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Taking my husband’s name: a feminist decision

May 31, 2011

I am a feminist who took her husband’s name in marriage.
There. I said it.

Sometimes I feel like I have to explain myself for this decision, like I’ve lost some sort of feminist street cred. It’s the worst when emailing some of my old women’s studies professors. “Hi, you might remember me as Renee W., but I have a new name now! Sorry everything you taught me didn’t stick.”  Except, all the women’s studies classes, all the blog and book reading I’ve done, all the consciousness-raising did stick.  And that’s exactly my point.

I identify as a third-wave feminist. I recognize the work that the second-wave has done to get us to this place and I recognize that there is more work to be done and more change is necessary.  But the second-wave granted us the freedom to choose. I’m not just talking about abortion or birth control. The second-wave gave us freedom to choose who we want to be, what we want to do, and to make personal decisions intentionally.

When I decided to take Joe’s name, it was an intentional, deliberate, conscious choice.  Thanks to the second-wave, I knew I didn’t have to take his name. I didn’t have to follow tradition. (And, as our wedding surely made clear, we are not the kind of couple who blindly follows tradition anyway.)  But the bottom line is this: I like Joe’s last name. I didn’t like my last name.  I like the way my name sounds with his last name.  I like being a single-named household. I like not hyphenating.  I like feeling like a two unit family… a team.

Besides, my mom has a different name from me and that kinda sucked growing up. Correcting people is annoying.  So, if we decide to have children, we will be a singular named family. No hyphens, no corrections, no confusion on wedding or graduation invitations or holiday cards.  No one asking me “Whose insurance are you using?” because it’s obvious. Besides, Joe’s last name sounds waaaay better with “Dr.” or “President” in front of it. 😉

It was a choice of convenience, but I pride myself on my efficiency, so this decision was certainly personal.  That’s not to say I didn’t deliberate, because I did.  In the end, tradition may have won, but it was certainly a feminist decision.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2011 10:19 am

    I love this. I never really called myself a feminist because I didn’t want to be taken the wrong way. But I feel feminist virtues run through my veins. Outwardly, I’m not sure that comes across as vividly, and that’s because of the choices I was able to make due to the hard work of second-wave feminists. I didn’t have to take Chris’ name in marriage, but after much deliberation, I wanted to. I chose to have a child and stay home with him because I wanted to stay at home with him. I feel that sometimes when talking to “old” friends that I’m being judged because I chose a more “traditional” looking path. But there’s nothing traditional about it, or us as a family really.

    All that to say that this really struck a chord with me. It bothers me when a feminist can’t accept the life that I chose, as if I’m “setting us back”. Because I’m pretty sure the movement was about having the choice to be who we wanted to be.

  2. May 31, 2011 10:20 am

    I adore this.

    I may be a more traditional gal, but I make my decisions with intent & purpose & for that right, I thank the second-wave feminists.

    I love that while I chose to take my husband’s name for traditional purposes, the choice was always, always mine.

  3. May 31, 2011 11:09 am

    I’m planning on taking my husband’s name when we get married, but only socially and privately. Not professionally. Anything that I publish or anytime I go to a conference, it will say Allison Blass. I think that’s easier for consistency. But you’re right, I like feeling like I’m part of a “team” and I certainly want to have the same last name as my children. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who don’t do that. But I think that’s one of the great things about being female in this day and age – we have the *choice* rather than being forced into it.

    • June 1, 2011 9:09 pm

      First- Love this post! Second- I agree sort of with Allison. As a teacher, I don’t think I would want to change my name at work since I get called “Ms. Teacher Girl” and there is so much attached to my last name. Plus I had to sort of fight to get my last name since it is my mom’s maiden name and not my dad’s (long story). I really do think the idea of changing your name to match your husband’s is a nice tradition though and one I plan on doing if I ever get married one day. Bravo for making the decision that was right for YOU!

  4. Mom permalink
    June 1, 2011 6:18 am

    I like your married name way better! Taking back my maiden name was liberating for me (even though it’s a plain, boring name) and I knew you would eventually take on a married name. Win, win! Yay choice!

  5. June 1, 2011 8:14 pm

    I don’t even identify myself as a feminist, but YES. Yes. I’ve thought long and hard about what I’ll do when my guy and I get married – even before marriage was *actually* on the table. A lot of it had to do with honoring my dad, but a lot of it, too, had to do with “But why SHOULD I take his name?” It all boils down to: I want to. I don’t have to. I want to.

  6. June 2, 2011 3:40 pm

    Personally, I sort of regret just taking Mike’s (dad’s) last name without a second thought. I was young and just not really thinking critically about it. Though his last name is cooler than my maiden name, it’s French, whereas my last name was German. I do not have French (well, French Canadian) heritage, but I get “Wow, are you French?” ALL. THE. TIME. It’s annoying and I feel like I lost part of myself when I became a C******.

    I feel so much more connected to my family and the name I grew up with for twenty-two years than I do to my husband’s family.

    The priest who taught my Christian marriage class in college asked the men in the class how many would take their wives’ last name. One guy raised his hand. The priest told us that was messed up. I agree!

    I sort of wish we would have combined our names, that way our kid(s) would have the same name as us, but neither of us would completely feel like a new person. (Maybe I have a weird attachment to being ‘Ashley Wagner’?)

    Anyway. Interesting topic!

  7. June 6, 2011 11:25 am

    It is a personal choice and I don’t think women are bad feminists or good feminists because of it. I LOVE my name and plan on keeping it when I get married. I am fine with my children taking my husbands name or mine. You are right, feminism has given us the freedom to choose how we conduct our lives. That is what is most important. Although I would really love it if more men took their wives last name. 🙂

  8. June 15, 2011 1:09 pm

    I love the emphasis on choice here. I always felt as though I’d take my husband’s name, except for awhile in college when I was considering a Master’s and/or PhD and wanted to keep my research in one name – my own name. However, that’s no longer a factor and I’m with you on the single-household name part. Many of my female Southern friends/family members dropped either their first or middle names in order to keep their maiden name and take their husband’s name. So, I’d be Doniree Walker _New Name_ instead of Doniree Denise _New Name_. Either way, I am grateful that we do have the choice to make these decisions for whatever reasons we choose to do so 🙂

    • June 16, 2011 9:35 am

      As someone who is pursuing her PhD, I got married & changed my name before I ever published anything in my maiden name. Now that I’m published, my research is in my name. So win-win!

      • lou louis permalink
        August 5, 2012 10:17 pm

        Again you are the one compromising. It’s too much of a hassle to have your name different or your children’s names hyphenated, but it’s okay for you to have to go through the hassle of publishing under a different name. Again you as a woman are making the sacrifice in response to a silly patriarchal tradition. feminism 101…

      • August 6, 2012 9:07 am

        To set the record straight, I’ve only published under my married name, like I wrote above. And please don’t tell me what “feminism 101” is. I don’t find it productive to police others’ definitions of feminism. I appreciate your concern over my decision and respect your opinion on the matter, but I simply disagree.

  9. June 16, 2011 4:35 pm

    You are awesome! And trust me, if you hadn’t taken his name, people would be talking about that, too.

  10. June 23, 2011 2:46 pm

    I think you are even stronger with what you believe and being secure with yourself because you did what felt right to you! You didn’t feel the need to change your name just to prove a point. You are confident with yourself, regardless of your last name.

  11. July 6, 2011 7:53 am

    I really apreciate your thoughts on this topic. I’m in the same boat. I’ve had a woman tell me to my face that I had no self respect because I took my husband’s name. To which I replied, “huh?!?!?” It’s all about choice and, like you, I gave my choice a heck of a lot of thought and decided that the best choice for me and for my family was to take my husband’s name. I haven’t regretted it for a second.

  12. August 31, 2011 2:11 pm

    Very interesting, helpful, and well written, thanks for sharing.

  13. Carmen permalink
    November 6, 2011 1:33 pm

    The “choice” aspect is interesting here (and I applaud it!) especially considering most of us had no choice but to take our own father’s last names at birth. I didn’t get to choose my father, who I don’t know very well, but I did get to choose my husband. He is a wonderful man and supports feminist politics/scholarship along with me. There is a stigma associated in the Women’s Studies field, and academia in general, with taking a husband’s last name. It does not make you less of a feminist at all. Those who kept their father’s last name are still, unfortunately, participants in patriarchy. All that being said, women should do whatever they want!

  14. lou louis permalink
    August 5, 2012 10:13 pm

    Women’s college grad here. Sure, it’s your choice but it was not a feminist decision. it was your decisions and yours alone to make. And to be blunt, I do think it makes you less of a feminist.

    This is a feminist take on the topic from

    But then you won’t be connected to your children.
    Anything that lives inside me for nine months, whether or not we share a last name, is pretty damn connected to me for life. This also presumes that my children will have only Paul’s last name, which might not even be the case.

    Then you won’t be a united family.
    Paul and I have this crazy plan to live in the same home as each other and our kids. We’ll eat dinner together, go on vacation together, and help each other when we need it. I have plenty of friends who share a name with their fathers–men they resent for leaving their families. I have a feeling we’ll be more united than they are.

    That’ll be confusing for your kids.
    Mommies and daddies have lots of differences. Paul grows hair on his face; I do not (usually). I have boobs (sort of); Paul does not (not yet at least). Paul’s name is Paul, and my name is Meredith. So I think our children will be able to process that Paul’s and my last names differ too.

    That’s disrespectful to your husband.
    So is it disrespectful that he’s not taking my last name? Why isn’t it disrespectful to my father if I change it? This logic is poop.

    A girlfriend who wouldn’t take my last name would be a deal-breaker for me.
    A friend of a friend said this to me, and I thought, “A boyfriend who was a total chauvinist like you are would be a deal-breaker for me.” Besides, when you’re truly, completely in love with someone, her name shouldn’t be the reason you don’t propose marriage.

    Oh, you’re such a career woman.
    Sad, but true, this was also said to me. I’m as much a career woman as Paul is a career man, except nobody would ever call him a career man for having a job he enjoys. And while my byline, the name that’s associated with every article I’ve ever written for magazines and websites, is partly why I kept the name Meredith Bodgas, it’s not even a big part. The fact is at last count, there were fewer than a dozen people with the last name Bodgas on this planet (maybe there are more on Mars). And because so many of the people with that last name were slaughtered in the Holocaust, I’m hoping to help this name survive as long as I can, which is ironic because I have a notebook from 7th grade filled with scrawls of my first name with Paul’s last name. Then again, that was before I became “a career woman.”

    • August 5, 2012 11:21 pm

      I’m sorry, but that’s A feminist take on NOT taking his name. There is no definitive feminist take on the topic of taking a man’s last name or not.

      I have a very hard time believing that a true feminist would deny anyone the option of, well, anything. Isn’t that what feminism is about? The choice? That’s what is being presented here. A woman who had a choice and made her own.

      Could you expand on how making one’s own decisions makes someone less of a feminist?

      • lou louis permalink
        August 6, 2012 7:04 pm

        it’s simple katherine. it’s great to exercise your right to do what you want, but that in and of itself doesn’t make it a “feminist decision.” The author is claiming to have made just that. I disagree…because her actions directly contradict the basic idea of feminism. It may seem like a trivial expression, maybe. but she wrote a blog focusing on it and called it a feminist decision. and it’s not. it’s the opposite.

    • August 6, 2012 9:01 pm

      I again have to disagree. It’s the ACT of making the decision that’s is feminist, not what the outcome is. And her actions and decision support her idea of what she wants her family to be. To me, feminism would support a woman who wants to make her own choices.

      • lou louis permalink
        August 7, 2012 5:48 pm

        Sure…and I think a lot of people would subscribe to a form of feminism that didn’t call for any actual action – especially not actions or decisions that would impact their own family. a type of feminism that is actually pretty conformist and yields to patriarchy at the slightest show of resistance…. but what’s the use of that?

      • August 7, 2012 5:55 pm

        Hi Lou!
        I attempted to email you, but your email address you’ve provided is invalid. I appreciate your opinions and recognize that my opinion on this issue is not always well-received, thus we will have to agree to disagree on the issue. However, I would appreciate it if you would refrain from policing others’ definition of feminism, as I do not think it is productive. Telling other self-identified feminist that they are “less than” does not progress the movement at all. Instead, we should spend our energies educating non-identified feminists about feminism and how inclusive it is (or can be).
        I do hope you consider your words more carefully next time!

    • Meredith permalink
      February 27, 2013 11:55 pm

      Sorry I’m jumping in many months after this discussion began, but since I found my name and one of my blog posts mentioned here, I had to say that, as proud as I am that someone identified with my post on why I chose not to take my husband’s last name, I do think the very idea of a woman choosing what’s best for her–whether it’s keeping or changing her name–is pretty darn feminist. Granted, we can talk a lot about how last names are always men’s because of how they’ve been passed down, but since we can’t change the past, we can only do what’s best for us going forward. And I support any woman’s name choice–as long as it’s hers. Enjoy your new last name, Renee! I do hope, however, that as more women choose to keep their names, the confusion and assumptions Renee faced as a kid will become less commonplace, just as I’m sure things have become easier for children of same-sex parents.


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