a href= target=_blank>Christina Wnek</a>

A wedding requires endless choices. Cupcakes versus a cake, an outdoor ceremony or indoor, veil or no veil, and on and on. But among the many items on a bride’s checklist is one decision that has lifelong implications (besides picking the lucky guy): whether to change her last name.

About 90% of brides today give up their maiden names after getting married, whether out of respect for tradition, a desire for cohesiveness or even to avoid having to explain family relationships, especially after children enter the picture.  A 2007 survey by The Knot of 18,000 couples found that 9 out of 10 women planned to take their spouse’s last name, and research by the University of Florida back in 2005 showed that 108 out of 135 women took their husband’s name.

But there’s no doubt brides are opting to use their maiden names – as more than just a password hint for online accounts – these days. As more women postpone marriage until after their early 20s, many feel reluctant to give up the identities, both personal and professional, that their names represent.  Particularly for women who are the sole remaining bearers of a name, taking a spouse’s name poses difficult cultural and generational questions. Still others just aren’t moved by the “togetherness” of sharing a last name, or balk at the prospect of taking a day off from work to wait in line at the DMV and Social Security office to fill out the required paperwork.

But bureaucratic and similarly pragmatic reasons can also sway women in the other direction. Hyphenating has become a popular alternative,  though many parents are reluctant to then saddle their children with clunky last names that bust out of application form boxes. Both bride and groom can keep their original names, but having to repeatedly explain “Yes, John Roberts is really my husband, even though I’m Emily Jones” can make a person crazy.  Blending last names to create an entirely new one has a certain fresh start appeal, but means both people lose the history of their last names, and requires a bit of luck to avoid an awkward construction (John and Emily Robones?)

If such considerations seem thoroughly modern, they actually date back to the 1850s in America.  Suffragist Lucy Stone was the first recorded woman to retain her last name after marriage, and is quoting as saying, “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers.” Little did she know, some husbands today choose to do just that. Her stand inspired a group known as the “Lucy Stoners,” who continue to advocate for “name choice equality” to this day.

Stone didn’t insist on using her maiden name immediately upon tying the knot, however, referring to herself as “Lucy Stone Blackwell” in her wedding announcements. No word in the history books, though, about whether she chose a monogram or floral motif to adorn her paper stock.

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