Why I Will Be Keeping My Last Name After Marriage (by Charlie Grantham)

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What’s in a Name?

When Nate and I got engaged, I began to notice people assuming that I would be taking his last name and leaving mine behind, as is the “norm” in American society. To be honest, it wasn’t even something that I had thought about before.

I spent a lot of time weighing the various options, but deep down I never really wanted to change my name. After all, it had been my name, a part of who I was, for almost 21 years. All of my accomplishments so far had been attributed to “Grantham,” and I felt as if I would be disconnecting myself from them in a way if I were to change it.

On the other hand, I felt as if not changing my name would just be seen as another “radical feminist thing” by the people around me, even though that had nothing to do with it. I had already begun to see a glimpse of that before the wedding when I would tell people I was probably only going to change my name socially, not legally.

I was also afraid of what Nate’s friends and family would think of him. I knew that some people might see him differently as a result of my keeping my name. And even though Nate never pressured me or even suggested that I change my name, I felt as if I should do it for him.

By the time the wedding came around, the pressures of society and fear of other’s judgements weighed on me enough to make me go against my heart.

But in the weeks following our wedding, I hated it. I cringed when people called me, “Mrs. Horton.” I hated getting mail addressed to “The Hortons.” Every time someone called me by my new last name, I just wanted to yell, “That’s not my name!” But I couldn’t because it was my new last name. I couldn’t be angry at these people, because I had already publicized the change myself.

I have heard many women describe changing their name as a way of gaining something because of the love they have for their husbands. But I didn’t feel like I was gaining something; I felt like something was being taken away from me.

I eventually shared my unhappiness with my husband and a close group of girlfriends. They encouraged me to make the decision that was going to give me peace, and said that they would support me either way.

In the end, I decided to officially keep my birth name.

I know that there are more significant dilemmas in the world that I could be facing, but I am in this season now, and I wanted to give my story as an alternative narrative for others to consider. The fact that I was so terrified of the social judgement that would follow my choice says a lot about our society.

Yes, it’s great that women have the option to keep or change their name, but only twenty percent of American women choose to do so. If the social pressures were removed, I think that number would be higher.

This is not to say that there’s anything at all wrong with wanting to take your spouse’s name. In any case, there are a multitude of factors to take into consideration (for example, if your first name is Betty and his last name is Boop).

The point is, though, I think everyone should feel completely free and comfortable to choose what is right for them.

Laurie Scheuble, a sociology professor at Penn State University, says that this is “the strongest gendered social norm that we enforce and expect.” We have moved in that direction as a society in regards to so many other issues, so why is this such an exception?

Why do we pinpoint this topic and shame each other for it?

Some of you reading this may judge me as nothing more than an “unsubmissive wife,” some of you may just roll your eyes, but I hope that, at least to some, my story can provide some encouragement that it is okay to choose what feels right to you, even if it doesn’t feel right to others.

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Charlie Olivia Grantham is a twenty year old college student from New Orleans, LA. She studies Sociology and Media Production, and hopes to work in the film industry one day. She enjoys blogging, yoga, and spending time with her husband and their pups! You can find her blog at charlieolivia.org and follow her on Twitter @charlieeolivia.

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24 Comments

  • If I were to get married, it would be six of one or half a dozen of the other whether she takes my name or keeps hers. The exception would be if here first name were Pat or Sadie, then I would strongly encourage her to keep her name!

  • Really interesting post!

    I personally did change my name when I got married. I saw it as a reminder to me that I had left my original family and gone to create a new one with my husband. I come from a very involved, busy family, so changing my name is a continuous reminder of how important it is that my husband comes first, THEN my blood family. It’s in my name–I’m with him now! It makes us feel even more like a team to have that unifying factor.

    I don’t think either one is right or wrong, and I think it’s so important to teach women that it’s really what’s best for their marriage. I feel like giving up your name due to pressure would be a very difficult thing to go through!

  • I can’t tell you what joy your post gave me, what validation. I’m a grandmother in my sixties, twice-divorced. Both times I married I took my husband’s name. Both times I instantly and deeply regretted it. The second time was worse than the first. I agonized over it. I had told him what pain it caused me before to give up my own name. He knew and even remarked about my pride and interest in my own family name, which traced back more than a thousand years, and still he asked me to give it up. I gave in.

    That capitulation caused me so much grief that it was no small part of why that marriage didn’t survive. He was insulted that I “hated” (his word) his name and had absolutely no understanding nor compassion for my grief. I tried the three-name thing, but it didn’t work. Online forms and documents had no place for a third name, either leaving it out altogether or forcing me to relegate my real name to a mere initial. I remember breaking down in tears one day when an official letter arrived with only my first and his last name. It was nearly the last straw. I couldn’t stop crying, and he alternately mocked and criticized me. It went downhill from there.

    I have my own name back now and what a relief. Honestly I never wanted to marry in the first place, but that’s what women of my generation did. I always wanted to be a missionary, or join the Peace Corps or something and see the world. I never did. My health is not good anymore so I probably never will. Still, I don’t regret my children or grandchildren so I can’t regret my life. But I do fully, completely and sadly regret ever giving up my name.

    I ‘m so thankful for young women like you who have the courage to go against the social norms, to be and stay yourself. I acknowledge that women should have the right to do as they want. However, I would like to see the tide turn the other way. The antiquated custom of women giving up their own names should, in my opinion, be done away with altogether. It’s illegal in Quebec for women to do that. I’d like to see it illegal everywhere. I still want to cry when I walk through a cemetery and see a woman buried next to her husband with only his name on her gravestone (my own mother included). I always think, sadly, “But who were YOU? Who were YOUR people? What was YOUR name?”

    Thank you, Charlie. Please don’t ever apologize for what you’ve done or written. It is sooo important. Truly important. You give me hope.

  • I decided 32 years ago, when I got married, that I’d go with the “hyphenated” choice. It seemed like a way to both keep the name I was given, as well as represent my choice to marry and start a new family. Of course, my husband did not do the same thing. Men in our society are not pressured to make a decision like this. I do know some couples who have each hyphenated their last names, which I like. It’s interesting that not simply taking your husband’s last name is seen as an almost radical choice. It seems less acceptable now than it did 32 years ago when I did it. Maybe what seem believe is radical is the idea of women defining themselves, instead of allowing others to define them.

    • Statistics show it being sort of a rollercoaster. The percentage of women keeping their name in the 70s was at 17%, but then it dropped down to 14% in the 80s. Now we’re up again. I would like to study more into this eventually.

  • Love this post! I also kept my last name after getting married, for the same reasons you mentioned. I haven’t gotten any pushback for it, really, except that I have heard it preached “if you don’t change your last name, you’re not a submissive wife”….lol. Be that as it may, I have no regrets! (Actually, in many other parts of the world, a woman taking her husband’s name isn’t the norm!)

    • Exactly! Many Americans are horrified at the idea, but are ignorant to the fact that many women around the world never change their name. I’m glad you were able to keep your name without much pushback! 🙂

  • My wife actually kept her previous married name! How’s that for breaking societal norms! She didn’t want her daughters to feel she’d abandoned them by marrying me…and I didn’t want that either…she never changes her name back to her maiden name after her divorce for exactly the same reason. If she had’ve changed her name back, I would certainly no have asked nor expected her to take on my name…that is a harking back to the days when men owned their wives, and I certainly don’t own mine!

    • When I took back my own name after my first divorce, I got that same pushback about my children, i.e. we needed to have the same name, how would people know I was their mother, how would they feel about me having a different name, etc. I told them that they have their father’s name, and I have mine. And that was that. Never a problem then or now. On the other hand, when I married my second husband, that DID feel like a betrayal. We were too old to ever have children so that wouldn’t have been an issue. I made my kids promise that if I died they’d make sure my own name was on my gravestone and not just his. When he and I divorced, I was thankful and relieved to have my own name back again, and so were my kids!

      • And by the way, I keep forgetting to add, although I have no desire nor intent to ever marry again, if by some insane reason I ever did, nothing, absolutely nothing could ever induce me to give up my own name ever again. Nothing.

    • Whether or not I would correct someone depends on the context. As for children, we were thinking of combining our last names to make a whole new one. But that depends on whether or not we even decide to have children. 🙂

  • I’m an old geezer now, turned 75 not quite a month ago. Not only did I lose my last name upon marriage, I lost my first name as well. (And I didn’t know that there was no law mandating this. I thought I was REQUIRED BY LAW to give my own name up and become the name of my husband.)

    Back in the day, when a woman got married she became Mrs. Husband’s-First-Name Husband’s-Last-Name. Where did I go?? What happened to me?? I was subsumed under this man. I lost Me. I was now Mrs. Husband.

    This is something that persisted even into the ’90’s among older women. Now we’re in a new century and millennium, and I hope it’s gone for good. We have names ourselves. We’re not a man’s property.

  • Lets explore this comment.

    “I hope that, at least to some, my story can provide some encouragement that it is okay to choose what feels right to you, even if it doesn’t feel right to others.”

    It should be noted this statement centers on philosophical relativism and individualism based on personal feelings. This is not a biblical worldview,but is a the worldview of philosophical romanticism and relativism. It is secular humanism pretending to be marriage.

    If a wife doesn’t like the idea of being labelled “Mrs. John Smith”, then they are just redefining what is a Christian marriage into secular marriage. If they can’t accept biblical marriage, then, instead of redefining it, they should remain single and serve God in other equal capacities. Notice the language of individualism of “my accomplishments” “I hated it” “I cringed” as a central theme throughout this article. While taking the husbands last name is just one symbolism of the life of the marriage instituted by God and his blessed design.
    The institution of marriage is codified by God’s design of the sexes where two individual identities form a single identity under the husbands care, provision and protection. The sexual act and the life of the marriage are one and the same. This is explained in Genesis 2 where a man leaves his Father and unites with his wife and they become “one flesh”, where the sexual act and our roles as husband and wife are united with being a “simultaneous understanding” of each other. Being one flesh is given as a synecdoche.
    The sex act depends on the man’s ability to achieve. He has to achieve and to please the needs of the wife above his own needs or else the man has failed and the act is rendered incomplete, impotent and dysfunctional. The sex act and the life of the marriage is a unity.

    For example, Naomi sat at Boaz’s feet and asked him to cover her with his robe. Yes, she is asking him for a sexual relationship, but not in the shallow parameters defined by the shallow post sexual and social revolution culture and church. She is asking him for his loving care and protection within the sexual relationship that defines marriage. To cover a women with a mans robe was an euphemism for the sexual act where the man parted his robe before he covered his naked wife with his own body and his robe would cover them both. This is also the analogy of God’s love, care and protection over the church of the old testament in Ezekiel 16:8.
    Many wont recognize this analogy because sex has been redefined and marriage right along with it. They can’t equate the two as a unity. Therefore, two camps divide as to whether Naomi was asking Boaz for premarital sex or marriage. This is a false dichotomy.
    Also, a shallow post modern church just can’t equate that being made male and female in God’s image could be a reflection of the community and relationship of God-the Trinity. God cant be love or righteous without 2 centers of being or else he would have needed to create humanity out of a defective need. God the Father is the source of the Trinity, and God the Son is the counterpart within this relationship where God has perfect knowledge of Himself in love and worship of Himself. The love between the Father and the Son is the holy Spirit which God the Father is the source. Every part of the God head is uncreated, equal, co-eternal and One. The Trinity is a necessary function in order for creation to be a free act of love. God doesn’t need us, rather, he shares his love with us.
    The relationship of the Trinity is shared with humanity. Adam being alone is not good because he was created for relationship. God creates a counterpart out of Adam with the person of Eve. This is why she was taken out of Adam and not formed from the ground. The couples love for each other is consummated in joining together physically in one flesh which produces a child. The relationship is one and the same with marriage where the wife and husband join in one identity and one purpose.
    This article is not reflective of a Christian marriage and is simply a counterfeit. Any one who will twist this into saying “God has sex” either doesn’t get it or is trying to force the message away from truth. We are created for relationship to reflect the relationship of the Trinity.

  • Christians are not the only people who get married. I hope this post isn’t denigrating people of other cultures and belief systems who get married. Other people’s marriages are NOT counterfeit.

    And where’s my Bible?? I thought it was *Ruth* who went to Boaz and eventually became the ancestor of Jesus. I thought Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law. What did I miss?

  • The marriage practices of other religions or even non religious people is not within the scope of the discussion, Those who have another belief are just fulfilling their job description, however, to forge christian marriage into another belief system would be counterfeit.

    Hey, thanks, I did switch Naomi for Ruth. My name is the Hebrew root of Naomi and had a little brain fart!

  • Hello, Naama…you have a beautiful name! I always enjoy meeting or hearing of people who have wonderful names.

    So Naomi was the older woman, the mother-in-law. Ruth was *not* Israelite, she was from Moab, as was her sister-in-law. But by marrying Boaz, she became one of the ancestors of Jesus. This means that Jesus had a non-Israelite in his ancestry!

    Sounds like most people, I’d think! If we go back far enough, who might we find in our family tree? I want to have my genome looked at by one of these services we see these days and find out just who might be there!

    Ruth loved Naomi and accepted her teachings about the Israelite God. She said sweet words, “Whither thou goest, I shall go.”

    And now because I’m an old geezer of 75 I am remembering a song from my teenage years. I turned 13 when this one happened:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp9mMpBFHUc

    I hope you can enjoy this song as much as I did when I was 13.

    Trivia question! Who was Ruth’s sister-in-law? And what famous celebrity was supposed to have that name, but someone botched the spelling on her birth certificate, and the birth certificate name was the one that stuck?

    Ruth made the choice to stay with Naomi and go on into Israelite territory while Orpah chose to return to Moab. Oprah Winfrey was supposed to be Orpah, but somebody messed up the spelling, and now Oprah rather than Orpah is the name we all know.

    But I’m puzzled. What do you mean when you say that other people with other belief systems are just fulfilling their job descriptions? Are Christians not fulfilling their job descriptions, too? And would it be counterfeit if a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim tried to fit into a Christian system?

  • Thank you for the kind compliment! You also have a very strong name!

    It would not be counterfeit if a Hindu or a Muslim tried to fit into the christian definition of marriage since it would benefit their lives and marriages. You see, Christianity is not an ideology reserved to an abstract idea or feeling from a text book, rather it is rooted within the physical world and our creation. We can discuss this but it is not really something we can debate. In the same manner, we can discuss gravity but we cant debate it or form it to our liking.
    A Christian marriage has always been where two people join as one identity under the leadership and authority of the husband. This is laid out in Genesis 2 where the man leaves his father and form one identity under the husband. Only a remnant of this is left where the wife takes on the mans name. This is only a custom that reflects how God taught us to conduct ourselves in marriage. Therefore, it is not taking the last name of the husband that is necessarily rebellion towards God, rather, it is the motivating reason behind why some women are offended by taking their husbands last name that is rebellion. This can be seen by the responses on this post.
    Yes, we in the west are not fulfilling our job description because we have married humanism with Christianity. It doesn’t work. The very first lie was to assert that women are men are equal. however, if we are equal then why are you morally required to put me in a life raft while you die an icy death? Not too equal now is it? A Christian worldview is where men submit their own self interests to serve the interests of women-even a stranger on a ship. This sends out a strong message that women can trust men and can submit and cooperate with them. Like Christ dying on a cross for his bride the church. However, contrast this to men throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women, or the secular notion of letting us take a bullet in the head on the battle field like a man. This sends a strong message that men cannot be trusted.

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