Changing Your Last Name: Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Etiquette, Relationships
Changing Your Last Name

Tons of questions arise when planning a wedding: How do you handle conflicting parents' wedding ceremony requests? Where do you seat feuding friends? How do you make sure your future in-laws feel included throughout the weekend? But somehow one of the toughest marital decisions gets lost in the mix: Should you change your last name?

Women have changed their names to their husbands' since the birth of the United States. Case in point: Who was Martha Washington before she met George? (Answer: Martha Dandridge.) One of the first females to break with tradition and keep their maiden name was anti-slavery and women's rights activist Lucy Stone. Though it wasn't until the 1970s, a time when more women were going to college and starting careers of their own, that name keeping caught on. A Duke University study of its graduates shows an upward trend in the '70s and '80s, with it peaking at 30 percent with the class of 1990.

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But by Duke's class of 2000, that number dipped to 18 percent. Penn State sociologist Laurie Scheuble says that name keeping has remained stagnant among our generation, with about 20 to 25 percent of college-educated women sticking with their maiden names. Among the broader population, 90 to 95 percent of women will take their husbands' surnames.

In many ways, these numbers are perplexing considering we're in an era when more women are the breadwinners of their families. Plus, more ladies are taking on higher status jobs and marrying later, long after they've established themselves by their birth names. What gives?

Scheuble says the decision to keep your name comes down to a few basic things: your level of education, job, age at marriage, views on gender roles and religious beliefs.

Professionally, your name might be your brand. For example, who's Kim West? Is she anyone without Kardashian? Even if you're not a reality TV superstar, you still have an office and network of contacts that know you by your current name. So, if your job identity is important to you, it might be best to keep your name as is. You could also keep your name professionally and use your married name for checkbooks and pre-school apps. (One study of professional, married women put this "situational name use" at about 12 percent.)

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Your view on family is also a factor. Maybe you're the last generation of Pennebakers or you're afraid you'll feel less close to your husband's family if you're the lone Smith in a land of Jacksons. To remedy this, you can use both last names, à la Hillary Rodham Clinton, or hyphenate like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Less family members will feel slighted, and you'll still be part of both clans — at least on paper.

There's also the logistical angle to consider. What if you already have a hyphenated name, or whose name do you choose if you're marrying another woman? Perhaps, your future husband's last name just doesn't sound right on you. (Paging Lauren Bush Lauren!) It might be worth keeping your name, or convincing your guy to take yours. More creative couples can try creating a whole new last name, too.

Even traditional brides who are ecstatic to take their man's name will run into a few speed bumps. You'll need to get a new Social Security card, passport, email, credit cards, and of course, you must update your Facebook!

No matter your choice, there will be a struggle of some kind. It's your name. It's his name. It's tradition. It's practicality. It's your identity. It's your family, and it's your future. But ultimately it's your decision.

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