Whenever my husband and I tell someone that we made the decision to use my last name, there is always the same response: questions. And while the number of couples that make this decision has been growing each year, it’s definitely still a non-traditional choice that generates a lot of curiosity.
We were extremely confident in our decision, but that did not stop people from expressing their thoughts and feelings on the matter. Some people find it interesting, others find it unsettling, but mitigating uncertainty around our decision has become second nature to me.
My advice to any couple considering making this decision would be to prepare to answer (and sometimes tactfully avoid) the inquiries of friends, family, and even strangers.
The questions we get vary depending on who is doing the asking, but there are several that we find ourselves answering time and time again. Here, the five questions everyone asks about my husband taking my last name and my advice on how to answer them.
For you and your fiancée, there could be a number of reasons motivating this choice, some of which you may not feel comfortable sharing. However, this is the question you’re guaranteed to get from almost anyone, so I recommend deciding together how you two will answer it.
When I am asked this question alone, it is often jokingly asked as “Did you force him into this?” It takes patience and practice to respond to these jests, but that’s why I strongly recommend sharing this choice with loved ones together so that they have a better understanding of the careful consideration that went into this decision. A deep breath, a sense of humor, and sympathy for the fact that all people struggle with change will go a long way in maintaining your composure.
For us, we often share that it was important to both of us as feminists to promote women’s equality in a tangible way. We add that my husband was not particularly fond of his last name growing up due to its similarity to a well-known fast-food chain (his last name was McDonald), so it was not a tough decision in our case. For other couples, it may be a conversation that involves a great deal more emotion, so don’t feel obligated to have to explain your reasoning behind it.
"Was it hard to do?"
People often wonder if it’s more difficult for men to change their last names than it is for women. The process is exactly the same for men and women and I’m happy to share that my husband had zero problems updating his IDs and accounts following our marriage. He also never felt like anyone he had to speak to in order to change his last name on something gave him any judgement or pushback.
Make a decision on your last name before applying for your marriage license. I have heard several other couples say things like, “We’ll talk about what last name we're going to use later,” or, “We’re going to both keep our names for now and will think about one of us changing our name once we have kids.” But several states require that you choose the new last name for your family unit when you sign your marriage license—as is the case in New York, where we got married. My husband used the marriage license, which reflected his name change, to update all of his other accounts and IDs. If we had not indicated this on our application for a marriage license, he would not have been able to do so.
"Did you consider hyphenation? Each keeping your own? Combining both names to make a new name?"
I will admit that this line of questioning is the one that gets under my skin the most. My response to this is simple: Why would we have to consider all of these other options before my name?
When I point out to people that this makes taking my last name sound like a “last resort,” they don’t realize they were looking at it that way. I share that these questions are exactly why we felt motivated to make the choice to use my last name. You do not have to consider all of these options and you don’t have to explain why you didn't want to use any of them either.
"Was [insert any family member here] upset?"
There will likely be someone who does not agree with what you and your partner decide to do with your last name. This is one question that benefits strongly from a tactful avoidance approach.
When asked, I usually respond that we did not ask family members for their input (the truth!) because it was a decision we made together for the family we were creating. Choosing a last name is the first of a million decisions that you and your partner are going to make that family members are going to have opinions on, so I recommend working on setting healthy boundaries now. The same family member who feels they should have a say in your last name will probably also want to weigh in on baby names or even your decision to have children in the future.
This all goes back to needing to be in sync with your partner and having a united front when it comes to this decision. The only people who are actually affected by this decision are you and your spouse, no matter how upset someone else might get. It is not your job to help other people respect your decision and trying to make people understand your perspective most often proves to be a losing battle.
"Is it still called a maiden name for men?"
The first person to ask this was actually my husband. He wondered what to call his “old last name” so that people understood the change was due to marriage. He also noticed that most forms and applications only had a maiden name line for women. We are both hopeful that this will modernize as more and more men choose to take their wives' last names each year.
Most people tend to agree that a comparable term for a man’s premarital last name is bachelor name. Maiden was a term that was previously used to describe an unmarried woman and society typically refers to an unmarried man as a bachelor. This is what my husband has been using and I will admit that he does get puzzled looks and often has to offer a brief explanation. I look forward to a day where bachelor names are as commonly mentioned as maiden names.
No matter how long it took to come to the decision or the motivation behind it, the most important thing to remember is that this name reflects the partnership you share with your spouse. Communication and understanding are paramount to a lasting marriage – trust that you are building a strong foundation for your future together to grow from.